I’m still here.

I’ve been working my butt off, and I’ve been fighting some form of plague for the last couple of weeks, but I’m still here.

Let’s see. So far this year, I’ve edited eight projects ranging from a short story to a 115-thousand-word novel. Two were for new clients; the balance were for “regulars” (in some cases long-term!). How many words total, you ask?

Three hundred ninety-nine thousand. (Give or take. I rounded up.)

In two months.

Now, I schedule myself at about 160K words/month. That’s my ideal. But as you can see, ideal doesn’t always happen. Projects slide; people get sick; cars need repairs; life happens. And when life happens, I work with every client to ensure we both get what we want and need out of the situation. It might mean contacting a couple of other clients to see if we can play with deadlines. It might mean suggesting to a new client that they take an extra month to coddle their baby project before they turn it over to me, so that a) they feel better about it, and b) I can better work on one that arrived late and needs extra TLC.

Things happen. And I roll with them, and talk to whoever I need to talk to, and keep on working.

Guidelines Are Not Rules (and Vice Versa)

Just a friendly reminder that in English, there are precious few rules and a metric ton (which is a tonne) of guidelines. Style guides do not agree. Dictionaries might not even agree. Grammar guides will agree on most things but not on everything.

What’s a rule?

“Start a new sentence with a capital letter and end it with terminal punctuation.”

That’s about as close to a rule as you’re going to get. And even here there are exceptions. If the sentence is in dialogue, it might NOT begin with a capital letter (it could be an interruption of the previous speaker’s words). The terminal punctuation might NOT be a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point, if the speaker’s drifting off into thought or being interrupted — then it might end with an em dash for an abrupt intrusion or with suspension points to signal the drifting.

No one HAS to follow the guidelines YOU like. And they’re not WRONG if they don’t. They’re making their own choices. They get to do that, and so do you.

Here’s another rule. “An independent clause contains a subject and a verb.” A complete thought contains a subject and a verb (or a noun phrase and a verb phrase, to use different terminology for the same thing). But what about “COME HERE!”? That’s a complete thought, and there’s no noun phrase in sight. That’s because the subject/noun phrase is understood to be “YOU.” “YOU COME HERE!” The subject is clear but it doesn’t appear in print.

If you’re new to this writing thing, do yourself a favor. LEARN THE RULES of grammar before you go breaking them. Having to relearn grammar SUCKS. Learning it and THEN choosing to break the rules? That can be a lot of fun.

I’m all for more fun  in 2015.

I wrote a guest post! A guest post about repetition!

You can see it for yourself over on the Editing Hart blog, run by Shen Hart and Michael Keenan.

Books I bought this month (and should’ve bought sooner)

I’ve said this a lot in the last couple of weeks, and I’m saying it again.

I’ve learned more about my craft and English in general after my formal education (I graduated from college in 1979) than I ever did during it.

While I was in school studying to become a teacher (which I actually did do, for a year), I believed that we had Rules and only Rules, no guidelines. Rules were made to be Followed, and if one did not Follow the Rules, one would be in Serious Trouble.


Anyway, before this turns into a wholly different type of post than I intend it to be, here are three books I bought this month and really should have bought long ago.


See links in the post to get your own copies!

See links in the post to get your own copies!


The Business of Editing by Richard H. Adin is a rather heavy read for me, but not unreadable by any stretch. I’ve skimmed the entire book and am now taking my time, forcing myself not to read only the chapters with interesting titles (like “The Elusive Editorial Higgs Boson”). By the time I’m done I’ll have gotten some validation, some thwacks on the knuckles, and a good deal of excellent advice. As with Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor, I’m finding that I’m already on the same page in many areas as the esteemed author. How I managed to do that with no formal training as an editor — only OTJ for me! — I have no idea. But I think as they do, when it comes to interacting with clients. That’s a big HOORAY for me.

Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business: Being interesting and discoverable by Louise Harnby is a handy little text, too. Most of us editorial types see “marketing” and freeze. That is NOT what we do. We’re not marketing people. But we must be. No one’s going to market for us, not even our happiest clients. Word of mouth goes only so far. Harnby’s book is filled with ideas to take and make one’s own, from cold-calling (UGH) to social media posting (YAY). Again, I’m glad to see that I’m getting some of it right all on my own. I can do more, though, and I will.

The third book, on the bottom in the photo, is (sorry, Mr. Adin and Ms. Harnby) the most invaluable of the three in my professional (I can say that!) opinion. Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications is proving just as useful to me, with my 20+ years of experience, as it would to someone just starting out. It is not a style guide. It’s a thorough discussion of the rules of copyediting. Quoting the back cover: “[This book] is a lively, practical manual for newcomers to publishing and for experienced editors who want to fine-tune their skills or broaden their understanding of the craft.” There’s nothing for me to add, really. So far I have worked through three of the exercises (yes, it’s a workbook! With an answer key!) and scored 100% on each.

I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. And then the other one. (And probably a few more.)

Each of these books is available from Amazon.com. Even with the “we’re sorry, we’re not able to ship these together” emails, I still had all three texts within a week of ordering, and they came a day apart in two shipments. I can’t complain.

The Business of Editing at Amazon

Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business at Amazon

The Copyeditor’s Handbook at Amazon

So I wrote something a few months back.

Ultimately, it came back to me unused, but I was paid for it and all rights reverted to me.

So, I’ve made it available as a shared document via Google Drive.

A Stroll in Boom’s Garden

Feel free to leave comments if you’re so inclined. No one’s seen it but the previous editor, Jean Rabe (with whom I worked back in the day). I hope you like it. Or at least don’t hate it.

She left him at the alter

Well, no. She left him at the altar.

This particular pair of homophones is one of the most troublesome, based on what I see come across my desk. Perhaps I can provide some helpful hints for telling them apart, so you’ll know which one you should be using in a given situation. We’ll see . . .

An altar is a raised surface, first of all. It could be a simple table, or a flat rock, or perhaps an elaborately constructed piece of furniture with storage space underneath, hidden behind doors or curtains. But I digress. An altar is a surface on which one puts ritual items, for the purpose of then enacting said ritual. I’ll wager most of you readers are familiar with the altar at the front of a church (Catholic, Protestant, doesn’t matter — churches have altars). I’ll also wager that a number of you are equally familiar with the pagan analog, usually set at the center of the ritual space. (Not that I’d know about that or anything . . . ::cough::) If you’re writing about a ritual, you’ll likely need to use the word altar.

Altar can be used figuratively, as well. They worship at the altar of freedom.

Alter is foremost a verb, meaning to change something. I say “foremost,” because there’s also the psychiatric usage meaning “a distinct and separate personality” when talking about people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD]). She has fifty-four alters. However, unless you’re writing a piece on DID, you’ll probably be using the verb form and talking about something being altered. Think of “alterations” made to clothes by a tailor or a seamstress. They alter the clothing.

Alter is also the verb used to mean “to spay or neuter an animal.” The procedure changes the animal, so that it can no longer reproduce.

Alter is also the word in “alter ego,” meaning a different side of a personality or even a close friend who holds the same views as one’s own. It’s important to note, I think, that this is the common usage; we can all have alter egos, but not be diagnosed with DID. It literally means “second I.” Drinking brings out his alter ego; he’s quite the Jekyll and Hyde.

It will probably help to remember that “alter” is part of “alternative” and “alternate.” If you need a word that denotes change, something different from the expected, you want alter.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to alter my altar setup for the upcoming feast day.

It ain't fancy, but it's a mighty fine stone altar.

It ain’t fancy, but it’s a mighty fine stone altar.

Sneak a peek at that peak to pique your interest

Well, I suppose you know what this post is about now, don’t you. We’re descending into homophone hell today with that terrible trio, peek/peak/pique.

Peek means to look quickly, usually surreptitiously and often from some kind of hiding place (like behind a curtain or around a corner). “Take a peek and see if Mom’s home yet!” There are two e’s in “peek,” and two e’s in “see” and in “eye.” That might help you, as a mnemonic.

Peak means the top of a mountain, or (as a verb) to reach the highest point of (something). “The Dow peaked at 14963.82 today at close of trading.” (Okay, it hasn’t closed yet today, but that’s where it sits right now as I write this post. That’s also not a peak, since it’s off by over 100 points . . . but I digress. The usage is correct, even if my facts are outright wrong.) There’s an a in “peak,” and an a in “mountain,” too. There’s also an a in “stand,” and you can stand on top of a mountain peak. One of those is bound to work as a mnemonic for peak.

Pique means to stimulate or irritate, as in to pique one’s interest in something or to be piqued by something. “He was quickly piqued by her rudeness to the waiter.” There’s an i in “pique,” and there are i’s in both “stimulate” and “irritate.” See the pattern to my mnemonics? Of course you do.

So . . . offer your readers a sneak peek into your next work. Dream of the day your career reaches its peak, and hope that it doesn’t decline too swiftly for you to enjoy the ride. And, if it does tank, don’t be piqued.


If it looks like a fragment . . .

. . . it might be a sentence, anyway.

Commands look suspiciously like fragments, but are complete sentences. “Put that down.” “Read this book.” “Feed the cat.” At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a subject in sight. Each of those sets of words begins with a verb and includes a direct object (the thing being acted upon: “that,” “book,” “cat”). So where’s the subject? It’s understood to be “you” (the reader or listener). Back in my day — you know, when we were busy inventing dirt — that was known as “you understood.” Brilliant, isn’t it? On a grammar test about terminal punctuation, each of these would require a period.

“Putting that down.” “Reading this book.” “Feeding the cat.” These are not proper sentences. Again, there’s no visible subject to any of them; however, we could assume that “I” is the subject, and “I” is the person answering this question: “What in blazes are you doing over there?” We often answer questions with this kind of phrase. The person asking knows from context that “I am” begins each of those responses. However, on that grammar test about terminal punctuation, technically each of these would be marked incorrect if someone placed a period after the final word. They’re not grammatically complete, nor are they grammatically correct (except as I’ve noted).

In fiction writing, of course, those second sentences could very well appear in dialogue. Sentences of the first type — commands — often appear in technical writing. (Think about the last user manual you read. I’ll wait while you stop laughing . . .) As with so much of my advice, the same caveat applies here. Know your audience. Let your writing be appropriate for the audience and the purpose.

If it looks like a duck . . .

If it looks like a duck . . .

Style manuals are your friends. Honestly, they are.

It occurs to me that many of the questions writers ask in editorial forums (such as the Writer’s Discussion Group at G+) could be answered by a little research. I’m not saying it’s not good to ask; I’m saying that research is a highly useful skill, and writers would do well to practice it. When you want to know how to spell a word, you use a dictionary. (Maybe you even use a misspeller’s dictionary, if you have a serious problem. That’s what they’re for, after all.) When you have a question about how your text should appear, you consult a style manual (or two, or three). If you’re working “to spec” there’s no question about which manual you should use. You use the one you’re told to use, period.

How many spaces after terminal punctuation? Do I use single quotes or double for direct speech? How do I form a possessive of a name that ends in -s?  Are names of restaurants italicized, or enclosed in quotation marks (or perhaps something different from either of those)? What’s the difference between an em dash and an en dash, and how are they used? Should there be terminal punctuation after items in a bulleted list? Should I use “noon” and “midnight,” or “12 p.m.” and “12 a.m.?” And are there periods in those abbreviations, or are they set in small capitals? What about a range of times? Do I have to put the abbreviation after each time, or only the last one?

All excellent questions, and all answered by any one of the major style guides out there. Used copies are readily available if you don’t want to shell out for a new one. If you’re writing fiction, chances are you’ll lean toward CMoS (the Chicago Manual of Style). That might be your best option for nonfiction, unless that nonfiction is medical in nature; then perhaps you’d want to look at the AMA (the American Medical Association) style manual. If you’re writing for the education field, it’s a good bet that you’ll need to check the Modern Language Association’s guidelines (MLA). And, if you’re doing general research work in an academic setting, chances are good you’ll need an APA (American Psychological Association) style manual.

My “day job” consists of copyediting and proofreading content for social media sites for a national supermarket chain and its subsidiaries. I use the AP (Associated Press) manual for that, per the company standards. (AP is used for many news outlets; it’s a very spare style, focused on getting the maximum information into the minimum space.) The company I work for also has a house style guide for the things that AP doesn’t cover, and that document is constantly undergoing revisions (mostly because the two of us who freelance for them ask questions and push for answers, to make it easier on both their in-house staff writers and us). This guide covers not only the social media posts, but also Powerpoint presentations for clients, internal reports, and blog entries. What kind of revisions, you ask? Just this week, it was determined that the word “Associate” should always appear with an initial capital letter when it refers to someone employed by one of the companies (as in “Ask one of our friendly Associates about the rewards card program!”). A couple of months ago, the team decided that tweets should always use an ampersand (&) instead of the word “and,” but should never use “w/” instead of the word “with.” AP style says lists should use dashes, not bullets; the house guidelines supercede the AP version and say always use bullets.

You’ll need to do a little research before you do your research, you see, but I promise you it’ll be worth it in the long run. And if you’re a freelance editor, don’t be surprised if you wind up with a copy of each one on your reference shelf. The only ones I’ve never had call to use are AMA and MLA, but that’s just the luck of the draw. I even went so far as to get a copy of The New Oxford Style Manual for working with British writers, just in case. (I’ve become convinced that British writers can do pretty much whatever they please, as long as they’re consistent. I’m still happy I have that book, though. Makes a great paperweight.)

Prepositions, Churchill, and You

“This is the sort of pedantic(bloody/tedious) nonsense up with which I will not put.” — Sir Winston Churchill (perhaps, perhaps not)

First, I shall provide a link so I don’t have to summarize here. I suspect many of you know where I’m headed with this already. Those who don’t, clickity the link, please. We’ll all wait.

::whistles and has a cup of tea::

Excellent. Now, to business.

It’s nonsense that you should avoid ending a sentence with a preposition, if that’s how it sounds best and makes sense. Blame the essayist John Dryden, since apparently he’s the one who started all of this back in 1672. (If you’ve read the article you know this already. If you haven’t read it, and think perhaps now you should, please do so. We’ll still be here when you come back.) Patricia O’Conner, in her wonderful handbook Woe Is I, puts the blame on Robert Lowth, a English clergyman and Latin scholar, and sets the date fuzzily at the eighteenth century. In any case, who done it doesn’t matter. It was done. (And yes, that’s passive construction. However, I can fairly safely say this was not done by zombies.) Anyway . . .

Many idioms employ prepositions, and altering the word order can create mayhem with your meaning. Turn up (as in “turn up the volume” or “something’s bound to turn up”), lean on (as in “put pressure on someone for answers”), space out (as in “sorry, I spaced out there for a minute”). You can think of more, I’m sure. Cambridge put out a whole dictionary full.

The point of all this is to assure you that there’s no need to twist your sentences into pretzels to avoid ending them with prepositions. There’s simply no reason to do so. If what you have to say sounds best and makes sense with a preposition at the end, run with it. As long as it’s not something that’s really incorrect, such as “Where are you at?” (the “at” is redundant; where already contains the sense of location or placement), no one has any reason to be concerned for your grammatical soul.

My normal caveats apply. If you’re writing dialogue, clearly you might well have a reason to have a character use nonstandard grammar. These hints are generally for more formalized writing, or for the narrative surrounding your dialogue. If you’re writing an academic paper, you will do well to avoid terminal prepositions (ones at the end of sentences) in favor of more standard, formal language. Even journalism (or what passes for it these days) should hew to a slightly more formal standard; avoid ending sentences with prepositions if you can, while maintaining clarity and sense.

Otherwise? No one should care what word your sentence ends with.

(Thanks to a G+ pal who asked me about this earlier today, thus sparking this post! You shall remain nameless. Fear not. I won’t turn you in. Heh.)