The words "rewrite edit” repeatedly typed on a page on an older typewriter

Needing a sensitivity editor doesn’t mean you’re an insensitive person.

More and more these days, fiction authors are hiring sensitivity readers/editors or being asked to have their works or pitches reviewed by readers/editors who share a lived experience with the characters in their stories. For me, who is a sensitivity editor and who relies on them so much, I forget that the concept might rub some authors the wrong way. They often interpret the word “sensitive” as some kind of insult. So, let me clarify:

Sensitivity in context with needing a sensitivity editor means you want to make sure you’re not writing harmful content for an audience who shares a lived experience with characters in your book—a lived experience you as an author do not share.

It’s about representation. And maybe a little more than that too. Known also as diversity editors, I like to think of them as awareness editors, because they make us aware of realities and nuances that are unknown to us.

I’ll take it upon myself with the example of my upcoming release, Season One: Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! I am disabled, autistic, mentally ill, and hard-of-hearing of voices because of what seems to be auditory processing disorder (APD). I wrote this space opera with an ensemble cast because I wanted to do an accessible and accommodating world-building. This means I have characters who have disabilities or states of being that I don’t have. Despite my research of lived-experience videos and articles, and what I know from being immersed in community with and being an editor of works by folks who are disabled, d/Deaf, neurodivergent, Blind, and/or who manage mental health, there was no way I would have Iris and the Crew published without sensitivity editors. In fact, it was part of my pitch that even though I wrote with extreme care, I would need the manuscript assessed to make sure I didn’t include something that was “AH! BURN IT WITH FIRE!”

I made another choice as well. I didn’t write how any of my characters became disabled, Deaf, Blind, or mentally ill. There are no diagnoses. My mission was to have them just be and show what their space adventures could look like in a society where bodyminds are celebrated. So, no deep-dive point of views (POV), except maybe with Herb and Gerri, through whom I would write a lot of my autistic sensory stuff and other traits. (Okay, I do have an episode called Clarence has a POV, but I think I captured this little robot’s perspective pretty well.)

So, I didn’t have an attitude, of “Hey, I’m a disability advocate in literary spaces. I know things! I don’t need sensitivity editors!” I was more like, “Hold me because I don’t want to hurt people!” I’m hyper-empathetic, and the notion of hurting others is a big fear of mine. You don’t have to be terrified like I get, just humble enough to know you might not be aware of stuff.

The “why”

I love this article that Canadian author ’Nathan Burgoine wrote for the Spoonie Authors Network: “The First Thing is the Why.” In it, he says how it’s important to ask yourself why you should be writing characters who don’t share your lived experiences, and he brings up POV writing. Writing in-depth POV with protagonists whose lives are really out of your wheelhouse can be very risky, so asking yourself, “Why me?” is important there. It’s really difficult to capture the same nuances as someone who lives those experiences. And when it comes to marginalized people, whose works (in my opinion) are not elevated or published enough, you are probably taking space away from them in Publishing. So, give that a good, hard think. Sharing your pitch with a sensitivity editor could really guide you there. I know a sensitivity editor who said they would refuse to edit a work because of the pitch they heard—it was full of harmful tropes and there was no way to “save” it. You don’t want your stories full of “tropes and nopes,” that’s fore sure.

But having diverse characters in stories can be awesome. Let them be part of the cast, solving crimes, having a romance, or doing the pew-pew-pew! First, do your research, learn from people, attend panels, and read blogs and books recommended by folks with that lived experience.

Whatever you do, don’t include certain characters because you think it’s trendy or could sell more books. Because honestly, that’s just ick.

Let your “why” have a healthy answer to it.

Some tropes and nopes

Obviously, I can’t think of all of the things to avoid, but here are a few:

Writing “saviourism” stories—this is when someone with racial, wealth, and/or abled privilege rescues marginalized characters. By this I mean that the only purpose of, for example, a disabled character is to show how wonderful the non-disabled protagonist is. Or the only purpose of a Black or an Indigenous character is to be rescued by a white protagonist.

“Burying your gays”—this ubiquitous and harmful trope has been around for decades. It’s when you have one LGBTQIA2S+ character in your story, and they have to die by the end of the book. Or there is only one queer couple, but one of them dies. Let us live!

“Inspiration porn”—this is one that gets my goat the most. (I’ve spoken to my goat, and she hates it immensely.) Those are the stories where the sole purpose of a disabled character is to overcome their disability (“cure narratives”), or they exist just to inspire the protagonist. Extra icky points for the disabled person dying while inspiring the protagonist. Let us be disabled all the way through the story. Give us a personality. (I highly recommend snarky!)

Racism—this might seem really obvious to avoid, but some authors could miss some instances where it appears in their work. For white folks like myself, we might not be fully aware of the impact systemic racism has had on us. We might even be anti-racist, yet, something we’re completely unaware of could find itself on the page. Also, I’m just going to say it: white folks, really consider refraining from writing protagonists who are Black, Indigenous, and/or persons of colour. Because the industry is so predominantly white. (Buy and boost the works of these authors instead.) But yeah, I reckon a good rule of thumb is that everyone should write with care to make sure we’re not writing harmful characterizations and stereotypes of our fellow humans.

Misogyny—this applies to misogyny of cisgender and trans women. Just don’t. And for the love of all things, can you talk about our personality, aspirations, skills, and not our body parts? Genitals don’t define a gender, either. Now, this might be shocking to cisgender male authors, but BOOBS ARE NOT SENTIENT! They don’t get sad or angry or resentful. (My boobs really wanted you to know that.) Write us as human beings. We don’t even have to be “strong” all the time. We can show strength and vulnerability (which really is another form of strength). You don’t need to rescue us either. Because really, in actual life, it’s often women who come up with solutions. Seriously, just observe that. By the way, you left your wallet in the inside pocket of that grey blazer you wear, like, once a year. You’re welcome.

The betas and the editors

If you’re really lucky, you might have beta readers who are willing to give you sensitivity feedback free of charge. I only mention this because budgets can be tight for indie authors. Sensitivity readers and editors are worth paying for because their job is really important. I have paid for their work and have been blessed to also have beta readers who were happy to offer feedback from their lived experiences too.

Truth be told, I am always anxious about feedback. That’s just my nature. But I can tell you I am really grateful for it. Going in with the attitude that these readers and editors want to help me and make my book more enjoyed by my audience really is the key. They also want to help rid my work of harmful terms and tropes. While language is constantly changing and evolving, it’s important to do your best. I feel readers can tell when an author cares to represent their characters well. The respect comes off the page, in my opinion.

I would encourage you to find betas who don’t have a problem giving honest feedback. And as for sensitivity editors, ask around! Here’s a link for “Sensitivity and Diversity Editors” from the Spoonie Authors Network that might help for some areas of representation. You can post on social media, too. I found a wonderful sensitivity editor for my latest WIP on Twitter!

It helps to chat with them a bit first. If their personality gels with yours, then there’s a good chance you’ll collaborate well together. It’s so great when you can have a healthy working relationship. I can’t even tell you how much I have benefitted and grown. I know so much more now than I did over six years ago, when I entered Published Author Land!

Again, attitude is huge. Be humble, be willing to accept that you’ll have to modify your work, and try not to take comments as a mark against you as a person. We don’t know everything and these comments can expand our awareness immensely.

Good luck!

I sincerely wish you all the best with your writing projects. While it’s impossible to be perfect, we can do our best to deliver characters who shine.

And maybe sometimes we need to abandon an idea altogether. But we might come up with a way better idea!

It’s a journey, for real, being an author and a human being. Always so much to learn, always so many areas to grow in.

That’s part of the adventure for me, to be honest.

May you have an amazing adventure too.

A greyscale close-up of me, standing in front of a blank background. I am a white woman with short silver hair cropped closely on the sides. I am wearing dark metallic rimmed glasses with rhinestones on the side. I’m wearing silver hook earrings with flat beads and a plaid shirt.

Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’CosmThe Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

ID: Screenshot of my title page that says (Season One) Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! by Cait Gordon

You beta believe I needed those readers!

Last week, I did a thing! I submitted Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space! to the wonderful Renaissance, who has been the publisher of my previous novels and the anthologies I’ve co-edited. It was a supremely big deal for me to get to the submission stage because my brain has been greatly affected from living in this pandemic. I could barely write anything in 2020, but in April and June of this year, all the words flooded out of me. Looking back, I can hardly believe it; there’s no way I could write that much right now.

It had been important to me to write Iris and the Crew. The world-building was inspired by Universal Design and the Social Model of Disability. I myself am a disabled, autistic, hard-of-hearing, and mentally ill human. I face some form of ableism and lack of accessibility or accommodation constantly. I needed to dive into a world where these obstacles were removed.

My wheelhouse is engaging with folks of a variety of bodyminds, and giving/receiving support, witnessing the benefits of sharing experiences, and having a lot of laughs (mostly from snark). Living in community with each other, even virtually, has enriched my life. I wanted to use my favourite fiction vehicle—space opera—to show this wonderful camaraderie. What could the adventures of a crew on a fully accessible/accommodating ship be like? And so, the world-building began.

After I’d finished the first draft, I tried doing what I’d always done: prepare a cleaner draft for Beta readers. Easy-peasy, right? I mean, I wasn’t new at this.

Wrong. So much all the wrongness.

Holy stars, it felt like pulling teeth to turn the manuscript into a crisper draft. My mind was just exhausted, and I couldn’t concentrate. I had to break things into smaller and smaller chunks just to achieve anything resembling decent writing. Sure, I was battling a situational depression (and the situation causing my depression was pan-global, so yay), but writing has always been my refuge during mental health crises. Welp, this was different. Brain spoons were sorely limited. And I know I am not alone here, as many of my fellow disabled/ND friends were also experiencing concentration issues with reading and writing these past 20+ months.

Still, to the rescue came a band of trusty beta readers. While I have always treasured having help from Betas, this time, I needed them more than ever. I’d just conked out from preparing my manuscript, and it wasn’t up to snuff, but they were so understanding. A few even helped me with grammar and typos (something I am usually sharp at catching myself). Some helped me with inconsistencies and pointing out character strengths and things that could be improved. In short, I received solid feedback for getting to the next stage in the writing process, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their thoroughness. I just couldn’t get there by myself at all.

And going through all the comments also felt like lifting weights in my head. I made sure to edit it really slowly, so I could concentrate. I took much longer than I would have in the BeforeTime. I got there, though!

Now, the manuscript is with my publisher, ready for the next step, which will be putting it under the care of professional sensitivity editors. I did research a ton while writing this first “season” of Iris and the Crew, and from information provided by people with lived experiences, but I know I’ll feel even more confident with another vetting. My goal is for readers to gleefully find something relatable in the crew members. Just enough for them to cry, “Hey! It me!”

I will be thanking all the beta readers (and sensitivity editors/readers) in the Acknowledgement section of the book. Because without them, I’d still have an unfinished work sitting on my laptop.

In the meantime, thanks, folks. You know who you are. ❤

Closeup of me. I'm a white woman with bobbed silver hair tucked behind my ear. I have a youngish face. I'm wearing a grey tee that has in old English font: "Hmmm..." Geralt of Rivia

Cait Gordon is a Canadian autistic, disabled, and queer author of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She also co-edited Nothing Without Us with Talia C. Johnson, a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist for Best Related Work that has thrice been part of a disability studies syllabus at Trent University. (The submission window for Nothing Without Us Too is currently open until Jan 31, 2022!) When not fine-tuning manuscripts, Cait advocates for disability representation and is the founder of the Spoonie Authors Network.

Writing groups should be supportive, not a bunch of soul-crunching bullies.

Earlier this month, I saw this tweet from author Heather Carlson:

My response was:

I’ve written before about gatekeepers who push the everyone-must rules. You know, like the infamous tripe, “You must write every day.” Not only are those types of statements just plain wrong, they are also classist, ableist, and a whole bunch of ists. A writing group should be supportive of its fellow authors. And support can be like this:

  • offering constructive criticism
  • providing access to beta reading
  • celebrating any amount of words created
  • being collaborative and not competitive
  • accommodating various accessibility requirements
  • having fun
Loose-leaf paper with the words: 15,000 Words or be ejected? PHOOEY!

I belonged to this wonderful writing group called The Inkonceivables. We were mostly Spoonie authors, so every session was done through video chat. It was such a blast, and their feedback really helped me improve my writing. Also, when I feared I would screw up the representation in The Stealth Lovers, and I wanted to quit writing it because I just plain-well panicked, a fellow author said, “Don’t worry. If there’s something wrong, we’ll tell you.” And the tone was so gentle and reassuring, I really felt they had my back. I finished the book, and it was published by Renaissance in 2019.

Writing groups should live to edify their authors. Let’s face it, we’re all prone to insecurity and imposter syndrome. Thankfully, most of us feel that way at different times, so if one of us is in YIPES!-mode, there will be at least one other author to offer encouragement.

Hey, if you can write 15,000 words every month, and you’re content, then go for it! But don’t impose word quotas on other people. That’s bullying. Not everyone’s brain creates the same way, and the number of words doesn’t automatically equate a good story. Five years ago, I thought I was the type of author who could only publish 100K-word novels. Then I discovered short stories and had three of them published in anthologies. Just this year, I wrote a piece of microfiction that’s around 200 words and received an acceptance for it! So, what’s important is the story you want to tell, not how many words it is or how quickly you can churn it out. As someone who’s co-edited an anthology, I can doubly testify to this. I’ve read stories less than 2000 words that were an entire meal!

Back in the day when I worked as a technical writer, we had rigid time-to-market deadlines. Whoo, that was intense work. Now, as a creative writer who is also disabled, I want to craft my stories without the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. I’m also autistic. So, I’m going to let my brain brain however and whenever it wants to!

I haven’t followed up, but I do hope Heather Carlson found a better writing group. I was very glad to read how many authors validated that it’s so wrong to impose this type of rule. Honestly, if it were me, every month, I’d have handed in a document with this content:

15,000 words/month

by Cait Gordon

But Snark™ is sorta my superpower.


A Pretend Author

Cait Gordon, in a black and white digital sketch

Cait Gordon is a disability advocate and the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When she’s not writing, Cait’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology in an attempt to take over the world. Narf.

Back from staycay!

I had a lovely two weeks off, relaxing with the husband unit during our stay-cation. So much dessert, so much retail therapy. Good times.

But now STUFF is about to happen. Because of my super-amazing beta readers from heaven, I received all the comments, and I’m ready to roll with preparing the submission draft of The Stealth Lovers. How is this possible? I only began writing the first lines in October 2017! Never thought I could do that. I figured writing books this quickly was for all the other authory people out there.

The Stealth Lovers got praise indeed from my beta readers, which made my life! I always felt I needed to take Xax and Viv beyond what we know of them in Life in the ‘Cosm, and writing their origin story was a wild ride. I just love those guys.

I’m still on schedule to submit my manuscript in August-September of this year. Holy moly! This is happening. BOOK TWO OF MY CAREER IS IMMINENT!

In the meantime, if you’ve read Life in the ‘Cosm, thank you! Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads and telling your friends about the book! If you haven’t read it yet, you can buy it through AmazonBarnes & Noble , and my publisher, Renaissance. (Ask Renaissance about getting a signed copy, too!) Okay, this has been the shameless promo part of this post; however, if you’re curious about reading The Stealth Lovers, then you might want to read Life in the ‘Cosm first, since TSL is a prequel. (But hey, you do you and read them in whichever order makes you smile.)

And in case I’ve not said it lately, thanks to all my readers! Your support is so very much appreciated. MWAH!

Cait Gordon

Cait Gordon is the author of Life in the ’Cosm, a story about a little green guy who’s on an adventure to save half the person he loves. Cait is currently working on a prequel to ’Cosm called The Stealth Lovers, a military space opera. When she’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts for indie authors and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors are writers who manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also really likes cake

Sensitivity editing is not censorship—it’s about respect.

This morning my friend tagged me on a post featuring an article about sensitivity readers. Without reading the article, I replied, “Yes! I use sensitivity readers and editors all the time!” Then, I did a bad thing—I read the commentsUgh. A few people equated this type of editing to censorship and others made some really insulting remarks. (Btw, why do people use disability slurs whenever they’re getting particularly irate? As a disabled person I think: You wish you had my awesome.)

I can’t help but feel the issue here is that not many people understand what sensitivity editing is. The essence of it is to capture nuances correctly and avoid misrepresenting people who have a difference lived experience from the author. So, in my case, I am a straight woman who is currently writing a story where the protagonists are gay men. (Well, gay lizardmen aliens who are badass warriors, but you get the picture.) Along with their adventures is the arc of their relationship and love story. Another character in this book is asexual and there is a transfeminine character as well. Now, even though my lived experience as a cishet woman (cisgender and heterosexual) is to have a plethora of queer buddies and a BFF who is trans, trust me when I say I wouldn’t dare publish a story or book without sensitivity editing. As educated as I think I might be about queer experiences through listening to my friends and reading well-written queer fiction and other own-voice materials, the bottom line is this—I’m not queer, so I won’t know everything. Not by a long shot.

Author ‘Nathan Burgoine (stellar writer, oh my word) made an excellent statement that went something like this: When writing characters who are not your lived experience, ask yourself why you’re doing it.

That’s a great litmus paper right there. Are you creating your characters because you feel entitled to write whatever you like, or are you sincerely interested in representing them so well that people will be moved by them? Do you care about avoiding tropes and clichés that could actually hurt queer people, disabled folks, persons of colour, and so on? If so, then get some sensitivity readers/editors on your team. You’ll be glad you did.

In my experience, having readers who represent the characters I’m writing about gives me such relief. I feel like I can relax because they’ll tell me if I missed something or wrote a thing that’s just not realistic. They can explain if I accidentally fell into some harmful tropes. But what they also can do is tell me whenever I get things right. I find sensitivity readers want my book to do well and offer suggestions that make things even better than I’d originally written. (As an editor myself, I love this, since my own goal is to make the work of my clients shine!)

My bff, Talia C. Johnson, is a sensitivity editor for queer and trans characters. She’s looked at everything I’ve published or submitted. Recently I sold a story to the Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland anthology, where my main character is genderqueer. I wanted Alice to be non-binary, and I really wanted them as the protagonist, not a secondary player in the story. I felt confident in submitting my entry because I had the validation not only from Talia, but also from a close friend who is non-binary.

For my upcoming book, The Stealth Lovers, I have my sensitivity editor and my beta readers all lined up. I’ve picked a group of people who can provide me with vital feedback about the characters as well as the story. You have no idea how much I treasure these folks.

So, no, I don’t equate sensitivity editing with censorship at all. These editors check for misrepresentation of people the same way a stylistic editor catches flow and repetition issues. It’s just another part of the editing process. And good sensitivity readers/editors give you suggestions about how to improve your writing.

I don’t want to be a jerk; I want people to love my books. My writing is extremely character-driven, so crafting these people (or aliens) really matters to me. My love for my queer friends drives me to want to do right by them.

The last thing I want is to publish something that hurts people.

Cait GordonCait (pronounced like “cat”) Gordon is originally from Verdun, Québec, and has been living in the suburbs of Ottawa since 1998. Her first novel, Life in the ’Cosm (Renaissance) was published in 2016. Her short story, A Night at the Rabbit Hole, appears in the Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland anthology (Exile Editions). She’s currently working on The Stealth Lovers, a prequel to the ’Cosm series. For her day job, Cait is a freelance editor. Some of the titles she’s edited include Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Postnatal Depression Sucks (Robin Elizabeth), Camp Follower: One Army Brat’s Story (Michele Sabad), Skylark (S.M. Carrière), Little Yellow Magnet (Jamieson Wolf), A Desert Song (Amy M. Young), and Moonshadow’s Guardian (Dianna Gunn). Cait is also the founder and editor of the Spoonie Authors Network, whose contributors manage chronic conditions and/or disabilities.


Asking for Reader Feedback: Scary but Awesome

Last year I joined a writers’ group called The Inkonceivables (I know, right? Adorbz!) with authors Nathan Fréchette, Marjo Lafrenière, Éric Desmarais, S.M. Carrière, and Jamieson Wolf. Confession: I really, really, really, times infinity did not want to ever be apart of one. Probably because of previously witnessing writers’ groups whose members spoke as if fatally absorbed in their own importance, posturing like peacocks.

Thankfully, I took the plunge and I simply love this group. The Inkonceivables are authors who share their works-in-progress (WIP), such as, short stories, poems, and novels. It’s kinda cool. We do a Google Hangout each week, which is great for my spoonie lifestyle, and I just sit back and listen to these amazing pieces. Whenever it’s my time to share, I confess my heart goes into full throttle as if I’m on stage again. Yeah, I get performance nerves!


What’s neat is that after we share our stories, we give the author our notes. Sometimes they are things like repetition or a redefinition of a word, but mostly it’s encouragement. We get to ask questions to the author, too, and I love that.

Because I am a straight, cis woman who writes queer characters (and who’s  been affectionately dubbed “the token cishet”), having a group of queer authors listen to my work is worth its weight in gold. I particularly value their opinions when it comes to The Stealth Lovers, my military space opera about Xax and Viv. I’ve received wonderful feedback about this story so far. When my buddy Jamieson Wolf kept saying, “Hon, you write gay men right,” I felt relieved and thrilled. I want a queer audience to cheer, laugh, and cry with Xax and Viv. I don’t want readers to scream, “BURN IT! BURN IT NOW!!!”

Occasionally getting reader feedback can be hysterical. I accidentally wrote in a short story something about eyeballs that they can’t physically do. One author pointed it out and another said, “But they’re aliens. Maybe their eyes can do that!” We all had a good chuckle at that one.

I think my initial NOPE about joining a writers’ group was because I felt terrified of being so much less than the other authors, thinking they’d trash my WIP to pieces. Instead, not only has the feedback proved invaluable, but also I get to listen to the writing of other authors, sharing in their journey as they develop their books. And we’re multi-genre, so my horizons broaden even more in this environment.

And you know what? Every single author in the group can feel nervous about sharing. Ah, authors, we’re so fantastically vulnerable.

I always knew that beta readers are important once I have a draft that’s ready for review, but now I understand that fellow authors who provide notes on whatever I’m ready to share are also vital to my writing process. We provide support to each other as we’re in the trenches, trying to write words good.

So, a big thanks to Nathan Fréchette for nudging me to join The Inkonceivables. I think I owe you my entire writing career at this point, plus thousands of dollars worth of psychotherapy.

Can’t wait for next week! My bff Talia “The Brain” Johnson is joining us. (What could possibly go wrong?) 😉

Cait Gordon

Cait Gordon is the author of Life in the ’Cosm, a story about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague. Cait is currently working on a prequel to ’Cosm called The Stealth Lovers, a rom-com military space opera. When she’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts for indie authors and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors are writers with disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also really likes cake.

Mastering the Art of Writing Badly

I normally don’t like to toot my own horn, but I can totally own up to one of my talents—I can write really badly.

WHOOT, HOORAY, GO ME! I’ve totally got bragging rights on this one.

Why in all that is iced with frosting would I feel proud that I cannot write positively goodly? Well, quite honestly, it helps me get things done.

Let it go, let it goooo

The truth is I want to be an excellent writer. The truthier thing is that writing well takes a lot of time. My experience in high-tech taught me how important it is to release a perfect product to the world. Technical writing was much easier because I learned how to write with standard phrases, according to a set style guide, and within an template-oriented methodology. Creative writing, however, is not as linear as technical writing. Getting to that same goal of perfection while writing a book can really bog a person down.

The solution? Let go of the desire to produce an immaculate first draft.

Make your first draft abysmal

When I re-read the draft of my first book, which I’ve recently submitted to a publisher, I was working on my second book. I thought, Wow, the second book’s not as polished as book one. Then I smacked myself with my pillow and realized that the second book is such a rough draft, it’s barely a first draft yet. It’s only a baby book just forming. An embryo book? Yeah, maybe!

I’d quickly forgotten that for my first book, I took so much joy in the writing, I simply kept writing. It didn’t matter to me that some of my chapters were thin, I overused words, my dialogue needed to be tighter, and so on. I was mapping out the story. That was what was important. Just get ‘er written.

Make your beta reader draft sorta ok

In tech writing we had peer reviews of our work. Everyone knew the documentation was not customer-ready, but we wanted to make sure it was developing correctly and nothing was missing or confusing. These were normally second drafts. As comments came in, we gathered and incorporated them, and went on to improve the work.

I had my first beta review this past summer. I knew my book was in no shape to be seen by anyone, really, but figured I should get comments before trying to make a submission draft. I’m glad I went with that, because the feedback I received helped me immensely. Letting go of fear and pride and tossing your writing into the ring of beta readers can be nail-bitey but also rewarding, and just like that, you’ve passed another milestone in the writing process.

Then, be as ruthless as someone without ruth

After the beta-reader comments have come back, you can go to town on the editing. Roll up your sleeves, get your coffee or tea (and maybe a couple hundred cupcakes), and prepare to tear your manuscript a new one.

I not only took the advice from beta-readers, but also from other writers and editors. I went through my manuscript (see also 10 things I did to get my manuscript ready for submission) and came out several weeks later, feeling like the Monty Python guy who washes upon the shore to say, “It’s,” before collapsing.

This is the time to be hyper-critical, when you’re done, and not a moment before. If you overthink your writing at the beginning, you might never finish your sentence or paragraph, or even your book. Better to get the story down and then be The Reaper of Useless Words, The Mender of Plot Holes, and the, um, Thingy of Something.

Whatever you do, just wait until this point to be tough on yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

And finally…

Pat yourself on the back after you’ve submitted, because you gave it your level best and reached this point. I felt insecure many times about not being published until an author friend of mine who is published said, “But Cait, you wrote a book!” Oh yeah, that’s an accomplishment in itself, isn’t it?

So, to all of you who have completed writing projects and have gone through this process, I toast you with a cupcake. Cheers! You rock, truly.

Because writing badly got you to where you are today. GO YOU!


CGAuthorCait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is being sent to the universe. She hopes the universe likes it. (The second book has begun and a third will happen, too!)


The Noob Writes, A Silly Poem

The Noob Writes

by Cait Gordon

How awesome, oh, how awesome I write,
except when I totally suck.
When once my wit cut right to the bone,
now it gurgles while drowning in muck.

But no! And lo! This chapter’s not bad,
in fact, it’s beyond all compare.
But wait, oh great, I read it again,
and want to pull out all my hair.

The verys, reallys, nows, justs, and thens!
Repetitive words fill my eyes.
I edit, I fret it, delete and backspace,
only to see them arise.

He reads, she reads, they all read that draft.
I chew my nails down to the quick.
The waiting for comments takes hours and days,
I think that I’m gonna be sick.

They tell me it’s good, liked it a lot.
“Submit it right now,” they all say.
Flames shoot from my keyboard as I rush to toss
my manuscript into the fray.

Ping and ping and ping goes my phone,
rejections ring out one by one.
I say that I’m fine, but just want to eat
cupcakes, tonne by the tonne.

Buck up, doe up, whatever is best
and onwards I stick to the course.
If I gave up now I’d forever be
wallowing, drenched in remorse.

I dunno just how awesome I write,
but in love with my story am I.
Someday I’ll find fans who’ll also agree,
giving me the ultimate high.

To all the writers out there: keep believing in yourselves.


Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is being sent to the universe. She hopes the universe likes it. (The second book has begun and a third will happen, too!)

10 things I did to get my manuscript ready for submission

Me, if I were a cat.

I cannot believe I’m finally writing this article, but the day has come at last. This week my first novel, Life in the ‘Cosm, has gone out into publishingworldland. That’s right–I submitted my work.

It was no easy ride to get here and if anyone says writing is simple, they need to stand still while I wallop them with my Whacking Pillow. Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally loving this journey, and had a blast putting ‘Cosm together. However, getting the manuscript ready for submission took stamina. It’s a long way from the beta-reader draft to the submission-ready draft.

So, here’s what I did to get there. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful. (Or maybe you’ll point and laugh. That wouldn’t be really nice, by the way. Shame on you.)

1. Got some distance from my book.

Sometimes you and your book should agree to see other people. When my book was ready for beta-reviewers, I walked away from it. Eventually I was able to read other author’s stories and when I felt like writing, I began a second book. As the weeks went by over the summer, I had enough distance from my manuscript to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. By September, my beta-readers’ comments rolled in and I was ready to work.

2. Re-read the manuscript while wearing fuzzy socks.

Never underestimate the power of fuzzy socks. I put them on, cozied up in bed, and read my book as if I’d just purchased it from Amazon. I became a reader who enjoyed the story. At the same time, I discovered my inner editor. An interesting dichotomy arose, between loving the book and slashing it to bits. (Man, am I tough. Editor Cait needs a chill pill.)

3. Paid close attention to my beta-readers’ comments.

I highly recommend having beta-readers review your manuscript. They become your cheerleaders and harshest critics, and they are invaluable. I sincerely appreciated their feedback, and it was great to have unbiased opinions on the work. Some essential changes to the manuscript came from beta-reader comments. Thank you, folks!

4. Incorporated my edits until I wanted to punch myself in the face.

The beta-readers were mild compared to Editor Cait. I found over 100 nit-picky things in my “fuzzy-socks reading” step of this process. After I made those changes, Editor Cait went into Dalek mode, and started exterminating words like they were timelords. (Yes, I love Doctor Who. You have a problem with that?) For the first time in my life, I could say I truly, truly, truly hated myself. Don’t worry, I made up with myself again.

5. Got rid of useless words. Why, oh, why were there so many useless words?

I never knew I repeated myself so much. I never knew I repeated myself so much. We writers know the vital few useless words we should avoid, like they, really, very, that, and so on, but I had a few more. For some reason, now was everywhere. I felt like the general in Black Adder Goes Fourth. My writing was also full of the words now, well (which often went with now), oh, ever, and still.

And then there were the was statements. I wanted to bury myself underground when I came to that part of the editing process. Thankfully, Vladmir Nabokov saved my bacon. Did you know he had 1515 uses of the word was in the book, Lolita? From this I derived the Nabokov Quotient. If your “was statements” are less than 1515, then you’re book is lovely. Feel free to use this as an argument against your editor. Let me know how it goes.

6. Proofed one last time, but with help from Celia.

Celia is my best friend, and maybe also the British voice on my Google phone. By this time, I could no longer read my manuscript. The only way I could do the final proof was to listen to it. Google Play’s Read Aloud feature helped me immensely. There’s nothing like having a voice unlike your own read your book to you. I caught so many typos, or rewrote sentences that didn’t sound right. I love you, Celia!

7. Formatted the manuscript according to industry standard.

Thank goodness for the internet. I found the article, Format Your Novel for Submission by fiction writer Beth Hill, on Editor’s Blog. It provides key information about how a professional manuscript should appear, including what to include on the cover page.

‘Nuther tip! Make sure you do not add an empty line between paragraphs. Editors don’t like that, either. Format the style of your paragraph to allow for proper spacing.

8. Cried a little.

OK, maybe not cried, but I was kinda sorta nervous to send my first submission. I felt like a teenager wanting to ask the school hunk out to prom! I’ve over 20 years experience as a professional technical writer, and have spoken to and written to people all over the world. My documents have been slashed so much by editors’ red ink, the whole thing looked like a crime scene. Why so scared, Cait?

I suppose writing your first novel is not the same as publishing a user guide about a software application. My book is a part of me, and it’s a vulnerable thing to put yourself out there. Thankfully, I didn’t let the fear weigh me down.

9. Sent my manuscript off into the world.

Yup, I clicked the Send button three times this week. It felt fantastic.

I also remembered to double-check that I met the submission requirements. It’s vital to follow them to the letter. The last thing I want to do is tick off a publisher before they’ve even met me! I desire a business relationship with them, and one that is based on mutual respect. The least I can do is meet their requirements. It’s part of the first impression. Why be rejected for not giving publishers and agents what they ask?

10. Baked some muffins.

You better believe I did. I ate five, without shame. After all, they’re vegan muffins, so practically a fruit salad.

OK, so maybe that was a list of nine things, with the 10th thing being a pig-out reward. Stay tuned for more of my adventures and possibly misadventures in writing. Thanks for stopping by!


Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is being sent to the universe. She hopes the universe likes it.

Cait is also Madam President of her consulting company, Dynamic Canvas Inc., Chief Crafter at Cait Cards, and works part time as Assistant to the Executive Director at H’Art of Ottawa. 

(Image, “Kitten Sleeping On The Printer” by Apolonia)

The Accidental Writer

“That’s good, dear. So, what are you writing?”

“A novel, well, maybe a novella. It depends how many words I get down and when I feel the story’s ended. Or maybe when I think the first instalment ends. I don’t know if there will be a sequel. It might be a trilogy.”

“You sound confused, dear.”

(From Life in the ‘Cosm)

I wrote these words from Chapter 2 of my first novel, Life in the ‘Cosm, as a reflection of what I was thinking at the time. I wasn’t sure if I was going to complete a novella, novel, trilogy, or series. This project was supposed to be just for kicks. Well, it was crazy fun, and it became fantasy novel. Whoo-hoo!

The way the story ends provoked me to begin a second book. Not a sequel, but another story with a new protagonist. When the last chapter of that story came to me right away, I realized a third instalment was in order. I also gots an idea for a prequel novella. Holy cow, I think I have the rest of my 40s and some of my 50s booked. (There’s a pun in there somewhere.)

I never intended to write a novel when I started. It was an accident. The second story was also an accident. And coming up with an idea for a third and so on, well, you get the picture.

Only about six people in the world have read Life in the ‘Cosm as beta readers, so the rest of you have no idea what I’m on about. Heck, I’ve not even published the first story. Who is this Cait person who claims she’s a writer anyway?

Hopefully, I’ll look back on this blog post and laugh, after I’ve had several novels published. Dream big or go home, I always say.

In about a week I’ll start preparing my draft of Life in the ‘Cosm to be submitted to publishers and agents. Figure I hafta try or else I’ll hate myself for never trying. Self-publishing is always an option. But first, the wind-up and the pitch!

(Please let me score a home run. Mama wants to hold a book in her hands.)

Now please excuse me while I accidentally write some more.


Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is with beta readers and she’s accidentally writing her second in the series. She didn’t know there would be a series. Huh.