Monday, April 26, 2021

Why Perfection Is the Impossible Dream

By Ramona Richards

 

In a fair land far away (Tennessee in the ’70s), I majored in English. Twice. The first time I had a minor in Modern European Studies (multiple classes in history, politics, and foreign languages) and an emphasis in grammar and composition. I took advanced classes in both. I can diagram sentences from James Joyce (yes, that was one of the exercises). I loved it.


Repeat that. Loved it. Correct grammar became a passion. People were afraid to write me letters. I became a grammar dictator.

 

The second time, for my master’s degree, I had to take a foreign language. German. Which taught me even more about grammar (German and English have similar Indo-European roots). By the time those degrees were in hand, I had Harbrace, and Turabian, and the Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk & White memorized. I had a red pen grafted to my left hand. I was ready for publishing.

 

Then … I actually got a job in publishing. And here is the first lesson I learned in publishing: There is no such thing as a perfect book.

 

Not that I absorbed this lesson easily. I still remember that first letter of correction from a reader. I was devastated, even though I’d had nothing to do with the book. It had been published long before I even graduated from college.

 

My boss, however, was quite nonchalant, with her “no such thing as a perfect book” lesson. “Ramona, if you get upset over every mistake in a printed book, you’re going to spend your life in a tizzy,” she said gently. “Humans make mistakes. And grammar changes.”

 

Wait. What? Grammar changes?

 

Definitely not something I heard back in that fair land far away. I was just beginning to learn how far away it was. I soon began to read publications like The Editorial Eye, which covered the ongoing changes in grammar. Now I read grammar blogs and CMOS Q&A pages. I went from being a prescriptivist (one who dictates how grammar should be used correctly) to a descriptivist (one who describes how current grammar is used correctly). And I discovered that editing content, editing story, is far more satisfying to me.

 

Above all, I began to truly appreciate the overwhelming beauty of this whackadoodle language we call English. It’s fluid and flexible with rules that guide yet shift. It allows for different stylebooks to flourish (Associated Press is not CMOS is not APA style, and serial commas are not universal). It allows new words to be added and old words to change or vanish. Words are allowed to evolve. Nouns become verbs, and vice versa. Googol, a noun, inspired Google, a proper noun, which became a verb.

 

In fiction as well as nonfiction, English allows for the development of an author’s voice through selective syntax, dialogue, and dialectal phrasings. And I’m always amused at people who desperately fight some usages until they’re added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Then they’re OK, accepted by the “authority” of the OED, which has always been a descriptivist publication.

 

So what’s my point?

 

My point is that every book has mistakes (even if you don’t catch them) and some grammatical “mistakes” aren’t actually mistakes. When reading a book, try focusing on content, on story, not on the occasional trip-up by a copyeditor. Because if you let a few grammatical mistakes or typos upset your reading of a book, then you are going to overlook some of the most beautiful and well-written (if not well-proofed) books in our language.

 

Don’t get me wrong; in some ways this attitude (books must be perfect) is helpful to authors and publishers. We do take emails about mistakes seriously, and often readers find things that should be corrected. And, once upon a time, complaints about things that are not, in fact, wrong used to have little impact. (I once had a woman complain to me about the use of parentheses in the King James Version of the Bible, since nothing in God’s word is parenthetical. I had to explain to her the evolution of parentheses as punctuation and that in older versions of the KJV, they were perfectly acceptable.)

 

But now we have the internet, where a campaign against a mistake can cost an author a career.

 

Think I’m exaggerating?

 

A publisher I worked for was startled when they were notified that Amazon had pulled the “Buy” button from one of our books because of one reader’s complaints about the “mistakes” in the book. They sent us the list. Of all the “mistakes” on this reader’s list, one was a typo. One was a continuity error. The rest were not mistakes at all, but out-of-date grammar or the author’s voice in dialogue. So, no, these weren’t going to be changed, no matter how much one reader protested. They weren’t wrong; she was.

 

But even though this reader was incorrect on most of her complaints, she cost the author sales. And she has a platform to continue to complain. This was not justified nitpicking; this was just mean.

 

So, I beg of you, when you see mistakes in a published book, don’t grab a red pen and a platform. Don’t wail and jive in Amazon reviews about the lousy copyediting. Be biblical—go straight to the source first. Contact the author or publisher (we’re online everywhere these days), and alert them to the problem. Give them a chance to respond.

 

And if your grammatical knowledge is based on what you learned before 2001, please do not mention split infinitives. They’ve been acceptable since at least 1983, if not before.

 

Or to quote a CMOS Q&A column: “In this day and age, it seems, an injunction against splitting infinitives is one of those shibboleths whose only reason for survival is to give increased meaning to the lives of those who can both identify by name a discrete grammatical, syntactic, or orthographic entity and notice when that entity has been somehow besmirched.”

 

Another reason to love the CMOS folks.

 

It really is OK for us “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

 

And other places.

 

(Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Stuart Miles, and digitalart.)

 

TWEETABLE

There is no such thing as a perfect book. When you see mistakes in a published book, don’t grab a red pen and a platform. via @RamonaRichards (Click to tweet.)

 

Ramona Richards is a forty-year veteran of the publishing industry. She is the author of 12 books, including Tracking Changes: One Editor’s Advice to Inspirational Fiction Authors, from which this post was adapted. She is currently an editor with Iron Stream Media and is working on books 13-17. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Confusion of Words

 By Andrea Merrell

 

It’s been said that the English language is the hardest to learn and understand.

For instance, most languages only have one word (maybe two or three at the most) to describe a happy emotion or something extraordinary. We, on the other hand, might say words like awesome, incredible, amazing, fantastic, astonishing, breathtaking, remarkable, wonderful, fabulous … 

You fill in the blank.

There are words with a negative connotation like rude, inconsiderate, impolite, disrespectful, discourteous, thoughtless, insensitive … shall I go on?

Then there are words that sound alike but have different meanings. Words like your and you’re; their, there, and they’re; its and it’s; who’s and whose.

And while we’re at it, why do we drive on the parkway and park on the driveway? But I digress …

No wonder it’s hard for other cultures to grasp the meaning of our words. But many times it’s hard for us as well.

As writers, it’s important for us to have a good working knowledge of words—both the meaning and the spelling. If you’re writing about a man who went to sea, you wouldn’t say he went out to see. See what? Big difference, right?

If your protagonist needs her husband to pick up a pear at the grocery store, you wouldn’t want to write a pair on the list. A pair of what?

Maybe your antagonist is peeking around the corner at his prey. You certainly don’t want him peaking (or piquing) around that corner at his pray.

These may sound like silly examples, but as an editor, I see these mistakes often. Just like a comma can make all the difference (Let’s eat, Grandma vs. Let’s eat Grandma), misspelled and misused words can derail our writing and irritate our readers.

Do we all make mistakes? Absolutely. Are we going to get everything right all the time? Of course not. But we need to do the best we can, especially when writing for the Lord.

Put your heart and soul into every activity you do, as though you are doing it for the Lord himself and not merely for others. For we know that we will receive a reward, an inheritance from the Lord, as we serve the Lord Yahweh, the Anointed One! (Colossians 3:23-24 TPT)

When in doubt, get out your dictionary or do a Google search. You’ll be glad you did—and so will your readers.

What particular words do you struggle with? We would love to hear from you.

 

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

 

TWEETABLE

Misspelled and misused words can derail our writing and irritate our readers. via @AndreaMerrell (Click to tweet.)

 

 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Post-Pandemic Writing

By Linda Gilden

 

Now that we feel like the pandemic is coming to an end, we need to think about how to come out on the other side with our writing. For quite some time, our writing has had the influences of the pandemic sprinkled throughout. Now it is time to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and help people see how to establish a new normal in their lifestyles. Here are several ways we can do that.

 

Continue to Keep Things Clean

We are writing for the kingdom. Therefore, we need to not only keep our physical surroundings clean but also our thoughts and writing. Just as it takes a miniscule germ to infect a person’s entire body, one offensive word can turn your readers away from a lifesaving message.

 

Have you ever been waiting for a book to be released because you just know it will change your life. Then as you are reading, the author uses one expression or word that you find offensive and the whole book is ruined for you? Don’t let that happen to your readers.

 

Take Off Your Mask Only When Not in a Crowd

Masks can only help us when we use them properly. We have been encouraged to wear masks whenever we are around lots of people, even family.

 

However, we can safely remove them in our writing. Being vulnerable is important when we are sharing the message God has given us with others. Vulnerability is not the easiest thing to practice in our writing. But when your target is the heart of your reader, you will change lives when you hit that target.

 

When I took off my “mask” of vulnerability, I began to get mail from my readers as to how much my words had meant in their lives. They connected with me at a level I couldn’t reach when I was holding back and had my mask on.

 

Stay Out of Crowds

One of the things we have heard for the last year was to stay out of crowds. Every group over a certain number could be a haven for germs. This applied to friends and public gatherings as well as small family events.

 

Writing is a solitary activity, yet the easiest things to write about are often those which are on the minds of the crowd. Hence, the pandemic has been the topic of many articles and even books over the last year. However, stepping outside of the popular box and writing about topics which are related and sometimes difficult can have the greatest impact. Trust God to direct you and lead you to write what will change lives. Perhaps you can approach articles from a spiritual standpoint. How did the pandemic impact your faith? How did your faith grow as a result of changes in the world over the past year? It’s time now to reach out to other people, whether through your writing or in person.

 

This horrid virus has wreaked havoc on families all over the world. Let’s take a lesson from the new rules that have been imposed for our protection. It’s time to take off our writing masks, write our messages cleanly and clearly, and take a stand to encourage others to speak up and make a difference, one word at a time.



TWEETABLE

It’s time to take off our writing masks, write our messages cleanly and clearly, and take a stand to encourage others to speak up and make a difference, one word at a time. via @LindaGilden (Click to tweet.)


Linda Gilden is an award-winning writer, speaker, editor, certified writing and speaking coach, and personality consultant. Her passion is helping others discover the joy of writing and learn to use their writing to make a difference. Linda recently released Articles, Articles, Articles! and is the author of over a thousand magazine articles and 19 books including the new LINKED Quick Guides for Personalities. Linda’s favorite activity (other than eating folded potato chips) is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing grandchildren—a great source of writing material! www.lindagilden.com

 

 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Don't Edit Out the Edit

 By Martin Wiles

 

“Don’t turn your paper in after you put the last period.”

Sage advice I have given over the years to my writing students. Unfortunately, advice few of them have taken. More times than not, I watch them put the final punctuation mark, rise from their desks, and bring the paper to me.

But let’s be fair. Students who are taught writing in their educational journey aren’t the only ones who detest editing. Unless we are an editor or English teacher, we probably don’t want to dabble in MUGS (Mechanics, Usage, Grammar, and Syntax).

This is when we need a healthy dose of reality. Unless an editor finds our devotion, article, or book manuscript exceptional, he or she is unlikely to overlook obvious grammar errors that we could have easily corrected. Especially when so many programs and apps are available to help us.

Polishing our writing to the best of our ability makes acceptance and publication more probable. Anything worth writing—whether published or not—is worth the time, effort, and money to make it shine. What we write about matters. So does how it appears.

The following are two practical tools:

  • Grammarly – This program has a paid and a free version. The free version can now be downloaded as an add-on to Word. Although Grammarly still offers a Premium version, the free version will catch many common errors, such as incorrect article usage, redundancies, spelling errors, and other typos.

 

  • Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) – This program is not free, but is reasonably priced. Subscribers pay monthly or annually. It will catch a few things the free version of Grammarly won’t, such as passive voice sentences and dangling modifiers.

 

These two programs will clean up a piece of writing, but, as I remind my students, they are computer-based—and a computer, as hard as it may try, cannot know positively what a writer attempts to say. I recommend a few other avenues for the serious writer.

  • Purchase Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and Editing Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, both by Kathy Ide. Let’s face it. Not all writers are experts in grammar and editing. If they were, they’d probably be teaching or editing for a living. These two books offer telling resources to polish our writing.

 

  • Join a critique group or enlist a critique partner who knows something about the writing world and the grammar world. I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t enlist an English teacher. As an English teacher, I take some offense to that, but I do understand the statement. Just because a person is an English teacher doesn’t mean they are familiar with the publishing world.

 

  • Pay an editor. Not just anyone who claims to be one, but one who has the experience and knows what they are doing. Preferably, one who has worked in the genre we write. Swinging the cost might tax our wallet, but the investment will be worth it in the end.

 

Whatever you write, polish it as much as possible. When you’ve reached the end of your expertise, let someone who is more experienced piggyback. Whatever you do, don’t edit out the edit.


(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and keattikorn.)


TWEETABLE

Polishing our writing to the best of our ability makes acceptance and publication more probable. via Martin Wiles @linesfromGod (Click to tweet.)


Martin Wiles is the founder of Love Lines from God (www.lovelinesfromgod.com) and serves as Managing Editor for Christian Devotions and as a copy editor for Courier Publishing. He has authored six books and has been published in numerous publications. He is a freelance editor, English teacher, author, and pastor