Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

Back to the Blog!

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Firstly, I must apologize to the faithful readers of my blog for not writing over the last three months. I want both of you to know, however, that I have really good excuses for neglecting my blog…it’s the truth! I’ve been busy with several projects, not the least of which has been home-schooling my daughter through eighth grade. We have twenty-four days to go before she’s done with the school year. But who’s counting, right? To parents who wish they could take a more active role in their child’s education, let me just say, seriously rethink this silly notion! It’s a minefield of control issues, power struggles, tantrums, and tears. And I’m not even talking about my daughter here…

Alongside this, I’ve been working on a couple major copyediting projects. Honestly, out of all the writing services I provide in my business, editing is my favorite. Correcting other peoples’ mistakes is right up my alley, especially when the authors are not related to me! The blessing and the curse of these kinds of projects, though, is that they have deadlines for completion, and when you’re basically looking at every word of two 90,000-word manuscripts at the same time, it’s best to focus. Hence, no blog entries…but I do miss you, my old friend and outlet for expression and creativity, sometimes even a few laughs.

One of the books I worked on, now in the process of being published, is called From Iran to America – Mahnaz and Shirin, A Love Story. It is basically a memoir, but parts of it are embellished, so it can’t be described as strictly non-fiction. The book recounts stories from an Iranian man’s childhood in his homeland, and later his permanent move to the United States. The narrative, however,  is built around the author’s relationship with two Iranian women, one beautiful, wicked, and deceitful, the other beautiful, honest, and sweet. Why is it that we always choose the bad ones first? Now there’s a question that transcends time, place, and nationality!

The author’s true accounts from growing up in Iran are not only entertaining, funny, and interesting, but they give a rare perspective on day-to-day life in that country under the Shah. As someone who knew nothing about the country of Iran, its people, or its history, I found the stories absolutely fascinating. And not only that, they made me realize once again that no matter how various ethnicities are labeled or criticized, all of us have the same needs and feelings as human beings. In other words, it made me reconsider some of my prior beliefs about Middle Easterners, all of which stemmed, of course, from how they’re depicted in the media

Adding to this is how From Iran to America weaves in the crazy roller-coaster of falling in love, providing poignant testimony that this emotion can drive us to make the most irrational and ill-advised choices of our lives. I predict that once you start reading this book, you’ll have to finish it to find out how this whole love triangle is finally resolved for the narrator, whom by then we’re rooting for just as we would a good friend.

The other manuscript I was privileged to copyedit is a science fiction/fantasy novel for young adults, the second in a planned trilogy. But get this…the author wrote the first book in the series when he was seventeen years old, and the second was completed less than a year later! How many teenagers do you know who even finish cleaning their room, much less write two entire novels?!

The book is called Water Tower, and it will be published in the next couple months. The main character, Sam, is a fifteen-year-old superhero of sorts. It’s an excellent concept…a superhero who’s also an immature, awkward, totally-likeable teenager. Sam battles evil forces threatening world domination in an earth whose population is divided among three “nations” consisting of the Surface, the Sky Nation, and the Water Nation. You can guess where Water Tower takes place, and readers should get ready for a wild ride alongside Sam as he gets beat up, nearly burnt up, and almost drowned. All this, of course, while trying to figure out what to do now that he has his first girlfriend, Rose. Is it any wonder teenagers are moody?

Since I was paid to edit Water Tower, I feel a little guilty telling you how much fun I had doing this! I foresee the author in a few years – maybe even sooner – selling movie rights and knocking out more adventure fantasy thrillers. With an imagination like his, the possibilities reach beyond the boundaries of the Sky Nation.

I plan to provide more information regarding ordering these books once they’re available in print. The freedom writers have nowadays to self-publish – as opposed to trying to find a literary agent or large publisher willing to take a chance on a new author, a rare occurrence indeed – has had a phenomenal effect on what we read nowadays. My only issue with self-published works is that many are launched without being scrutinized by a good editor. As the English language maniac that I am, it appalls me to think that the quality of writing in self-published books is frequently substandard. In my mind, this can’t be good for the overall literacy of our youth and our nation. Anyhoo… pardon my grandstanding on that a bit. The point is, have me read over your material before you publish it. And there is my ego rearing its head now, too.

It’s probably a good time to wrap up this little blogging warm-up. It just seems like forever since I’ve written from my own brain, with my own thoughts. Ah, the joy of blogging again. So until next time…and please, let me know your thoughts, too! After all, friends don’t let friends blog alone.

Journal and Grow

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Journaling is not simply writing. It is a journey, a touchstone for personal growth. Think of your journal as a friend, one to whom you can tell your secrets and reveal all that burdens your mind and heart. You’ll never be met with rejection or impatience by your journal! Because of this, you have complete freedom to say it like it is, allowing discovery of thoughts and emotions you may have never known were inside you…

There are no absolutes for this type of writing, no “right” or “wrong” ways to keep a journal. Your journal is for you. Write in it as often as you want or need. Here are some suggestions for making the most of this marvelous tool:

  • Always journal in an undisturbed, quiet place that feels comfortable and “safe” to you.
  • Instead of writing about the events or people in your life, focus on expressing your feelings about the resultant situations or relationships.
  • If you believe in God or another spiritual Source, address your writing directly to this “power greater than yourself.”
  • Your journal is your private confidante. Be completely honest, knowing that what you write is for your eyes only. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling, and if you need to use four-letter words, that’s alright too!
  • If you are writing about troubling feelings, explore what aspects of the situation or issue are actually within your control. Regarding the parts outside your control, how can you change your attitude to restore peace and serenity to your mind?
  • End your writing session with a few minutes of silent meditation, during which time you try to focus your mind on just one calming object, place, or idea.
  • If you’ve written about problematic emotions, and these do not ease after journaling, share this part of your writing with a person whom you trust.

Writing For Me

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

For me, writing is not merely an instrument of communication. It goes far deeper than that. Writing is the bridge between my internal life and the outside world, both the means to an end as well as the end itself. Sometimes I wish I could make up amazing stories, but honestly, I find reality much more compelling. Thus the plot is ordinary, but my thoughts and attitudes about what exists around me can be complex, deep-seated, and ever-changing.  And hopefully evocative to some readers to see the mundane in the light of their own inner uniqueness. All becomes so much more precious and beautiful that way.

Words are my paint, paper my canvas. Sometimes I see something so striking and appealing, or ugly and disturbing, that I simply must talk about it pen-in-hand. This I try to do in my way, using language to basically describe and clarify first, then to embellish. It’s not much different from the painter who builds a picture, using white and pastels to highlight and draw the eye’s attention, darker colors to subdue or convey a mood. It is all art, which seeks to affect in some way the people that can appreciate its message.

Yes, I write for a living, so my skill with words and language also has many practical applications. Creativity is one trait I claim, but I also crave organization, so my business report and marketing writing allows me the opportunity to exercise that. Or exorcise, as I’m often like one possessed when it comes to correct grammar, spelling, and word usage. I don’t know many people who proofread their text messages before hitting “send,” but I admit I am one of them.

Making a clear picture from ideas, paragraphs, sentences, and words fulfills me the way it does when I clean out a drawer. I throw out the things that are worthless and unnecessary, and try to put the valuable items in their proper place. Writing for business is a form requiring directness, with less need for description and creative embellishment. In this respect, it can be easier to compose. On the other hand, some business writing, such as marketing or resumes, necessitates specific and at times subtle use of language to glorify the subject and persuade the reader that they need to procure it no matter the cost.

But by far the most personal and necessary use of writing in my life has been to express my mental, emotional, and spiritual condition. Perhaps it is because I’ve been doing this for so long – I’ve kept a journal since I was in my teens – that writing has become almost inseparable from who I am. There have been times, and still are, when my notebook is my always-available confidante, one that doesn’t judge what I reveal nor how I say it. Generally, the only descriptive verbiage I use in this writing is four-letter words. And lots of exclamation points.

Honestly, writing in my journal is a spiritual experience for me, because when I’m spilling my guts on paper, I’m aware that God is reading it. (Duh! Who do I think put the feelings and expressive words there in the first place?) Although I don’t understand how this happens, I get greater acceptance of all those feelings, both difficult and joyful, after I write about them. And if God and I can stomach all that crowds my head, it becomes more likely to me that other people will not be put off by it either.

Considering all the above, writing helps me to survive on many levels: financially, artistically, emotionally, and spiritually. A means not only to survive, but to thrive and grow. Although it has its challenges and frustrations, writing gives back to me according to the effort I put into it. Like so many things in life, practice is the key. Thankfully, I love to practice!

Proven over and over to me, however, is that my life is better the more I write. Or perhaps the better my life is, the more I am writing. At this point, it doesn’t matter because it is all good. And I want to write all about it.