Archive for the 'Grammar & Punctuation' Category

A Tale of Two Typos

Jun. 21st 2011

Once upon a time, in a land too close to home, there was a girl — a writer — penning the product description for her debut novel.

After writing and rewriting, she sends it to some smart writer friends to review, including a copywriter who responds and points out that she likely does not mean that the husband and son of her main character died in a “grizzly” car accident, unless, of course, said accident involved a bear mauling said people.

Duh, she thinks while cursing homonyms — those words like “their” and “they’re” that sound the same but are spelled differently (and, of course, mean very different things). “Thank you, thank you,” the girl says to her eagle-eyed (and very kind) friend for pointing it out before any damage has been done, and she goes on, purging the word “grizzly” from every piece of copy. All except one: the product page for her paperback on Amazon.

She doesn’t realize this, of course, until after the page goes live and someone she doesn’t know points it out to her (gulp). She’s grateful to the person who catches it, but the Internet is one of those things that doesn’t let you forget your mistakes, ever.

Even after she corrects the mistake, the typo lingers in places where the product description has already been “pulled,” like on the girl’s Facebook page and other people’s Facebook pages, including the girl’s high school friend, Tom, who wanted to share the announcement about the girl’s book with all of his friends, which, of course, includes everyone from said high school. And there it is, the “grizzly” (or is it “grisly”?) typo for all of the class of 1991 (and more) to see, and suddenly the girl is in high school again, in gym class, and she’s fat and doesn’t want to change in front of all the pretty girls and her face heats up from embarrassment and everyone stares.

The girl senses her brain turning on her, because she’s unable to stop thinking about the typo, feeling like it’s Out There for everyone to see and laugh at and that it’s worse than if she had a big red zit on the tip of her nose forever.

The girl tries to rationalize that typos happen and that they’re proof we’re all human, and they even happen (gasp) in traditionally published books and The New York Times, but, of course, the girl knows that doesn’t make them any more acceptable.

As for the words “grizzly” and “grisly,” after this incident, the girl knows she will never ever write those two words again. She reckons she could be kidnapped by aliens and forced to watch an endless loop of Grizzly Adams while said aliens feed her the grisly remains of cows or crocodiles or maybe even something a little more human, like clowns or telemarketers, and the only communication she’s allowed to have is via email, but even then, in said communication via email, she would refuse to write the letters g-r-i-z-z-l-y or g-r-i-s-l-y to describe her situation.

“Grizzly and grisly,” the girl says, “You are dead to me.” And she spends the remainder of her days hitting the F5 key, refreshing her product page on Amazon just to be sure.

The End.

Editor’s note #1: Yes, “the girl” is me.

Editor’s note #2: Yes, I realize I’m talking about only ONE typo here and the title is, in essence, inaccurate. Leave me alone.

Editor’s note #3: My version of heaven is a place that’s typo-free and everything you write and think and say comes out just the way you meant it to, with every detail, nuance, and word correct, and George Clooney would be my cabana boy.

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Happy National Grammar Day

Mar. 4th 2011

How does one properly celebrate National Grammar Day? Getting all crazy with prepositions at the end of sentences? Going on a split infinitive spree? Running up to random people on the street and exclaiming: “Help! Have you seen my gerund?”

I’ll stop now.

Here’s a great video from Grammar Girl and company. Enjoy, and share your favorite grammar rule (or least favorite) in the comments!

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Posted by Robyn | in Grammar & Punctuation | 1 Comment »

Knee-Deep in Editing

Feb. 23rd 2011

I’m self-publishing my debut novel in May. This is a book I’ve worked on for nine years. No, wait — 10 years (since 2001). It’s gone through six top-to-bottom rewrites. It’s been laid to rest once, only to be resurrected a year later when, out of the blue, I figured out how to fix the beginning, which had been dogging me since version 1.0. It went through a bunch of beta readers, and each time, I revisited the piece and reworked it some more. I wrote, rewrote, put it aside, rewrote, revised, proofed, and then this past fall, I finally felt it was ready.

And when I say “ready,” I mean ready to go to a copy editor, not the virtual bookshelves at Amazon or B&N.

As I mentioned in this post from last week, we indie writers have an enormous responsibility to put out polished work. (Yes, all writers do, but bear with me here.) Indie writers don’t have to use an editor, whereas traditional writers do. But I believe all indie writers should use a professional editor, even if that means pushing out the date of your release or working a second job for a little while to get the funds to pay for one. I’ve read too many indie works lately that have punctuation errors on page one. Page one! There’s no excuse for that. None. Don’t peddle schlock. Put out your best work.

I’m lucky. I’m friends with a professional story and copy editor. Her name is Laura Matthews and she owns thinkStory.biz.

We met in Niblets (my writers group). What I love about Laura is that she’s a “literal” reader and writer. I’m not. I’m all about the implied and the indirect, so Laura provides great insight into my work. She also is great at calling me out on my crutches: I know I overuse words like actually and just; I exorcised most of those from my manuscript before she got it, but she pointed out the crutches I missed because I’m too close to the work. Words like really and starting too many sentences with and.

Before Laura edited this version, she read version 5.0 and provided feedback on the story, characters, and the arc. I made some revisions based on these comments and then continued making more until I got to the point I was at this past fall. Then I sent it to Laura around Christmas. She sent it back to me the end of January, and I’ve been working on the edits ever since, poring through every line, every scene, and debating titles (another thing that dogged me with this book. I finally came up with a title I’m happy with — more on that in another post once I finalize the cover art).

I really think indie writers are doing a disservice to their work, to their readers, and to the self-publishing industry in general if they don’t go through this process. While I had only a handful of actual typos in 371 Word doc pages, Laura caught enough inconsistencies, lazy language, crutch words, etc. to show why an editor is needed. It’s not simply a worthy investment; it’s a necessary investment as well. If you’re an indie writer, don’t skimp.

What do you think, readers and writers? If you’re a reader, have you ever read something and wondered where the author’s editor was? And writers (indie or traditional — we’re all the same), do you make sure your work is professionally edited (before you self-publish or before you pitch an agent or publisher or submit to a lit magazine)? Feel free to share info about the person you use in the comments. Copy editing is not an easy job. Props to anyone who does it and does it well! (And in case you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend Laura.)

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There’s Only One Rule in Writing:
There Are No Rules

Feb. 9th 2011

Okay, so that title is misleading. Sure there are rules. I have rules. That ultra-particular person in your writers group definitely has rules, and rules for his rules. Your seventh grade English teacher had rules. Agents have rules. Publishers have rules. But here’s the funny thing about rules, at least in writing (and probably in anything): they’re fluid. They evolve.

Remember the “rule” that you had to use two spaces after a period? Not anymore.

Or how ’bout the rules that got your English papers covered in red ink, like ending a sentence with a preposition, verbifying nouns, or splitting infinitives? (See how I just broke one of ’em?)

Even things that have rules — like commas — grammarians and fusspots still debate about. (See that? I just broke another rule.)

So my point in saying there are no rules is just that: there aren’t really any rules. There are accepted ways of doing things. There are even “more correct” ways of doing things. But for every correct way you show me, there’s at least one writer out there breaking that rule — and breaking it well.

The problem with rules is they can be restrictive, especially in the wrong hands. For example, don’t change a sentence that reads and sounds right because you — gawd forbid — ended it in a preposition and you’re “not supposed to do that.”

Laura Matthews, a friend of mine in my writers group (and a fabulous editor as well), offered this bit of wisdom the other night: Be intentional with everything you write. So if you’re going to end that sentence with a preposition, and you have a good reason for doing so even though it violates a “rule,” do it. But it has to be intentional. Don’t break rules out of laziness. Or ignorance. Which brings me to another important point: you need to learn the rules first before you can break them with intention.

So learn them. Learn the conventional and accepted ways to use a semicolon. Learn what a comma splice is and how to fix it. Learn how to remove that preposition from the end of the sentence. If you’re taking a class with a fussbudget for a teacher and he or she is set on some (in your opinion) inane or arcane rule, follow it in that world, knowing that you can break it in yours.

Agree or disagree? I know writers on both sides of the aisle on this one, so weigh in. (Just keep it civil.)

On a separate note, I’m happy I got to use the words fusspot and fussbudget in the same post. Like the word hogwash, these are great words that I don’t use nearly enough in my day-to-day life. I’m trying to remedy that. (Hey, it’s the little things, people.)

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