Monday, March 30, 2015

5 Online Tools to Quickly Spruce Up Whatever You Write

Whatever you write, it’s best to first get it drafted without worrying about revising or editing. (Yes, I have read Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird too!) Believe me, no one wants to stymy a writer’s creative juices by insisting early editorial polish is necessary less than an editor. Whether you are writing a blog post, an essay, a report, or an entire book, getting the content out of your head is the first giant step.

Before you ask anyone to read your work, however, some self-editing is a good idea, even if professional editing is planned. You never know what early/beta reader might be turned off by easily avoided mistakes.

You can employ methods for self-editing (such as reading what you have written aloud and running a spell check), but here are five online tools you can use first, as readily and quickly as any editor can.

1. A search engine site. Is it spelled Mother Theresa? No! It's Mother Teresa. Is it Ghandi? No! It's Gandhi. I use these two examples over and over because I see them spelled incorrectly over and over. Google or whatever search engine you prefer can save you from misspelling the name of a well-known figure, event, or brand name. Here's another: Warren’s name is spelled Buffett, not Buffet. It's easy to think how you see a proper name in your head is correct when it's not, but you can find the correct spelling in seconds. 

2. A dictionary site. Then we have regular words . . . so many, many regular English words. My standard (and those of many American publishers) is Merriam-Webster, but here is a secret about looking up spelling. If you type the word you want to check into a search engine and then Merriam right after it, you can probably see the spelling you need in the results without even clicking onto the actual Merriam-Webster site. Type into Google, for instance, complacent Merriam, and you’ll see the Merriam-Webster entry come up in results, even if you misspell the word complacint. When in doubt, however, go to the dictionary site. Bonus: You can often see the definition in the results too, which can save you from mixing up stationery (think envelope) and stationary (think standing still).

3. A bookseller’s site.  On the site for a bookseller with a broad offering ( being the most well-known), you can look up the exact book title and author spellings, punctuation, and capitalization. Is it Alice in Wonderland by Louis Carol? Nope. It's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Be sure, however, you look at the image of the book's cover whenever possible. People and publishers don't always get correct information in their data feeds, but usually so many people have signed off on the images before they are sent that they are error free. 

4. An entertainment database site. Citing a movie, TV show, or actor in your piece? Want to say what year you saw that film in the theater when it first came out, but you can't remember what year that was? For all the reasons given above, try IMDb. For instance, the movie is not called The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And Jim Carrey does not spell his name Cary

5. A Bible translation site. If you use Bible Scripture in your writing, avoid falling into the “translation by author” syndrome by using a Bible translation site. I am partial to BibleGateway. Lots of us think we know how a certain verse or passage goes, but really we are quoting the gist or general meaning . . . or how we sort of learned it in Sunday school when we were eight years old. Ensure you are not only quoting exactly but you are citing which translation you are using and what the correct book, chapter, and verse(s) actually are. Of course, if you are purposefully paraphrasing, say so. Bonus: It might be tricky to determine on a Bible site, but one way or another, be sure an adage you think is in the Bible really is in the Bible before you say it is! 

No one is asking you to learn to be a professional editor; some of us who are professional editors would just as soon keep that role! But you can spruce up your writing without a lot of time or trouble. So . . . why not?

Do you use other tools you'd like to share? Any hints?


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wanted: A Little Mini Oscar Encouragement


Not long ago I wrote on this blog about that cliched scene where a faltering comedian asks if his mic is on. That kind of defeat at the open mics of life, I said, can lead to feeling like we want to quit, even if what we are doing is important to us. If someone in the audience had encouraged the guy not to walk off the stage—at least not permanently—maybe a great entertainer would have eventually graced the comedy stages of the world. But I don’t think that’s how that story typically ends. I think his mic joke spells the end.

Then there is this real-life open mic scene, one that presents a kind of hyper encouragement in both its giving and its reception. When she won an Academy Award for her role in Places in the Heart in 1985, actress Sally Field became nearly overcome with gratitude and excitement during her acceptance speech. Her mic, of course, was on, and she famously blurted, "You like me, right now, you like me!" She later said she wanted the respect of her peers more than anything, and, obviously, to her this second Oscar win was an indication that she had it. 

At another Academy Award ceremony, in 1969, seventy-two-year-old actress Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for a supporting role in Rosemary’s Baby. She said in her acceptance speech, “I can’t tell you how encouraging at thing like this is.” I have always loved that! And she said it after fifty years in show business.

And don't get me started about how much encouragement writers need!

Sometimes it's just great to feel . . . liked, isn't it? We don’t necessarily need a top-of-the-game award like an Oscar, but a little appreciation and recognition from others and the encouragement that comes along for the ride can all be like mini Oscar wins for us. Moments that motivate us to keep going when the going gets a little wearisome.

For instance, when an editor or author takes the time to tell me I have done a good job (and believe me, none of them have much time!), especially when I have been extra busy and have been extra diligent, that encouragement goes a long, long way. The question is, how often do I take the time to encourage others?

So, tell me, what kind of encouragement keeps you going? And how do you step up to encourage others? 


Monday, March 23, 2015

In Need of Rest

Today is blog post day, but I've got nothing. 

All the partially written posts, all the ideas in a list, all the "472 Prompts for Your Blog" articles seem empty today.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been under the weather the last few days. 

Maybe it's because I have some other goals on my mind.

Maybe it’s because today is my day to not even be close to perfect.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why. 

Maybe it just is.

Why are we so hard on ourselves when we don't meet a goal, accomplish, move forward? Why do we sometimes think we have GOT to do it all, that we have GOT to do it right?  Maybe not all the time, but too often for our own good.

I think today is my day to give it a rest. Maybe I didn't have nothing. Maybe this was the something.

Do you need rest today?


Thursday, March 19, 2015

When It's Time to Let Go

Almost three a half years ago we moved from Western Michigan, where we had lived for twenty-five years, back to Central Indiana, where we attended school and lived for the first eight years of our marriage. It’s also the area where most of our family lives (if you don't count our Texas family!). 

And for three and a half years I have lived a dual Facebook and Twitter life by following Western Michigan newspapers and TV stations as if I never left.

You know what? It’s too much. Too much information. It’s been nice to know how the weather is up there for my friends, how frozen the Big Lake got this winter, what new buildings are going up, what new park is being developed, what’s new with ArtPrize . . . I can envision places and events, remembering our good life there. But I don't need to live in two places, not on any level. 

Worse, I also see all the bad news any community reports. The crime, the controversy, the political problems . . . we here in Central Indiana get enough of all that from our communities. I don’t need the dual infusion of distressful, local news.  

So I am letting those news sources go, “unliking” them, unfollowing them. I am still, gratefully, connected to my Western Michigan friends, and we are taking a vacation at my beloved Lake Michigan this summer. But a person can live and engage and grow in only one place at a time. And for me, right now, that’s here.

Letting go is hard, isn't it? A relationship, a job, a place you love. When I was growing up, we moved for my dad's job every four or five years. The worst move for me was when I was fifteen and actually felt the "giving up." But as adults, we are better able to determine when it's time to let go. And when it's time to let go, or maybe past time, it's time.

What are you holding on to though it's time to let go?

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