Category Archives: writing

For Men Only: Online Dating? Hire an Editor

Freelancers are always looking for new markets to conquer, and today I discovered a new one: online dating profiles.

If you’re familiar with online dating, then you’ve come to expect a little embellishment here and a little downplaying there. That drool-worthy photo of Mr. Right? You know it was probably taken 5 years and 20 pounds ago in spectacular lighting. You’ve stretched the truth yourself, and you’re not going to knock someone else for playing to their strengths.

But there’s one thing women can’t forgive in an online dating profile: poor spelling. That’s right, guys: Forget about your visible nose hair (actually, please don’t) and the weak chin you inherited from your mother’s side of the family. If you “love chidren and puppys, to” or “beleive in remembering important dates like anniverseries,” you may be missing out on connecting with that special someone.

But what’s good for the goose isn’t so good for the gander: According to the article in the above link, men don’t discriminate against women for the same offence. Women can forget the spell-checker altogether, and men don’t mind. No real surprise there, hence the time and money spent instead on hair, makeup, wardrobe, and glam shots.

Sigh. Showing you know “i before e except after c” would be a whole lot quicker, easier, and cheaper, eh, ladies?

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Filed under branding, content creation, editing and writing, freelancing, spelling, writing

The Charm of Ali Smith

I’ve posted before about enjoying Ali Smith’s writing, and here I go again.

There’s no pleasure that compares to curling up with great writing. Some writers express ideas so well that they seem to know what you’re thinking and feeling before you do. This sentiment is expressed by one of the main characters in John Green’s Fault in Our Stars, another book I’m currently reading (quite the long wait for that one at the public library). I love experiencing that kind of connection with writing, but that’s not how I feel about Smith’s writing.

Instead, Smith has charmed me with her subtle creativity: Both the overall structure of her novels and that of her individual sentences break convention without being annoyingly “capital C” creative. There’s no “look at what I can do” literary gymnastics.

But what Smith can do is impressive. She captures character voice so thoroughly it’s as though there’s nothing separating the character’s thought from the reader. For example, in The Accidental a teenager feels responsible for a tragedy, and Smith gives the reader a front row seat on his mental roller coaster: The stark facts present themselves again and again between other frantic thoughts of what-might-have-been and if-only-could-now-be, and the whole thing keeps going round and round. (Okay, yeah, maybe it’s a stream of consciousness thing if stream of consciousness weren’t some kind of writing style — and that’s just it: I’m not thinking “oh, stream of consciousness” while I’m reading Smith.) Who doesn’t know that wrenching place where regret is unbearably palpable?

I’d love to have a conversation with Smith’s editor, and I’d love to see the original manuscript. It appears as though Smith’s been given (rightfully) plenty of free rein. But for all I know, maybe the ride was a whole lot more wild before Penguin took over the controls.

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T & A: Tight and Always on Time

Terry O’Reilly is an award-winning copywriter and broadcaster. His CBC radio program, “Under the Influence,” focuses on advertising strategies both past and present. Terry always rewards his listeners with the inside scoop behind well-known marketing campaigns.

Today Terry revealed that the Aero chocolate bar tagline “Irresistabubble” was coined by none other than Salman Rushdie. That’s right, Rushdie started his career as a copywriter, and he’s not alone: from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Helen Gurley Brown, Terry dropped plenty of big names who got their start in copywriting. (Fitzgerald’s fiction, which he worked on after hours, was apparently rejected by 122 publishers.)

Rushdie credits the copywriting trade with his later success. He says he continues to write the way he learned to write in his copywriting days: he makes every word count, and he never misses a deadline. Writing is a job like any other, and he puts in his hours every day.

Keeping writing tight and on time has always been essential in advertising. Never waste a word, never miss a deadline. And I’d argue that these qualities of writing are even more important for today’s fractured market of media-savvy consumers.

Is your content concise and current? Hire an editor and be sure.

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Find Your Next Good Read — But Not on Goodreads

I’m currently reading Ali Smith’s There but for the, which is one of those books you can’t put down — mainly because Smith’s writing is such a pleasure. Her writing is creative without defaulting to affectation. For me, there’s nothing so tiresome as a relentless display of creativity with the written word — a creativity that serves no purpose for the reader. It’s the literary equivalent of Celine Dion slamming you against the back door with an impossible, forceful note because she can. What’s to enjoy?

Because I like Smith so much, I thought I’d go online to get comparable recommendations. For those of you who would like to branch out from Goodreads, you may want to try Bookish or Whichbook. More reading sites are described in this Digital Book World article.

So what did Bookish recommend for a Smith lover? Junot Diaz, among others. But the next book in my queue will probably be…another Ali Smith.

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Filed under books and awards, goodreads, online resources, writing

Falling Upward: No Editing Required

I attended a book study on Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward this afternoon. (I wrote a post about Rohr’s book previously.) Group members discussed “Chapter 4: The Tragic Sense of Life.” The tragic sense of life results from the realization that life is more about disorder and flaws than it is about order and perfection. Accepting the world’s disorder — embracing it, actually — is a necessary skill for personal growth in the second half (or spiritual half) of our lives.

We try so hard to impose on the world our desire for order. We want things to be perfect; we want to make progress, to be productive. We want to be in control. The end result isn’t pretty — not for us personally and not for the world (think war and violence and just about every “ism” you can come up with).

There was lots of good discussion at the book study, but the tragic sense of life won’t be managed or grasped or contained by any words I can string together here, and I know it.

Hey. Did I just give up trying to instill a little order around here? A little of my own point of view, my thoughts, my analysis? It feels good, actually, to simply accept what is.

In Acts, Jesus asks Paul why he is “kicking against the goads.” It’s time to stop kicking, because life is unravelling exactly as it will: no editing required on my part.

Trees 001

Is this tree rooted in place or falling upward?

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Words: Discovery and Depth

I love writers who introduce me to new words (I’m looking at you, Rex Murphy and Conrad Black).  I recently discovered the word irenic (“no irenic third way”) in a well written and well researched article by Reverend Joe Boots in Jubilee, a local magazine. (Sorry about the magazine cover — it’s absolutely execrable.) Irenic means “aiming or aimed at peace.”

I once came across crapulous and thought it was the new craptastic, but I was wrong. It means “drunk.”

Recently The Millions published an article on the personal discovery of new words — and on the depth of meaning in ordinary words used by author Ali Smith, in particular.

The author of the article begins the piece by listing several words he learned from reading great authors: assiduous (Salman Rushdie), pulchritude (Zadie Smith), fantod (David Foster Wallace), mendacity (Tennessee Williams), phalanx, faradic, tesellate, and hysteresis (all from Thomas Pynchon). He goes on to discuss how Ali Smith can mine a banal word to uncover a multitude of connections that pertain to an individual character as well as to the wider world of ideas.

The excerpts of Smith’s works left me wanting more. She’s been on my reading list for awhile, and it’s time she made it to the top. Although I’m no fan of wordsmithing for the sake of wordsmithing (yeah, I turned that into a gerund), I’m a big fan of language and its capacity to intrigue, explain, connect, and transform. Which means I’ll probably be a big fan of Smith, too.

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Copy Editing Commandment #9: Thou Shalt Make an Art of the Query

When editing copy, sometimes a lot of questions come up — about usage, clarity, consistency, etc. It’s often necessary for the editor to ask the author to clarify something. Sounds like a simple enough process, right? Ask a question, get a response.

Wrong.

I bet you’ve received an email that rubbed you the wrong way or put you on the defensive. That’s exactly what editors must avoid when making queries to authors. Heck, I recently wrote a short story, and when my husband and daughter didn’t understand what I was trying to convey, I hit the roof. What was wrong with them? Were they too stupid to see the brilliance of my words, my sentences, my ideas, my characters?!

The act of writing is rife with vulnerability, you see. The writer has pored over the piece, and they want the work to be appreciated, understood, enjoyed. Maybe a ton of time-consuming research was involved. At the very least, time was indeed involved, and that’s a precious commodity.

To get positive responses to queries, editors should appeal to the author’s readers. When changes are needed, editors should explain why and offer suggestions (without bogging a writer down with explanations about small changes).

Here is a sample query: “Your ideas here are important for your readers to grasp; what about making this transition more apparent by moving paragraph 9 here?”

Remember the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? Well, I didn’t attend kindergarten, and I don’t know what the book says, but all I really need to know I learned from the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, do a great job while being sensitive and empathetic with queries.

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