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About Writing Right: The Blog

ENCOURAGING A YOUNG WRITER

A mother recently asked on line what to do to encourage her daughter, a fine writer, to get published and paid for her work. I had a few thoughts on the matter, considering that I was in her daughter's shoes half a century earlier. Here's my response:

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First, since getting my first book published in the mid-seventies, I went on to publish nearly a hundred books conventionally in nearly all genres. I also wrote the second most widely syndicated newspaper column in America for more than a decade (after "Dear Abby"—hey, she was tough!) and published tens of thousands of articles, short stories, and other works in magazines, newspapers, and on Websites. I learned enough along the way to develop Creative Writing Workshop, which I taught at several Chicago-area colleges for years.

 

And, of course, I worked as a magazine, newspaper, and book editor just to fill in the "down" time.

 

So, I feel qualified in saying that, in one respect, your daughter is far better off than I was when I started out. She's good; I sucked.

 

With that said, please ignore, disregard, and banish from your mind forever the "advice" given to you by the Grand Vizier of Wrong. It's worse than her normal fare. In fact, it's the polar opposite of the truth. Here's why: Read More 

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WRITING IN ALL LOWER CASE

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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DO BOOK EDITORS OFFER COMMENTS?

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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CONJURING UP GOOD CHAPTER TITLES

I place little credence in someone who claims that chapter names aren't necessary anymore, as a few writers do. Quite the contrary: They can be of great importance both to the writer as he's working on developing a book and to the reader as he peruses the TOC page to decide whether or not to buy it on the spot or order it online.

 

Of my ninety published books, About Writing Right, a nonfiction how-to, features chapter names. So does my nonfiction bio, Wilma Mankiller. On the other hand, my novel, The Last Wild Orchid, has only title numbers and no names. But my short-story collection, Chi-Town Blues, does. For me, it all depends upon what feels "right" for that particular book. There is no universal preference.

 

As for your question, I have the consummate answer to how to come up with good chapter names. Brainstorm! Put something down, jot down a few alternatives that come to mind, and then decide which one works best for you. Rinse, dry, and repeat. It can take even the most creative writer nearly forever to come up with a single name that checks all the boxes. Read More 

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ADVICE TO IMPROVE YOUR NOVEL

I ran across a question from someone online the other day. He just completed his first novel, feels it needs some help, and is confused by all the conflicting suggestions from readers for whose opinions he asked. Knowing there'd be no lack of suggestions from respondents who don't have a clue as to what they're talking about, I set about setting him straight.

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Well, first off, ignore the advice given by the Queen of Wrong. It's absolutely absurd. You have already received plenty of grammar, punctuation, and spelling suggestions. Considering that only five percent of all readers are proficient in their understanding of grammar and even fewer of punctuation and spelling, chances are you'll get a ton of bad advice. Should you take it? What do you think? I'm afraid Queenie missed the mark again.

 

In truth, you can't possibly know which advice to take and which to reject without knowing what makes for good writing, which is why you're having trouble distinguishing between the two. The solution is not to envision the story in your head like a movie and then write an outline. That might help you address one part of your problem (story development), but it does nothing to address the second part of your problem, which is the mechanics of writing.

 

So, how do you learn your craft well enough to distinguish between good and bad writing? The most obvious answer is to enroll in some highly ranked writing and English courses. Then, in two or three years, you should be qualified to tackle your problem.

 

Two or three yearsRead More 

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POORLY WRITTEN ORIGINAL ... OR BAD TRANSLATION?

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.
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GRAMMARLY OR AN EDITOR?

When someone online asked my opinion regarding using Grammarly rather than hiring an editor to clean up his book, I couldn't resist responding. Here's what I said.

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I can't understand all the divergent responses and comments to respondent Michelle's reply, which was right on target: If you can't afford an editor, you're not ready to publish. To elaborate on her response, here are a couple more points.

 

First, Grammarly is marginally effective software that is often more damaging in the hands of the uneducated than it is an effective editing tool. I'm a grammarian who has taught analytic grammar at the college level for more than fifty years. I have also conventionally published more than ninety books in all genres, along with tens of thousands of articles and short stories. I've used Grammarly as an adjunct to MS Word's Spell Check to help me catch obvious mistakes, such as misspellings, for years. I ignore seventy-five percent of Grammarly's suggestions because they're incorrect. I mean, they're grammatically incorrect and often take perfectly acceptable syntax and turn it into unreadable gibberish. So, unless you don't need Grammarly except to see if you omitted a word here or there or have an unnecessarily long phrase or a misspelling, don't use it. It is no substitute for a qualified editor. Let me repeat: Grammarly is no substitute for a professional editor—not even close. Read More 

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CAN POETRY IMPROVE WRITING SKILLS?

When a writer asked this online the other day, he received some horrible responses. Here's how I answered.

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First, I would suggest that you not be misled by the response from someone who claims that practicing only one specific form or type of writing will benefit that writing. That is complete nonsense, especially from someone who purports to know enough to teach other writers to improve their literary skills. It is an appalling response.

 

The accurate answer from someone not shooting from the lip is this: Absolutely, poetry can increase your writing skills. Not only poetry but also business letters, romance fiction, how-to books, biographies, diaries, and whatever else you can think of to write. All writing is intertwined as far as essential writing skillsets are concerned. While writing poetry won't increase your skills in another genre or format immediately, it will do so over time. Read More 

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PUBLISHERS SUPPORTING AUTHORS' QUESTS

Someonee asked me the other day how authors find publishers who are willing to support first-time authors in their quest to write their books. My response? You might have guessed.

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They don't. Pure and simple. I'm not sure what fantasies you've been reading to give you the notion that they do, but let me set you straight. Publishers couldn't give a damn about first-time authors and their quest to write a book. We're not talking King Arthur and the Holy Grail, here. We're talking reality. And reality comes in two flavors.

 

On one side, we have one flavor called publishing. Publishing is a business. It's comprised of corporate entities, most of which have shareholders who meet once a year to elect their boards of directors, discuss their profits and losses, and moan about the lackluster performance of their stocks on the market. Read More 

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REQUESTING A PUBLISHERS' INTERVIEW

Let's assume for a moment that a novel thought just struck you (excuse the pun). It's a sure-fire way to get your foot in the door at a major publishing house such as Simon and Schuster or Penguin Putnam and on your way to having your book not only read but also published. And it can't miss.

 

Sound far-fetched? I don't know. I had that very same thought shortly after I began pitching my books to publishers and getting stock rejection slips in return. The thought occured to me, even as a writer still in his teens, that if I could only meet with an editor face-to-face to tell him how great my book is, I could convince him to take a look at a copy. Once he read it, of course, I'd be on Easy Street.

 

It all seemed so simple that I wondered why no one had ever thought of it before. The only question I had was how to go about doing it. Whom should I pitch? What should I ask for? A lunch meeting? An office tete-te? An afternoon in the Park?

 

If that thought ever occured to you, you're probably still asking yourself how to go about doing it. My answer?

 

You can't.

 

Huh?

 

Let me repeat. You can't. Here's why. Read More 

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