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About Writing Right: The Blog


I ran into a question online the other day from someone who wanted to know if he could write his entire book in lower case. The misleading responses he received goaded me into replying. (It doesn't take much):

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Absolutely. I say, if you want to write your book in all lower case, go for it. And, while you're at it, why bother using English grammar or syntax at all? I just started revising a book I started writing several years ago, utilizing a technique along those very lines, and I can't wait for the world to see it once it's finished. Here's the "old" opening, in case you're interested:

  • To be, at first glance and considering all else, among John's most favored—notwithstanding anything unknown to humankind, as the cosmos is the ultimate being rivaling all else in, among other things, civility et al; that is, in being civil, learning civilness, and practicing civility—is certainly desirable. But, on the other hand, if one at second glance appears, even if unwillingly or otherwise, but not withstanding the desire to adopt a willful misuse of the privilege to react accordingly (albeit without cause) or, on occasion, rarely: Even with it one should not, except under relatively rare circumstances, of which there are so many—to be accorded such a lofty, favored position, according to all traditional mores, values, and historical precedents, that would be really swell. I guess.

Now, are you ready? Here's my brand new, enlightened, all-lower-case nonconventional version of the very same piece of illuminating literature (far stronger than the old one, if I do say so myself) for your reading enjoyment and edification:

  • to be at first glance and considering all else among Johns most favored notwithstanding anything unknown to humankind as the cosmos is the ultimate being rivaling all else in among other things civility et al that is in being civil learning civilness and practicing civility is certainly desirable but on the other hand if one at second glance appears even if unwillingly or otherwise but not withstanding the desire to adopt a willful misuse of the privilege to react accordingly albeit without cause or on occasion rarely even with it one should not except under relatively rare circumstances of which there are so many to be accorded such a lofty favored position according to all traditional mores values and historical precedents that would be really swell i guess

Man, just sharing that new, enlightened approach to my book with the world is like shagging a monkey off my back! I can't tell you how many years of my literary life I have wasted in my insane devotion to being readable, understandable, marketable, and publishable. I mean, I just can't tell you.


So, yes, by all means, see your new approach to writing through to the bitter end. And good luck!


Oh, and for the respondent who advised you to do "Whatever you can do to stand out from the crowd," I agree. As long as you don't expect anyone in that crowd to do anything other than dump your junk in the nearest trash can. Which is exactly where it would belong.


Just my thoughts on the matter. But then again, I'm a pragmatist, so why listen to me?


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new ebook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.com.

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I ran across this question on a forum the other day. Will a book editor comment on a good book when he sees one? I wasn't surprised at the large number of misleading and outright wrong responses the author received. Here's what I know about the subject.

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If, by the phrase "book editor," you mean a conventional book publisher's acquisitions editor to whom you submit your book for publication and not someone you hire to clean it up, the answer is far more simple than your other respondents indicate. Those respondents include the person with a self-published eBook on Amazon and another who, in forty years, has never heard of an editor saying a story is good. The truth to your question is obvious.


Of course he will! That's what a book editor's job is—to find and publish quality, marketable books. Remember?


Now, you didn't ask about a book editor providing a detailed criticism or offering an unpaid assessment or any of the other ridiculous things to which some respondents replied. The reality is that, if a book is any good and fits an editor's list, he or she will tell you so and offer a contract. Even if it's not something upon which he can make an offer (wrong genre, wrong subject, bad timing, not a large enough potential audience), if he's an intelligent and thoughtful editor, he'll let you know you're on the right track. Read More 

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Have you read Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms? If so, did you love it ... or hate it? One author read a copy as an eBook and found it so lacking in substance and quality of writing that he questioned whether or not it was a bad translation from a foreign language. Then, he asked my opinion, to which I responded.

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That's something of a silly question, isn't it, considering you indicated no source for your eBook or shared any of its contents? That reduces anybody's answer to your question to little more than an educated guess.


With that said, I have studied Hemingway's history and works for decades, and I wrote about him (both fiction and nonfiction) on several occasions. Like everyone else in the universe, I have a distinct impression of the caliber of his writing. It's great.


It's great, that is, for a journalist seeking to become a novelist.


For a novelist seeking to be stylishly relevant, poetic, imaginative, and grammatically accurate, it's not so great.
 Read More 

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Someone asked online the other day about whether or not a beginning author needs copyright insurance for any sort of liability. He received some ridiculous and potentially harmful answers. Hopefully, my response set him straight.

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There have been some horrible answers here. Possibly because the phrase "copyright insurance" is meaningless in English. There is no insurance for copyright of which I'm aware because it's unnecessary. If, however, you're asking about author's liability insurance against copyright-infringement actions, then I get it. No one else did, including the respondent who advised you that you won't need liability insurance as long as you write fiction or tell the truth in your nonfiction writing. That respondent is way off base. Here's why.


Anyone can sue anyone else for virtually anything in the United States. Whether or not that plaintiff's action will prevail in a court of law is another matter. So, with that understood, it all boils down to a question of likelihood. Just as with any type of insurance coverage, you have to ask yourself about the chances of your needing it before buying it. As a writer, in other words, you won't actually need liability insurance until you actually need liability insurance. Read More 

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Have you ever wondered about what makes a good novel good? And, even more importantly, what makes a bad novel bad?


Here are some of the objective shortcomings that can make a novel bad, as I have witnessed in more than half a century of novel writing, editing, observing, studying, critiquing, teaching, and book doctoring. Oh, yeah. And raising registered Hereford cattle on a ranch in rural Wisconsin. Or doesn't that count?

  1. A weak storyline. If you don't have a plot of universal appeal, you don't have a good novel. In short, a successful book must resonate with the reader, or it will fail miserably both in the marketplace and in the forum of public opinion.
  2. Beginning the book with the first and last names of the protagonist. I mean, can you be a bit more obvious in trying to cram as much information into the first few sentences as possible? And, while we're on the Q&A thing, can you tell me why an author would do that other than for lack of experience and/or talent? Numerous writers apparently don't understand that a character's name is relatively unimportant to the reader until there's a legitimate reason for knowing it. The one exception to the rule? Nope. Can't think of a single thing.
  3. Laying out the entire plot in the first few sentences. You'd be amazed (and just a little disheartened) at how many writers are in such a hurry to snag the reader's attention—and have such a strong opinion of the value of their storyline—that they can't wait to clue the reader in as soon as inhumanly possible. And I don't use that word lightly. It's a literary sin against all human intellect everywhere for a writer to take his reader's intelligence for granted to that degree. Read More 
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When an inexperienced novelist who was stuck midway through his book asked me that question recently, I thought the universe would be in lock-step with an answer. I was wrong. I keep hoping that, sooner or later, everyone who rushes forward with a response to writers in need will recognize a responsibility to answer with the truth. I'm still hoping. Meanwhile, here's what I ultimately wrote that writer in response.

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You've received two answers so far, and both of them are horrendous.


First, writing courses are not better than editorial work. Nothing beats on-the-job training and experience, if you're good enough to get it. Obviously, the respondent who suggested the superiority of writing courses to editorial experience wasn't.


Second, even if there are "a lots of" [sic] online schools now, that doesn't mean you'll learn anything from them. Including how to proofread your material before publishing it.


Third, a "good critique group" isn't hard to find; it's nearly impossible. Too many egos spoil the plot. If you find a "good" critique group and want to join, fine. But, it will never take the place of one-on-one mentoring and professional training. Read More 

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Here's something I came across on the Internet the other day. Someone had actually created a "cheat sheet" for writing. Why? "For myself," he said. "All the information is available via Google and or classes. My goal is to create a reference go-to-document." Then, he listed the cheat sheet URL, which I'll spare you. Here's my response.

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From what I see, your "cheat sheet" isn't about writing; it's about writing Deep Point-of-View, which is a substantially more limited subject than your question implies. Also, the examples you present in your "cheat sheet" aren't well written. Not at all. Many of them are good examples of how not to write. Also, your explanations of the examples you give aren't always very clear, pertinent, or accurate. (And, of course, you need to clean up your typos.) I don't think any of these tips are things you should be impressing upon other writers, particularly less experienced and knowledgeable ones. Apart from that, I have a question for you.


What on earth are you doing to yourself as a writer? Or, rather, what aren't you doing? You sound as if you're an academician whose goal is to compartmentalize certain aspects of writing "rules" for regurgitation to a few dozen students in a classroom at some point down the line. If that's the case, I can see why you'd value something such as your "cheat sheet." Otherwise, I can't. In fact, I can see it doing more harm than good for serious beginning writers. Far more! Read More 

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Someone asked a question online the other day about finding someone to ghostwrite a novel for him. Here's how I responded.

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Can anyone? Sure. Will that person be top-notch? Not so fast.


Here's the deal. A first-rate, professional ghostwriter with an opening in his schedule, who also just happens to love your idea and is on the same track as you, will do the job. More people employ ghosts to write their novels than anyone here can possibly imagine. Sometimes, people have a dynamite idea for a book and don't have the time or skills to bring it to fruition. In fact, oftentimes! The same with nonfiction books. It happens far more frequently than people realize, even among top-selling authors (go figure!).


Professional ghosts get their kicks out of writing the book you have in mind. And making it work. The best of the best write in your own literary style, too. Yes, they're that talented. And, of course, they turn out a product of which you can be proud after working together with your ghost for weeks or even months, depending upon the complexity and length of the project. Read More 

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Every now and again, I run into someone who asks for advice on writing when he really should be toughing it out himself. The other day, someone wanted to know how to write "a introductory fight between two mafias." Naturally, that was more than I could resist. This was my response.

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Here's an idea. You sit down, unplug the PlayStation, turn off the video games and the television sets, pull the plug on that stuff you believe is roughly approximate to music, sign out of Facebook, put your cell phone on "silence" mode, and think. Literally. Think!


I know I'm from a different generation, and I know we Baby Boomers didn't do everything right. But one thing we did do properly was learn how to think. To envision. To fantasize. To research, read, study, and learn. To ask ourselves questions and get answers we can use. Try starting out with What if? What if? What if?


Do you get my drift? No one can tell you how you should write "a introductory fight between two mafias," which I assume you mean "an" introductory fight between two mafia "gangs." Regardless, no one can tell you what to write and have it come out sounding like your own literary voice. (I know, I know—so, Google it!) Writing isn't a team sport, and it's not a collaborative effort, contrary to what all those money-hungry sites all over the Web keep telling you while they prey on writer wannabes. Read More 

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That's what someone asked me the other day. My response? Stay tuned.

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Well, it appears as if the other responses to the question you asked assume a lot. As in that you know how to express yourself. They seem to think they "get it." I don't. For example, what does this mean:

"How do I introduce a character's name meaning?"


Huh? Okay, giving you the benefit of the doubt and imbuing myself with super-human perceptive abilities, "introduce their meanings" would probably imply what? That you want to know how to do what? Introduce these characters in your story? That's what the first part of your question asks?


Unfortunately, the second half implies that you want to know something else entirely. As in how to name your characters appropriately. But, appropriately for what or whom? Do you mean to the reader? Or to the story?


Regardless, these are two entirely different concepts, you understand. One pertains to when and how you bring a character to light for the first time (which, by the way, in not answerable by anyone but yourself). The other concerns what, if any, play on words you should use to describe a "good" character, a "bad" character, a "dumb" character, a "brilliant" character, etc. (We could go on with the descriptive adjectives forever, but I think Quora has a time limit here; at least, I know I do.) Read More 

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