Sunday, May 28, 2017

Today's Writing Tip Is Kind of Sort of Important

It's become fashionable to use words like "kind of" and "sort of" as modifiers. I'm not sure why that's the case, but perhaps it's because using these words softens what comes next. For example, I often hear radio speakers saying that they are "sort of disappointed" or the subject was "kind of complex."

I don't like these terms. I think if you're going to speak your mind, just do it. Say you're disappointed instead of sort of disappointed—it has much more impact; it's direct, and it's clear. Clean writing, and speaking for that matter, is enjoyable to read.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Paying Attention to Detail

For many years, I have been meeting friends and clients for coffee at a local shop that is convenient to my house. We sit there for an hour or an hour and a half discussing manuscripts, or in the case of my friends, chit-chatting about this and that. For at least a decade, I have texted, emailed, or verbally requested people to meet me at Timothy's World of Coffee. Yet I just realized last week that there is no such location.

To my great surprise, I looked up the coffee shop online to confirm their hours only to discover that the name of the restaurant is Timothy's World Coffee. Aside from feeling momentarily embarrassed, I was stunned. How could I have sat in that coffee shop for ten years looking at the name on the wall or passing by in my car with Timothy's World Coffee glaring back at me so blatantly? What happened? How did I miss that?

I believe that my mind just filled in the blank. I had always thought that it was Timothy's World of Coffee, and so I saw what I wanted to see. I saw what I expected to see. It took me more than ten years to see what actually was.

This is just a cautionary warning for writers to find other ways to proofread your material. You don't have to have someone else do it, but make sure that you are alert and that your mind is open to the possibility that you could have made a mistake that you aren't aware of. Also, double check. Ask Siri or Alexa. They know everything. Google it. Don't assume that you know what you think you know. Sometimes our mind can play tricks on us.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When to Use Cite, Site, and Sight

The only thing these words have in common is that they are homonyms, meaning that they sound the same. But the meanings are quite different.

Let's start with cite, which means to reference or refer to. "Jonathan cited statistics from The Journal of American History in his gender studies class."
 
What about site? A site is a place. "The corner of Woodroffe and Baseline is the perfect site for a cemetery." One way to remember this is to think of the word website, which is a location on the Internet.
 
And sight? This is easy to remember by thinking of eyesight. Sight has to do with vision or seeing. "My sight is almost 2020." But it also means something that you can see, which is where we get the word sightseeing. And sight can be a verb as in, "Suzanne sighted her husband in the distance."

When in doubt, look it up. It takes two minutes to use an online dictionary or blog to make sure that you are using the correct version of these important words.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Love Grammarly

Grammarly is one of the best editing software programs that I've ever used, and if you haven't tried it, you owe it to yourself to do a 30-day free trial. No, I don't work for the company, and this is not a paid announcement. I have no affiliation whatsoever with Grammarly except that I have been a loyal and robust user for the last four years.

I have always loved writing and wrote for various publications over the years including newspapers and magazines, but it wasn't until 2004 that I published my first book. In 2005, I opened an editing company, but as hard as I worked, I found it almost impossible to stylize punctuation perfectly. What do I mean by stylizing punctuation? I edit large manuscripts ranging from 50,000 to 125,000 words. If my author chooses to use serial commas (otherwise known as the Oxford comma), I want to ensure that the manuscript uses serial commas throughout the book. But I'm not a machine. I can't be 100% accurate 100% of the time.
Grammarly to the rescue. Grammarly not only indicates every instance where a comma is required, but it also provides a simple click through solution so that I can add a comma that may have been missing. And if that's not impressive enough, the software recommends putting commas after introductory clauses and between coordinating conjunctions that separate independent clauses. Grammarly tells me when my author has used an unclear antecedent, written a passive sentence, or been too wordy. And, of course, the program corrects errors in spelling and grammar.

No matter how many times I review a 100,000-word manuscript and I think that I've caught all the errors, if I run it through Grammarly, the program will find something I missed that helps my author look good. Using Grammarly is a part of my editing routine that I rarely skip. The only downside is that it is time-consuming to run this program on a large document. But the end results are usually worth it.

                                       

Friday, January 6, 2017

When to Capitalize the Word Mother

Although you may adore and worship your mother, it's not grammatically correct to capitalize the term when it is preceded by a pronoun. Whenever you see the words "my, your, his, her" before the word mother, don't cap. For example, "My mother and I love musicals."

When should you capitalize the term? When it's a proper noun. "My mom" needs to go in lowercase, but if I want to talk about what Mom wore to the theater, I am using the word as a noun. "Mom" (or "Mother") is a substitute for her name. It's a name that I give her (e.g., "I always spend Easter with Mom and we have a great time." But "I always spend Easter with my mother" does not warrant capitals.

The same is, of course, true for the term father or dad — my father, your father, his father, her father, but "I've missed Dad every day since he passed away twenty long years ago."

Monday, December 26, 2016

When to Use Fewer and When to Use Less


Remembering how to distinguish these terms, and knowing when to use each correctly, is easy. Just keep in mind that less is for broad terms, and fewer is used for quantifiable items.
For example, one may see fewer airplanes, cars, or bicycles. These are all things that we could count if we wanted to. But we may have less peace in the world, less conflict in our relationships, or less stability between countries. The latter involve attributes that we can't count.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

When to Use the Word Literally

Literally has become a popular term that many people use without understanding its true meaning. Literal means exact or actual as opposed to exaggerated or fictitious, which is something that is not real.

Writers use literally in two different ways. The first way is for emphasis. "The strangler was literally 5 feet away from me." In this instance, the term is unnecessary. The strangler is either 5 feet away from you or he's not. There is no need to add the word literally; it's redundant. If you want to emphasize how scary it is to have a criminal right next to you, find other ways to show us how frightening that is. Make your heart beat faster, perspire, or gasp for breath due to the proximity of this strangler, but don't use the word literally.

The second instance is always wrong. It's when writers say something like, "My heart stopped—literally." Or "I had butterflies in my stomach—literally." If you have real butterflies in your stomach, you should be on the way to the emergency room. Ditto for no heartbeat. In these examples, the writer is trying to convey how serious an issue is. Better to strengthen your verbs by saying something like, "My heart raced" or "My stomach danced." Or use a metaphor; "I felt like my heart stopped beating." That's accurate. Using literally is not.

So, when is a good time to use the word literally? Almost never.