Thursday, October 29, 2015

Avoiding Typo Embarrassment: 4 Easy Ways to Try

This is the last of this month's re-postings of pieces about writing. This one first appeared on this blog in February 2015. 

If you type “embarrassing typos” into any Internet search engine, opportunities to read some doozies will pop up. Some are hilarious, some are cringe-worthy, with reader responses ranging from "Ouch!” to "Wow, I wonder if someone will get fired for that one!" 

Not every typo or error is a doozy; plain, ordinary mistakes . . . happen. (And by the way, I give those writers who have to develop TV news crawls on the fly a pass.) But here is a fact: 

If readers notice an error it at least momentarily halts their absorption of whatever message is being put out there.

Yet those mistakes can also most often be avoided if only someone would . . . try.

I am not saying anyone has to go nuts ensuring everything they post on Facebook and Twitter is perfect (though memes are especially hard hit, if you ask me!). You can use any or all of the four steps below if you want, but don’t slave over perfection on social media as an otherwise sane and smart and educated and careful person. 

I am saying, however, it is a good idea for anyone who communicates professionally with the written word—including those producing material in marketing, PR, and sales endeavors and those who manage professional websites—to consider the value of making an effort before pushing Post or Publish.

Here are the four easy steps anyone can take, with material that is professional, or not:

1.     Really, run spell check. The fact that you know it will not catch 100 percent of errors is not a good excuse to skip using this tool. Spell check catches too much to dismiss it. And if you send professional emails, consider setting your preferences to spell check before a message will send.
2.      Look up proper names on the Internet.  Not everyone realizes his name is spelled Gandhi, not Ghandi. Or that Cincinnati has only one t. But the Internet knows, which means you don't have to depend on your own memory!
3.     Reread what you wrote after at least a short break. Errors are more likely to jump out at you when you allow distractions between writing and rereading. If you can, read out loud. Your cat or dog will enjoy it, and it will especially help you notice missing or repeated words.
4.     Ask someone else to read what you wrote. Even anyone over the age of maybe eight (as long as the material is suitable for all ages) can help if you have someone like that around. Fresh eyes can make an amazing difference! (No, your pet cannot read no matter how much you wish he could!)

Depending on how professional what you put out there needs to be, consider having someone with proven editorial skills review every piece. Not everyone knows when to use the word compose versus the word comprise. Not everyone gets each subject and verb agreement right. But an editorial professional should know or, if necessary, look it up.

Yes, I know there is never enough time. Yes, I know even these simple steps sound like a pain. Yes, I know you have a hundred other places to spend money if the only people with editorial skills you know use them to make a living. But sometimes “no pain, no gain” could have as much validity for your written communications as the pain of visits to the gym. 

And there is that embarrassment issue. Don't believe me? Again, ask Google for "embarrassing typos." See? 

As long as it is clean, feel free to share a funny typo you have seen lately. Typos provide some great laughs as long as they are not at the expense of someone who only goofed!

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Writing to Discover

This month I am occasionally re-posting a few of the pieces I've written on this blog about writing. Let me know if a post has been helpful for you—or if you have a topic you would like an editor to address. This post first appeared in February 2015, under the title "Discovery through Writing: What Stephen King and Joan Didion Said."

 “I write to find out what I think.” Stephen King

“I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. 

What I want and what I fear.”

Joan Didion

Writers enjoy reading quotes from writers about writing. The same way, I imagine, any artist enjoys quotes about their art. Quotes are entertaining, meaningful, inspiring. Sometimes quotes can make you uncomfortable, though. 

As a writer—a non-famous, mostly unpublished, but I-love-to-do-it writer—I often read a quote from a writer and wonder, Is that what I believe too? Is that how I feel? Is that what I think?

These quotes from Stephen King and Joan Didion keep coming back to me because, post by post—even sometimes as I write for clients—I have realized how often I am working out what I think, what I believe, as I write. What I think shows up not in just what I say but in how I say it, how I cast the message, with the exact words I choose. 

(Click to Tweet) 

Not every piece I write has personal gravitas, of course. Do I truly care about how my wardrobe compares to novel characters’ clothing? No. And yet I wrote about that on this blog almost as if I did. Some writing, after all, can be just for fun, or for the discipline, or because some voice inside says, “Go ahead. It's not rocket science or necessarily unique or earthshaking, but write about this.” Today the voice said to write about discovery through writing.

We can all agree that reading shapes what we think, and we can all agree that writers write what they—or at least their characters in fiction—think. But this idea that some writers (or is it all writers?) write to discover what they think as they write is intriguing. And I have decided, yes, for me, this is mostly true.

Sometimes I write about writing and then think, well, yes. Or sometimes I write about spiritual matters and then confirm, well, yes. More new yeses or confirmed yeses have showed up in this decidedly unfocused blog than you might imagine. Sometimes I write what turns out to be a maybe or a no or an I don't know and that writing devolves into taking up space in my "maybe this will see the light of day and maybe it won't" folder. Sometimes, though, the maybe and the no and the I don't know get published for all to see.

All this to say, I appreciate the opportunity to write to find out what I think . . . I think. After all, any reader might hate what I think, disagree with what I think, be bored by what I think.

But what if I, The Writer, in the writing, discover I hate, disagree with, or am bored by what I think? Ah, now there is something to think about. And maybe, someday, to write about. 
 (Click to Tweet) 

I am sure entire books could be written about this idea. Maybe those entire books already exist; I haven't looked. In the meantime, thanks Stephen and Joan, for sparking these thoughts about discovery through writing. 

Photo credits:; 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Act Old Later

There it was, on one of those decorative signs you see in so many gift shops: Act Old Later. No photo, no graphics, just those words.

I had to think about that one.

Most of us do slow down as we get older. Very few bodies escape all the effects of each passing decade. Acting old, however, can also apply to being set in our ways with very little interest in exploring, trying, testing, experiencing . . . whatever we have determined is outside our druthers and comfort zones. It's giving in to barriers that too easily halt us. And that mentality can strike at any age.

Now, as a chronologically old-ish person (which is all I am willing to admit to), I certainly have perfected most of my ways and my druthers and my comfort zones, and I am married to someone who has too. And those ways and druthers and zones spill onto each other as well. Together, we sometimes act old when we don't need to, more than simply shedding some "shoulds" that are thankfully ejected as life goes on. 

But I am not exactly sure what to do about it. I only know that, after seeing those big, bold words, I would like to spend some time telling myself to “act old later” and see what happens.

(At the same time, the world at large does not always help. Consider how encouraging it would be for the old-ish to act old later if the more young-ish didn't start conversations with “At your age . . .,” see old-ish as belonging only in old-ish groups, and so on. The point is, acting old later might be easier without assumptions that chronological age and an aging body are the most defining aspects of an old-ish person's life. A lot of "at your age" rocking chairs are sitting empty.)

Being an older-ish and set-in-her-ways and easily halted person, I do need to think about this. Even those who are young-ish, but who are set in their old-acting ways, however, might have some thinking to do about this concept of acting old later.

How do you "act old later"?

Photo credits:; http://www.publicdomainpictures.netview-image.php?image=24800&picture=rest-and-relax

Thursday, October 08, 2015

5 Online Tools to Quickly Spruce Up Whatever You Write

For the next few weeks, I will occasionally be re-posting a few of the pieces I've written on this blog about writing. Let me know if a post has been helpful for you—or if you have another topic you would like an editor to address. This post first appeared in March 2015.

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 stymie 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's, 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?

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

In the Landing, After the Leap

I am not much of a leaper. In fact, my emotional state about the whole idea of rushing toward solid ground outside of a maybe a plane coincides with my physiological state: shaky and queasy. I think people who skydive and bungee jump and dive off cliffs must be missing a fear gene of some sort. Please don’t fight me on this with tales of thrill-seekers. I don’t get it.

Yes, my faith in leaping is not even, often, mostly, the size of a mustard seed. 

Less literal leaps are, however, part of life. But even then, believing chancy is the key word, I tend to carefully calculate (okay, analyze to death) the pros and cons, in and outs, dos and don’ts of any potential leap. 

Now, the leaps I take, at least so far, do not compare to brave, most often God-fearing souls I know who start new companies or organizations or blog communities, go on the mission field, or leap into a whole host of other only-on-air-stepping-forward activities. My major leaps have mostly been along the typical-for-many-women lines of getting married, having children, establishing a few careers, and following my husband around the Midwest and a couple of times East and then Michigan, which is . . .well, Michigan.

In Michigan, I found myself living in one city for twenty-five years and working in one place for twenty-four of those years, and one day facing the prospect of leaving that city and that job and almost everything dear that went with them. Or, in the case of Lake Michigan, what was nearby.  

It was, for me, a big leap into a new landing place.

Now, when I tell people God practically painted big arrows pointing south (all the way to Indiana), that is the truth. When I tell people I was ready to go, that is the truth. But at the time, I was also convinced that the landing place prepared for me would be soft enough, fit well enough, and outfitted enough, all according to my needs and wants and, yes, callings. I wasn’t counting on all things beautiful waiting there; only enough. And it was and is.

But it turns out my landing place, with all its enough, still needs my attention to increase its beauty. And I’ve come to realize that the most important part of a leap might be what we make of the landing place, what we do to (and I never, ever thought I would say this given my last name), bloom where we are planted.

I am so grateful for my landing place. But though I have new, wonderful, blessed proximity to family, I have found it more challenging to regularly gather and cherish them than I thought I would. I have opportunity for re-connection with old friends, yet in four years I have not met up with most more than once—if at all. (Call me. This time I will say yes!) Nor have I made new friends, not really. I have fulfilling full-time work I love, with appreciated flexibility and less stress than my previous job, yet it takes up just about as much energy and as many brain cells, and maybe that’s some residual workaholism coupled with a comfortable, increased introversion at work. I have a wonderful new church, but my involvement is not even close to . . . being much involved.

I love my family, my friends (both here and out there in social media), my work, to write, God’s church in a building and out. But I know my landing place needs more attention from me. Yes, though it is not all soft and downy, it is welcoming. Yes, though it is not perfect, it is a fit. Even so, though it was prepared for me, it is my job to cultivate its beauty. 

Confessions like this are risky. People (when you actually leave your computer and meet them) might ask you, “So how is that going for you?” And I also confess that I hate that, because too often I have to say I have made little to no progress. Worse, people might think, Well, can’t this woman ever be content (or happy or settled or positive or productive)? Isn’t enough, enough? Yes, enough is enough, except when we need to do our part to make enough more. For ourselves, for others, for God’s purposes. I’m just taking the risk of admitting I don’t think I am doing my part, and . . . wait for it . . . I am not sure this very minute how successful I will be doing much about it very soon.

So why am I writing about this? Because I don’t think I am here alone. Some of you are in the throes of evaluating a potential leap, trying to scope out your landing place and wondering about its comfort and its beauty for you. Or you might, like me, be firmly in the landing place prepared for you, but realizing more and more that blooming there is in part up to you.

Then again, some of you have already learned, perhaps the hard way, what it takes to make your landing place all it needs to be. And if you are willing to share, share. Some of us need to know more about what to do in the landing, after the leap.

BONUS - I would also like to encourage you to check out a new blog for women, launching today: The Glorious Table. Trust me, you won't be sorry. I believe it will help you cultivate beauty in your landing place. (I add this a couple of days later, but here is a link to a post on TGT that I think points to one aspect of the notion that we can cultivate beauty out of what in so many ways is "enough":

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