Category Archives: Editing

More Confusing Word Pairs Sorted

Pair of pearsIn our continuing series, here is some advice to help you keep a couple of more confusing word pairs straight.

Past vs. Passed

These two words sound the same, and when my writing brain is chugging along, it sometimes forgets which of these different-meaning words is appropriate.

According to Dictionary.com, passed refers to what something has done, such as having passed a slow-moving car in the left lane driving down the interstate or having passed an academic test. In contrast, past, according to Dictionary.com, is an intangible thing or adjective. As in forget the past. However, it can get complicated. When used as a preposition when talking about physically going by or beyond something, past is appropriate, as in I was looking for the library but I drove right past.

To determine whether passed or past is appropriate, evaluate your sentence critically and determine what exactly you wanted to say. If it is something the subject of your sentence did already regarding the verb pass, use passed. If it is not referring to something your subject did, use past. In the final example in the preceding paragraph, drove is the verb and past describes the driving or could be thought of as a thing; it was past, this is here.

Weather vs. Whether

This is another situation in which my fingers persist in insisting on typing the wrong words. Now, I know that weather is the word for all of that stuff that comes out of or happens to be in the sky. Cloudy. Sunny. Rainy. Stormy. But for some reason, every once in a while, when I am re-reading something I’ve written, I come across weather when I meant to write whether (and sometimes even wheather!!!).

Whether is appropriate when you are writing about two things; whether you want to chose one or the other. Will the weather be stormy? Or will it be not stormy? Whether there will be stormy weather. To be more precise, according to Dictionary.com, whether is “used to introduce a single alternative, the other being implied or understood, or some clause or element not involving alternatives” as in I don’t know whether to take a raincoat (or not) to deal with today’s weather.

Conversely, the specific definition of weather, according to Dictionary.com is “the state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc.” or “a strong wind or storm or strong winds and storms collectively.”

Really, for me anyway, it is not that I get confused on whether to use weather or whether, it is the fact that my typing fingers refuse to cooperate! I hope yours – and from now on mine – will behave better.

Sorting Out Another Pair of Word Pairs

Pair of pearsCarrying on from a previous grammar post, it’s time to examine a couple of additional word pairs that can get confusing.

Premier vs. Premiere

According to Dictionary.com, a premier as a noun is the grand pubah or head honcho of an organization. Some countries refer to the heads of their cabinets as premiers or it can simply mean the chief officer in any organization. As an adjective, it means the “first in rank” or “first in time.”

I was confused by this last meaning in my own writing. I was thinking of the word in terms of the first edition or first show of a series, like on TV. At first, I thought, based on the adjective definition, premier was correct. But it didn’t look right and I was justified in my suspicion.

The correct word I needed was premiere, which, according to Dictionary.com, means the first time something is performed or presented to the public. This something can be a person or the performance or presentation itself. It can take the form of a noun, verb, or adjective but all have the same meaning.

An easy way to remember the difference is to simply consider the subject of your writing. If it is a play, movie, book, television show, magazine, or any other item written, performed, or presented to the public for viewing, reading, listening, etc., the correct word is premiere. If you’re talking about an officer or government person, it’s premier.

Lead vs. Led

The pair of words, lead and led, has tripped me up in the past because the word lead, usually pronounced leed can be pronounced led when talking about the metal of lead, defined by Dictionary.com as “a heavy, comparatively soft, malleable, bluish-gray metal, sometimes found in its natural state but usually combined as a sulfide, especially in galena.” The proper word is also lead when using the metal in a cliche as in “He has a lead foot,” describing a perpetual speeder. Because lead sounds like led and my fingers sometimes fly faster than my brain, they insist on writing lead when I mean led.

The word lead (pronounced leed, not describing the metal), can be used as a present tense verb, noun, or an adjective. According to Dictionary.com, the present tense verb means to go first, show the way, guide, or influence. For example, on my desk is a Isabel Bloom heart I received at a Women’s Connection conference that says, “Lead with your heart.”

According to Dictionary.com, as a noun, lead (leed) means the position in first place or ahead of others, something that leads (or goes first, shows the way, guides, or influence), or a particular type of leash. As an adjective, Dictionary.com says lead describes the most important thing, that which goes first, or that which leads. As a noun, an example would be, “I got the lead in the school musical.” And, as an adjective, “I got the lead role in the school musical.”

Led, on the other hand, is simply the past tense and past participle version of the verb, lead, not to be confused with the capitalized version, LED, that Dictionary.com includes which describes a type of light bulb.

Fortunately, just like this lead vs. led mistake can be easy for your fingers to make as you’re flying along writing on your keyboard, it’s just as easy for your brain to correct it during the editing and proofreading process. Just remember, the only time you use the led-pronounced version of lead is when talking about the metal. If you are using the word as the past tense of the leed-pronounced verb of lead, then use led.

May you always be in the lead position after you have led your followers to lead..

Stay tuned next month for a pair of another commonly confused work pairs.

WRITING’S DIRTY WORDS: FEEDBACK, CRITIQUE

communityDoes the thought of handing your writing over to a writing group to critique make you sweat with fear? Or maybe you’d like to join a writing group but you are nervous about what to say to your group-mates? If you are serious about your writing, you have surely heard that giving and receiving feedback is an important part of the process. It is true that feedback from others helps you to make your writing stronger. But it can be difficult. Letting others read your work, especially if you are not sure about its quality, can be a nerve-wracking experience. And if that’s not enough, when you join a critique group or attend a feedback session, you will be expected to deliver constructive criticism on others’ work as well. You may wonder what you have to offer others when you are still receiving help on your own work. The answer is a lot.

Unless you are in a writing group with Stephen King, Tom Clancy, or some other multi-national best-selling author, everyone in the group is in the same place (and I suspect even the famous authors receive some degree of working feedback). Whether you’ve written one book or six dozen, it is always valuable to know how readers see your writing and to listen to what works and what could be improved. Similarly, if you are interested enough in books and writing to be participating in a writing group, you have plenty to offer. If you follow the following advice, you can help to ensure a more helpful, fulfilling experience.

Giving Feedback

Writing and critique groups follow varying formats for sharing work. Usually, the number of pages will be decided upon in advance depending on the number of participants and the time allotted for the group meeting. Sometimes, they exchange pages via email or hard copy a certain amount of time in advance of the meeting, and sometimes the authors will read their pages to the group at the beginning of the meeting. Manuscripts may also be exchanged so someone else will read your work aloud, which can also be helpful.

If you receive writing ahead of time, read the pages carefully and make notes. It can also help to read it through the first time as a typical reader and then read it through a second time with a more critical eye. Make notes of things you found interesting, unique descriptions, poignant moments, and other passages or elements you enjoyed. Also note any questions you have, areas which were unclear for you, and if you have a suggestion for changing a word or a phrase, jot down the change. If pages are read at the meeting, listen as closely as possible and make the same notes.

When it is your turn to provide feedback, remember the sandwich method. First, point out at least two or three things you found interesting or enjoyable. Next, point out a couple of areas where you had questions, were confused, or that could be improved. For feedback on hard copies received in advance, you can skip over the small, copyediting changes because the writer will be able to see those when they get their pages back. Finally, end your feedback by naming an additional positive aspect or reiterating what you enjoyed.

Another thing to keep in mind while giving feedback is specificity. Avoid saying “it was good,” or “it was bad.” Include what specifically needs improvement or which particular words worked well. If you think an area needs to be better, try to offer suggestions about how it could be made stronger. Remember to be kind, which will be easy if you approach the experience as it should be approached: a group of people with common goals getting together to help each other improve their writing. Keep in mind that just as they are not experts, you are also not an expert. For all you know, what they wrote could be perfect; you are just offering your own opinions and perspectives and they are free to accept the advice or dismiss it.

Getting Feedback

Putting your work out there for others to judge can be a harrowing experience. What if they hate it? As mentioned above, if you cared enough to put it on paper and submit your work for review, there is going to be something good. And if they hate it, that is just that person’s opinion and it doesn’t doom your work for the trashcan; maybe that person just doesn’t know good writing when they see it. Regardless, if you find a caring, positive, help-oriented critique group, even if they did hate it, they will be able to pick some good things out and point out some areas where it may benefit from some changes.

When it’s your turn to get feedback, the most important thing to do is listen and take notes. If your group-mates have specific questions, answer them but don’t elaborate. Plan to have the urge to defend your work, pointing out what you meant, or attempting to correct viewpoints and then plan to bite your tongue, sit on your hands, or do whatever else you have to do to keep yourself from verbalizing those urges. However, while listening, do pay particular attention to passages, phrases, or sentences the readers didn’t understand or misunderstood as well as their questions, because these are like big red flags waving in the air indicating your writing was not clear enough in those areas.

Remember your critique group just wants to help you and, like you (presumably), they are all amateurs. Their opinions count and should be considered, but they are not the final words; If you think about what they say and decide they’re wrong, go with your gut instinct and don’t change it. A caveat, however: if several people say the same thing, consider what they said again a little more carefully before you dismiss them as wrong. And just because everyone says the same thing, it still doesn’t mean they are correct, so, in the end, don’t be afraid to go against the masses if you feel that strongly. Finally, say, “Thank you.” When you get home, read through your notes so they will be clear to you if you won’t be getting around to revisions right away. And then keep writing.

Feedback, giving it and getting it, is an integral part of the writing process. It can be scary, but don’t let that fear stop you from participating. Acknowledge your fear and do it anyway; follow these tips and hopefully doing it anyway will be a little easier.

Keeping them Straight – A few common misused word pairs

Pair of pearsOften when writing, there are certain words that our fingers insist on typing or writing, even when our brains are well aware of their proper usage. Therefore, as we edit and proofread, we must be vigilant in seeking them out and fixing them.

Here are a few:

It’s vs. Its

It’s is the contraction for it is or it has. To test to see if it’s is correct, read your sentence substituting it is or it has for it’s. If it sounds right, it is. Keep it’s.

Its, however, is a pronoun and signifies possession; it owns something. If it is or it has doesn’t make sense, chances are you want to use its. To confirm this, think about whether your sentence is talking about something belonging to it or owned by it. If it does, its is correct.

For more information, see Dictionary.com‘s definition of its and its discussion of how it’s confused with it’s.

Your vs. You’re

Your and you’re are cousins to the its and it’s. To decide which is appropriate in your sentence, follow the same advice. Read your sentence substituting you are for you’re; if it sounds right, you’re is the correct word. You’re is the contraction for you are.

According to Dictionary.com, your shows a possession owned or possessed by you, one, or, informally, all members of a group as in your clothes, your best best, or take your average Joe, for example.

If you are doesn’t make sense in your sentence, your is your best bet.

Now you’re a former you’re misuser from yore.

And just in case you’re tempted, yur is just a text-message abbreviation and is never appropriate in prose.

Except vs. Accept

One time, I got a chuckle out of a sign they kept showing on our local nightly news that said “Donations Excepted.”

According to Dictionary.com, “Excepted” means excluded or left out…

What I think the club probably meant to say was “Donations Accepted.”

According to Dictionary.com, “Accepted” means “generally approved” or “usually regarded as normal, right, etc.”

Stay tuned in future weeks for more unruly word pairs (or groups)!

 

Line Editing and the Other Levels of Revision

Photo by Matt Hampel, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/2953289727/
Photo by Matt Hampel, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/2953289727/

Sometimes authors get confused by the various types of revision and editing, including line editing, so I thought I’d explain them how I see them, narrowing in focus from developmental editing to proofreading.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing involves looking at the whole project. This includes initial revisions authors complete themselves, beta/test readers, and hired developmental editors. It addresses things like the story arc, character development, and flow as well as holes, inconsistencies, and confusing areas. Authors can hire professional developmental editors, but in my opinion, as long as they find at least six to eight beta or test readers, they will get the same results.

One of the catches is that these beta/test readers should be relatively avid readers, in the same genre as the edited project, if possible. They also need to promise to be brutally honest; it is possible to be tactful, encouraging, and supportive as well as honest. If someone reads your book and says it’s perfect just the way it is, it will not help you much. (Yes, it is possible it is perfect, but it’s highly unlikely.)

Line Editing or Copyediting

To me, line editing and copyediting are synonymous, meaning to revise and edit the work on a sentence level. This involves looking at punctuation, grammar, and sentence construction, including suggesting ways to make the sentences clearer or more active.

Line editing forms the bulk of the work I’ve done as an editor. I not only look for errors in punctuation, grammar, and sentence construction, but I also suggest ways to improve them while trying to preserve the author’s voice.  If I notice holes, inconsistencies, etc., I will make a note to the authors to let them know, but I’m not reviewing the manuscript for them. If authors can’t afford to hire a copyeditor/line editor, I suggest that they at least read their entire manuscript out loud since this will help them find most of the errors and sentences that just don’t sound right.

Proofreading

Proofreading is what’s done just before a manuscript is published. Though line editing/copyediting will catch almost all of the typos in a manuscript, it’s not designed to correct all of them. Simple typos can sometimes be hard to see, and sometimes, new typos are created when making the corrections suggested by the line editor/copyeditor. So proofreading is essential.

Proofreaders are available for hire and normally line editors/copyeditors can also do proofreading under a separate process (not at the same time as they are line- or copyediting). It’s always good to have other eyes proofread your work, but if you must do it yourself (and I recommend doing it yourself once more right before sending it for publishing even if you do hire a proofreader, just in case), consider reading the manuscript backwards. This will make it easier to spot mistakes and will reduce the temptation to start second-guessing your overall project and sentence/word choices.

Above all, keep in mind that developmental editing, line editing/copyediting, and proofreading are all separate processes to be done in order, allowing time between them. Getting fresh eyes from different people at each level can also help, which I wrote about in a later post here.

 

HUNTING THE “WORD OF THE DAY”

Photo by Matt Hampel, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/2953289727/
Photo by Matt Hampel, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/2953289727/

Whenever I start to edit one of my novels, I’m always interested to see what my word of the day will be. These are those go-to words and phrases that I seem to use over and over in a writing session. Usually, it’s a small word like “just,” “up,” or “down”; modifiers that don’t really mean anything and can be redundant. (If one is looking at the sky, how else would it be besides up?)

Though the word of the day comes up every time I write a chunk of novel, it can also creep into writing other pieces longer than a couple of pages. Since becoming aware of my “word of the day” habit after working with a critique partner, I notice others using the crutch, too. For example, I took an international marketing class in my MBA program and, in addition to a handful of typos in the textbook, I noticed the author was enamored with the word ubiquitous. Even worse than the typical “word of the day” use, this word sticks out even more because it’s not a word frequently used in conversation.

I’m not sure of the reason people fall back on the “word of the day.” I think I just get it in my head or I get tired. But the fact is, it happens, and should be dealt with in editing because it can make your writing appear redundant or simply boring.

And if you can’t catch them in your own writing (like me), have someone else read your piece and mark repeated words appearing close together. (Brackets work well.) If the words create redundancy such as “just” or “up,” delete them. If they are important, try to think of a different word to use. For example, sometimes you don’t need to repeat the noun subject of a sentence and can use “it” in place of one.

Pay attention to these “words of the day”; it can help keep your writing fresh and interesting for your readers.

KEEP IT BETWEEN THE LINES – PARALLEL PRONOUNS, the basics

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/5849712695/
Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/5849712695/

One of the major grammar mistakes I see is matching plural and singular sentence subjects with their respective plural and singular pronouns. These are easy mistakes to make but they are also easy mistakes to correct.

If a subject within a sentence is singular, meaning the sentence is talking only about what one person, place, or thing did, the pronoun must be singular as well. If the subject is gender neutral, use it. If the subject is male, use he or his; if female, use she or her; if it has a gender but you don’t know or it doesn’t matter if the the subject is male or female, use she or he or his or her. Granted, writing he or she all of the time can make the piece feel cluttered and reading tedious so it is tempting to use they or their. Don’t do it. If you are writing he or she too many times, make the subject plural so you can use they, their, or them, etc. properly.

As mentioned, perhaps the easiest way to get around the whole he or she dilemma is to make your sentence’s subject plural and use the more easily-read they or its derivative. Sometimes, however, it won’t be so clear cut. Perhaps the subject to which your pronoun refers isn’t contained in the same sentence. The rule is still the same: if the subject to which you are referring is plural, use the they pronoun. For example, from Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters on page 20 with underlining to hopefully make it clearer which pronouns go with which subjects:

“Within a few hours, I knew the whole story. Aunt Shari had taken Emily for a walk in her stroller to the park in her neighborhood. When they left to walk back home, Aunt Shari Buckled Emily into her stroller. When they reached the intersection a block away from the park, Aunt Shari pushed the street light button and waited for the walk signal. The moment she stepped into the intersection, an unlicensed sixteen-year-old girl riding with her friends swerved around the cars stopped at the red light and struck Emily’s stroller.” (“They” refers to Aunt Shari and Emily.)

It can also get tricky when your sentence has multiple subjects or contains some descriptive words between the subject and verb. The rule is still the same: match the verb to the subject about which you are writing. They, them, and their also applies to inanimate objects or places as well as gender-neutral subjects, which also can make them easier to deal with. But in the interest of interest, change your work up at times. Find a synonym for your subject or use the he or she (properly) occasionally.

Of course, if you are talking about only yourself, use I. If you are including friends in your sentence talking about yourself, use the collective we. The good news is if you are talking directly to someone else (second person), you is proper whether you are addressing one person or a whole crowd.

Even if you know this rule about singular or plural subjects and pronouns, it is easy to slip up when you are cranking out a draft, making it that much more important when it comes time for revising so read your work carefully and think through your sentences to ensure your grammar is correct.

COMMA SUTRA – POSITION FOUR

CommaSutraTime to attempt to master another comma position: between adjectives. When using adjectives to describe a noun in sentences, at times you will need commas between them, at times you will not, and at times there will be commas between some of them but not others. Unlike with the intuitive comma use, often you can’t tell when a comma should or shouldn’t be used just by reading the sentence out loud. Fortunately, however, there is a rule you can use.

When using two or more adjectives, commas should be placed between those that describe the noun independently and separately. No comma is appropriate when the multiple adjectives are dependent upon each other. Diana Hacker (2009) in her A Pocket Style Manual refers to the distinction as coordinating adjectives and cumulative adjectives (p. 59-60). To test whether the adjectives are coordinate or independent, read them with the word “and” between them.

For example, from Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters on page 13:

“I did not think again about the letter until I arrived home from school the first of March to find a thin envelope with a border around the outside like a red, white, and blue candy cane and several cancelled stamps addressed to me on our kitchen counter.”

If you use “and” instead of the commas:

“I did not think again about the letter until I arrived home from school the first of March to find a thin envelope with a border around the outside like a red and white and blue candy cane and several cancelled stamps addressed to me on our kitchen counter.”

This makes sense so the commas are appropriate. In fact, commas are needed so your words don’t read like they were written by a preschooler. In this case, you could also determine the commas are needed by reading it aloud. If you try to read it without, “outside like a red white blue candy cane,” you might pass out from loss of breath (especially because it is quite a long sentence anyway).

According to Hacker (2009), cumulative adjectives don’t describe the noun separately and reading them with “and” would be cumbersome and nonsensical. For example, from Missing Emily on page 12:

“A passing elbow collided with mine, sending my books flying to the floor in slow motion.”

Reading “A passing and elbow collided with mine” doesn’t made sense so a comma would not be appropriate. As has been the case with all of the Comma Sutra positions thus far, whether to use a comma or not is still a subjective decision to a certain degree. The “and”s might make sense to some but not to others. The important thing is to consider the use of commas in your sentences and make purposeful choices about whether or not to use them.

 

Source:

Hacker, D. (2009). A Pocket Style Manual (5th ed.). Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

THE COMMA SUTRA – POSITION THREE

CommaSutraPosition Three of the Comma Sutra addresses the commas which should occur between two, three, or more (though I wouldn’t recommend too many more) independent clauses in sentences. Usually these independent clauses are connected by and, but, or or one of their siblings of nor, for, so, and yet. Or and nor bring up their own whole other issues – either, or and neither, nor – but that isn’t really about commas, so we’ll table the discussion for now.

Unless your sentence contains short independent clauses, you should use a comma before the and, etc. (the coordinating conjunctions) to, according to Diana Hacker in A Pocket Style Manual (5th Ed.) “tell readers that one independent clause has come to a close and that another is about to begin” (p. 58). As Ms. Hacker warns, this rule only applies to independent clauses.

Here are a couple of examples from Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters:

Two short independent clauses where a comma is not necessary:

“I think she likes Mate but I am not worried.”

Longer independent clauses with a comma:

“I have not known what I should write to you, but I will try to answer the questions in your last letter.”

How do you know if your clauses are independent and whether they are short enough to omit the comma? You guessed it: read the work out loud. Read the clauses as their own sentences – such as “I think she likes Mate,” and, “I am not worried.” If they make sense as standalone sentences, they are independent. To determine if the length of the clause requires a comma, read the sentence out loud. If the meaning is clear, you can leave the comma out. If the meaning is confusing, or if by the time you finish the sentence, you are lost and don’t remember what the first part of the sentence said, you probably need a comma.

As with Positions One and Two of the Comma Sutra, this one has a degree of ambiguity, and it is open to varying subjective interpretations. What’s the bottom line? Seek out every coordinating conjunction and multi-clause sentence in your writing and question it. Make an informed, purposeful choice – comma or no comma – and go with it. Others may disagree, but you’ll have your thought-out reasons with which to defend yourself.

Source:     Hacker, D. (2009). A Pocket Style Manual, 5th Ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s: Boston/New York.

The Comma Sutra – Position Two

CommaSutraToday we’ll tackle the intuitive comma. The one you really can only know is missing by reading your words out loud. I know, I know – reading out loud is a pain in the backside and embarrassing, especially if your kids have their friends over, but it is mandatory to find proper comma placement.

I’ll use a couple of examples from my book, Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters, of how something might have made no sense if I had left the comma out.

Page One:

If I hadn’t used a comma:

“Always full of unwelcome surprises Dad changed these plans.”

Now, when you read it silently, you might not notice anything, but read it aloud and your speaking voice triggers your brain into questioning if Dad was the unwelcome surprise or if Dad delivered the unwelcome surprise? Change it to “Always full of unwelcome surprises, Dad changed these plans,” and it makes sense. It says what you (or I in this case) want it to say.

One more example from Missing Emily:

Page 87:

Without the comma:

“I peeked around the corner and saw them crouched down their mouths tucked into the tops of their pajamas giggling.”

How did they crouch down into their own mouths? Were their pajamas giggling? The correct way to (and the way I did) write it is “I peeked around the corner and saw them crouched down, their mouths tucked into the tops of their pajamas, giggling.”

Position two of the comma sutra is difficult because there are no hard and fast rules. The only way to decide on the appropriate location is to read the words out loud, or at the least deliberately, carefully, and slowly. Notice where you naturally take a pause while reading; put a comma there. If you find yourself needing to re-read a sentence to make sense of it, consider how a comma (or two) might help.