A Bone to Pick

bad grammar3

Source: Pinterest

I can’t help it. I honestly can’t. No matter what I read, whether it’s a blog, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a book, I can’t help but edit as I read. I instinctively pick out the grammatical errors, found online and in print all too frequently these days: run-on sentences; sentences ending with a proposition (which seems to be more acceptable but it still bugs me); incorrect words, mainly homonyms (for example: their, they’re, and there) and misused possessive pronouns (its versus it’s); not knowing when to use a (precedes a word beginning with a consonant) versus an (precedes a word beginning with a verb); and placement of commas or their overuse. They stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’m sure it harkens back to my private Catholic grammar school days (pun intended) where Catholic nuns with metal-sided rulers were quick to whip knuckles for the slightest error in English composition. Before the typewriter found its way into our home, I wrote and rewrote every paper I ever had to write, all the way up to and through eighth grade and my early high school years.

This morning was no different when I opened an email from a writer’s blog I follow. His specialty is advice on finding paid work as a freelance writer. Today’s blog was so full of blatant errors I couldn’t take his advice seriously. Immediately I thought does he write like this for clients? The article overflows with grammatical errors: excessive/incorrect word use (using most when best is appropriate, the overuse of very and just, and redundancy, to name a few); misuse of homonyms (verses instead of versus when talking about writing a comparison article); and past/present tenses and singular/plural nouns all in the same sentence. I gave up before I was halfway through the blog.

Back in June, I wrote a blog titled Graphic Un-Design, where I moaned about a new book cover that did not materialize as I’d hoped. What bothered me was the quality of the final product. I wrote “how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet” and that so much of the work lacked “style and originality.” I believe this to also be true of English grammar and writing in general, what with the advent of the Internet and the plethora of “online experts.” Far too often, I read articles and blogs where people are writing as they talk instead of editing for flow and clarity (and, ugh, spelling). A lax attitude has superseded the ability to accurately convey information. Writing, a once proud field where it was as important to be grammatically correct as it was to inform and entertain, is now chock full of lazy copy, prose, and poorly presented information. This younger generation concerns themselves less with the details because they’re more focused on having their say, regardless of how they say it, and no matter how ambiguous the message.

We cannot give up the good fight to maintain our writing integrity if we want our work to be taken seriously. Take advice from people who write as well as they speak (and vice versa) because it raises the bar – and demands more of us and our work.

That is my bone to pick.

Every Life Has a Story…

One of the ongoing contentious issues where I live is how to deal with the considerable number of homeless citizens. Our city has estimated that there are several thousand folks, at any given time, in this difficult and frightening situation. I frequently pass snacks from my car window to a homeless vet or other individual and have even purposely sought out hungry homeless (that’s redundant) people  in my area to pass along a leftover sandwich or drink. I often consider trying to talk to one of them, to find out what happened.

Police, politicians, and the community express a wide variety of opinions on how to handle this devastating situation (they’re not, actually, they just spend time arguing about resolutions that never materialize). The constant harassment by police, who then dispose of the camping equipment, blankets, and other personal items, is a sore spot for the community and especially the homeless. While many of these less fortunate people have addiction and/or mental health issues, it’s not the same story for each person. It was because of this controversy that this occurred to me: Every life has a story and every story has a life.

As writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, for journalism or some other purpose, it is our duty to share the stories that bind us together as a race (humanity), a community (your area), and as predecessors to a new generation of writers/storytellers. We are responsible for being honest in our characterizations,  even with the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.

Go forth and listen to what people have to say. Get their stories. Then tell those stories in a way that moves people (emotionally, to take action, etc.). Don’t be afraid to tell the tough stories about misunderstood people (real or imagined). Use these stories to color your fiction work, whether they be shades of gray or bright pastels,  and paint each life/story as important because it is.

A friend once told me each person that crosses your path knows something you don’t.

What have you learned today that can be a part of a story?

 

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar

 

 

Free Publicity: Exposure and Perhaps More

In early August, I wrote a blog on getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In continuing with this theme, Sandra Beckwith of Build Book Buzz recently followed her first blog on this subject with a second and just as informative blog on getting trade journal publicity. I admit, since my last post on this topic, I have not increased my trade journal exposure. But it’s probably due to the fact that I was a crime victim and have been focused on protecting my identity and life (update: so far, so good, but I still want my Curacao pen back).

Sandra is quick to point out that publicity is NOT advertising (duh), because you can’t buy it or control it. But it is free exposure (currently in my price range) and you do sort of have to throw caution to the wind and cross your fingers at the same time. She offers six great tips (plus two bonus tips for getting and responding to interview requests):

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1) Review several journals and issues of those journals to find out what kind of content they use. Look for a ‘news brief’ section where book announcements can be added, or whether they utilize guest columnists. Do they review books? Maybe they’ll add yours to the list.

2) Check out the editorial calendar – you can find it online or request it from the editor. That way you’ll know what goes in the publication and when it goes out to the public.

3) Make a list of how you can contribute to the publication’s content. Personally, I’m not much of a list-maker so this one won’t get me far. I’ll know whether or not I want to write for a publication once I review its contents.

4) Find out who the contact person is for a specific topic/department (if applicable). Last thing you want to do is send an article to a person who doesn’t handle the section/topic you write about. Check the masthead (also called the impressum) for the necessary information.

5) Map out your strategy – this includes a press release or an offer to send a review copy (again, make sure you have the right contact person). In her article, Sandra offers a link for writing a press release.

6) And finally – send your pitch (okay, this is the one I need). If you’re pitching an article or guest column, make sure you know what they want (subjects) and what they use. Again, a cool link on how to email a press release to a journalist/editor.

Bear in mind that there is no guarantee from this endeavor; however, I’m willing to roll the dice and see how it plays out. I got lucky with one trade journal and perhaps I will again. Sometimes you just need to be patient and build momentum.

Writing as One Profit Center

I was in the mood to read a book today so I snagged a book I’ve been working my way through from the bookshelf. I’ve mentioned this book before – Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara J. Winters. I’m in a bit of a pickle at the moment (I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my life will be turned upside down as of end of this month, which could turn good or bad). I’ve been racking my brain on how to create more of what Barbara calls Multiple Profit Centers or MPCs. It’s her theory that by creating MPCs, you increase your potential for prosperity and a more balanced life. Each profit center/idea/ job/entrepreneurial adventure has its own rhythm; over time, you create a steady stream of income because while one or two MPCs may experience a lull in business, one or two other of your MPCs will be on the upswing and generate income.

She even mentions getting paid to write articles. Personally, I’ve not had much luck in this area (the getting paid part). In a previous blog, I wrote about getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In my experience, this type of exposure doesn’t pay (if it does, please let me know how – and now!). But I would enjoy writing articles for other publications; problem is, I’m not sure how to go about doing that (query advice anyone?). If any of you have had some success in this area, please share your experience and expertise so that we who have not yet tasted that kind of success can take a step closer.

Something else in her book got me thinking – and it made perfect sense. This is from her chapter on creating MPCs and is a quote from author and former London Business School professor Charles Handy (she quotes him in her newsletters), who advocates developing MPCs:

“Think of it this way, ” he advises. “You will have a portfolio of work like an architect has, or like your stock portfolio, no prudent investor puts all his savings into one stock, and no sensible business goes after only one customer. Yet that’s what you’ve been doing with your work and talent all these years….Now is your chance to go ‘portfolio’: to diversify your interests and do some things for money, some because they interest you, some out of love or kindness, and some for the sheer hell of it. And, moreover, it’s your chance to flex your portfolio to leave you time for all those other things – for travel, for discovery, for golf, for dining.”

Wow. That brought me back to one of my early blogs, Be Careful What You Wish For. I just realized I have already created MPCs, except that they don’t yet pay the rent. I guess I need to come up with a few more MPCs to cover the downswing of the current ones. It’s just that I feel lost amid the millions of voices already out there clambering for everyone’s business. All I can come up with at the moment is that I (and you, too) need to find a way to STAND OUT by doing something DIFFERENT with my (and your) skill set. Only then can my writing become a Multiple Profit Center that truly pays (emotionally and financially) – and supports my no-more-nine-to-five lifestyle.

What’s your MPC? 

You Have Too Many Adverbs, We Need To Operate ASAP

A funny, enlightening view of one of my less-than-desirable writing skills (and many others’, I’m sure). Read on…

P. S. Hoffman

Yesterday, I went to the Doctor’s to have my brain tested. She came into the room, staring at her charts, shaking her head.

“P.S. Hoffman, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it? What’s wrong with me?”

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The Write Stuff

With the explosion of freelancing sites like Fiverr, Freelancer, ODesk and too many others to name here, writing for other people has become prolific, a phenomenon even. I (and I’m sure you, too) struggle to stand out among the gazillion freelance writers now available at our fingertips. The quality of said writing, however, has reduced drastically in the rush for people around the globe to become qualified, paid writers with access to the world. You can check a multitude of websites and you will find more grammatical errors  than you can shake a stick at, including articles on the venerated Associated Press site. Not to mention the poor English skills (reading, writing, and speaking), an issue not uncommon right here in the U.S.

My biggest pet peeve in this writing explosion is overuse of the word “thing.”In one AP article I read some years ago, I counted sixty-four uses of the word in ONE article. That’s discouraging, since AP is reputed to have excellent, intelligent journalists on staff. In a Constitutional Law class I took for my Criminal Justice program, our professor (then Democratic Speaker of the House or something like that) basically outlawed the use of this ubiquitous noun. He told us it represented an inability to properly express ourselves. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to use the word as little as possible. Instead, I opt to restructure my sentences with stronger noun-verb connections to better illuminate my messages.

So I ask again, how do I (you) make my (your) work stand out? For one, by sticking to my (your) principles. I refuse to dumb myself down to appease the masses. My fiction novel, Rescue on White Thunder, was once referred to as parochial (by a friend, if you can believe it). My immediate response to her was that since the literacy level in the U.S. is at the 6th grade level, my book had a wider target market. (snicker snicker)

I’m bombarded by LinkedIn discussions (via emails from my LinkedIn groups) by many so-called experts in book marketing/sales. Yet I’ve not heard of any of these people (not that I know many to begin with), and I certainly have not heard of any of their books. Everyone’s an expert these days (more like a marketing tool than an actual accomplishment, I believe). A professor in medical school (a different degree program) once jokingly told our class that he’s an expert – but only in his opinion. It was then I realized ALL experts are just that – someone who is accomplished in his/her field and publicly shares their interpretation of the information.  That’s it. You can pick any field, anywhere on the planet, and you won’t find a hoard of experts who will all agree to the same information. It’s all in the interpretation of data. Which takes me back to my original issue of being recognized for my work. At this point, all I can do is continue to write and publish my books and stick to my principles. That gets my name out there in various circles, since each book (so far) has been in a different genre. That’s the “write stuff” for me.