Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Be a Better Writer: Avoid These Common Mistakes!

In my last blog I discussed the difference between proofreading and editing—both very important elements of writing. Understanding the difference is great, but what can you look for that goes beyond the basics of punctuation?

Incorrect word usage is something that often grabs my attention when I am reading an article. When words are used improperly, the writer automatically loses credibility. You must be vigilant about choosing the correct words and using them in the correct context.

As a writer, you must thoughtfully choose the words you use—whether it’s for a short story, poetry, or writing a cover letter. The following examples are some of the most commonly made mistakes that I see, but should be avoided at all costs.

(1) Anxious vs. eager - I see this mistake all the time. Anyone who has ever had anxiety knows that there is an extreme difference between being anxious and eager. If you are looking forward to meeting your favorite author, you would not say, "I am anxious to meet Stephen King." Instead you would be eager to meet him--unless you are afraid he might act out a gruesome scene from one of his books. Then you might be anxious.

(2) Center on vs. revolve around – Often writers will combine the two and instead write “center around.” Well, you can’t be in the center and around at the same time. I might say that I want you to center your attention on my blog right now.

(3) Concerted effort - one person cannot make a concert but he can make a concentrated effort.

(4) Accept vs. except – accept means to take, and except means to leave out. Try to remember that the “x” in except means to exclude. Please accept my advice on word usage--except when I make mistakes!

(5) Criterion vs. criteria - Some words with Latin or Greek roots have plural forms that end in “a.” These words are commonly mistaken for singular words. Remember you have one criterion and many criteria.

(6) A lot vs. alot – ok, so this one is very basic and not really about meaning, but I see it misused so often, I think it’s worth mentioning. Remember that “a lot” is always two words—not one. But you can allot a job to a friend.

I hope these suggestions will help you when working on your writing project—whatever it may be. Choose your words carefully, and remember it’s the simple things that add up to make you an expert in the writing world.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Proofreading Vs. Substantive Editing

Perhaps something that not everyone knows is that editing has more than one facet. Although not exactly a diamond in itself, good editing may take your story from a diamond in the rough to a priceless piece of literature.

Editing at its most basic level is known as proofreading. It is looking over a document for simple grammatical errors. Spelling, punctuation, word order or word agreement (too instead of to) are all things a proofreader looks at. It's often done after a more intensive edit and is usually the final check before submittal.

Substantive editing (also known as developmental editing and comprehensive editing) is a much more thorough overhaul. Changes may be made for improvement of clarity, organization, and overall structure. The intended purpose of the article is always on the forefront of the editor's mind, and the readers are a huge consideration. The editor will decide whether the language is relevant and appropriate, and if the article will make sense to them. It may require a partial or total rewrite of an article. A substantive edit will often cost more because there is usually much more work involved.

Proofreading and substantive editing are both important for their own reasons. Proofreading is important for the simple reason that it's the little mistakes we make that ruin our credibility as writers. It's those very mistakes that say if a writer doesn't care enough about his piece to fix the small stuff, then why should anyone else? The unfortunate result is that the best story you ever wrote ends up in the circular file.

Substantive editing is equally important because if an article does not read well, you will lose the reader's interest. If you lose the reader's interest, then once again, credibility is lost.

So if you want to make a career of writing, or if you want to write something that people will keep on reading, then do yourself a favor and take the extra time to turn your article into a sparkling diamond.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Attention Aspiring Writers!

Am I a writer? This is a question I have heard asked so many times before. I've seen it posted on writers forums. Friends of mine who love writing have asked it. Even I find myself asking this very question. It seems to be a question posed among all writers—well maybe not established writers like Stephen King, or Dean Koontz, but by many of those who aspire to write.

So when do you get past that point of asking this question? What do you have to do to actually consider yourself a writer? I’m sure it's different for everyone. For some, the mere act of doing is enough—acting on that inherent need to tell a story—whether in the form of a poem or a short story or a book. I call these the “Just do it!” writers, and man, they got it going on! For others, it’s all about getting published. Publication used to be the definer for me, but now I think having people look forward to reading something I have written would be a step in the right direction.

You don’t have to be published to be a writer, but getting your priorities straight will put you on the right path. First thing’s first: Fear not. Do not fear success or failure, or what others will think of your writing. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said in a famous inaugural speech, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Fear is the great immobilizer and if we sit frozen in our seats, we will never meet our goals.

Secondly, read whatever you can get your hands on that will help you to be a better writer. Writing resources are everywhere. You can go to your local library and check out all sorts of books. On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott are just a couple of my personal favorites. There are also many websites out there that offer writing prompts, list contests, and have writer’s forums you can join to talk with fellow writers—who probably feel have the same feelings as you. My personal favorite is the Writer’s Digest website.

Read books that have nothing to do with writing. Every time you read a piece of literature—whether it’s an essay or a book—you are gleaning something important from it that will make you a better writer. It might be an idea or a certain style, or maybe it will change your entire opinion on something. Maybe it won’t, but you will at least have a new viewpoint that improves your writing in some way.

Finally, if you want to be a writer, you must consider yourself as such and write—like those in the “Just do it!” category. Tell your story. Write your poem. Express yourself with words however you like. Set goals then strive toward them. Publication does not matter, nor do accolades from your peers. What really matters is how you feel when you read the words you put to paper.

Now ask yourself, Am I a writer? If you say you are and you are taking the necessary steps to propel yourself toward your writing goals, then as sure as the sun rises every morning you are a writer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Writing Life

Ok. So I have been gone for a while. Notice a pattern at all? I didn't think so! I'm in denial--sometimes a great place to be! Anyway, at least I have been writing. In fact, I have spent a lot of time writing lately--and even more wishing to write. I guess I can't say wishing. I have been pretty busy preparing myself for a career in freelance writing. And now, I am taking action and committing myself to more writing! But first, here is what I have been up to.

Back in November, I acquired (by a sheer miracle of God I am quite certain) a writing customer from Texas. She needed help writing articles and doing web site editing. I was so excited and thankful for her business and I have been doing work for her ever since. My first project was a press release. Then I wrote an article for her monthly newsletter. Other than that, I have been helping her to edit her web site.

One of the first things she asked me when she called to find out more about what I do was, "Do you have a web site?" Well, I didn't. In fact, I knew not one thing about creating a web site. I didn't even know the definition of a domain name. As soon as I completed her press release, I began research into getting my first, very own, very official web site. (Feel free to check it out at www.onlinefreelancewriter.com. In fact, don't hesitate to leave some feedback here if you have any comments or suggestions.) I was very fortunate to have my little brother, Matt, who helped me with the template. He knows way more than just what a domain name is.

Anyway, putting my web site together has consumed a lot of my time, but I have also focused on other things. The Jan/Feb edition of the Writer's Digest is featuring an essay contest for the Writer Mama (or Papa). I sat down and brainstormed some ideas and wrote an essay. I let it cool for a couple weeks, reread it, edited it, and repeated that process two more times. Yesterday I submitted it. What a great feeling! This is the first essay contest I have entered since college and I am happy to have done that much. Even if I don't win, at least I attempted. Nobody wins if they don't try!

Other than that, I have been trying to establish myself as a writer on freelance sites like www.elance.com and www.guru.com. For anyone who doesn't know, employers post freelance work on these web sites. Freelancers view the jobs and if they believe they are competent enough to do it, they bid on it. They offer their best proposal and hope to be the chosen one. After a specified period of time the bidding ends. The employer views all of the bids and then chooses the one that fits his criteria the best. I'm not going to lie, other than making the attempt at trying to get jobs (because there is at least amall amount of success in that), I have had no success at all. But I haven't given up. There's success in that too, is there not?

So this is what I have been doing these last few months. I have also decided that I will post a writing related blog right here at least once a week. It will hopefully be something that people will find useful in some way. Maybe it will be a small article on when to use semi colons, or maybe it will be something lengthy on how to stay inspired as a writer. Regardless it will be interesting and writing related. If anyone has any suggestions on a topic I could write about, please let me know. I will do my best!

Until next time, keep on writing!