Posts Tagged 'Editing'

Read What You Write

I read mysteries for relaxation. Even though mysteries are generally written to formula, depending on whether it’s a cozy, police procedural, hard-boiled, or whatever, I still like to see if I can figure out whodunnit.

Last week I was reading a mystery about two elderly sisters found dead and on page 2, the author named one sister as the older, but on page 4, the other sister was older. HUH? I re-read and re-read because I couldn’t believe my eyes. Yep, there it was. A simple error that ruined the author’s credibility regarding details (which is rather important in a mystery).

So what’s my point? You are the author of your book and the responsibility for the words (including errors) is yours. Granted, you need an editor because you know what you intended to say and an editor will help you determine if the words actually do. However, your name–not the editor’s–appears on the cover of your book, so your reader holds you–not the editor–accountable for the book’s contents.

Writing books takes weeks, months, or even years. It’s easy to forget details you’ve written over time. But your reader reads your book in hours or days, so everything is fresh in your reader’s mind.

Many successful authors write to a schedule, and the first thing each one does is go back and read what he or she wrote the previous writing session in order to pick up in the right spot and have the right focus.

I’m an advocate of writers groups to help you with your writing too. Writers groups can point out inconsistencies such as the one I found in that mystery.

When we were publishing books, I required all manuscripts be edited by a book editor because a good book editor will challenge the author in areas that aren’t clear or that are inconsistent.

But the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy in your book is you, so read what you write.

Happy writing!

Ten Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing

Most writers experience the struggle of finding the right word, clarifying meaning, or pondering punctuation. That’s just part of writing. One thing that can help get a writer unstuck is to get back to basics. Here are ten quick tips for doing just that–and improving your writing in the process.

  1. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar rules are created to help us communicate. Without them, we would have a hard time understanding each other.
  2. Avoid changing verb tenses in the same paragraph. Thus, if you’re writing in present tense , wait for a new paragraph to change tenses  so you don’t confuse your reader.
  3. Understand the difference between plural and possessive. Examples: All of the boy’s toys are put away (singular possessive). All of the boys’ toys are put away (plural possessive). All of the boys had toys (plural, no possessive).
  4. Watch your pronoun-antecedent agreement. What does that mean? It means plural pronouns require plural antecedents (antecedents are nouns the pronouns refer to). In our effort to be politically correct, we’ve ignored this rule to a fault. Good writers don’t take the easy way out–they figure out how to rewrite the sentence to follow the rule. Here’s an example of the easy way out: A successful person is measured by their material wealth. (Antecedent is person, which is singular, and pronoun is their, which is plural.)  A good writer will rework the sentence to something like this: Material wealth is often a measure of a person’s success.
  5. Watch your subject-verb agreement. Plural subjects require plural verbs and singular subjects require singular verbs. Example of doing it wrong: One of Kathy’s favorite movies are Sound of Music. The subject (one) is singular, but the verb (are) is plural. Because movies is plural, writers might use a plural verb if they don’t think about the subject of the sentence. The correct way to write that sentence is: One of Kathy’s favorite movies is Sound of Music.
  6. Avoid dangling modifiers. What does that mean? It means make sure your descriptive phrases describe the correct thing. Example of doing it wrong: Searching for the murderer, the suspects all stood in the line-up. (This says the suspects were searching for the murderer.) Rewrite it to say: Searching for the murderer, the police gathered the suspects and stood them in the line-up.
  7. Be aware of language changes. English is a living language. New words are added, while others become antiquated. Stay current.
  8. Know that sometimes perfect grammar doesn’t make for perfect writing. Huh? Depending on what you’re writing, you may be better off with less precise grammar (examples are characters, dialogue, description, tone, etc.).
  9. Make a list of the words that trip you up and keep the list handy. For example, if you’re confused about when to use lay versus lie, make yourself a cheat sheet to help you.
  10. Avoid splitting infinitives. Huh? If you place “to” between an adverb and a verb, you have a split infinitive. Example of split infinitive: Dianne wanted to really make it big as an author. Better to write: Dianne really wanted to make it big as an author.

There you have it. Ten quick tips to improve your writing and some samples to show you how to use the tips.

Happy writing!

When Editor and Author Disagree

I realize it’s a tough concept to grasp (not!), but sometimes editors and authors disagree during the editing process. When that happens, here are some tips to use.

  • A good book editor never changes an author’s voice or writing style. However, a good book editor should ask questions of the author regarding things that are unclear in the writing. If the editor doesn’t understand what the author is trying to say, the editor is not in a position to correct the manuscript.
  • A good book editor offers suggestions to the author on how something may be written more clearly for reader understanding. If the editor is confident about what the author’s intention is, it’s helpful when the editor offers suggestions that rewrite the sentence or paragraph so the author can see the editor’s point more clearly.
  • A good book editor understands authors know what they intend to say and thus it’s easy for authors to skip something they think is obvious but the reader may not. It’s the job of a good book editor to alert the author to those holes in the manuscript so the author can fill them in.
  • A good author never takes edits personally. Publishing is business. Books are in print (or on e-readers) a long time. Good authors realize good editors strive to improve the book, not attack the author.
  • A good author considers editor suggestions regarding content and clarity, then makes the decision on how to handle the suggestions.
  • A good author understands there are style manuals the editor follows (Chicago Manual of Style in the case of book editing) and allows the copy edits (punctuation, capitalization, subject-verb agreement, etc.) without argument.

There will be disagreements between editors and authors, but using these tips should help.

Happy writing!

Abbreviate Abbreviations in Your Writing

We live in a world of instant gratification, instant success, instant food, just about instant everything. We have the attention span of gerbils as we flip through channels on our televisions or move away from web sites that don’t load fast enough.

And this trend shows up in our writing in the form of abbreviations. Department becomes Dept. Management becomes Mgmt.  Each example eliminates some of the word’s vowels.

I knw th wrld cn ndrstnd ths.

I’m sure you get the idea of my previous sentence and there isn’t one vowel in it (except the opening “I”). But getting the idea isn’t what you want when you write. You want to be understood.

Text messaging is another example of how we’ve come to rely on abbreviations in our writing.

Book writing, however, differs from other writing because books immortalize authors. Add that we’re writing in a living language and you only have to read one or two Olde English books to see how language evolves. We don’t need to complicate the reader’s experience by adding too many abbreviations.

ACRONYMS

Having said that, it’s also tedious to read the spelled out names of commonly recognized acronyms. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is well-known as MADD. So when writing about MADD, include the spelled out name the first time you use the acronym, then use the acronym thereafter. Example: She looked up MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) on the Internet. She was amazed at how much information there was about MADD.

Another issue for writers is whether to use “a” or “an” with an acronym. How we pronounce the first word of the acronym determines which we use, not whether the first letter is a consonant or vowel. For example, the consonant “n” sounds like a vowel, so we use “an.” Example: Insert an en-dash between numbers such as 2010-2011.

STATES and COMPASS POINTS

Everyone knows to abbreviate states with the two-letter abbreviation (AK, AR, ND, NY, etc.), but we don’t always know when to abbreviate compass points. Abbreviate compass points that follow street names, but not those that precede street names. Example: He lived at 210 Tulip Street NW. He lived at 210 Northwest Tulip Street.

TITLES

Abbreviate social titles such as Ms. or Mr. or Mrs.

Abbreviate other titles only when they precede a person’s name. Example: Rev. Billy Graham.

DATES

Abbreviate dates (Jun 2, 2011) only in informal writing. When writing your book (which is formal writing), spell out June 2, 2011.

Remember that your book will reflect on you for a long time. Be sure you write to be understood. Abbreviations are a good tool, but can be confusing. Avoid overusing them.

Happy writing!

Words Can Be Confusing

Whether it’s because the English language incorporates so many words from other language origins or because we use words erroneously when we speak, there are many commonly confused words in English that you’ll want to be aware of in your writing.

Here are some examples.

  • Bring and Take–Use  bring when something moves toward the person. Use take when something is being moved away from the person.

Bring example: Bring me the remote control.

Take example: I don’t know what to take to the meeting (not bring to the meeting).

  • Can and May–Use can when you’re writing about something having ability. Use may when you’re writing about something being permitted.

Can example: With my new job, I can pay my bills on time.

May example: I’ll ask if I may go to the party.

  • Continually and Continuously–Use continually if your intention is to write about something having occasional interruption. Use continuously if your intention is to show no interruption.

Continually example: We hear loud music from that house continually.

Continuously: She listened to her favorite song continuously for two hours.

  • Data and Datum–Data is the plural of datum. Thus, if you are writing about one fact or statistic, datum is correct. If you are writing about more than one fact or statistic, use data.

Datum example: The datum suggests e-books currently sell better than print books.

Data example: The data for the past three months show e-books are outselling print books by a substantial number.

  • Disinterested and Uninterested–Use disinterested when you’re writing about something not influenced by self-interest. Use uninterested when you’re writing about someone simply not interested in something.

Disinterested example: I am a disinterested  party.

Uninterested example: I am uninterested in the topic.

  • Each other and One another–Use each other when you’re writing about two people.  Use one another when you’re writing about three or more people.

Each other example: The couple looked at each other with desire.

One another: The dinner guests greeted one another politely.

I’ve offered just a few examples of words I see writers commonly confuse. Books are in print a long time and your name is on your book as the author. Don’t undermine your credibility with sloppy writing. And don’t rely on your editor to save you. Frankly, many editors hang out their shingle but really aren’t very good. Some are fantastic and worth everything you pay them.  When you find a good book editor who understands your voice and understands grammar and punctuation and the Chicago Manual of Style (the book publishing industry standard), don’t let him/her go!

Happy writing!

Show Your Expertise with Your Word Choices

I love words. Most writers do. And, contrary to what some writers may think, most editors love words too.

I also love chocolate. But if I don’t monitor my intake of chocolate judiciously, I risk losing the enjoyment of the chocolate experience by getting sick. So it is with words. If authors don’t select their words carefully, they risk losing their readers by using words that don’t work well.

The best way to share an idea or concept or story entails using simple language. Too often authors think they need the fifty-cent word when a ten-cent word does the job even better. Why do they think that? They think they sound more authoritative. I’m sure that’s why academicians and bureaucrats like the pretentious gobbledygook they offer in their textbooks, regulations, manuals, etc. But instead of impressing the masses, they turn them off.

The federal government even pokes a little fun at itself in this website: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/examples/humor/9easysteps.cfm.

It’s worth visiting the site for a tongue-in-cheek look at how to change short and simple sentences into longer ones.

But, back to my point. Here are some things you can do to keep your readers reading.

  • Use plain language.
  • Keep your words simple.
  • Use the fewest number of words you can.
  • Realize that people want to understand you, not be impressed by your command of the language.
  • Avoid jargon, but if you can’t avoid it, explain it when you’re writing outside your industry.
  • Consider alternate word choices–use vs. utilize, rain vs. precipitation, math skills instead of computational skills, naked vs. unadorned.
  • Be honest with yourself about why you think you need the complicated language. Do you think your ideas aren’t impressive if you express or explain them simply? Do you want to hide the clear meaning (precipitation can mean snow as well as rain)? Do you want to show off your vocabulary?

One of our authors, Mark LeBlanc, wrote his first book, Growing Your Business!, several years ago. He tells the story of writing the content and making it look impressive size-wise. Then he read the content again and said, “There’s a lot of crap in this book.” And he proceeded to take out the “crap” and  simplify the content. Now the book is written to the point and thousands of people own it and keep it handy because it’s plainly written, easy to understand, and practical–simple!

It’s your turn to look at your writing and honestly look at your word choices. If a long word works best, use it, but don’t overlook the opportunity to select simpler words if they make your writing more clear to your reader. Your expertise will show more clearly than if you hide in a bunch of words people have to plow through.

Happy writing!

 

Measure Your Writing Progress

Writing is both a science and an art–science in that good writers research their topics and experiment with words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, and art in that good writers draw on their creativity to produce a piece unlike any other that reflects the artist’s view of life.

One of the things many writers aren’t very good at is measuring their writing progress.

I spoke with one author last week who said, “I’ve been pushing this book uphill for two years, and I’m ready to publish it.” The comment reminded me of Sisyphus, the Greek mythology king who repeatedly rolled a boulder uphill, then watched it roll down again. This goes on through eternity.

If you’re working on your manuscript and never seem to get anywhere, it’s time you begin measuring your writing progress and break the cycle of fruitless hours pushing your book uphill and watching it roll back down.

Be aware that progress comes in increments and not all increments are the same size nor accomplish equal work.

Have you ever bought a new car and you think your new car is unique, but as soon as you begin driving it you see dozens of cars just like it on the road? What happened is you increased your awareness and started seeing that particular color or model of car you previously overlooked .

So it is with progress. Once you increase your awareness of what to look for, you’ll start seeing your progress more than before.

Here are some progress indicators.

  • Check the clock when you start and stop writing for the session. Measure your time spent on writing, on research, on editing, on anything you’re doing to advance the writing of your book.
  • Check the word count when you start and and stop writing for the session. Subtract the beginning number of words from the ending number of words and you’ll quickly see how many words you added to your book that session. By the way, if you’ve been editing in that session, you’ll probably find you have fewer words at the end of the session and that’s progress too! Give yourself credit for tightening up your writing.
  • Check your attitude. If you’re dreading writing, maybe you need to rethink your project. Maybe you aren’t writing the book you want to write at all. Maybe you’re writing the book someone’s told you to write, but you’re not jazzed about it. Books are in print a long time. If you’re not writing a book you want your name on for the ages, don’t feel pressured into doing it. Write the book you want to write instead–then measure your progress on that one.
  • Check on your willingness to let others read your work-in-progress. If you’re not willing to share what you’re writing, one of two things is probably going on. (1) You’re not happy with your writing, or (2) you’re afraid of a negative experience–someone will either steal your writing or criticize it. If you’re not happy with your writing, take a step back and try to objectively figure out why. If you’re afraid of a negative experience, you may decide to concentrate your writing efforts on journaling or other personal writing no one will see.
  • Check yesterday’s writing before starting today’s. If what you wrote yesterday looks good, holds your attention, and makes you want to get started writing today’s stuff, you can take comfort knowing you’ve got something good going. That will energize you to get into today’s writing session.

Pick at least one of the indicators and measure your writing progress. It works.

Happy writing!