Who cares about the Oxford comma? Plenty of people, it seems. Many writers, editors and language purists have strong feelings about whether or not the Oxford comma should be used. Some have even called it “a hill” they’re “prepared to die on”, both those who are for and against it.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, has issued not one but two memos to his staff outlining his preference for the Oxford comma. And under the Trump administration, a preference must be considered an order for anyone wanting to keep their job. However, “[o]n semicolons, Pompeo remains silent; on long dashes — not a tittle.” (From “Secretary of State Pompeo Is Mandating His Oxford Comma Preference at State Department, Report Says” by Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, 19 September 2018)
So what is the Oxford comma? Called the Oxford comma because it is required usage according to The Oxford Style Manual, and also known as a serial comma or a Harvard comma, it’s the comma used after the penultimate (second last) item in a list of three or more items.Continue reading
I love to edit. I love knowing the parts of speech. Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, clauses, phrases, conjunctions, prepositions, gerunds, subjunctives, infinitives, participles… Have I lost you yet? I wouldn’t be surprised. You have to be a particular kind of person to appreciate these things.
Editors are these particular kinds of people. While some of them are instinctive editors and know from experience how words should appear sequentially and the order that gives them their intended meaning, others are trained editors who also know the names of all the mistakes. Here are a few things editors look for that most writers will never have heard of before.Continue reading
One of the first pieces of advice given to writers is to write from the heart, to write honestly. Most of us take it. Because it’s good advice. Honesty helps readers relate to the writer and to what is being written.
But, of course, just like anything else, words can be used to manipulate. Through the omission of facts, the selective use of facts, the use of emotive language and, perhaps the most insidious, through euphemisms.
According to the Macquarie Dictionary, a euphemism is “the substitution of a mild, indirect or vague expression for a harsh, blunt or offensive one”. Sometimes it’s to soften the blow as in the case of saying someone has passed away so that we don’t have to say that they died. More often these days, though, euphemisms are being used to protect the writer or speaker rather than the recipient of the words.Continue reading
“I was drinking a case of 16-ounce tallboys a night, and there’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all.” On Writing, Stephen King
One of the persistent stereotypes about writers is their fraught relationship with alcohol. For some, it’s absolutely accurate. But for most of us who write, we know it isn’t true. While there may be plenty of creatives who struggle with sobriety, it’s no greater in percentage terms than members of the general public experience. Still, why let that get in the way of giving it go?
Stephen King is the cautionary tale but what he did was alcoholic writing. Drunk writing is less intense, less destructive to life in general and a much more rare occurrence.Continue reading
I’m very bad at marketing and anything promotional
Even though with books I’m always quote devotional
In short, in matters authorial and even editorial
I am the very model of an unknown author immemorial
(And in this case, a bit of a plagiarist and an awful lyricist)
I know I do plenty right when it comes to my writing. If I thought differently, I probably would have given up a long time ago. But I know I do plenty wrong as well. How do I know that? Because I’ve written two-and-a-half books of writing, editing, publishing and marketing advice and often it’s a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because at least fifty percent of the time, I don’t – and sometimes just can’t bring myself to – follow my own advice. Which undoubtedly has something (probably a lot) to do with why I remain an unknown author (since time immemorial).
You’ve written, you’ve rewritten, you’ve had your manuscript assessed, you’ve rewritten again (and possibly again), you’ve had it edited and it’s finally time for your book to be published. If you’ve already paid a manuscript assessor and editor and you can afford a proofreader as well, then go ahead and do it. A professional will always be able to do a better job than you. But if you’re looking for a way to save a few bucks and you’re confident you have the skills to take on the final stages yourself, then here’s how to proofread like a professional.Continue reading
The idea of writing the first draft of a book – when it’s still in your mind, when you haven’t done it yet – seems like such a large mountain to climb. So when you finally reach the top of that goal, you celebrate. Hard. If it’s your first book, that’s because you don’t realise it’s a false hill, that you aren’t at the top at all. If it’s not your first book, it’s because you know the really tough work is just starting and celebrating each and every achievement is one of the keys to not letting writing drive you insane.
Unless you’re a first draft genius (and nobody is a first draft genius), the amount of time it takes to rewrite and edit your book to publishable standard will be lengthy. For some it will be longer than it took to write the first draft. There’ll be a second draft and a third draft and a fourth draft and on and on it goes.
Well, Project October and all the associated intensive writing is over for another year and that means it’s time for Project November and the intensive editing process to take its place. So here’s an appropriately timed blog post on the different types of editing.
Earlier this year, I was asked if I might be interested in proofreading a coffee table book for a corporate company. It was the story of their beginnings all the way up to their current day successes, a glossy thing with lots of pictures, and none of their internal staff had the time to do it. Sure, I replied, providing my hourly rate and the length of time I thought a proofread would take based on the word count I’d been advised of.
But when the first chapter came through, it was clear it was still in its first draft. It hadn’t been through any of the other editing stages that should come before a proofread. It wasn’t even in the form of a proof (formatted as it will look in the final book with headers, footers, page numbers, columns, photographs, captions, etc). It was just a poorly formatted Word document.
No wonder nobody in the company had the time to do a proofread – they didn’t even know what proofreading was. In fact, they thought it was something else entirely. What they should have asked for was a rewrite, a line edit and copyediting, which then could have been sent to a designer or typesetter for preparation of a proof. Because it’s only after preparation of a proof that you can undertake a proofread.Continue reading
I was reading an article recently about Donald Trump that basically said the explanation for the way he behaves is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Wikipedia describes the Dunning-Kruger effect as “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is” – which basically means that he’s so stupid, he can’t recognise his own stupidity.
Now, I’m not a fan of Donald Trump pre- or post-election but I’m also not a fan of name-calling. I didn’t finish reading the article. But I was fascinated by the idea of the Dunning-Kruger effect and the article contained a link to another article in the Pacific Standard by David Dunning of Dunning-Kruger effect fame called “We Are All Confident Idiots”.
It’s a long article but it was a terribly interesting read, basically saying that we – all of us – are so afraid of appearing stupid in relation to things we aren’t knowledgeable about that instead of admitting our ignorance, we play along and hope nobody realises we have no idea what we’re talking about. Everybody’s ignorance is about something different and even traditionally smart people can suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect – after all, nobody can know everything. Those with academic smarts often lack street smarts. Those with an aptitude for writing can struggle with mathematical concepts. The right side and the left side of the brain control different abilities and most people favour one over the other. As Dunning puts it, “Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all.”Continue reading
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.Continue reading