Now that the self-publishing of ebooks (electronic books) and pbooks (physical books) is so easy, many writers choose to distribute both instead of just focusing on one. There are similarities in the preparation processes for both but there are also differences. Knowing them in advance instead of discovering them along the way can help minimise the time it takes to achieve publication.
Do you ever read your own writing? Not as part of a rewriting and editing process but just for pleasure? In the last five years, I’ve written over half a million words – it may even be closer to a million – in the form of articles, blog posts, book reviews, novels and non-fiction books. And that doesn’t include all the paid writing – tenders, case studies, websites, brochures and other types of marketing copy. I can’t possibly remember it all. So sometimes I go back and read bits and pieces of my own writing.
There are a lot of books out there, I like discovering new ones and I’m not narcissistically self-indulgent so after the rewriting and editing process, I’ve never sat down and read one of my own books from cover to cover. But every now and then I’ll bring up one of my book reviews, articles or blog posts and read it through.
Let’s face it – there are so many rules in the English language that no one (not even a trained editor like me) can know them all (that’s why I have lots of reference books to make sure I get it right more often than I get it wrong). But if the rules and the reference books aren’t your thing, there are a few things you can do to cheat your way to better editing.
The rules state that certain words in headings shouldn’t be capitalised, such as “a”, “the” and “and” (unless they are the first word in the heading). There are more groups of words that aren’t supposed to take an initial capital. But do you know what they are? More importantly, do you care?
So an easy way to avoid having to figure it out is to use the minimal approach – that is to only use an initial capital on the first word and to leave all others uncapitalised.
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.)
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.
I’m very pleased to announce the release of my new book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing.
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.
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.