Margie Lawson Extravaganza (Part 2!)

When I found out the awesome and talented Melinda Collins was headed off to Colorado to attend  Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class, I absolutely had to convince her to swing by and tell us about the experience afterward. Of course, Writing Superhero Jami Gold had the same idea, so rather than stage an EPIC, lightning-sword-and-killer-unicorn BATTLE TO THE DEATH as to who got Melinda, we decided to share her. Isn’t that nice? *beams*

As someone who purchased a Margie Lawson Lesson Packet on Body Language (thanks for the heads up, Stina Lindenblatt!) in the past, I can only imagine the value of a ML Intensive. So please, read on dear Musers. It’s a long-ish post, but oh-so-worth it.

Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson: The Experience, The Takeaways, The Lessons – Part Two

Thank you, Angela, for inviting me over today to talk about my recent experience in Colorado with the wonderful, talented, writerly genius, Margie Lawson, and her Immersion Master Class!
Because I have so much to share, this is actually a two-part blog post. Which means I’m also over at Jami Gold’s blog today as well with part one! *grin* And, as an added bonus, Margie Lawson will be over at my blog today, Muse, Rant, Rave, sharing even more writing technique goodies! *booty dance* Okay, enough dancin’ and let’s get to learnin’, shall we?

The Experience

Over on Jami’s blog I talked about the kinship and sisterhood that developed in our group. Here I’d like to share with you two additional elements of the class that made this a one-of-a-kind experience.
The first would be location, location, location! We were about two miles above sea level, and being that high meant cell service was practically nonexistent, which in turn meant we got to enjoy the peace and quiet tranquility of the Rocky Mountains. What more inspiration do you need if you look outside the window, or go on a short hike and see this?

The view from our 1st hiking trip

Pretty unreal, right? But this is exactly what every day was like for us. It wasn’t all work and no play. In fact, we went hiking twice during our time on the mountain. The first short hike gave us the beautiful view in the picture above, and the second, longer hike, gave us this gorgeous view:

The view from our 2nd hiking trip

So the experience was deeper than just learning more about yourself and your writing craft. It was about taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and find inspiration in nature.

The view from Margie’s writing loft

The second element I wanted to share about the experience is the one on one time each of us got to spend with Margie. Every day, with pages in hand, we walked into a quiet, cozy room and worked one on one with Margie – an experience that will stay with me forever. By sitting down with her, one on one, you gain a certain understanding and perspective of your writing. You learn how to channel the genius editing that is her mind, and you see your writing in a whole new light. Every sentence, every word is purposefully chosen to pack a maximum punch for your reader, and during your one on one time, you learn more about how you choose those words and how you organize your sentences.
I can’t begin to imagine how I was editing before this class because now I feel as though I’m walking away with a particular sense of how to attack edits, how to look for the minor nuances, how to portray action scenes in a new and exciting way for the reader, and how to make my prose sing a beautifully cadenced tune.

The Takeaways

In part one I talk about what I learned about my style and where I want to be a year from now. Here I’d like to talk about group settings: why it’s important to work within a group where each person has the same purpose in their writing, and why it’s important to encourage and help other writers make their writing the best it can possibly be.

It’s always important to take a break when editing to hike! 😉

When you’re in a group setting and everyone has the same purpose of making their MS NYT Bestselling-worthy, you’re sitting in a gold mine. This is why it’s so incredibly important to join a writing group where everyone is dedicated and everyone pushes you to strive, work, and think harder. Sure, writing’s a singular experience (unless you’re co-writing), but without that group of writers who share your struggles, your doubts, and your triumphs, you may not get too far. This particular experience brought that fact home for me. When I struggled in making a phrase powerful and pitch-perfect, there were four other writers there tossing ideas back and forth until we got it. I’m sure without them there I might’ve gotten 85% of what I wanted in the phrase, but that’s not enough. I want 100%. I want it to pack a punch. And I want the help of other writers who fill in the gaps of my weaknesses.

This is another reason why it’s important to not only be in a group setting with a common purpose, but also to encourage other writers and their craft. We thrive on the encouragement and the kudos we get from others like us. We hear of another writer who’s just finaled

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.  — Ryunosuke Satoro
I got the honor of silly-stringing Amanda! Sooo much fun!!! 🙂

Quick note: While we were there, one of our Immersion Sisters, Amanda, actually did find out that she finaled in a writing contest with three scores of 99 out of 100!!!!! WOO HOO! How AWESOME is that?!? So what did we do to celebrate when we found out? We silly-stringed her of course!!!

The Lessons

Without giving away too much, here’s the back half of the top ten lessons I learned while in Colorado (as I said in the first post, there are many, many, many more):
1. Description: Description shouldn’t be on the page simply just to be there. Description should be on the page as it affects the character. When you’re writing description, think of how it affects your character in terms of their attitude and thoughts. If you had a character pull up to their childhood home, don’t just describe it as having paint-chipped shutters and a bright red door. Attach that description to your character. What does she remember about those shutters and that red door? Does she recall the many summers she spent helping her mother repaint the shutters? Does she recall being caught kissing a boy in front of the bright red door? If so, then why don’t you attach that description to those memories and make it a stronger, more powerful read?

Example from my MS:

I took a breath and walked out to the edge of the street. This house would represent the beginning of the rest of my life. I hadn’t seen the midnight blue, oceanfront home in so long, and it was now my home.

Because a home is a sense of trust, safety and love for my MC, I attached those feelings to the description of a place that is now her home. There’s more description of the house that follows this, but this is the one place where I purposefully showed how arriving to this setting affected my character.

2. Breaking Tension: Margie has an EDITS system that uses different colored highlighters to track story elements. One is tension. When you’re tracking tension and you notice a small – or big – area where you’ve broken the tension, you’d better go back to check the following:

a. Check to ensure you intended to break the tension.
b. Check to ensure the break in tension is not only needed, but that it works
c. Check to ensure it doesn’t entice the reader to skim

I’m willing to bet there may be several areas where you didn’t intend to break the tension, you didn’t intend to invite the reader to skim, you didn’t intend to put a humor hit in the middle of a serious scene that shouldn’t be broken.

So if you break tension, make sure it’s intentional, it works, it flows, and it doesn’t bore the reader in skipping ahead to where the tension picks back up.

3. NO ‘ITs’ or ‘THATs’: I now have yet another new item to add to my editing toolbox/checklist: NO ‘ITs’ or ‘THATs’!! Okay, so obviously I don’t mean you can’t have ‘it’ or ‘that’ in your MS as at all. But what I do mean is don’t end a sentence with ‘it’ or ‘that.’


Oh yeah, I’d considered that.

See what I mean? When I take this sentence out of context, you have absolutely no clue what the character meant by ‘that.’

Example without ‘that’:

Oh yeah, I’d considered Nick to be nothing more than an ant.

A-ha! So when I removed ‘that,’ I made the sentence stronger and more powerful! So the lesson here is: do a find for ‘IT’ and ‘THAT’ and restructure/reword each sentence/phrase that just so happens to end with one of those UNLESS having one of those two words 100%, unequivocally works!

4. Throw-Away Words (Tightening): Another important item to add to your editing checklist: throw-away words. This goes beyond the usual crutch words such as saw, felt, was, etc. Once of the techniques Margie teaches is taking a printed copy of your MS and reading through, line by line, and checking each line off to ensure it has a strong cadence. This ensures you don’t have any words in there that might trip the reader or the flow of the passage. As we all know, there are many other types of throw-away words that can tongue-tie the reader – which is another reason why it’s incredibly important that we get used to the sound of our voice, read everything aloud, and tighten, tighten, tighten.

Examples with Throw-Away Words:

After all, it wasn’t my fault their stories weren’t being told anymore.
I looked back at where he stood and touched my cheek.

Did I really need all those words? Nope.

Examples without Throw-Away Words:

It wasn’t my fault their stories weren’t being told anymore.
I touched my cheek.

See? I didn’t need after all and looked. Those were just two sentences! And between the two, I cut a total of nine words! By reading through my MS, line by line by line, and checking each one off once I’ve determined it’s a TEN, I will have a MS that’s tight, tight, tight! *booty dance*

5. Backloading: Ah… this is a fun one! But because there’s so much I could say about it and so little space in today’s post, I’m going to make it short and sweet. Backloading is where you take the most powerful word in a sentence, and you rework the phrase to pack that power at the end of the sentence so it resonates with the reader.

Example before Backloading:

And when we did see him, we never took a moment for granted, but that was before he abandoned us.

The most powerful word in this particular phrase is abandoned. When you hear it, you instantly feel for the character because you may know what it’s like to feel abandoned. So why not make it the last word the reader processes before they move to the next paragraph?

Example after Backloading:

And when we did see him, we never took a moment for granted. But that was before we were abandoned.

Not only did I ensure my power word was there to backload the phrase, I also split that large phrase into one semi-big sentence then followed it up with a shorter, powerful sentence.

Backloading forces you to look at the structure of your sentences and paragraph breaks. By examining each sentence with a finely-tuned, analytical eye, you’ll not only catch the instances where backloading will pack a punch, but you’ll also catch the areas where one larger sentence can be broken into two, shorter, more powerful sentences. Ha! I got two lessons into one on that one! *giggle*

Once again, I really, really, really want to encourage everyone to visit Margie’s site, purchase and read and absorb the lecture packets and/or enroll in an online course. After you’ve done that, I really recommend attending an Immersion Master Class yourself to fully learn not only these techniques/lessons, but waaaaay more! In all her courses, you’ll learn ways to add psychological power to your writing and how to write a page-turner that will keep your readers up until their spouse finally says, “Pleeeease come to bed!”  *giggle*

Before I go, I just want to say thank you again to Angela for having me over today and allowing me to share a small percentage of what I learned!

If this was your first stop, then before you pop over to either Jami’s site for more on the experience, the takeaways and the lessons, or stop by my blog for a quick lesson from Margie, think about the following: Do you have a place you can get away to? One that’s quiet, calm and inspiring? What about a writing group – do you have a group of writers that you can learn from, give kudos to, and share your triumphs with? Do you have areas in your MS that could benefit from tying description to emotion? Or what about areas where you’ve broken the tension unintentionally? Do you run through each of your lines and ensure they work 100% before moving onto the next?

Wow! Thank you Melinda for being so generous and sharing your amazing experience with Margie! I am a life-long learner, and I absolutely love to absorb as much as I can about the writing craft.



Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
This entry was posted in Characters, Critique Groups, Description, Editing Tips, Focus, Writing Groups, Writing Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to Margie Lawson Extravaganza (Part 2!)

  1. Pingback: Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson: Part One — Guest: Melinda Collins | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author

  2. ChiTrader says:

    Margie is the real deal. I bought one lecture packet and took an online course. Highly recommended. I learned more in a month about writing than I’d learned in the previous few years.


  3. Thanks for the lessons!! I, too, would enjoy a retreat like that, though maybe not so much the hiking part. Lol. Still, it would be a new experience for me and perhaps a welcome one.

  4. How fabulous! Thanks for all of this wonderful information. I know I will come back to it again and again.

    Glad you enjoyed our beautiful state of Colorado. The mountains are so inspirational! 🙂

  5. Sounds like a truly incredible and inspiring time. Sigh.

  6. Jeremy Bates says:

    This sounds like a good way to connect with your inner writer. Thanks for sharing. I hope to read more from you in the future.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Gosh, that was great. A definite entry in my Writing Tips file! 🙂

    Yvette Carol

  8. @Heather M: Yes…we definitely want to break tension unintentionally. If there’s a break, we really need to make sure there’s a good reason. Never really thought about it until recently, and what helps is Margie’s EDITS system. She shows you how to track conflict/tension in your WIP to help you find any breaks in tension. 😉 Thanks!

    @Julia: Oh, awesome! I definitely suggest checking out Margie’s site and grabbing a lecture packet…or two…or three! 🙂

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