Effective Writing Isn’t Affected, Part I

Image courtesy of 89studio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.”

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.

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

Image courtesy of digitalart at freedigitalphotos.net

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. 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,

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

Image courtesy of acclaimclipart.com

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. . . .”

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.

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

 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalImages.net

A Love Affair with Words

One of my greatest childhood possessions was my library card. My stay-at-home mom didn’t have a car, so a “trip to the library” consisted of visiting the bookmobile during its bimonthly trek to our neighborhood. The selection of books wasn’t large, but neither was I—I left that bookmobile every two weeks with a pile of books and a huge smile on my face. I could never decide which book to read first, so I’d start several at once. My mother marveled that I didn’t confuse the plots, but I never had a problem with switching between stories, and I enjoyed them all (especially with a flashlight under the covers after the official “lights out”).

Poster for bookmobile service of the Chicago P...
Poster for bookmobile service of the Chicago Public Library, showing a traffic light. “Curb service 10,000 current books – convenient, free, time saving : Chicago Public Library, Randolph St. corridor.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My love affair with words began early, and it has grown and morphed over the many years that have passed since those bookmobile days. I’ve always been fascinated with the way words sound, the way they look, and the rules surrounding their use that often seem arbitrary (but seldom are). I suppose it is natural, then, that I ended up working with words for my profession, and today I take great delight in helping you, the writer, polish your own sentences, paragraphs, and pages so those strings of words express YOU. If you’ve written anything—your own blogpost, an article, a research paper, a book—I’m here to help you make it the very best it can be. Call me today at 954-348-1963 or e-mail me at cyjohnson5580@gmail.com and let’s get started. One day soon someone will be reading YOUR words under the covers with a flashlight!

—Candace

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Students Can't Write, Lack Effective Communication Skills

This is a Computer Fundamentals class taking a...
This is a Computer Fundamentals class taking an exam. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: 2011 Writing exam show that few students can write successfully in both academic and workplace settings, educators said.

If you struggle to use just the right words to get your point across, you may appreciate the article that appeared in the Orange County Register (CA). Even in this day of technologically savvy students, “Nearly three quarters of American students who took the first-ever computer-based national writing exam did not communicate effectively, even when allowed to use spell check, a thesaurus and other word-processing tools, according to a federal report released Friday.” The test, which measured students’ ability to “persuade or change the reader’s point of view; explain or expand the reader’s understanding; and convey experience or communicate individual experiences to others,” was given to a sampling of students that officials felt were representative of the overall population.

These results are so disappointing. Basic writing and communications skills are still that—basic skills—and even with all the money spent on technology in the classroom, students continue to struggle with something that will define them and their futures. Read the full article at http://www.ocregister.com/news/students-371409-writing-graders.html.

I’ll bet at least one of those students has an idea for a terrific book; I just hope he or she realizes there are professional editors who can help when the time comes.

—Candace