Barbara’s Note: This post deviates from writing help to put out a cry from my client, the author of Your Mother Called Mother Earth…You’d better call her back!
DON’T BE A SUCKER–The Last Straw
by Gina Murphy Darling aka Mrs. Green, Mrs. Green’s World
Here’s how not to be a sucker. Hopefully after reading this, you will never want to look at, think about, nor consider using a straw again – not ever. You will become straw phobic like me! To put it bluntly, straws really do suck!
The backstory: Americans consume over 500,000,000 million straws EVERY SINGLE DAY. Stop, take a deep breath, and reflect. That’s enough to fill 127 school buses EVERY SINGLE DAY. Could I make that up? Based on the national average of 1.5 straws per person per day, each person in the US will use approximately 38,000 or more straws between the ages of 5 and 65. Without question, straw production is one of THE most energy intensive processes on the planet.
The carbon footprint:
- Straws are made from petroleum. Oil has to be drilled to make them. Yikes!
- Straws then have to be manufactured, packaged, shipped and distributed. Big carbon footprint.
The harsh realities/impact:
- Straws never biodegrade. The earth simply does not know how to absorb them. Remnants of the first straw ever manufactured are somewhere out there – buried in a landfill or in the belly of a bird or sea mammal – but out there.
- Straws are not recycled but at this point, one might conclude that once a straw is made, most of the damage is already done.
- Some straws are incinerated generating toxic emissions which pollute the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.
- Most straws go to landfills, are buried in the ground and leach harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Sick and sad – right?
- Straws are BIG beach and ocean polluters. They are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean ups.
- It is estimated that over a million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals and fish, too numerous to count, are killed by plastic pollution each year and straws are a big part of the reason why. Do you want YOUR straw to be the one that ends up stuck in the nose of a magical sea turtle? I think not.
- Stop using them. Just say no to straws.
- Purchase reusable straws and USE THEM! Mrs. Green’s pick is Glass Dharma because they are glass and you can get some really fun ones or Ukonserve.
- Join the One Less Straw Campaign, started by our friends at One More Generation (OMG), take the pledge and spread the word.
- Encourage restaurants you frequent to stop serving them or, at the very least, request your beverage of choice to be served straw free.
Don’t be a sucker – just say no to straws.
Find out more about how to help Mother Earth at MrsGreensWorld.com
by Mary Walewski (used with permission)
When you’re publishing your first book, it’s easy to overlook getting endorsements. These are the blurbs on the front and back cover of your book. A great book blurb – or endorsement – by an expert in your field, a known author, or even a celebrity can give your book a seal of approval and help sales.
Getting a book blurb or two sounds easier than you think now that the experts you want to contact have websites and are on social media. No more contacting publishers or agents – your prospects may have assistants helping with their online profiles, but at least you can skip a few of the middlemen.
Here are my top 7 tips for getting book endorsements:
- Start your prospect list early – ideally when you’re still writing the book. At least, be working on your list when your book is still in editing. Visit your prospects’ websites and look for a contact page or email. Friend and follow them on social media.
- Your list should consist of people your audience would know and respect. Look for fellow authors in your genre, experts in your field, and celebrities who have a connection to your topic. Don’t count on the big names to respond – but you never know.
- Outline a general query letter for your prospects, then customize it for each person you’re approaching. You have a better chance of snagging an endorsement of your favorite authors if you show you’re a fan of theirs. Also include info on how you’ll be marketing and selling your book – nobody wants to endorse a book that nobody will see. If your book sells, your endorser benefits too!
- In your letter, include sample endorsements for your prospects to edit as they please. Some may choose to write their own, and that’s great.
- After they say yes, ask them whether they’d like a paper copy or an ebook, the entire book, or just an excerpt. You can have ARCs – advance reader copies made through your local POD publisher or even at the local office supply store.
- Ask four times as many prospects as you think you’ll need. You only have room for 1 blurb on the front and maybe two more on the back. If you get more, put them on the inside front page. Whatever you do, don’t NOT use a good blurb. If someone goes to the trouble of reading your work and writing an endorsement, use it.
- Give your endorsers a reasonable deadline and follow up tactfully. Don’t be a pest – remember, they’re doing you a favor! Lastly, after your book comes out, send your endorsers a copy of your book with a nice inscription and a thank you note.
Mary Walewski of Buy The Book Marketing is a book marketing consultant for indie authors and publishers. You can contact her at https://buythebookmarketing.com.
What tips have helped you? Please add to this list below.
by Barbara McNichol
What can editors tell writers and authors about improving their writing? Consider these five common writing mistakes even conscientious writers make:
Mistake #1: Being self-absorbed as a writer. With too much talk about the author’s experience of writing, you risk overlooking the reader’s experience. The fix? Use “you” more than “I” in your sentences and stay close to your core message.
Mistake #2: Addressing readers in plural rather than as a single person whose interest you want to capture. Remember, reading is a solitary pastime. The fix? Keep one person in your target audience in your mind’s eye as you write.
Mistake #3: Using a long noun phrase when an active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work” of the sentence. Instead of “the examination of the report was done by the director,” change the noun phrase to a verb and rewrite the sentence: “The director examined the report.” In this way, passive construction becomes active, reduces the word count, and delivers a more direct message.
Mistake #4: Having no clear order to the paragraphs. The fix? Once you’ve crafted a solid, compelling opening, think through how the organization and flow of your main points will best guide your reader logically to your desired conclusion. If possible, test the result with colleagues or actual readers who will give you honest feedback.
Mistake #5: Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit your sentences to 15-21 words maximum. Be sure to vary sentence length to create interest.
Bonus mistake: Flat-out choosing the wrong word. Yes, in English, it’s easy to confuse common words such as “advice” instead of “advise” (among hundreds more). The fix? Use a comprehensive resource such as Word Trippers (print or ebook) to help you select the perfect word when it really matters. Want a free mini-version of Word Trippers (the ebook)? Go to http://www.WordTrippers.com
What common writing mistakes would you add to this list?
Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt from a new book published by Gail Woodard and Dudley Court Press. Titled Write the Book You’re Meant to Write: A Guide for First-Time Authors, it gets to the heart of the issues first-time authors face. I was honored to have been interviewed for this book as well as edit it.
by Gail Woodard
I asked my good friend and editor Barbara McNichol what advice she would give to a first-time author about the process of working with an editor. Here’s some of our exchange:
How can an editor help an author? Smart authors know the value of a good editor to improve the clarity of their ideas and conciseness of the words they use. A good editor makes the author’s prose more readable while preserving the person’s intended voice.
Can you advise authors on how to streamline their writing so the editing process goes more smoothly and costs less money? Sure. Adopting these seven practices will make a huge difference in any manuscript:
- Get rid of extraneous phrases (e.g., the fact of the matter is, there is and there are, is going to, is starting to, is designed to, etc.)
- Find alternatives for wobbly words—vague words that don’t add meaning (e.g., really, much, very, some, that).
- Change long noun phrases into short verbs whenever feasible (e.g., “the examination of” becomes “examine”; “the judgment of” becomes “judge”).
- Limit the length of your sentences to 21 words so readers won’t get bogged down and lose your intended train of thought. (Oh, my. This sentence exceeds 21 words by 2!)
- Pay attention to noun/verb agreements and pronouns, too. You hear people say “me and Michael went to lunch” but “me” is the wrong pronoun in this case. Know what’s right. Apply the right grammar rules; it’s important to your credibility!
- Construct your sentences using active verbs, not passive (e.g., “The stranger created a scene” is active; “A scene was created by a stranger” is passive.) Why is this important? The action you want to convey moves forward more directly when you write in active construction. Look for the word “by,” which clues you in to when passive construction is used.
- For accuracy, know which word to use when. Pay special attention to confusing ones such as “complementary” versus “complimentary.” Hint: the word “gift” and “complimentary” both have an “i” so when you’re being complimentary, think of giving away a gift. I call these “Word Trippers” and offer a word choice guide and subscription program to make it easy to learn the difference. (See www.wordtrippers.com)
Why should someone invest in hiring a professional editor? Editors are trained to be patient and thorough. They go through an author’s manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. That’s rarely the kind of diligence provided by friends or even critique-group members.
In addition to keeping the author’s voice, what else is a primary goal in the editing process? For nonfiction books especially, authors write them to support their business objectives. Their book forms the cornerstone of their company’s message and direction. Keeping that objective in sight during the editing process guides the editor throughout the multiple reviews. Does the book accomplish what it sets out to do for the benefit of the readership and the author, too?
What book editing questions do you have?
- Order Write the Book You’re Meant to Write on Amazon
- Seek advice on writing/publishing your book at www.DudleyCourtPress.com
- Contact Barbara McNichol for your editing needs.
by Harvey Stanbrough (used with permission)
This is gonna sound WAY oversimplified, especially given the nineteen PAGES of comma rules in the HarBrace College Handbook.
But it’s true. If you use these five rules, you can’t go wrong:
1. Never put a comma between a subject and its verb or between a verb and its object.
Also you must realize that a subject may be compound, as in “John and Ray went to the store and bought a television and a radio.”
In the example, “John and Ray” is the subject. “Went and bought” is the verb. “A television and a radio” is the object.
Of course, you can also add to the size of the subject, verb or object and you can detract from the size of the subject verb or object.
2. When a subordinate clause introduces an independent clause, separate the two with a comma.
If you aren’t sure about clauses, Rule #2 is an example of itself, as is this explanation.
A clause has a subject and a verb but doesn’t stand alone, meaning it doesn’t make sense by itself. (A “phrase” is missing either a subject or a verb.)
In Rule 2, “clause” is the subject and “introduces” is the verb, but “when” keeps the clause from making sense by itself. Therefore it is “subordinate.”
3. Do NOT use a comma to separate the clauses when a subordinate clause follows an independent clause.
In Rule #3, “Do not use a comma” is an independent clause and the remainder is a dependent clause. This rule, again, is an example of itself.
As an interesting side note, the subject in Rule 3 is the implied “you.” The verb is “use.”
4. Use a comma before the appropriate coordinating conjunction to join two related sentences.
The coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Remember the acronym FANBOYS. My female students used to love that acronym. By the way, you very seldom need a comma AFTER a coordinating conjunction, although that is a bad habit that some folks have developed.
5. Trite as it sounds, when you are in doubt about whether to use a comma, leave it out.
Believe it or not, most comma problems arise from the insertion of misused commas, not from their omission.
That’s it! The five rules of comma use. And really, there are only three. The first one is necessary, numbers 2 and 3 are the same thing in reverse, and Rule 4 is necessary depending on how you want the sentence to flow.
And of course, the last one isn’t so much a rule as a warning.
Harvey Stanbrough adheres to Heinlein’s Rules and writes across all genres. He has written and published 20+ novels and novellas, 160+ short stories, and hundreds of poems. He has compiled 5 critically acclaimed poetry collections and 25 collections of short fiction. Sign up for his Daily Journal or his ProWriters Blog at HarveyStanbrough.com.
by Barbara McNichol
No matter what your written message—a sensitive email, a report, a proposal, even chapters in a book—you aim to make it easy for readers to understand. But how can you ensure what you actually write is what you intended?
Ignore this question at your peril. No matter how busy you are or how quickly you want to advance your projects, slow down. When you rush to action, you risk having to redo, revise, and explain. That doesn’t save you time!
Turn These Writing Tips into Habits
What can you do improve the readability of your message as you write it? Turn the following five tips into strong habits:
- Write short words and limit the total number in a sentence. No more than 21 words per sentence is a good rule of thumb.
- Include one major point per paragraph and one major concept per chapter. Don’t try to do too much in either one.
- Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly so the strongest, most salient ones can stand out in a crowd.
- Break up large blocks of type with subheads—enough that readers can skim the subheads to quickly find what they’re looking for.
- Don’t change the point of view within a paragraph (e.g., switching from a “we” to “you” orientation). When you have to shift the viewpoint, start a new paragraph.
Always Proofread Your Written Message
Most important, always proofread your own message and, if possible, have a colleague check it, too. As you reread it, ask: “Is this exactly what I intended?” If not, rework it until you’re satisfied your message can be easily understood by others.
The benefit to you? You will save time in the long run.
What proofreading habits are most effective for you? Share them here.
by Barbara McNichol
Allow me to rant here.
After returning from recent visits to Colorado and Canada, I felt rejuvenated. But even among family and close friends, I still can’t take off my editor’s hat.
In many of our casual conversations, I bit my tongue when I heard misused pronouns such as “Him and I had lunch together” as “Me and her had a good time.”
Not wanting to take on human autocorrect duties (it leads to buzzkill, as you know), I prefer to provide examples of correct pronoun use here instead.
Correct Pronoun Examples
“I” – Subjective case (the subject of the sentence or phrase)
- Lance and I (not me) are going to the conference in L.A.
- My boss suggested Cindy and I (not me) help the new intern.
“Me” – Objective case (the object of the sentence or phrase)
- The new director promoted me (not myself) to manager.
- Our assistant invited William and me (not I) to her open house.
“Myself, her (him)/herself (himself), they/themselves ” – Reflexive case
- I congratulated myself on getting the project completed early.
- She helped herself to more supplies.
- Darren asked himself, “Do I work late again tonight?”
- They celebrated the award by themselves.
Notice these reflexive pronoun all have a related pronoun or noun preceding it in the sentence. Look for that distinction as a clue to knowing when (and when not) to use reflexive. After all, reflexive means reflecting back!
Please share your examples of misused pronouns here with the correct version, too.
by Barbara McNichol
Does your writing come across as arrogant? Are you using pompous phrases? Take a moment to ask these questions!
With the spoken word, we have the privilege of adding voice intonation, hand gestures, and emotion with our vocal cords. That doesn’t happen as easily in writing. You might leave readers guessing about your intended meaning and risk setting a tone that can be misconstrued.
To avoid confusion, drop the following idioms and phrases from your writing altogether. Not only will you convey your thoughts more directly, but your writing will gain clarity.
Do These Written Phrases Suggest an Arrogant Tone?
Question using the following phrases in your own writing:
- Not to mention . . . (then why mention it at all?)
- It goes without saying . . . (then why say it?)
- If I may say so . . . (it’s your writing; of course you may say so)
- I believe that . . . (it’s your writing; of course you believe it)
- In my humble opinion . . . (what makes it humble, anyway?)
- To tell the truth . . . (you mean you weren’t telling the truth?)
- To be honest with you . . . (you weren’t being honest before?)
- For the record . . . (are we in court?)
- Let me be perfectly clear . . . (followed by bafflegab)
- This may sound stupid but . . . (it already sounds stupid)
- With all due respect . . . (prefacing a negative comment this way doesn’t change it)
Which phrases would you add to this list? Share them in Comments.
One More: “In Other Words”
Another oh-too-common phrase to question is “in other words.” Why? Because it often introduces a clarifying sentence that follows a mediocre one. Instead of adding a sentence, go back and strengthen the first sentence. Then you might not even need a follow-up clarifying one. Test this idea in your own work.
Ultimately, you strive for clear, intentional expressions of your thoughts and beliefs in everything you write. Don’t let phrases such as these get in the way!
by Barbara McNichol
A recent Wall Street Journal article emphasizes how Slow Reading has become a lost art—and why taking time to read is vital. The author contends that getting away from electronic prompts and simply reading the old-fashioned way has led to:
- reduced stress levels
- improved ability to concentrate
- deeper ability to think, listen, and empathize
It even cites studies saying how reading in a focused way can slow one’s memory loss. Who doesn’t want that!
|Think about how what this article says might change your habits. Here’s how it starts:
Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.
The point of the club isn’t to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading . . .
Do you agree or disagree with this thesis? Comment here.