Writing Rituals

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott again. Her book, Bird by Bird, is my favorite writing book of all time. If you haven’t read it, go to your local library and check it out today.

But right now, I’m reading Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair. In it, Ms. Lamott talks a lot about rituals and routines:

“Daily rituals, especially walks, even forced marches around the neighborhood, and schedules, whether work or meals with non-awful people, can be the knots you hold on to when you’ve run out of rope.”

When I think of difficult times, such as after the loss of a loved one, I agree that daily rituals have been “knots” that have allowed me to hang on. I think of doing the work of caring for my son after the death of my beloved uncle. The daily rituals with my son—morning, noon, and night–helped me pull myself through those first days without my uncle.

And what about my writing life? I don’t have that many rituals around my writing. I’m an opportunistic writer at the moment—if I find myself with a few spare minutes, I whip out my computer, my iPad, or I grab a receipt and write on the back of it. While I believe this method has many advantages, I can see that a little ritual might be a good thing.

I looked up writing rituals online and read about Ernest Hemingway and his habit of writing at dawn, while standing at a typewriter. I read about Maya Angelou’s habit of checking into a hotel for the day to write, then going home in the evening. While these writers’ habits were familiar to me, I had never before read that Demosthenes routinely shaved half his head so he couldn’t go out in public. He’d stay home and write until his hair grew back. That seems a little drastic (plus I’d still have to go do the grocery shopping!)

I polled my fellow writers here at Live to Write-Write to Live about their writing rituals:

  • Wendy, like me, tends to write when she can, doesn’t currently have a lot of writing rituals (but she looks forward to the day when her ritual is heading out to her tiny writer’s cabin with her faithful dog, Pippin.)
  • Lee, too, isn’t much for writing rituals.
  • Deborah has written about her writing rituals before for this blog (click here to read.) Her ritual starts with NAMS, which I think I might try after reading her piece on it.

For me, right now, just showing up is enough of a ritual. Opening my computer , creating a new, blank document, and writing Sh***y First Draft across the top is enough. Opening my iPad and going back to a blog post idea I jotted down the week before while sitting in a waiting room is enough. Grabbing a notebook by my bed and writing down a story idea in the middle of the night is enough.

One of these days, I’ll have a more robust writing ritual and I’ll be a better writer for it. In the meantime, I’ll keep checking out other writers’ rituals and see what might work for me when the time is right.

What is your writing ritual these days?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, stepmother, and (brand-new) grandmother. I’m enjoying the moments when I write and I look forward to having a little more time for writing in the fall when my son starts school. Then I might need a ritual to get me keep my butt in the chair!


Critical Response Process

Liz Lerman. Photo by Lise Metzger

Liz Lerman. Photo by Lise Metzger

I’m hopeful that a new generation of writing workshops will offer the kind of meaningful and useful feedback that’s possible with Critical Response Process, the kind of feedback that fosters creativity and the desire to resume work, and not the kind that is so demoralizing the writer gives up in despair.

Critical Response Process is a dynamic method for both giving and receiving feedback on creative endeavors. Initially developed within the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, CRP is a process that can provide “useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert.”

Last week it was my great good fortune to attend a two-day workshop in Critical Response Process with Liz Lerman, at Marlboro College.

I was there to learn the process, so I can use it in the Narrative Non-Fiction Writing Workshop I’m scheduled to lead at the Marlboro Graduate Center in the fall.

I was already all too familiar with the shortfalls of the workshop methods I’d grown up with, where participants generally tell a writer how they would rewrite the author’s work, which isn’t really helpful at best, and can be quite harmful.

As a writing teacher for more than thirty years, I’d already developed better methods, starting with praise, and limiting students’ comments to two simple questions: 1) Where did you get lost in the text? and 2) What questions do you have that rise from the text? Sometimes I’d start classes with, Have you ever had a conversation only in questions? These were good practices, but I wanted more, and I knew from others that Critical Response Process offered it.

The theory behind CRP is that there are ways to provide feedback that make the artist eager to return to work with new understanding and ideas; in practice, CRP enlarges artistic capacity for all who participate in the well-defined steps of the process.

Participants include the artist, the responders, and the facilitator. In a writing workshop the author is the artist, the other workshop participants serve as responders, and the workshop leader facilitates. In the narrative non-fiction workshop I’m planning, I hope to pass the facilitator’s role to each of the other participants, so that they can bring CRP back to their classrooms and writing workshops.

CRP coverAfter an artist presents their* work, Critical Response Practice follows four core steps.

Step One: Statements of Meaning. Following the artist’s presentation, the facilitator asks the responders what they found meaningful, memorable, challenging, compelling, delightful – or some other quality through which responders can filter their reactions. These are not simple affirmations, but statements of meaning that serve to establish what responders witnessed in the work.

Step Two, The Artist as Questioner, places the writer at the center of the process; it’s the writer’s chance to ask questions about the work. In Step Three, Neutral Questions from Responders, responders ask neutral questions of the writer, which the writer answers. A neutral question does not have an embedded opinion. For example: How are you hoping the reader will experience this passage? is neutral. How do you expect the reader to understand this passage? is not; it contains the embedded opinion, This passage is incomprehensible! (Example from Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process by Liz Lerman and John Borstel.) Neutral questions allow the artist to think widely and creatively; they help artists define their focus and understand their intent and/or their presentation better.

After two days of intensive practice, I can confidently assert that learning how to ask useful questions in both Steps Two and Three are at the heart of this process, and this skill alone is transformative to both writer and responders.

Finally, in Step Four, Permissioned Opinions, responders are invited to ask permission to give an opinion about a specific topic. For example, a responder might say, I have an opinion about your use of “they” as a singular pronoun. Would you like to hear it? Only if the writer says yes may the responder share that opinion.

Throughout all these steps, the facilitator checks in with the writer, coaches participants to ask helpful and neutral questions, helps with follow-up questions, and keeps track of time.

The process takes time, and the more people in the group, the more time it can take. But as a group gains practice of CRP, it gathers group knowledge, skill and momentum. I witnessed this over the two days twenty of us spent together learning.

While Critical Response Process was initially designed for use in the dance world, it’s successfully used across the spectrum of creative endeavor. My purpose here is to prompt writers, teachers and writing workshop participants to know that Critical Response Process can make the writing workshop a positive, engaging, creative activity that fosters writing the story a writer wants to tell. But this post is necessarily just a thumbnail sketch of a powerful tool. I encourage you to learn more.

* This is a deliberate use of the Singular They.

photo by M. Shafer

photo by M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness, and an educator who has been teaching writing and literature to learners in a wide variety of settings, from the Ivy League to Vermont prisons. Her blogs include Living in Place and The Middle Ages.

Weekend Edition – Truth in Blogging Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Truth in Blogging

writing mask smSometimes, I feel like a fraud, like one of the shiny, happy people who populate the Internet with grievously sparkly accounts of their perfect lives. (Those people make me crazy.) I hope I do not actually do that, but sometimes I feel like certain omissions in what I share make me less authentic, even slightly dishonest.

This is mostly ridiculous, of course.

The world of digital publishing – blogging and social media in particular – puts writers in a strange new land. I sometimes feel like we’ve been pulled out of our cozy writing caves and plunked down on a stage in front of an audience we cannot see beyond the bright footlights. Dazed and blinded, we take out our notebooks and laptops and start, tentatively, to scribble and tap; but the experience is different in front of a live audience. Before, there was only the work – the words. Now, we are up on the stage with our stories, expected to share not only our work, but ourselves.

But, the reality is: no one is obligated to share anything. As the sole curator of our online persona, each of us has the right to pick and choose what we show and and tell, and what we leave unsaid.

Though I shared a little about my situation, history, and fears in A Writer’s Circle (and, was delighted that so many of you reciprocated by sharing details about your writing lives), these days I usually steer clear of putting too much personal stuff into the ether. I save that for my private journals. But, sometimes I wonder if I’m either missing out myself, or shortchanging readers by holding back.

There’s a scene from the first season of Desperate Housewives that still makes me tear up after more than a decade. In the scene, Lynette, played by the fabulous Felicity Huffman, is an overworked, stressed out mom of four who has become addicted to her kids’ A.D.D. medication. She feels like a complete failure because she can’t do it all herself. She doesn’t understand why everyone else makes it look so easy. When she finally crumples – literally – to the ground, her friends come to her side, and admit to their own messy lives full of failures and fears. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” Lynette asks, choking back sobs.

Why don’t we tell each other this stuff?

Well, as one of Huffman’s co-stars says, “No one likes to admit they can’t handle the pressure.” Nope. We sure don’t. We want people to think we’ve got it all together and know what the hell we’re doing. We don’t want to appear weak or stupid or needy. And with the digital window the Internet gives the world into our lives (if we choose to open the blinds), the pressure to project perfection (or something close to it) is exponentially greater than ever before.

If you blog, you’ve opened the blinds. The question then becomes, what are you going to share? How transparent and vulnerable are you willing to be? And, why?

I haven’t yet figured out where I sit on the spectrum of transparency and vulnerability. Most of what I publish online is, I think, more professional than personal. Even though my first foray into blogging came when I unintentionally became a mommy blogger writing about her divorce, I would still call myself a “careful” blogger. Though I readily share my thoughts, musings, and opinions, I rarely “let it all hang out,” as they say.

But, I wonder if maybe I should.

I write to connect with my own thoughts and emotions, with the world around me, and with other people. How deep can those connections be if I keep everyone at arm’s length? How integral are these connections to my identity as a writer? And, conversely, how important is privacy to my writing? Exactly where does my personal identity meet my writer identity, and how do I successfully blend the two? Is that even the goal?

I am always so touched and flattered when someone compliments my writing or tells me how impressed they are by my ability to make a living writing. I am gratified when someone acknowledges my hard work and perseverance. Making time and space to write is not an easy task for any of us. But even as I glow, for a brief moment, in the kindness of someone else’s words, I want to reach across the digital divide and confess that I’m just winging it. I want to admit that there is no grand plan. I don’t have the answers. I do so many things wrong. I miss so many opportunities. I run in the same damn circles year after year, fleeing from the demons of fear and procrastination.

But, instead, I just smile and say Thank You.

For now.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: When you feel you have to write a certain way to be taken seriously

cemetaryI’m really enjoying the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street Writer’s online classroom. Despite being up to my eyeballs in client deadlines, I’m managing to keep up (mostly) with the reading, assignments, and peer reviews. One thing I’m struggling with, however, is my own perception that Literature (with a capital “L”) has to be dark, tragic, or otherwise show the ugly underbelly of human existence.

My life is neither dark nor tragic  (touch wood). I’m all for stories that put the protagonist in a sticky spot, even in mortal danger, but I am not typically drawn to stories that focus thematically on the evils of human nature. It’s just not my thing.

But, I have this perception (and, it may be a misperception) that only “dark” stories are taken seriously by Important People in Literary circles. (We won’t even get into why I care one whit about what Important People think – that’s another whole post.) It’s kind of like the Oscars (ahem, Academy Awards). Very rarely does a comedy, musical, romance, or other “light” genre film win top honors. Culturally, we seem to consider stories with humor and happy endings as less important, somehow. Perhaps we (mistakenly) think that they are easier to write. Perhaps we think that enjoying them makes us “light.” Whatever our reasons, we definitely do not (in my humble opinion) give the non-tragic stories their proper due.

So, as I’m working on my flash pieces for class, I feel like I ought to be writing in a certain way about a certain type of sad or dark story. (It’s important to note that this is my baggage. The instructor and students have done nothing to make me feel self-conscious about this issue. That’s all me.)

But then I read a piece by Stephanie Vanderslice called The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: Having Something to Say and Saying It. It was exactly what I needed to hear:

But most importantly, giving yourself permission to write what you need to write will, eventually, lead you to the next thing you need to write. Maybe not right away — sometimes after you finish a big project you need to let the well fill up — but soon enough.

That’s how it works.

Each of us has a voice that deserves to be heard. Tragic or elated, serious or irreverent, cynical or mystical, all our stories deserve to be told. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

What I’m {Learning By} Reading: Two Things You Must Do to Engage Your Reader

book changerAlas. I have abandoned another book.

Though I know, intellectually, that my time is precious, and should not be squandered on books that fail to move me, I still feel guilty when I leave a book unfinished. As a writer, it’s hard to give up on a story that you know a fellow writer slaved over.

Setting my guilt aside, I am making an effort to pay closer attention to exactly why I abandon a book. In the case of the latest casualty, Changer by Jane Lindskold, it came down to two faults: un-relatable characters and a lack of tension.

Before I go any further, I just need to say that I feel like an absolute heel for criticizing this book or Lindskold’s writing. I do not usually post negative reviews. If I don’t like something, I just don’t write about it. Making this even trickier is the fact Lindskold’s stories are very appealing to me in terms of subject matter, themes, and concepts. But, try as I might, I just couldn’t find an emotional foothold.

Changer is about a group of immortals called the “athanor” who live among us. Each athanor has a sort of “core identity” as a character from one of many world mythologies – Anansi the spider, King Arthur, Neptune, Merlin, Lilith, etc. But today, each takes on a contemporary identity that changes every few decades in order to avoid detection by humans. The novel is described by the author as, “a story of revenge, of political intrigue, and of adventure,” and I think the concept does have that potential.

Unfortunately, though I read nearly half the book, I didn’t identify deeply with any of the characters. Wendy wrote about the importance of creating this reader/character connection in her post, Frank Underwood Saves the Human Society. I think that part of the challenge may have been the multiple POVs. There was no one voice to draw me into the story, and something about moving in and out of different characters’ heads created a narrative distance that made me feel one step too far removed from the story.

The second problem – the lack of tension – also took me by surprise. After all, we have a story that starts with a heinous murder, involves a colorful cast of gods and demi-gods, and – when I left off reading – was building towards a political coup. All the pieces are there. It seems that we should be on the edge of our seats, turning pages frantically. But, something was missing. The progression of events moved too slowly (pacing), and the energy of the conflicts seemed to lose something in the telling. The language did not stir me; again, it seemed a bit too removed. It reminded me a little of journalistic coverage – kind of detached and impartial. Just the facts, ma’am.

I did not hate this book, and I may return to it one of these days. But, even if I never finish it, I’m grateful for the lessons it’s helping me learn about how to capture a reader and keep her engaged.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

dangerous masks

Here’s to writing, connecting, and always being true to who you are.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Cemetary Photo Credit: Roger Smith via Compfight cc

Friday Fun — Choosing Publishers to Query

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: How do you decide which publishers to query with a particular piece?

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I give a lot of credibility to agents who are recommended to me by others – it also doesn’t hurt to have a personal introduction to an agent by someone who is already being represented by her. Usually that’s enough to set up a dialog.

If I don’t have that, I pour through the yearly Guide to Literary Agents and I pay attention to the articles in writers’ magazines that will often highlight an agent who is looking for work.

If I am trying to match myself up with an unknown agent (sort of like being on a dating site) I tend to look for those with the following characteristics:

  • Women – they tend to be more receptive to my topics of parenting and life lessons (generally)
  • Age – while not a deal breaker, I would much rather go with someone who has put a few miles on their tires (as it were.) Again, this is because with maturity comes the wisdom that I try to write about.
  • Genre – memoir, parenting, chickens, humor – they have to have sold something in at least one of those areas
  • Humor – oh God, if they don’t have a sense of humor, I can’t hit the Delete button fast enough.
  • Technology – sorry, but if you need me to send you a hard copy then you’re not the right fit for me

Lastly, sometimes I just send out feelers. I’ve written to agents who posted something on twitter and have gotten responses from them. I’ve sent agents emails asking for information which eventually led to proposals.

Bottom line is keep your eyes and ears open.

Scrivener Simplified – How to Create your eBook in 60 Minutes – course review

As you know I’ve been working (forcing myself) to use Scrivener in my writing.

scrivener-512I tend to be a multiple project kind of worker. In the past, the way I’ve managed this is to create directories and folders (upon folders, upon folders.) As writers, you know that all it takes is to not pay attention when you save a file for it to get lost in another folder – which means you then have to waste time trying to track it down.


One of the beauties of Scrivener is that I can park all of my research, notes, and background material right in my Scrivener project. For someone like me, this is a Godsend.

I also found out that I can download Scrivener onto multiple systems in my household. While I do most of my work at my desk, I do have a portable tablet that I use for writing when away. Now I can take Scrivener with me anywhere.


In looking around the net for Scrivener information, I came across this little class – Scrivener Simplified – How to Create your eBook in 60 Minutes by James Burchill. It consists of short lectures with supportive text information. Looked pretty good so I contacted the owner and offered to take it for a test drive and then report the results back to this crowd.

I like lecture classes and I like when you can watch a video that enforces what is being said. James is very upfront with this class, he tell you that he is not going to teach you everything you need to know about Scrivener, he is only going to teach you what you need to know to get the job done.

As an instructional designer, I have used this approach often and I applaud it. Don’t tell me about every single widget on the screen, tell me how to get up and running. Tell me how to do the task I want to do (in this case get a book together.) Once, I’ve done that, then sure go ahead and give me additional “nice to know” information. This is exactly what James does.

Along with the course material, you have access to questions from other participants with their answers. Because the course is *live* additional material is added when appropriate, once you sign up for the course you have lifelong access to it.

Section 1 covers Foundations talks about how to navigate and build your structure in Scrivener.

Section 2 covers How Scrivener Handles Content and talks about how to import files. This one little section is going to save me a ton of time. I didn’t know that you could drag and drop files into Scrivener (see that’s what you get by trying to learn something solo.) I’ve been opening the files and then copying and pasting them into Scrivener. Talk about laborious.

Section 3 covers Creating your eBook and it’s all about formatting once your text is ready.

Section 4 is Bonus Training and Resources – all kinds of nice little tidbits like a Scrivener cheat sheet and a checklist called “How to write a book in 14 days” which, as a tech writer, I found fascinating.

Would I recommend the course? Yup. It’s already helped me to work better in Scrivener. I don’t know if I am going to go eBook or the traditional publishing route for my piece, but I appreciate knowing how to create an eBook if I do choose that option. And let’s face it, my crystal ball tells me that from a marketing point of view, at some point, I’m going to have to create an eBook or two.


  • Scrivener Simplified – How to Create your eBook in 60 Minutes costs $29 but James has said that he’ll create a code for $5 off if anyone from NHWN wants to take it. If interested, enter a comment below and I’ll see that you get a code.
  • Scrivener is free for the first 30 days and then you have to purchase it – $40 on Amazon.
  • James uses a Mac, I have windows. Wasn’t a big deal because I’m pretty fluent in different systems, but it’s something you should be aware of.
  • While you can create an eBook in one hour using Scrivener, you can’t *write* an eBook in one hour. This course assumes that you have files already written that need to be complied into a finished eBook product. (And again, learning how to import files was worth all the tea in China.) This course is the tail-end of book production.

Bottom line – If you have a work in progress, if you have a bunch of fits and starts that you want to pull together into a book, if the thought of creating an eBook has ever entered your mind, then this course will be worth taking.

Here is the code information from James for the New Hampshire Network Writers blog readers –

 “I’ve gone ahead and setup the code (NHWN), here’s the full link if you prefer.
It will let them get the course for $24 :)”
If you take this course, let us know how you liked it.



Disclaimer – I was provided a free copy of this course to evaluate. I am in no way affiliated with James Burchill and am receiving no compensation for this review – simply passing on good information when I find it.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Step-by-step creating a project in Scrivener – nailing that outline

So how is my Scrivener project going?

scrivener-512Going to be honest here, I’ve switched my project. I was going to use Scrivener to write a memoir manuscript on clearing my heart of clutter in order to clear my house of clutter. I’m still going to do that one, but the writing part is going to take longer.

And I want to get a project done.

So I decided to use Scrivener to write a series of lessons learned, tips, and advice on dealing with Lyme disease. This is tick season and, because I have written so much on Lyme disease in the past, people are constantly asking me for advice. As you may know five of my kids and I have Lyme disease, trust me I have a lot of lessons and tips to share on taking care of others, as well as yourself when Lyme is in the house.

I’ve wanted to consolidate this information for a long time. This project allows me the perfect opportunity.

Our Lyme doc always gives us the same advice when we trying to heal from Lyme, along with taking our medication he also reminds us to include “diet, exercise, water, and God (and God is a general faith in something outside of yourself)” in our healing regimen. When I looked at all I have written over the years, I discovered that those topics are really the big buckets of what I want to write about.

  • Intro
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Water
  • God
  • Conclusion

Using Scrivener, these are the major topics in my outline. I’ve identified sub-topics under each “bucket.” Right now I have 53 sub-topics (and I’m sure more will come as I think of them), if I write 5 pages on each topic (some will have more, some less) my piece would clock in at 265 pages – a respectable manuscript. I added topics and then I moved them around until it felt right (it’s easy to move things around in your outline, just click and drag.) The beauty of this is that under outline view, I can see the structure of my entire piece, I can see exactly where to put a new topic and I can also figure out where something might need to be moved to.

It’s the big picture view of my work and I love it.

I’ve probably spent a total of 7 hours working on my outline. I know that to some writers that sounds icky – what about the spontaneity of writing and all? Oh, the spontaneity will come, I promise you. I’m just figuring out where it belongs first.

Now that I have a working outline, the next step is to collect what I’ve already written on the subjects and drop them into their corresponding space. Although this is an advice/lessons learned piece, I still need to have a larger story and a theme running through the entire manuscript. That will be something I’ll be working on as I finesse the outline *while* adding pre-written work *and* new work.

This is where being a good juggler comes in handy.

It’s a very mechanical and structured way to write, but it’s also a way that shows how to eat that writing elephant – one bite at a time.

Telling myself I need to sit down and write a chapter on Diet today is too overwhelming, I’d rather turn on the TV and watch a rerun of Criminal Minds.

But telling myself that I need to write (or collect) information (approximately 5 pages worth) on 3 specific topics (ex, my experiences with a Keto diet), is something I can do, even with my busy schedule. It’s a manageable bite.

Bottom line – after working the outline (and working and working it) I’m now at the writing and collection stage. My Fridays are open and those are going to become my “Scrivener days.” Just think of how much progress I’ll be able to make when I know exactly what my daily targets looks like.


As always, I appreciate comments and questions. I know that some of you are working with Scrivener, I’d love to hear how it’s going.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Grammar-ease: When to write out numbers

Welcome to a new grammar post, lovely readers. This topic came from one of you, thank you!

When do you write out numbers?

Some consistent rules include:

  • Write out small, whole numbers that are less than 10: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine
  • Write out centuries and decades: twenty-first century, the Seventies
  • Write out a number if it starts a sentence: Six hundred men stormed the castle. (An exception is if the sentence starts with a year: 1965 was a great year.)
  • Estimated and rounded numbers over a million are a mix:
    2 million, 47 billion, 598 trillion (exact numbers are written out: 1,734,683,925; 1,985; 99,234, and so on)
  • Similar to the above point, percentages, when a whole number, spell out; with decimal or fraction, use the number: thirty-seven percent (or 37 percent); 2.75%, 3 3/4%, ten percent (or 10 percent).
  • When two numbers are next to each other, spell one of them out: I had a party for 4 ten-year-old children; ten 4-year-old children(spell out the number with the fewest letters)
  • Multiple numbers in a sentence — your choice to spell out or not, but be consistent with the method you choose: There were 11 horses, 6 chickens, and 2 ducks on the farm. OR There were eleven horses, six chickens, and two ducks on the farm. (Not, for instance: There were 11 horses, six chickens, and two ducks.)

Rules that vary:

  • Spelling out a number in a quote. If something is a direct quote, I prefer to spell out numbers as words; but it is okay to use numbers: Robert said, “I found 57 pieces of glass on the beach.” OR Robert said, “I found fifty-seven pieces of glass on the beach.”
  • Unless following a specific style guide, it’s generally a personal preference whether to write out single-word numbers (thirteen, thirty, forty, and so on) or use figures for two-word numbers (25, 31, 46, 99 and so on). Numbers containing three or more words fall into the category about about estimated/rounded numbers versus exact numbers.
  • Time of day is a personal preference: 4:30AM versus four-thirty in the morning; The alarm goes off at five sharp. versus The alarm goes off at 5 sharp.

Here’s a way to keep it simple:

The overall rule of thumb: consistency is key.

Of course this doesn’t cover every rule or possibility, just an overview and place to start. Publishers and many companies have style guides that spell out their preferences, and you’ll (probably) seldom find any two alike!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, technology, and realty businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.