10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

I saw this poster today and thought it was some of the BEST advice I’ve read–let me know if you agree!

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer #writetip #writingadvice #amwriting Click To Tweet

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Proofreading

proofreading
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This is the third installment of an occasional series about freelance editing services. I wrote previously about developmental editing and copyediting; this time I’ll share some thoughts on proofreading, the last of three vital steps in your editing process.

You’ve written your manuscript, you’ve self-edited, you’ve even hired a professional freelance editor to be sure everything is perfect. So if it’s perfect, why do you need to hire a proofreader?

As the author, you’ll receive a copy of the final page proofs (also called a galley) and are expected to review it for final corrections. If you are under contract with a traditional publisher, a professional proofreader is usually hired to check for errors in layout, grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, inconsistencies in style, cross-referencing of page numbers and other details in the manuscript, and to note any glaring errors. If you are self-publishing, you want to hire your own proofreader. Trust me, even if you were an A student in your college composition class, you want to hire a professional proofreader. Why?

None of us can be experts at everything, and no matter how well written a manuscript is, we all make mistakes—even professional editors and proofreaders do! Heck, I’ll admit that I’ve sent out e-mails I’ve checked and rechecked, and when the reply came back, sure enough, I noticed I’d typed “your” instead of “you.” It happens. Consequently, I have every blog proofread before I post it, because I’m just like you—I want my work to be as professional as possible.

As The Proofreading Girl puts it, “Arguably, the best reason to hire a professional proofreader is that typos, grammar gaffes and spelling errors, once printed or published, are immortal. Would you want a proofreading fiasco like one of these real-world examples to be your legacy?” Her examples include: “McDonald’s Drive Thru” and “Boy’s Department,” obvious mistakes that a professional proofreader would have caught.

Don’t let mistakes like these be your calling card! #writetip #proofreading #amediting Click To Tweet

Don’t let mistakes like these be your calling card! Even if you’re on a tight budget, hire a professional editor and a professional proofreader if you are serious about your writing. If there’s a will, there’s a way—don’t just depend on your software’s spell and grammar checkers and think “that’s good enough,” because it isn’t. Again, from The Proofreading Girl: “Realistically, it’s common for even good writers to struggle with pesky pronouns (who or whom?), apostrophes (its or it’s?), homophones (principle or principal?), and hyphens (well deserved or well-deserved?). It doesn’t help that programs like Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check can actually make things worse rather than better. While these features are helpful in certain capacities, they are not nearly as accurate or as skillful as a good proofreader. So, if the document is important, chances are that you should hire one.”

A professional proofreader is your last line of defense before your book, blog, magazine article, or proposal greets the world, so invest in yourself and your professional reputation by hiring one before you say “Print!”

–Candace

Pass the Passive Writing, Please!

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I thought I was a pretty good writer when I was in college. I probably was, at least as far as making my argument was concerned. But unfortunately, I didn’t learn until after I graduated that I was guilty of a common writing error: I overused passive writing because I thought it sounded “literary.”

Boy, was I wrong! Yet I had plenty of company, and I can even point to a couple of good reasons why it happened and why writers continue to overwrite using the passive voice.

Are you making the mistake of using passive voice? Here are examples of the difference between active and passive voice. #editing #writing #writingtip #passivevoice Click To Tweet

Let me explain. In the active voice, the subject performs the action; in passive writing, the subject receives the action. It’s that simple. For example:

Active voice: Candace wrote a new blog about passive writing.

Passive voice: A new blog about passive writing was written by Candace.

In passive writing, the subject might even disappear from the sentence, like this:

A new blog about passive writing was written and posted.

In most cases, you want to emphasize the subject that does the action (active voice); in the passive voice, the subject receives the action. And because passive writing is often wordier than active writing, writers should always be looking for ways to craft a cleaner, more concise sentence.

While it is preferable to use an active voice most of the time, there is a time and place for passive writing. Daily Writing Tips puts it this way: “Passive writing is common in scientific papers because it lets the writers avoid using the words I or we, to avoid saying where their ideas came from That’s why some teachers think that passive voice sounds more educated. Usually, though, it’s simply less definite . . . but in the real world, when they have something to say, even scientists don’t have the luxury of not being definite.” And in A Writer’s Reference, author Diane Hacker writes,

“The passive voice is appropriate if you wish to emphasize the receiver of the action or to minimize the importance of the actor.”

Passive writing is tricky, though, and something you should work to avoid in most cases. Absolutewrite.com offers:

“It takes time and practice to eliminate such problems as expository dialogue and passive writing from your work. But the payoff for your hard work      and diligence will be a smoother style and a heightened ability to create remarkable stories.”

That sounds like a goal worth pursuing! So don’t try to sound “literary” or “educated” by overusing the passive voice when you write. If your grammar checker flags a passive sentence, take a careful look to be sure you’ve written it that way for a good reason. If not, it’s time for a revision.

A final word: in the classic Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, author Patricia T. O’Connor writes, “If you have something to say, be direct about it. As in geometry, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” That’s good advice for all of us, so the next time you self-edit, say it the way you mean it and work to construct your sentences so they are direct and active.

—Candace

Next week: Avoiding Awkward Sentences

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Copyediting

CopyeditingThis is the second installment of an occasional series about freelance editing services. I wrote previously about developmental editing; this time I’ll share some thoughts on copyediting (sometimes spelled copy editing), the second of three vital steps in the editing process.

So what is a copyeditor, and why do you need one? An article on About.com puts it succinctly: “Copy editors are the grammatical gatekeepers, so to speak, of the media world. They read over stories—or, as the content is called in industry terms, ‘copy’—and check for everything from typos to errant commas.”

Copyediting is more than just checking to be sure a writer follows grammar rules. #amediting #copyediting #writers #bloggers Click To Tweet

Copyediting is more than just checking to be sure a writer follows grammar rules. The copyeditor’s task is to finesse a writer’s prose so that it observes all the conventions of good writing, and also verifies proper syntax, word choice, spelling, punctuation, adherence to the publisher’s style guide or outside guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook. In addition, the copyeditor checks to be sure the text flows and is accurate and clear, checks basic facts, flags potential legal issues, and as another blogger writes, “copyediting is like pulling out your magnifying glass to look at the small details of the writing. Copyeditors look at each paragraph, each sentence in that paragraph and further still, each word in the sentence.”

(For those of you paying attention, the quote above has an error that should have been caught by the copyeditor—if you see it, please leave the answer in “Comments”—and no peeking at other people’s answers! I’ll post the correct answer in my next blog.)

As the book packaging professionals at The Book Couple (http://www.thebookcouple.com) put it, “A good copyeditor brings a renewed sense of objectivity to the project, which is important for pinpointing any remaining issues that the author and [project] editor are too close to see.” In the first step of the editing process, the developmental editor looked at “big picture” issues, but the copyeditor is more concerned with line-by-line details. Here are a few examples of issues a copyeditor will flag:

“His belligerence would express itself if the child hesitated or resisted in any way.”

(The problem: belligerence doesn’t express itself, belligerence is something that is expressed by someone. This is an example of passive writing, and is a common error a copyeditor will note and correct.)

“I had a lady who was a teacher and she was profoundly ill.”

(First problem: “I had a lady” is nonsensical. This should be rephrased as “I had a female patient.” Second problem: there are two independent clauses in this sentence that should be separated by a comma: “I had a lady who was a teacher” comma “and she was profoundly ill.” Or better yet, “I had a female patient who was profoundly ill,” which is a more sophisticated way of stating these facts and more in line with the overall professional tone of this manuscript.)

Please subscribe to this blog for weekly examples of common errors and how to correct them. You’ll learn a lot, I promise!

There are numerous ways a writer can and should self-edit; when an article, manuscript, or web content is submitted for publication, the writer should always try to have it as free from error as possible. But none of us can be experts are everything, and no matter how well written a manuscript is, it often needs more help than what another writer or a friend can offer. Writers are often amazed at the amount of help a good editor offers; published authors who have already been through the process understand how valuable an editor is to the success of their work.

If you have a great idea but don’t know how to organize it into a book or article, or if you’ve written a draft and want to be sure it is well-ordered and doesn’t drift off somewhere it shouldn’t, or you have a web post due and you’re a little rusty about all those grammar rules, consider hiring a professional freelance editor. A professional editor has an objective viewpoint and will be honest with you about the many ways you can improve your manuscript—yes, even when you think it’s perfect, you’ll be surprised at the things an editor will suggest that never occurred to you.

And the best advice of all: find an editor who will work as your partner to help you say it the way you mean it.

—Candace

 

Effective Writing Isn’t Affected, Part I

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Last week’s blog, “Being a Being Who Has a Pet Grammar Peeve,” was the first of a series highlighting some of the common errors I encounter when I edit and proofread. As promised, this week I’ll begin to tackle affected writing styles.

There are many different types of mistakes writers make when they attempt to sound “learned” or “literary,” but as any good writing coach will tell you, simpler is almost always better. Many beginning writers (and sadly, many established ones as well) think using “big” words is better, but I agree with Writing Rule #3 from Lifeloom.com: Eschew ostentatious erudition.

Description is important. So is clarity. As Dean Reick wrote on Copyblogger, “To sound smart, you must stop trying to sound smart. Brilliant writing is simple writing, a relevant idea delivered clearly and directly.”

There are many different types of mistakes writers make when they attempt to sound “learned” or “literary,” but as any good writing coach will tell you, simpler is almost always better. #amediting #writingtips #words #writetip Click To Tweet

I recently edited a manuscript with the sentence, “To facilitate this change, I suggested that [Mary] commence the exercises I had recommended.” While there is nothing technically wrong with that sentence, why fill your work with words plucked from a thesaurus if you don’t need to? Consider this alternative, which is much simpler: “I suggested that Mary begin the exercises I’d recommended to help her with the change.”

The Writing Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a great online style handout that includes a list of common stock phrases and their one-word replacements. For example: is able to, is in a position to, has the opportunity to, has the capacity for, has the ability to . . . are all ways to say “can.”

Now please don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that you forgo every use of phrases that add some variety or nuance; that is a style choice.

What I am suggesting is that you take a moment to consider how you could rephrase a sentence to be grammatically correct while expressing your point as clearly and succinctly as possible. Strive to express your ideas in the most direct, elegant, and persuasive way possible. I love my thesaurus, too, but I make sure I understand the nuance of the word I’ve plucked from it before I choose it over the word I want to replace.

Here’s another example from the UNC handout:

For example, if your paper discusses the significance of memory represented by the scent of wisteria in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, you are going to write the words “memory” and “wisteria” a lot. Don’t start saying “recollection,” “reminiscence,” “summoning up of past events,” and “climbing woody vine” just to get a little variation in there. A thesaurus might even lead you to say that the significance of nostalgia is represented by the odiferous output of parasitic flowering vegetation. . . . Remember that your goal in . . . writing is not to sound intelligent, but to get your intelligent point across.

I’d love your comments about this or other grammar goofs. I hope you’ll share them here or write to me at cyjohnson5580@gmail.com. Thanks for stopping by.

—Candace

 

Next week: Passive Writing

Life, with Cancer: The Lauren Terrazzano Story now available for Kindle

This is an update to my October 2nd post about a memoir I edited titled Life, with Cancer: The Lauren Terrazzano Story, which has just become available for Kindle. Including a foreword by best-selling author Anna QuindlenLife, with Cancer begins with Lauren’s early years as a journalist, and with the intensity of the journalist herself, covers her larger-than-life experiences. A tapestry of Lauren’s life is woven together throughout the course of the book, taking into perspective her childhood, her accomplishments as a young journalist, and the final three years of her “Life, with Cancer.” These three major components are combined in each chapter to tell Lauren’s complete story.

Newsday columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning social journalist Lauren Terrazzano championed the causes of abused children, the elderly, and the homeless, truly becoming a voice for the voiceless through her writing by taking global issues and personalizing them to dramatize how they affected individuals and families.It was not uncommon for her stories to force change in and in governmental policies  or in people’s thinking.

Life, with Cancer begins with Lauren Terrezanno's early years as a journalist, and with the intensity of the journalist herself, covers her larger-than-life experiences. #books #editing #journalism Click To Tweet

Lauren infused every journalistic story she crafted with passion. That included her own story: at the age of thirty-six, Lauren—a non-smoker—was diagnosed with lung cancer. Until her death three years later, Lauren turned her incredible drive and her passion for communication into raising public awareness of lung cancer and putting a human face on her disease. In Lauren’s honor, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Joan’s Legacy: Uniting Against Lung CancerThe Lung Cancer Alliance, and to fund scholarships through the Lauren Elizabeth Terrazzano Memorial Scholarship Fund at Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

Enjoy it on your Kindle today!

—Candace

 

“Being” a Being Who Has a Pet Grammar Peeve

using being
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In my work as an editor and proofreader, a common and frequent error I see is the use of the phrases “being that,” “being as,” and “being as how.” While these casual and colloquial uses of the irregular verb to be are common, they are not appropriate for writers.

I find that writers often use these phrases because they don’t know how else to make their point. Let’s take this sentence, for example:

“Being as a I am a well-rounded student in high school, I expect to get acceptance letters from a lot of colleges.”

The construction of this sentence is too casual for someone who is writing professionally—or someone who is trying to impress a college selection committee. Yes, there are other issues with that sentence, and I’ll address some of them in future posts, but for now, let’s focus on the introductory phrase.

“Being as I am” is awkward at best and just plain ugly at its worst. As Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I puts it, “This clunker . . . may squeak by in conversation . . . but should be avoided in writing.”

The fix is simple: Substitute “because” for “being as” or “being that” and you’ve solve the issue! Here’s our sentence again with the correct word choice:

Being as Because I am a well-rounded student in high school, I expect to get acceptance letters from a lot of colleges.”

An alternate choice could be, “As I am a well-rounded student in high school, I expect to get acceptance letters from a lot of colleges.”

When you are self-editing, remember to avoid this incorrect use of 'to be.' #writetip #editingtip #grammar #sentences Click To Tweet

When you are self-editing, remember to avoid this incorrect use of to be. And if you have something to say about this or other grammar goofs, I hope you’ll share them here or write to me at cyjohnson5580@gmail.com.

—Candace

Next week: Affected Writing

Life, with Cancer by Frank Terrazzano and Paul Lonardo Now Available

Today is the official publication day of a moving memoir titled Life, with Cancer: The Lauren Terrazzano Storyand it is available wherever books are sold (in print now, e-book format in another week or two). I am proud to say I was the editor of this loving tribute to a remarkable young woman who accomplished so much in her short life. 

Life, with Cancer chronicles the story and the legacy of Lauren’s writing with the same passion and honesty Lauren exhibited throughout her brief career; through this book she continues to live on to enlighten and inspire.

I am proud to say I was the editor of this loving tribute to a remarkable young woman who accomplished so much in her short life. #books #cancer #writers Click To Tweet

With the help of coauthor Paul Lonardo (author of Caught in the Act), devoted father Frank Terrazzano tells his daughter’s compelling life story through the eyes of the many people whose hearts and lives Lauren touched. Lauren’s friends, colleagues, coworkers, and doctors collectively paint an accurate and touching portrait of Lauren the person and the journalist. Reflecting on his daughter, Frank writes of Lauren as “A beautiful young lady who believed that ‘The Pen Is Mightier than the Sword’ [and chose] to use her pen as a light—a light to shine in dark places exposing society’s many shortcomings.”

Including a foreword by best-selling author Anna QuindlenLife, with Cancer begins with Lauren’s early years as a journalist, and with the intensity of the journalist herself, covers her larger-than-life experiences. A tapestry of Lauren’s life is woven together throughout the course of the book, taking into perspective her childhood, her accomplishments as a young journalist, and the final three years of her “Life, with Cancer.” These three major components are combined in each chapter to tell Lauren’s complete story.

Newsday columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning social journalist Lauren Terrazzano championed the causes of abused children, the elderly, and the homeless, truly becoming a voice for the voiceless through her writing by taking global issues and personalizing them to dramatize how they affected individuals and families.It was not uncommon for her stories to force change in and in governmental policies  or in people’s thinking.

Lauren infused every journalistic story she crafted with passion. That included her own story: at the age of thirty-six, Lauren—a non-smoker—was diagnosed with lung cancer. Until her death three years later, Lauren turned her incredible drive and her passion for communication into raising public awareness of lung cancer and putting a human face on her disease. In Lauren’s honor, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Joan’s Legacy: Uniting Against Lung Cancer, The Lung Cancer Alliance, and to fund scholarships through the Lauren Elizabeth Terrazzano Memorial Scholarship Fund at Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading Life, with Cancer as much as I enjoyed editing it.

—Candace

How a Professional Editor Can Help You Get Published: Developmental and Substantive Editing

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Writers are often too close to their own writing to be objective. After spending hours trying to get a concept or dialogue “just right,” it is difficult to know what should stay and what should be cut. Even after you’ve self-edited, had your friends critique your work, and perhaps even asked a friend who is an English teacher to take a look, an objective and professional opinion from a professional freelance editor is the best way to identify what is and isn’t working.

No matter how well written a manuscript is, it needs more than what another writer or a friend can offer. Writers are often amazed at the amount of help a good editor offers; published authors who have already been through the process understand how valuable an editor is to the success of their work.

If you have a great idea but don’t know how to organize it into a book or article, or if you’ve written a draft and want to be sure it is well-ordered and doesn’t drift off somewhere it shouldn’t, consider hiring a professional freelance editor. A professional editor has an objective viewpoint and will be honest with you about the many ways you can improve your manuscript—yes, even when you think it’s perfect, you’ll be surprised at the things an editor will suggest that never occurred to you.

Scott Norton, an editor at the University of California Press and author of the first full-length handbook ever published on the subject of developmental editing, writes: “For our purposes, developmental editing denotes significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript’s discourse. The DE’s role can manifest in a number of ways. Some “big picture” editors provide broad direction by helping the author to form a vision for the book, then coaching the author chapter by chapter to ensure that the vision is successfully executed. Others get their hands dirty with the prose itself, suggesting rewrites at the chapter, section, paragraph, and sentence levels. This hands-on approach is sometimes called substantive editing or line editing.

This important function is not meant to replace self editing; whether you engage an editor before or after you begin writing, developmental editing is synonymous with The Big Picture. Norton goes on to say:

“From this perspective, stylistic intervention alone is not ‘developmental.’ To be sure, there are cases in which a manuscript’s organization is sound but the tone so pervasively wrong that virtually every sentence must be recast. Severe as these problems of tone may be, they can usually be handled by a high-powered copyeditor—and those that can’t are beyond the reach of editing, requiring instead the hand of a ghostwriter or coauthor. Nevertheless, most manuscripts with structural problems have stylistic lapses as well, and DEs are often asked to fix both kinds of problems. . . .”

What is developmental/substantive editing and do you need it? #writers #authors #editing #writetip Click To Tweet

Developmental editing (also called substantive editing, heavy line editing, structural editing, or book doctoring) is the first step for many authors on their way to having their work published. If you are a first-time author, don’t make the expensive mistakes by hoping an agent or publisher will share your vision, even if your manuscript isn’t in top shape. Do your research and find an editor who will work as your partner to help you say it the way you mean it.

—Candace

Writing Groups for Self-Editing

Writers’ groups are a smart way to begin the editing process!

You’ve written a chapter of your memoir, or the first page of your novel, or a writing contest entry. You’ve meticulously self-edited, and now you want to know if what you’ve written “works” for readers . . . so  what’s the next step?

Now it’s time for a writers’ group, aka a critique group. Writers’ groups come in all shapes and sizes—some specialize in genres, others are based on common geography, and still others operate online. Whichever type you choose, you’ll find an abundance of free help from others who love to write. Even experienced writers understand the benefit of the unique perspectives each group member provides.

Critique group members can help you identify global issues in your writing, such as unclear meaning, stilted dialogue, overuse or incorrect use of particular words, and patterns of error in punctuation. They can also help you with grammar issues, plot inconsistencies, a story line that doesn’t work, and character development. They are also invaluable for brainstorming on everything from titles to plot lines to ideas on where and how to tighten your writing.

Critique group members can help you identify global issues in your writing, such as unclear meaning, stilted dialogue, overuse or incorrect use of particular words, and patterns of error in punctuation. #critiquegroups #betareaders… Click To Tweet

You may have to try a few groups before you find one that works for you, but you’ll find it is well worth the time and effort. In addition to critiquing your work, group members can be a source for great ideas on workshops, books about writing, and other related information.

Once you’ve received feedback from group members, you’ll be armed with many different ideas. You’ll find some of those ideas aren’t workable for you, but others will give you an “a-ha” moment, a moment when you ask yourself, “Of course, why didn’t I see that?” You’ll be reinvigorated about your writing and refocused on getting your paper, article, blog, or book ready for publication.

If you use a critique group for beta reading or any other part of your editing process, I hope you’ll share your experiences. And if you know of a great on-line critique group for authors to check out, please include the link in the comments.

Happy Writing!

—Candace

 

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