Posts Tagged ‘Christine Miller’

The Down ‘n Dirty on Copyediting

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Though definitely an art, writing differs from painting, sculpture, and virtually any other form of visual art in one significant way: it has a lot more rules. No matter how impressive or interesting a book or other written work may appear at first glance, if the rules of language are ignored, the piece fails. Like any craft requiring practice and precision, writing has basic standards of grammar, organization, and syntax that must be second nature to an author before they attempt to embellish with pretty adjectives, artful analogies, inventive ideas, compelling characters, or riveting action.

As a self-proclaimed defender of the English language, I am passionate about upholding its conventions. The rules are in place for a reason: to support the basic goal of writing itself, which is to convey ideas and information clearly and efficiently. Published writing that lacks proper mechanics miseducates the reader, leading to continued degradation of the art form! Given my attitude on this, know that any work I am asked to copy-edit is going to have usage errors weeded out and recultivated so that the garden of your writing is free from distracting pests. To this end, I put forth the following:

  1. I will change the words you have written. Although this would appear fairly obvious if I am copy-editing your work, many authors become quite offended if their work is corrected to conform to rules of grammar, syntax, and logic. For example, if you use the same word over and over within a short section of your narrative – one of the most common errors I encounter in peoples’ writing – I will eliminate the redundancy. However, in doing so, I may need to completely alter or omit whole sentences, which will make it seem like I’ve rewritten the part where it occurs. And quite frankly, I have.
  1. I will change the words you have written, and I won’t discuss it with you first. With many of my clients, there is an expectation that my edits are all suggestive, up for debate and discussion, and subject to some sort of “author authorization.” No. Unless I’m working with you as a writing coach, my edits are based upon my knowledge of the language and my experience as a professional writer. I am the first to admit that like all writers, I am continually learning more about effective writing; however, if you are hiring me to edit your work, the assumption is that I am more skilled in the language than you. If you don’t like an edit I’ve made, simply change it back…at your own risk.
  1. I don’t agree that poor use of the English language qualifies as a literary “voice.” Of course, writing is full of artistic license, taken at the expense of perfect grammar, but sometimes necessary to tell a story or add particular emphasis. Nonetheless, this should be done with discretion. Keep in mind that you’re not allowed to break rules until you’re a perfect master of them. This may eliminate some of your sentence fragments, run-on sentences, excessive interjections, and nouns preceded by four adjectives.
  1. I might kill your precious darlings. Writers have varying degrees of sensitivity to criticism, and writing is a process of creating something to which authors become emotionally attached…often overly attached. Sometimes, phraseology that they think is their cleverest construct yet – e.g. cute metaphors using peculiar or antiquated words – is actually distracting to a reader and serves to detract from the overall piece. If I remove one of these “darlings,” as they are (and oddly so, in my opinion) termed in the writing world, many authors instantly become offended and conclude that I’m a hack. One author wrote: “The apartment was in a warren of old apartments two blocks off of Prince Edward Road.” In a sample edit, I changed this to: “The apartment was within a cluster of older complexes two blocks off Prince Edward Road.” I think taking out “warren” was the reason the writer backed out on our working together. Really, though, the image of rabbits was just too much for me!
  1. Quality writing takes time. Although an editing estimate of several hundred dollars for a 40,000-word piece may sound pricey, authors would do well to consider the number of man-hours I put into modifying, and at times rewriting, their work! Copy-editing is generally a slow and pain-staking process, because the end product, in my mind, must be “perfect,” i.e. publication-ready. This level of quality is possible only through a close and comprehensive journey through each word of your work. Given the time commitment, my fees are more than reasonable.
  1. Honesty and reasonableness are the key factors in my work with writers. My prospective clients give me a sample of their writing, and I edit and return this portion in order to demonstrate the types of changes I would make on their project as a whole, should we decide to work together. In this way, I am also able to see what level of editing is required – substantive, or heavy, medium, or light copy-editing – and thereby give them a fee estimate based on the amount of time and effort that will be involved on my part. My intent is to provide excellent writing at the most reasonable price possible. Believe me, if money were my main objective, I would NOT be a writer/editor. Fortunately, writing is my passion.

My other passion, however, is not to be greedy, arrogant, or competitive. I am willing to discuss my fees and special time-frames, and occasionally lend advice on publishing options or why I made certain edits (to a limited extent, as mentioned above, unless I’m coaching you). As with any type of calling, working as a writer/editor means I have a personal stake in assisting others and ensuring their satisfaction in hiring me. I say this not as a lie or boast, but to give you an idea of the beliefs and ideals I hold most dear.

If you’re still reading this after all of the above and haven’t crossed me off your list of potential editors, please do contact me, because the time we invest in your project will benefit you, me, and most importantly, your writing.

Bichon Rescue: Him or Me?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

See how his belly band is coordinated with my carpet color?

Puppies. Those tiny, fuzzy, wide-eyed tail-waggers will steal your heart before you know what hit you. They chase around your ankles playfully, then spring into your lap, trying to lick your face with their little pink tongues. How can anyone resist adopting a puppy at least once in their life? I was no exception, of course, when deciding to make Oscar – a frisky, curly-white-haired Bichon Frise pup – part of our family. Besides, with three children already, I felt the deep need for one more breathing creature upon which to shower my maternal instincts. What the hell was I thinking?

Picking out a breed was geared around my allergy to dog dander, limiting the choices to non-shedders. My sister, lifelong purveyor of sound advice and my model for crafting “perfect family dynamics,” was raving on and on about the Bichon Frise they had recently gotten. “Daisy” was hypoallergenic and just the sweetest dog on the planet, my sister gushed. The entire family was in love with her! “She’s changed my life,” were her final words, uttered with just the slightest choke of emotion. I bought in immediately. Why bother with further research? I say again, what the hell was I thinking?

We ended up driving a few hundred miles to Arizona to purchase a pure-bred Bichon from a breeder there. Generally priced at about two thousand dollars in the pet stores, this breeder only wanted a few hundred dollars for a Bichon puppy. Oddly, though, the male Bichons were a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the females. I wondered about this, but figured I was getting a bargain with a boy.

Let me just say, if Oscar was a bargain, the Hope Diamond is next on my list of penny-wise purchases…

The kids loved Oscar, as did I and as we all still do. Chubby and friendly, I’ve never seen him snarl at anybody. He loves to sleep on our beds – especially mine – which in hindsight, I shouldn’t have permitted. Truly, I have learned so much about dog training and care, but nearly all of it too late. Oscar did attend “Puppy Kindergarten” and “Basic Training,” although it was during these classes that I began to heavily suspect he might be a bit resistant to learning. Many of the basic training commands, like “heel,” “come,” “stay,” and “drop it,” seemed to stay in his fluffy little head for only minutes at a time. I’m almost certain that as Oscar and I walked up to a podium to receive his official basic training certificate, some of those trainers were rolling their eyes.

I believe it is more difficult to train a dog when you have young children, as consistency is key with teaching behaviors to an animal. Perhaps this is another reason Oscar never was or is what I would term “obedient.” On the contrary, he seems to do pretty much what he pleases regardless of the tone, volume, or desperation of my commands. Unless, of course, food is involved.

Food. Now there is an issue of utmost gravity and significance in the life and mentality of Oscar. Is it just his breed, or are all dogs willing to fly between kitchen countertops if there’s a tasty morsel up there? For that matter, who would have known it was even possible for an animal no taller than about a foot-and-a-half to pull off such acrobatics? But yes, Oscar has shown his abilities in this area if food is the goal. To save our family’s food from this Stage Four foodaholic, we must always be mindful of putting things really high up, inside the refrigerator, or behind securely-closed doors.

We first learned about Oscar’s marauder tendencies when he was just a few months old and got the remainder of my daughter’s cup of chocolate milk. I had heard, of course, that chocolate can harm or even kill dogs, so I was in a panic! I rushed him to the vet, where he was kept for several hours of observation. Fifty dollars later, he came back home, certainly none the worse for wear. But this cup of chocolate milk was only the beginning of his saga of food thievery. Somehow, we can never be careful enough. His prizes have included an entire bag of cashews concealed in holiday wrap under the Christmas tree, twenty-five days of chocolate from not one, but two Advent calendars, two consecutive packages of blueberry scones (the second was to replace the first, but apparently still within leap), a whole rotisserie chicken, and a solid milk chocolate Easter bunny. Oscar has been “fine” after each binge, although I wish I could say the same for our carpets. The bunny escapade resulted in my losing a full day of work plus a $300 rug-cleaning bill.

Another small problem with Oscar concerns his skin. Did you know that Bichons tend to have allergies and hot spot issues, aggravated by their drive to lick the spots until they’re enlarged and raw? I didn’t. After all, angelic cousin Daisy had no such troubles! Unfortunately, Oscar has spent a good half his life wearing a buster collar, which people love to laugh at because of its resemblance to a lampshade on his head. And due to his “motivated” personality, I have been forced to get collars with greater and greater diameters, because he manages to contort his fat little body to get at a spot.

After unsuccessfully trying socks, bandages, chili-powder-infused patches, and sports tape to keep him away from his hot spots, I finally relented and took him to a canine dermatology specialist (whose office is, by the way, a drive of over 40 miles). This resulted in his getting regular daily medication with Cyclosporine and prednisone, not to mention antibiotics to treat the red, splotchy sores. Mind you, I don’t want to seem as though I’m complaining, but the Cyclosporine costs around $200 per bottle. And without fail, every single time I pick it up from the pharmacy, the cashier looks at me and says, “Do you know how much this costs?” Yes, and it kills me! I scream inside my head. Fortunately, I manage to keep a cool exterior and nod politely.

Because I feel awful putting so many chemicals into my dog, I have recently tried a food supplement which is supposed to improve his skin’s natural immunity. In addition, he gets fish oil, recommended to lessen his itchiness, poured over the top of his fortified meal every day. I’m still waiting and hoping for results. For the time being, though, when he is wearing his huge buster collar and breathes in your direction, the effect is what I call a “cornucopia of stink” owing to the fishiness. The family has learned to redirect the cone or evacuate the area.

On the positive side, Oscar’s temperament is commendable. He is affable to humans and other dogs alike, although after being attacked by large dogs three or four times, he no longer approaches them with his usual eager sociability. Reasonably smart (albeit stubborn), he has even fine-tuned his communication skills. When he wants me to get out of bed, feed him, throw his favorite stuffed animal, give him a belly rub, or walk him, he doesn’t bark obnoxiously. Instead, he either makes a sort of low grunting sound in his throat, or a high-pitched whistling sound in his nose…it’s one or the other, but it doesn’t end until I respond. Ignoring his “requests” leads to nose-shoving or paws/claws scratching my legs.

Oscar’s social tendencies sometimes get a bit excessive. I love his companionship, but does he really have to follow me from room to room, staring at me in anticipation of my next move to make him happy? The constant look of expectation gives me something of a guilt complex when I’m doing frivolous things like working, paying bills, or eating (of course). Maybe part of my reaction is intimidation, because Oscar has been known to express his displeasure with the status quo by knocking over waste baskets or poop on the rug. This is particularly true if we leave to go somewhere without him, or stay away a bit too long. We are almost sure to come back to some type of mess he’s engineered. In his simple canine way, he’s saying, “I missed you.” Thanks, Oscar.

Lastly, there have been some potty-training issues with our boy. Go figure. It became most critical when we moved to my condominium, new turf for him. Adding insult to injury, we also adopted a kitten around the same time, thinking this fur-bearing friend would keep him company when we were away. Oscar was not delighted, however, peeing and pooping his annoyance onto the floors of our new abode. To alleviate this problem at least in part, I bought a “belly band” which attaches around his mid-section to cover over the offending wee-maker. It is even more effective if an overnight maxi-pad is placed in the critical part of the band.

Many times, I have wondered how my desire for a furry, loyal compadre resulted in this four-legged creature with a lampshade on its head, lumpy band around its middle, and socks on two feet. It’s a question I’ll never be able to fully answer, I suppose. In the meantime, we make the best of each day and search for peace amidst the challenges. And in those lovely, quiet moments just before I close my eyes at night, I realize… How lucky I am that Oscar and my cat have allowed me a spot on the bed.