Archive for March, 2010

Write Positively Most of the Time

It’s been said we hear “no” more than “yes” in our formative years. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to think negatively. But, if you want people to respond well to your writing, you’ll want to consider writing positively most of the time.

People respond to what they read, and it’s your job as an author to offer the right clues to help your reader get the intent of your writing.

Consider the  golfer facing a water hazard on the right who thinks I’m not going to hit the water. I’m not going to hit the water. And immediately swings the club and drives the ball straight into the water. Think (see/imagine) water, hit water. So it is with your reader.

If you write, “There was no noise coming from the house,” your reader will hear noise coming from the house. If you write, “The house stood silent,” your reader will relate to the silence.

The first example in the paragraph above involves writing negatively (no noise), while the second example is positive (silent) or at least neutral.

When you write about what happened and who was involved, you’re giving the reader information. When you give that information negatively, your reader feels it negatively.

Here are some more examples of how you can change negative writing to positive.

  • The door was not closed. VERSUS The door was open.
  • Sue’s effort to win the lottery was not successful. VERSUS Sue’s effort to win the lottery failed.
  • Her neighbors were not sober at the barbeque. VERSUS Her neighbors were drunk at the barbeque.

Is it ever okay to write negatively? Absolutely, yes! For example, it’s better to write, “Our son isn’t home,” than it is to write, “Our son is out” if you want to emphasize the son is not home.

As author, you get to decide what images or feelings you offer your reader. Writing something positively is a better choice most of the time, but it depends on what you want your reader to see or feel.

Happy writing!

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If You’re an Author, You’re in Business

I recently completed another five-week “Writing for Fun and Profit” series at a local college, and students still appear surprised at how important the business angle is to being a successful writer.

When you write–when you affix your idea to a specific form (like words affixed to a page), you create intellectual property. That property has value just as your personal property or real estate property has value.

You don’t typically give away your personal property nor your home, so it’s hard for me to understand why writers give away their intellectual property. If you’re not giving it away, the alternative is to sell it–either in manuscript form or in final published form.

If you’re selling something, you’re in business. You’re in business before your first sale. Think about it. Stores invest in inventory and storefront (whether brick and mortar or online) before they ever make a sale. Sales people invest in training before they go out into the marketplace to sell.

So, if you’re an author, you’re in business. And every business is in the following four businesses:

  1. the primary business that creates the product or service
  2. the marketing business that markets the product or service
  3. the service business that strives to meet expectations of both vendors and customers
  4. the people business that makes connections and builds relationships

Business number one is the reason you’re in business in the first place. You’ve discovered something you’re excited about and you want to offer to others.

Business number two may take you out of your comfort zone, but if people don’t know about your product, they won’t buy it.

Business number three involves both vendors and customers. Your vendor may be your editor, your proofreader, and if you self-publish, your designer and printer. You need to keep your promises to your vendors as well as your promises to your customers to be successful in business.

Business number four is crucial to your success. People do business with people they know and like. People give referrals to businesses they trust. If you’re not connected to people, you won’t stay in business very long.

Writing is a solitary activity. Many authors cringe at the thought of being business people. But if you’re an author, you’re in business. Look at the marketplace. Every successful author works his or her business well. You can too.

Happy writing!

Editor and Writer–A Challenging Alliance

Writers primarily write because they have something to say. There are those who suggest writers have an agenda, while others suggest writers simply need to express themselves, and they chose words as their vehicle.

Editors primarily edit because they want to make sure that what the writer says is clear to the reader. There are those who suggest editors are frustrated writers, while others suggest editors lack creativity and originality.

Being both a published writer in periodicals and books, as well as an editor for writers of articles and books, I appreciate the challenging alliance between author and editor.

As a writer, it’s hard to have someone critique and/or correct your creative work. As an editor, it’s hard to restrain yourself from inflicting your own preferences that may change the writer’s voice, or at least intent,  in writing the work.

Authors understand the subject.

Editors understand the reader.

A good editor also understands the author must write in his/her own voice, which means the editor should not change the voice. Instead, the editor’s goal should be to show the writer why the writing isn’t clear, then potentially offer some suggestions (if possible) in ways to improve.

A good writer knows there’s more than one way to get an idea across, and just because the writer (who knows the subject well) thinks something is clearly communicated, doesn’t mean that it is.  A good editor will communicate directly with the writer about suggested changes and explain why the changes are needed.

At times the exchange may appear battle-like, but in reality when an editor and a writer create an alliance, in spite of how challenging that may be, the real winner is the reader.

If you’re an author, consider your editor’s suggestions and question the editor about why a suggestion is made if you don’t understand or like the suggestion.

If you’re an editor, consider your writer’s knowledge of the topic may be the very thing that’s making it hard for the writer to bring it to a level the reader can understand. Let the writer know what changes you’re suggesting and why.

The end result is an improved book that says what the writer intended to say–and says it clearly enough that the reader will think the writer is a genius. Remember that readers buy writers they like. A good editor will help you become just that and that’s worth the challenge of the alliance.

Happy writing!

The Correct Use of Hyphens

When I was in high school, they still offered Latin as a language choice–yep, it was that long ago.

I took Latin and even achieved membership in the National Latin Honor Society. One of my favorite sayings back then was

Latin’s a dead language. It’s dead as dead can be. It killed off all the Romans, and now it’s killing me!

I’ve heard people say they feel the same way about English–it’s a killer to learn and even worse to use.

Because English is a living language, some words evolve and use hyphens in the process. For example, simple words start out as two words (turn key). Then, for a relatively short period of time, they become hyphenated (turn-key). Finally, the two words join to form one (turnkey).

I’ve just given you one way to use the hyphen. Here are some others:

  • Use a hyphen to avoid doubling or tripling a letter when adding a prefix (before the word) or suffix (after the word). Example: part-time.
  • Use a hyphen when the root word you’re adding a prefix to is capitalized. Examples: pre-Christmas, pro-American.
  • In general, use a hyphen whenever you use the prefixes all-, self-, ex-, and vice-. Examples: all-purpose, self-centered, ex-wife, vice-chair.
  • Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity or difficult pronunciation. Examples: anti-abortion, re-read.
  • Use a hyphen after a series of words having a common base that you’re not repeating. Example: first-, second-, third-, and fourth-year students.
  • Use a hyphen to unite two or more words to convey a single idea (these are known as compound words). Examples: president-elect, decision-maker, right-of-way, forty-year-old.
  • Use a hyphen in compound adjectives. Examples: well-designed home, up-to-date statistics, cost-of-living allowance.
  • Use a hyphen in numbers. Examples: two-thirds, twenty-one.
  • Use a hyphen when combining numbers and unit measures as adjectives. Examples: two-week pay period, twelve-inch ruler.
  • Use a hyphen to combine a stand-alone capital letter with a word. Examples: U-turn, T-shirt, X-rated.
  • Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a typed line when there’s no more room for the rest of the word. Remember, however, that you must adhere to the word’s syllable break and not just put the hyphen anywhere. Examples: chil-dren, birth-day, pos-si-ble.

As you can see, the hyphen has many uses. And some of the applications will change as the English language evolves. Authors understand that language is an important tool, as is punctuation. Put the two together correctly and your readers will appreciate your writing even more.

Happy writing!