Writing the Right Way

I found a photo on a Facebook page early last week, which inspired today’s topic.

In a modern time consisting of instant messaging and texting, it appears the use of proper writing has been tossed aside. I can’t help but cringe each time I’ve spotted terms as “b4”, “h8”, “u”, and others like them in communiques outside of online and text messaging.

Has our society gotten so lazy that writing a complete sentence -or even one word – is becoming a chore? Sure, the “modern shorthand” may look cute on a smartphone and may fit well for something requiring 140 characters or less, but for everything else from manuscripts to professional correspondence, such writings won’t make their authors appear very professional.

I also cannot tell you how many times I’ve read everything from online ads, blog posts and comments, and even actual articles that used various words such as “there”, they’re”, “their”, “you’re”, and “your” incorrectly. I’ve seen “loose” written for “lose,” and vice versa.

The aforementioned aren’t the only faux pas committed in modern writing. Pitfalls from past years still exist today:

Double negatives: Do you ever find yourself wanting to go back to the days when it was acceptable to tap the knuckles of an offender with a ruler who said, “I didn’t do nothing?” Imagine if an editor saw the same on paper; they’d have a field day with their red pencils.

Unfortunately, double negatives still happen. For some books, such things may be all right for certain settings or time periods (such as a backwoods story), but majority of other genres – especially non-fiction, double negatives have no place.

Filler words: We’ve all been guilty of using filler words, including I. “Filler” words include “it, that, there”, among others. Clearly, an occasional “filler” word is needed to complete specific sentences, but overuse can lower the quality of a good manuscript. One way to find out if you’re using too many filler words is to take this test by entering a small sample of your writing. The results may surprise you.

Spelling: Everyone misspells words now and again, and spell check won’t always catch them, which is always why it’s a good idea to have a dictionary nearby. I’ve seen “distraught” spelled “distrait”, “gefelt” for “gefilte”, and other “creative” words of other than proper spelling.

However, there is an exception. Several English-speaking countries don’t use American English (e.g. they spell “favour” in contrast to the American spelling of “favor”, which is acceptable).

Slang: Works in moderation for books aimed toward young adult readers and some “niche” genres (e.g. sports). Otherwise, best to avoid using slang in any other writing.

Punctuation and run-on paragraphs: At least once, I’ve stopped reading something online not because the subject was of no interest to me, but because paragraphs ran on without proper breaks. Writers of such may not realize it, but run-on paragraphs without proper breaks and/or punctuation make their work more difficult to read. As a result, the reader will lose interest in what the writer has to say.

When in doubt where to insert specific punctuation or when to break paragraphs, there are plenty of useful web sites that can help, or you can consult an editor.

Adverbs: The use of adverbs is an ongoing debate. Some writing instructors advise not to use them, while others say adverbs are fine in moderation. Face it; if adverbs weren’t meant to be used at all, why were they created in the first place? As far as this subject is concerned, I’ll say there’s no right or wrong and just feel comfortable what you write, as long as you don’t overuse adverbs.

Have you started a new writing project? If so, look it over and see if it contains any of the above problems. If you’re getting ready to start a new work, make it a New Year’s resolution to write the right way. Happy writing!

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The Death of Bookstores?

With Borders closing its doors after 40 years in business in addition to other major bookstore chains either downsizing locations and/or closing altogether, many can’t help but wonder if the era of brick-and-mortar bookstores are joining the Walkman, Windows 95 and vinyl records in becoming things of the past.

It was bound to happen once books – from classic to present-day titles – became available on devices such as Kindle, iPhones, and others made for downloading electronic reader versions of various books. Colleges are now offering online textbooks for their students; hence, there won’t be many physical textbooks being ‘bought back’ by college bookstores once the terms end as it was in my day.

Ereaders can’t take all the blame, though. Sites such as Amazon make book browsing and purchasing a lot more convenient, and many times, favorite books can be bought for a cheaper price than the neighborhood bookstore.

While Kindles and Nooks are wonderful gadgets, they don’t have the feel and smell that a good hardcover (or even paperback) offers. Ereaders are lightweight, but there’s something about turning pages of a chilling mystery novel while cuddled under a large down comforter by the fire on a stormy night. I also wouldn’t recommend using a Nook to read in the bathtub, and Kindles are hard to dog-ear pages.

There is some good news, however. Half Price Books continues to do well, as are some smaller, independent bookstores. For those who really enjoy nostalgia with their reading, nothing beats a weekend afternoon in the local vintage bookstore – the best place to find out-of-print favorites.

A fellow book aficionado told me about an independent book store in Houston that’s perfect for crime buffs: Murder by the Book.

Bookstores also offer a social aspect that all the web sites and ereaders in the world will never compensate. When was the last time you discussed a great new book with a total stranger standing side by side a Nook? Does an aroma of exotic house blend of coffee come from an iPad? There’s also nothing like chatting up the sales staff while they ring your purchases, especially if it’s something they too have read. Kind of difficult to do the latter making an Amazon purchase, isn’t it?

What would happen if every bookstore in the world closed and actual books stopped being printed? Not only would there be a lot of devastated printed book buffs, but also publishers taking a large hit (and some already have). Many say there’s nothing more delightful than sitting and getting lost in a book, and I have to agree. Ereaders just don’t offer the same effect, no matter what anyone says.

Kind of like video killed the radio star, ereaders and other technology may kill the traditional bookstore…

What Inspires You?

Have you ever wondered while reading your favorite books how the authors were inspired to write them?

Even those who aren’t authors as a full-time profession has a book within their souls; it just takes telling the right story at the right time. Yet where can such inspiration to tell those stories be found?

It doesn’t take being a writer to know that books don’t happen overnight. It’s one thing to be able to read at least one book a week; actually writing one is another story (no pun intended) altogether.

Inspiration can come at any time and anywhere. Perhaps plot ideas appear in dreams as we sleep at night, based on an experience during a family vacation, or even writing a book inspired by one’s own expertise in a specific field.

Developing a character or characters can be inspired by real-life people (only the names are changed), and memoirs written inspired by the desire to share one’s own experiences with the goal of reaching out to help others who read their story.

Humorous or unexpected moments have also sparked good writing ideas. A remember a fellow writer telling me once he’d gotten an idea for a short story while using the commode (TMI, I know, but it’s a true account). Another wrote a poem for a contest after viewing an amusing television commercial. Even something simple as sitting on a park bench viewing other people and things can inspire a story. The possibilities are endless.

Inspiration, however, doesn’t happen “on demand.” It’s usually random, when we least expect it. It makes our writings of choice more exciting, particularly short stories and novels. Non-fiction can be more tricky to write, as considerable research is usually required, but that doesn’t mean a degree of inspiration doesn’t play a role in developing such work.

How do you go from the initial stage of being inspired to actually putting down words? I’ve found that some writers have done the following when an idea popped into their minds:

* Kept a notebook or note pad on their desks, bedside tables, or other places within reach.

* Recorded their ideas on tape to review later.

* Texted notes to self on smart phones while traveling.

* Made a separate page of notes on their word processing programs for future reference.

These are just a few general ideas that can evolve from random moments of inspiration. The next time you read a new book, while enjoying the character development, plot line, and even the book’s writing in general, another factor to consider is how that book came to exist in the first place.

What will inspire you to write your next successful project?

Commentary: The Shadow of Envy and Jealousy

“Another writer’s success does not diminish your chance of success. Cheer on other writers.” ~ Debbie Fuhry

Wouldn’t our lives as authors go much smoother is the above quote were practiced more often? The quote is one of my favorites because it reminds me to not only keep myself grounded, but also be happy for my writers and colleagues when they achieve successes of their own.

While envy is a natural emotion, as writers, envy shouldn’t consume us to the point where more time is spent trying to tear down other people and their work and less time concentrating on our own projects.

For each successful person – no matter what degree of success it may be – there’s going to be several other who express jealously, especially toward authors. It’s no secret who make it into print will be targets of jealous people, no matter if it’s a major publisher or a small independent imprint.

We don’t even have to be in print to be targets of envy and derision; the fact we’ve actually sat down written is enough for some people to get in a few cheap shots. Unfortunately, there’s insecure people everywhere with some need to tear down others to make up for their own shortcomings. It’s a sad thought, since such energy could be spent doing something positive in their own right.

It’s been done various places – both on my work and others – the sniping, nasty comments aimed at authors, sometimes things that aren’t even relevant to their work. I recently read a Facebook post about an author when, after signing a contract with a major literary agent, started getting nasty “review” comments on her book.

Another author reported a discontented person wasn’t happy just posting a horrid one-star review on Amazon a few weeks ago, but posting the same “review” somewhere new every few days within the past week.

At one point, I even saw a comment under an article I enjoyed saying the person who wrote it wasn’t a “real” writer and “sounded stupid” because English wasn’t their first language. That caught me off guard, not only because it was the only negative comment among many positive ones, but also I couldn’t see how someone’s “first language” had anything to do with how their article was written (which was brilliant subject matter, may I add).

I had someone make snide comments about my voice after a radio interview (among other things), but so what? I was able to laugh it off, because that particular interview drew interest in my book and my web site. There’s been other craziness too, but apparently none of it has affected hits on my site, social media requests, or book sales.

This is another aspect we authors need to develop a thick skin, realize the lengths some people will go to to discredit others, and not take such tripe seriously. You, your readers/fans, and your publisher/agent know your talent; aren’t they the most important ones who matter? Plus, if you’ve made the best seller lists (yes, even if it’s Amazon), you must be doing something right.

One still can’t help but wonder, what do people who do such things get out of them? Do they really feel so inadequate about themselves that they have to spill their vile jealousy on one site after another, sites dedicated to creativity, support, and positivity? Frankly, if we wanted drama, we’ll take in a film.

As with most people of this kind, they’re usually aren’t brave enough to put their real names on comments. The latter alone says a great deal about the person who posts such comments, since it’s easier to hide behind a keyboard than approaching someone face to face.

We’ve all experienced jealousy several times in our lives, but is it worth it to destroy one’s own professional image by publicly tearing down others rather than offering a positive comment – or even staying quiet?

Potential agents and publishers not only look at your manuscripts, many also check up on authors themselves, and chances are good they’d rather sign a mediocre writer who is supportive of their colleagues than an excellent one who spends time writing cruel, derisive comments about fellow writers. This is just one more area to consider when the “green feeling” of envy overcomes any of us.

Envy/jealousy aren’t always bad things, however. Both can be motivators to help us improve or even try a new direction in our projects.

Let’s say you polished the manuscript you’d worked on for over a year and sent it to an agent or publisher which you dreamed of signing a contract as long as you remember. Several weeks later, you received a rejection letter, yet your colleague gets accepted. The first reaction is you’re going to feel a bit steamed and want to give your colleague a bad review on Amazon, right?

Wrong.

Sure, you’re going to feel a bit envious for the colleague; that part comes naturally. However, the professional move would be not only sending a note of congratulations to them, but also looking over your own manuscript and taking the advice of the publisher/agent who rejected it, see what needs improvement, and then submit to other places. We do it every day. I did it for over a year despite being told my first book was “quirky.” A lot of books were rejected for various reasons before someone stepped up and said, “We want to work with this.”

See how envy and jealousy can work in the latter example? I’m sure many of you have done the same.

While we can’t do anything to stop jealousy from others, we can control how we deal with it. How it’s done is up to us, but whatever route you take, always be the consummate professional.

Author Beware: When In Doubt, Check It Out

Several fellow authors and I were approached via messages on various writing sites by a company called DIP Publishing. While something like this appears flattering to the untrained eye, the reality is that publishers rarely – if ever – approach writers or send unsolicited messages. As authors, we know how the process of finding a legitimate publisher (or agent) actually works.

A few red flags rose after I’d read the DIP Publishing note in my message box on Authonomy.Upon doing a bit of online research, DIP appeared to be nothing more than a vanity publisher. No matter how legitimate a site may look, any publisher or agent that mentions the word “partnership” is a clear sign an author is going to shell out an amount of money – which vanity publishers are known to do, no matter how fancy they may word their contracts.

The same goes for agents. It’s no question many writers dream of being published and earning substantial royalties. With this in mind, there’s going to be at least one person who will attempt to siphon our cash with a “deal.” One story I’d read was about an agent who not only wanted to charge a yearly “fee,” but also wanted a percentage of their authors’ earnings.

While known literary agents do earn a commission from their clients (the same applies to talent agents, who usually take between 15 and 30 percent), agents and publishers, be they the Big Six or smaller independent presses around the world, never charge for their services. They focus on making the author money – when the author earns, the publisher/agent earns.

If you are approached by a potential agent or publisher and any doubt exists, it’s a good idea to do thorough research on them before agreeing to anything. If someone is legitimate, they’ll have no problem answering your questions and providing additional information.

Sites such as AbsoluteWrite and Preditors and Editors offer information on everything from publishers, agents, and other literary-related listings. They will usually show companies to avoid as well as those recommended. AbsoluteWrite also has a forum where writers can ask questions on various topics. Sites such as the aforementioned aim to help writers avoid parting with their cash and aggravations associated with not-so-legitimate “book contracts.”

While we may experience initial excitement over the idea of being approached by someone who appears to be in the publishing business offering us all but the moon, it goes back to the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

Any unsolicited offers received from “agents” or “publishers” should always be checked out before agreeing to any terms. There may be a few angels who mean well, but like anything else, there’s a lot of devils waiting to rip you off. Remember, your best bet is to follow your head instead of your emotions.