You Know What I Mean: When It Sounds Sort of Close but Isn’t Quite Right

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The first three years I was in high school, we spent six months of the year being taught French and then the other six months of the year being taught Indonesian. Then, in Year 10, we would decide whether to continue with one or the other or to give away foreign language studies altogether. I continued on with French and achieved the best French marks in the entire school the year I was in Year 12 (nothing really to brag about – my marks were just okay and the “honour” just made me wonder how badly everyone else had done). Twenty years later when I finally visited France though, I still knew enough to be able to listen to locals conversing in their native tongue about tourists when they didn’t think anyone on the tour group could understand them. (Australians aren’t big tippers apparently but they thought the Germans were. “Donnez, donnez, donnez,” they said, which means, “Give, give, give.”)

Conversely, I can’t remember a single word of Indonesian. I didn’t enjoy learning it the way I enjoyed learning French, which had a lot to do with how similar it was to English (which, of course, I loved then and still do now). But I remember the Indonesian teacher. I didn’t think so at the time but we were lucky to have an actual Indonesian person teaching us the language. Her English wasn’t great but then I don’t suppose it needed to be. It explains, however, when she was scolding us for not paying attention or for not trying hard enough, why she would say, “Pull your socks together.” (She was trying for either “Pull your socks up” or “Pull yourselves together” and instead ended up somewhere in between.) Continue reading

Misspellings, Misuses and Typos: Getting It Right Helps Readers Get You (and Not Want to Get You)

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As the heading suggests, English is a complex language. There are many, many instances of exactly the same or similar words meaning very, very different things – after all, writers want readers to get them (in the sense of understanding) but they very rarely want readers to get them (in the sense of being attacked). A blog I recently read on Hubspot about twenty-five common grammatical errors contained a comment from someone calling himself (or herself) BJ that “as long as you don’t do anything egregious you can bend and break the rules as much as you want. The only thing that matters is whether or not the reader understands, accepts and appreciates how you communicate with them.” BJ promptly earned himself (or herself) a grand verbal spanking from everybody else reading the article. In fact, I couldn’t find a single comment supporting that view. Perhaps because anyone who was inclined to read a post on that topic wasn’t likely to understand, accept and appreciate BJ’s views.

The fact is that more people get annoyed by writers bending and breaking the rules than support “creative” but incorrect approaches so it’s generally in your best interests to try to get it right. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a misspelling, a misuse or a typo, the effect is the same – it’s wrong. In fact, you can run the Spelling & Grammar Check as many times as you want but the problem with Microsoft Word is that if a word is spelled correctly, regardless of whether it’s appropriate for the context, it won’t be highlighted as an error by the program. I once accidentally typed “whale dongs” as two of my characters discussed a potential soundtrack for meditation. Of course, I meant “whale songs” but it could have been highly embarrassing if I hadn’t picked it up. And it could be much worse, especially if you confuse your onus with your anus.

There are some obvious homonyms like “here” and “hear” and “none” and “nun” that I hope don’t need explanation but here are a few to be on the lookout for. Continue reading

Announcing the Release of my New Book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing

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I’m very pleased to announce the release of my new book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing.

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A follow-up to Project December: A  Book About Writing, this is more of my musings and advice for writers and those wanting to write to getting started…again, developing characters and plot, the writing itself, editing and what to do when the book is finished. Continue reading

Rules versus Styles versus Preferences When Editing

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The English language is one of the hardest in the world to master and only seems to be getting harder thanks to its constant evolution. The fact that there are so many different opinions about what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” doesn’t make it any easier, especially for those wanting to edit their writing and looking for definitive answers. After all, as writers, we generally don’t want to get involved in the battle. We just want to know who won.

Unfortunately, I don’t have good news on that front. Because while there are some definitive rules, there are also styles that change depending on which country or publication you write in and there are even preferences that individuals make up their own mind in relation to. Continue reading

Free Writing, Free Reading, Free Editing: Where Do We Draw the Line?

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As a writer, I understand very well the concept of writing for free. I do it every day. I write my novels with no expectation of ever being paid for my writing labour. (I hope but I don’t expect.) I write my blog posts and publish them on a freely available blog to educate and entertain people about writing and its offshoots. I sometimes write articles about employment and post them on LinkedIn to support my job title, which lists me as a “Freelance Blogger, Writer and Editor”. I write ads for family members with their own businesses without charging for it. I write blurbs and introductions for other people’s books without receiving a single cent.

I also understand the concept of reading for free – how could I not when I post all that writing mentioned above so people can read it without charge? Plus I read a lot of news websites, particularly The Age online, news.com.au, the New York Times online, the Washington Post online, ABC (Australia) News online, BBC News online, CBC News online and sometimes the Miami Herald online, the LA Times online and the Chicago Tribune online. When I run out of free articles to read each month on the sites that charge for subscriptions, I content myself with browsing headlines and public news websites. (I’d like to be able to afford to subscribe but I’m just a poor writer at the moment.)

But where I draw the line is at free editing. Everybody learns to read and write at school (or at least has the opportunity to) but editing the writing of others is a very specific skill and many, if not most, editors train further in order to do it properly and professionally. Certainly to apply for professional membership of the Institute of Professional Editors here in Australia, you need an eligible qualification. And with the Federal Government trying to restrict fee support for courses less than three years in length and with many educational institutions abolishing their writing and editing courses (including Holmesglen Institute of TAFE where I studied and graduated with an Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing), those qualifications are becoming harder and harder to come by. So why would anyone ask for or expect an editing service to be provided for free? Continue reading

The A to Z of Writing

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Just because everybody loves a good listicle (so I hope it qualifies), here’s the A to Z of writing.

A is for Authenticity – you don’t have to know what you’re talking about. Write what you know, write what you don’t know but just make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you write about the police force and someone actually in the police force reads your book lacking in accuracy or verisimilitude (the ring of truth), then that person won’t hesitate to tell the world. And you’ll just come off as someone who couldn’t be bothered doing a little bit of research.

B is for Brainstorming – it’s one thing to have an idea but to bring it to life with all the little details that give it depth, you’ll have to do a lot of brainstorming. If you want to write about a man who kills his father, great (maybe not for your father, who might wonder why). But it becomes two very different stories depending on whether the son had a happy upbringing or an abusive one. And only brainstorming will get you to the point where the story makes meaningful sense. Continue reading

The Five Stages of Writing

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When we first start writing, thinking we might like to have a crack at the caper, we have all the tools we need. A basic knowledge of the language in which we want to write. A computer and a new Word document. Or a piece of paper and a pen. After all, writing is pretty simple, right?

In writing’s defence, it is pretty easy. As long as all you want to do is tinker. As long as you don’t care about ever being read or published. However, if you do, you might be interested to know it’s actually a very long process that can be broken into five stages.

And the hardest stage of writing is always whatever stage you’re at. Continue reading