Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Habitual Actions and Universal Truths (Part 9 of 9)

Would or used to express repeated or habitual action in the past.

* When I was a child, I would dream about flying in the air.

* When I was sixteen, my parents would argue about my choice of girlfriends.

* We used to go to the park on Saturday.

But if you're writing a series of habitual actions in the past, use would or used to only the first time. After that, use the simple past tense.

* We would visit my grandparents every summer. We would eat ate fresh vegetables, and would swim swam in their private lake.

* When I was a child, we used to worship every Sunday morning at the Baptist church, and in the evening we used to go went to the Methodist Church, and on Wednesday evenings, we used to worship worshiped with the Pentecostals.

When I tell common or habitual actions of the past, 
I use would or used to only the first time.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Historical Present Tense (Part 8 of 9)

Using the historical present tense is a helpful device to create a sense of immediacy to your writing. You write about an event that took place in the past but in the present tense.

We often begin stories in the past tense so readers know when the event happened, and then transition to the present tense.

* Abraham Lincoln once took a vote in a cabinet meeting on whether to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. (We started with the past tense, took.) All his cabinet secretaries vote nay, whereupon Lincoln raises his right hand and declares: 'The ayes have it.' "[1] The second verb, vote, is in the present, as well as raises and declares.

* Jesus has been speaking for a long time and it's getting late in the day. He turns to his disciples and says, "Give them something to eat." (Notice the tense shift between the two sentences.) 

As a device to make my writing more vivid,
I use the present historical tense to relate past events.

[1] Peter W. Rodman, Presidential Command. Vintage, 2010)

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

No Progressive Tense? (Part 7 of 9)

Some verbs don't have a progressive form. Verbs that show action, process, or events can usually be used in a progressive –ing form. She is writing a new book. We call them dynamic verbs.

However, verbs that refer to attitudes, conditions, or relationships can't be used in a progressive –ing form. We call them stative verbs.

Correct: Seth believes your story.

Incorrect: Seth is believing your story. (I've seen this in print, but that still doesn't make it right.)

Here's a list of common stative verbs.

Examples of the wrong use of stative verbs:

* I'm admiring the fall colors. (I admire.)

* I will be wanting more money. (I will want.)

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Future Progressive Tense (Part 6 of 9)

The future progressive tense describes something definite happening in the future—often dependent on another action or condition. It uses the linking verb will plus be and a present participle (a verb ending in –ing.) This form doesn't change whether we refer to I, we, he, she, or they.

* Stan will be running in next year's Boston Marathon.

* Will Brett be coming next week? (A question, but the rule doesn't change.)

* If Twila sells her book, she will be starting on the sequel.

Will I use the future progressive tense correctly?
Yes, if I insert will be with the main verb.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Past Progressive Tense (Part 5 of 9)

The past progressive is also called the imperfect. Past progressive refers to a past activity that goes on when another action occurs. Or it can describe an event that doesn't have a specified conclusion.

* At noon, I was eating lunch and the phone rang.

* She was planning next month's blog entries when she started to look for a new job.

* Before his father's illness, Sarah was anticipating the holidays. 

I remind myself that
the past progressive tense is imperfect—
it's not completed or is interrupted.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Progressive Tense (Part 4 of 9)

I'm tired of seeing the progressive tense misused. The progressive tense indicates continuing (therefore progressive) action. It is going on now. To make the progressive form of the present tense, use a form of be and add -ing to the verb.

My rule is that if you can substitute in the process of and have the same meaning, you're probably correct.

* Diana is expecting to see him today.

* Ian is buying his Christmas gifts this week.

* Twila is walking three miles every day, while Shawn is running five miles a day.

* Nelda is getting married in three months. Wrong: There is no continuing action and she's not in the process of getting married. Correct: Nelda will marry (or get married) in three months.

When I use the progressive tense,
I refer to ongoing action.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three Perfect Tenses (Part 3 of 9)

The perfect tenses all take a form of have (has, had) and a past participle. They indicate action that was or will be completed by a specific time or by the time of another action.

Present perfect:

* Henry has already written next month's blogs. 

* Ellie has searched for the Word document every day this week. 

Past perfect:

* By the time of Henry's vacation, he will already have written four blogs. 

* Ellie had searched for the Word document several times before she found it.

Future perfect:

* By the end of July, Henry will have planned December's blogs. 

* After Ellie checks the computer room, she will have searched everywhere.

I'll remember that perfect means completed.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Past Perfect Tense (Part 2 of 9)

Most writers have little trouble with the present, future, or simple past tense. However, the past perfect seems to bewilder many.

1. The past perfect tense refers to action done in the past.

* They had cashed their checks before they bought groceries. (Cashing checks was completed before they spent the money.)

* After we had mixed the formula, we waited for it to cool.

2. The past perfect tense can refer to action completed but it also relates to the present.

* I had been preparing for my speech when Jason knocked.

* By the time Eldon resigned, he had already prepared the next marketing strategy.

Another way to say it is that past perfect describes an action that was completed before another past action took place. We always indicate past perfect with a helping verb, has or had.

When I refer to a completed action of the past, 
I remember to use has or had.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Using Tenses Correctly (Part 1 of 9)

In English, we have three simple tenses that place action in the present, past, or future.

Present: Melvin seems happy today.

Past: Melvin looked depressed yesterday.

Future: Melvin will look different after his surgery. (Note that the future tense has a helping verb/modal auxiliary, usually will.)

The simple present and past tenses don't use a helping verb. The simple present tense means actions occurring now or habitually. The simple past means actions completed at a specific time in the past.

To write well, I need to understand tenses.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will be held January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 11 of 11)

Poetry, music, and books in the public domain

Without explaining the reasons, take this as your guide for quoting from poetry or music. Never quote from them without permission. Here's an online source you can check.[1]

If you quote from the Bible, again, read the copyright page; however, most publishers are quite liberal in the number of verses you can use—providing you cite the translation. (It's free advertisement for the publisher.)

One other important fact is the public domain. If you cite anything, including poetry and music that was copyrighted before 1923, you're safe. Even so, I like to footnote it with "in the public domain." 

[1] http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/fair-use/four-factors/

* * * * *
Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will take place January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 10 of 11)

How much can you quote without getting permission? That's the question that doesn't have a strict answer. This is the area we call "fair use" and it can get extremely complicated.

One source says quoting fewer than fifty words from an article or 300 from a book. "You'll need the copyright holder's permission to use any longer quotation from an article or a book."[1]

The same book says about online sources, "There is less consensus about fair use. . . To play it safe, seek permission for any text quotation that represents more than a small portion of the whole.”[2]

This is too complicated for a blog, and fair use isn't a settled issue. When I was in graduate school, we were told we could use 500 words without permission. (Note above they say 300.)

If you're not sure, read the copyright page of the book from which you cite. Unless it's self-published, you will see how much you may quote.

[1] The Little, Brown Handbook, eighth Edition, by H. Ramsey Fowler, and Jane E. Aaron, (Boston: Little, Brown, 2001) p 691

[2] ibid

* * * * *
Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will take place January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 9 of 11)

Here are general guidelines on using printed or online sources.

* You write your manuscript after reading other sources and you write your own, original material.

* You give credit to the sources you use in writing your manuscript. You don't have to cite sources you read but don't quote or use their material.

* You cite the experts you consulted and you agree or disagree with them and you write your own conclusions.

* It is your responsibility—not your publisher's—to provide the sources.

As noted in part 8, I suggest you photocopy the title page, copyright page, and the page from which you quote, and highlight the section. You can either fax those pages or let your editor know you'll send them by mail.

For instance, Twila Belk and I did a book titled I Believe in Healing in which we cited 59 printed and online references. We didn't make copies of the online articles, but provided the links. We did send copies of the three pages for each print reference we cited.

* * * * *

Cecil Murphey's Writer to Writer Conference will take place January 16-18, 2015, at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, PA, prior to the Munce Group Christian Product Expo (CPE). Faculty includes Cec, Jerry Jenkins, and Shawn and Suzanne Kuhn (SuzyQ). For more information, visit www.writertowriter.com

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 8 of 11)

How do you cite sources? You probably had this lesson in high school or college, so I hope you don't mind if I clarify for those who fell asleep during those sessions.

You state the place from where you quoted or paraphrased a source. Then you provide bibliographic information. Most publishers ask you to cite from print or the Internet. If the latter, you provide the following information:

* The book (or magazine). We put titles of books and magazines in italics but the titles of chapters or articles in quotes.

* The author.

* The publisher.

* The city, date, and year of publication.

* The page you quote.

I suggest you make photocopies of everything you quote so you can send them to your publisher. Your copyeditor may not have those same books or might have to write back and ask you to send it. You send them three pages: the title page, the copyright page, and the page from which you quote. If you highlight the text, you make it easier for the copyeditor.

There are slight variations among publishers, but this will work: Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey (OakTara Publishers, 2011), p 88.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 7 of 11)

Catching the bad guys.

As far as I know, publishers haven't taken the steps that colleges and universities have.

I asked Dr. Rick Smith of Ashford University what they did. "We have a program called Turnitin, and it takes whatever document you submit to it and runs it against the Internet and most journals, along with every paper that has ever been submitted to its database.

"It takes only a few minutes, sometimes a matter of seconds, and it produces a report showing the matching websites and papers in order of the percentages that they match. The websites listed are live links so we can click them and go straight to the page where we find the matching material."[1]

I saw this ad online: Grammarly is an automated proofreader and plagiarism checker. It corrects up to 10 times as many mistakes as other word processors.[2]

Isn't it sad that our institutions of higher learning have discovered so much plagiarism that they've had to resort to such programs?

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] Used by permission.
[2] http://www.grammarly.com/q=grammar&utm_source=Bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Brand&utm_content=1029515882&utm_term=grammarly&matchtype=e

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 6 of 11)

So what do I document? The answer is: Document everything that's not common knowledge or your own thinking. You can do that in three different ways. You can quote the exact words (giving proper citation); you can paraphrase the information; or you can summarize it.

You don't document your independent material—your thoughts, observations, or insight. You can refer to your own experience or have new insight into a topic that you've studied for a long time.

In the eighth edition of The Little, Brown Handbook (Instructor's Annotated Edition), the authors cite a quotation from Jessica Mitford's Kind and Usual Punishment.[1] First, they give her quotation (see below) and then show plagiarism by the revisionist changing few words. They follow that by paraphrasing and citing the reference.

Original: The character and mentality of the keepers may be of more importance to understanding prisons that the character and mentality of the kept.

Paraphrasing: According to one critic of the penal system, the psychology of "the kept" may be less about prisons than the psychology of "the keepers." They follow that by citing the Mitford Book.

Summarizing: One critic of the penal system maintains that we may be able to learn less from the psychology of the prisoners than from the psychology of the prison officials. (Again they cite Mitford.)

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] The Little, Brown Handbook, eighth Edition, by H. Ramsey Fowler, and Jane E. Aaron, (Boston: Little, Brown, 2001) page 689–690.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 5 of 11)

How would you feel if you picked up a book or magazine and read something that you knew you had written but the author didn't credit you?

You may unknowingly have contributed to such theft. Whenever you pass on a joke or a poignant essay without giving the author credit, you are a partner in crime. Those words don't write themselves. Doesn't the author deserve recognition? Wouldn't you want your name attached to the piece?

Recently someone sent me material for my blog called Men Shattering the Silence. Excellent piece, but he told me he hadn't written it himself.

I asked him who wrote it and if I could get permission to print it and if the author wanted his/her name used. (Because of the confidential nature of that blog, we don't publish the names without permission.) He wrote back and told me the author, a female friend, and I had her permission to use it, but she didn't want me to use her name. I footnoted, "Used by Permission."

Because I don't want to be a thief and I want authors to receive credit, I don't participate in such forwarding. To quote the words of Jesus (out of context), "Go and do thou likewise" (Luke 10:37 KJV).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 4 of 11)

If you quote a well-known saying, be sure to quote it accurately, and cite the author. One of my favorite quotations goes, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." I've heard it quoted as "those who can. . ." and also given people such as Menken credit. One source quoted the film Life of Brian. Both were incorrect. The author was George Bernard Shaw and it's from Man and Superman, written in 1903.

Here's one I've seen mangled many times, although always (correctly) attributed to Churchill. Several times I've read or heard that Churchill said only seven words. (Not true.)

Here's the correct story. After the German bombings of England, on October 29, 1941, Churchill visited Harrow School where he had once been a student. It was not a speech of only seven words or nine. Here are the relevant words spoken to students during that dark time:
But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period—I am addressing myself to the School—surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never— in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might the enemy.
Here are two trustworthy sources.[1]

* * * * * * * * * *

[1] http://www.answers.com/Q/When_did_Winston_Churchill_say_Never_never_never_


Friday, October 31, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 3 of 11)

So how do we decide what to document? The standard rule is "You do not have to document common knowledge on a topic." That means information that most educated people know, or people in your field. You might need to look up information on who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970, or who won the World Series in 2004, but that's information anyone can know.

You also do research. If you feel your information comes out of your blending together information but not specifically quoting from anyone, you're probably all right. While working on this series, I have seven books on my desk and I've checked three trusted online sources. But I haven't quoted from any of them.

For example, I'm currently working on a book with Bobby Davis, a highly successful pastor in Tennessee. I've been working and writing a chapter on a specific biblical topic. I can go beyond common knowledge because of my educational background (I'm a seminary graduate) and my experience (I was a pastor for 14 years). I can't possibly remember where I learned the information, so I don't try to cite it. However, when I refer to the Bible, I document by quoting the verses followed by chapter and verse and the translation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 2 of 11)

I'm not a lawyer, so I'm distilling the information I've gathered from my best sources in print and online.

Plagiarism means presenting someone else's words or ideas as if they were your own. It's a form of stealing. It also means claiming something as original when it's derived from what someone else has written.

The expression of original ideas is called intellectual property and copyright laws protect that property.

Although probably obvious, here are examples of plagiarism:
  • turning in someone else's work as your own; 
  • copying words or ideas from others without giving credit; 
  • failing to put quotation marks around a quotation; 
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure without giving credit;
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, even if you give credit. This violates the fair use law. (See Part 10). 
You can avoid stealing or plagiarism by citing your sources. You acknowledge that you have borrowed from someone and provide readers with enough information to find the original source. (See Part 8 on how to cite your sources.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Plagiarism and Other Legal Tangles (Part 1 of 11)

Do I have to copyright my material?

The answer is no, although you may spend the money. Since the enactment of the copyright law of 1978, whenever you have anything in a fixed form (the legal term), you already have a common law copyright.

If you submit to magazines and books, please don't put the © symbol. It's a shout about you. It means either you're ignorant of the law or you're afraid that professional editors will steal your material. (In my experience, those who seem the most concerned have the least to fear—their writing probably isn't good enough to steal.)

However, if you use the © for any online submission, I can see that as a way to say to the ignorant, "This is copyrighted and if you copy it, you're stealing."

As one of my friends said, "It probably won't deter anyone. Thieves know it's illegal."

For the next 10 blogs, we're going to look at some of the legal tangles with plagiarism.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Selling by the Numbers

(This is an edited version from Rob Eagar's blog. Used by permission.)

When I took a class on statistics in college, the first words my professor said were, "Never forget that anyone can manipulate numbers to make them mean whatever they want."

Today, with the mass adoption of Twitter and Facebook, never before have numbers meant so much and yet also meant so little. Social media has created the mass desire to be followed, liked, and shared. The larger a following you can amass, the more you can impress your friends, attract new opportunities, and terrify your competitors.

We live in an age where online popularity has the ridiculous ability to control major business decisions or determine someone's career. Yet, there's never been a time when big numbers can be inflated so easily and deceptively.

For example:

1. According the New York Times, you can buy fake followers on Twitter for around $18 per 1,000. I've seen shady businesses on Ebay offer fake Facebook followers for a similar price.

2. My own experience with the popular ShareThis WordPress plug-in for bloggers revealed that anyone can easily run up the share counter that's displayed without actually sharing the information from a blog post with anyone.

3. Facebook claims to offer an effective advertising medium, yet their average click-through rate is .0005 (5 in 10,000) In addition, a Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed that 4 out of 5 Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of advertising or comments on the social network site. In addition, researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute found that less than 1% of fans of the 200 biggest brands on Facebook actually engaged.

4. According to ConstantContact, the average open rate for email newsletters is around 19%. So, someone who claims to have 5,000 newsletter subscribers is probably reaching around 1,000 people.

5. I've seen bloggers promote an artificial number on their blog that combines all their different social media followers and subscribers into one big number, which is designed to make us think their platform is larger than it really is.

Be careful how much stock you put into building your own numbers and assessing someone else's numbers online. We'd all be better off if we focused on the only numbers that really matter, which is how many units sold, how many customers added, and how many dollars were deposited into the bank. 

 — Rob Eagar, WildFire Marketing, http://www.StartaWildFire.com 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Similes and Metaphors (Confusing Words Part 12 of 12)

I read and hear metaphor used with a variety of meanings. A metaphor is a figure of speech applied to something to which it's not literally applicable. Worse, the two words get tossed around as if they mean exactly the same thing.

A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes. That is, metaphor is a broader term, and a literary device that transfers the qualities or aspects from one object to another. Example: I tried to write but my mind was an empty screen.

A simile is a comparison but uses like or as. In the above sentence, the metaphor becomes a simile this way: I tried to write but my mind was like an empty screen. My favorite simile is from Robert Burns who penned these words, "My love is like a red, red rose."

I recently read this metaphor by playwright Lillian Hellman: "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." (Notice her correct usage of will in the first person showing determination.)

In short, both words compare two things of different classes. Some grammarians insist that a simile makes the comparison explicit or concrete. Perhaps they're correct, but I find it difficult to see the distinction.

One more thing is what we call the mixed metaphor. I'm surprised that writers aren't aware of using them. This happens when we combine two or more incomparable figures.

Example: We try to sweep thorny problems under the rug but they continue to bob up.

Here's a better way of saying it: We try to weed out thorny problems that thrive no matter what we do. Thorny problems, weed, and thrive keep the metaphor clear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Should or Would (Confusing Words Part 11 of 12)

In general, the rule for the use of shall and will apply—if you're making the distinction I pointed out in the previous blog. But I don't know anyone who still does that for this pair of words. That battle seems long lost for grammarians.

However, there is a broad difference in the two words. Should implies obligation or duty and would refers to habitual action.

* I should leave immediately to catch my scheduled flight.

* Harvey would take a walk every day.

* You should learn to relax and enjoy your life.

* Lincoln once quipped, "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"

Here's another point that many writers don't notice. When we're writing about habitual action, use would only the first time. After that, write in the past tense and you won't need the word again.

Example: At Mariah's house, we would eat our lunch at 11:30 and then we went into the garden to pick vegetables. After that, we lay in the sun for twenty minutes and then raced to the mail box.

Otherwise, you'd have to write: At Mariah's house, we would eat our lunch at 11:30 and then we would go into the garden to pick vegetables. After that we would lie in the sun for twenty minutes and then we would race to the mail box.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Shall or Will (Confusing Words Part 10 of 12)

I struggled in eighth grade to grasp the difference between shall and will. However, the definition I learned no longer holds true. I think it's probably because most people (including writers) don't know the difference. I'm going to give it because I still like the subtle differences in meaning—even if not everyone else does.

Use shall in the first person to express the future. (I shall visit you in the spring). Use will in the second or third person. (They will visit me in the spring.) That's easy enough but the subtly comes when we want to express a command or strong determination. Then we reverse the rule.

I will not go back to that place. You shall make a dreadful mistake if you marry Bart.

Please note that even Churchill said it wrong: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds . . . we shall never surrender."

Most people won't know the difference, 
but I will use shall correctly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Near or Close (Confusing Words Part 9 of 12)

Close or near? Now and then I see them used incorrectly. Both words refer to something at or within a short distance or interval or time or space. As one expert said, "Close is closer than near." 

We use close when we want to express immediate proximity (a close call, a close shave, a close encounter with death). Near refers to a narrow margin or approximation (a near escape, a near neighbor).

We use close to refer to human relationships: 
They’re a close family
Edith was closer to her sister than she was her mother.
Peter and I are close friends.
Near is used to refer to the future or to distance.
Experts say California can expect another earthquake in the near future.
He lives near me, less than two blocks away.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Negligent or Negligible (Confusing Words Part 8 of 12)

Both words suggest ignoring, disregarding, or overlooking, but they carry serious differences.

Negligent means indifference or careless about responsibilities or duties, and implies habitual behavior.
Essie is negligent about her studies.

After three years of hearing complaints about Fabian's negligence, I fired him.
Negligible says that something is too insignificant or trifling to be concerned about.
Three dollars is too negligible an amount to concern me.

His paying attention to negligible details made it impossible for our team to complete our project.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Naked or Nude (Confusing Words Part 7 of 12)

Only recently have I considered the difference between naked and nude and realized I ignorantly used the two words incorrectly. Naked, aside from the obvious meaning of wearing no clothes, can also be a metaphor that a person is vulnerable or unprotected. Or it can refer to something plain and unadorned, such as the clich├ęd term naked truth.

Nude means simply unclothed. When artists paint a human figure, we refer to them as nudes.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Historic or Historical (Confusing Words Part 6 of 12)

This is one of the places where I still pause to think which word to use. Historic refers to history-making or momentous. I now remind myself with this sentence: The historic meeting of Livingstone and Stanley made news across the world.

An historic event is always historical—that is, significant or history-making such as landing on the moon or the first time the American president visited Argentina. Historical means relating to the past, but the occurrence doesn't hold significance. The museum displayed historical clothing from the colonial period.

If I link historic and important together,
I'll probably get it right.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Irony of Irony (Confusing Words Part 5 of 12)

For the past few years I kept hearing people use irony in such a way that I began to wonder if I knew what the word meant. Today the word seems to mean unusual. But that's not the true definition. Irony refers to words that convey meanings opposite of their literal meaning.

Here are two examples of irony.

1. When I told my C-grade classmate that I had received an A, his ironic reply was, "How nice." (He didn't mean it was nice.)

2. "This is a magnificent view," Joan's mother said ironically, as she stared out the window at the neighbor's brick wall.

Here's a typical use of the word as I hear it today: "How ironic that I can't go to Bible study tomorrow night," the seminary student said, "because I have to prepare for a test on the New Testament." This statement passes for what some call irony because it's unusual. There's no intended opposite meaning.

Words are my tools, and I try to use words properly, 
even if others don't.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Notoriety (Confusing Words Part 4 of 12)

Here's a word that's taken on the opposite of its long-held meaning. The word referred to being famous or well-known, but it had a negative connotation. Today, the word seems to mean famous or well-known without any negative meaning intended.

Although I know that's the common misuse, I'll stick with famous for the positive and notorious for the negative. Even if you choose to use notoriety, please understand that some people may think you're making a negative statement.

Others may ignore differences in meaning, 
but I'm a professional.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Helpmeet and Helpmate (Confusing Words Part 3 of 12)

To my surprise, I still find people using the term helpmeet, or sometimes they change it to helpmate, thinking that was the intended meaning. The term helpmeet came about because Bible readers misunderstand the meaning of those two words in the KJV of Genesis 2:20: "But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." The word meet in those days meant fitted for or suitable. Until Eve, Adam had no companion suitable as a mate.

Words change in meaning.
I stay up with those changes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Honorarium (Confusing Words Part 2 of 12)

Many people speak of an honorarium, which is another euphemism for fee or payment. An honorarium is a reward for an act for which custom or tact forbids setting a fixed amount. That is, the giver offers something for which there is no legal or moral obligation.

However, usage has extended the meaning to mean payment for service. Don't we constantly hear of giving an honorarium for the keynote speaker at a writers conference? Today, the term usually means they take up an offering or they have a set fee.

One professional speaker said, "When they use the word honorarium, they usually mean they'll pay me less than my standard fee."

Fee is a good word;
I'm not afraid to use it when I discuss money.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Euphemisms (Confusing Words Part 1 of 12)

Euphemisms are softened and inoffensive words or phrases to cover or suggest something unpleasant. Although we still use them today, many of them are so ingrained we hardly realize them as euphemisms.

For example, after my wife died, it amazed me how few people used words like death. Instead they talked of her passing, going to heaven, or departed. One friend actually said, "She has shuffled off this mortal coil" (probably referring to the words of Hamlet).

Perhaps my friends thought they were protecting me with their euphemistic terms, but, for me, Shirley died. Their word choice spoke to me about their inability to speak directly.

Euphemisms have a long history. At one time, no one in polite company referred to a leg. It was always a limb. Two years ago, an older woman told me she had been shopping and bought unmentionables. I think she meant underwear.

I'm for the direct approach. If we rely on euphemisms, it implies that we're not able to deal with reality. Instead, we find nice, inoffensive ways to say things with which we're not comfortable.

As a writer, 
I like to say what I mean clearly.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Fear of Being Real: But I’m a Christian! (Part 4 of 4)

(This is a guest post from Peter Lundell.)

A fashionable college freshman in my church came to me after I preached and said, “I really like your sermons.”

I was curious. “I’m as old as your father. And I don’t even try to be a hipster. Why do you like my sermons?”

“Because you’re real.”

She didn’t want pizzazz or cool. She wanted authenticity. It’s the same in writing.

But when we write, we might be legitimately concerned and think: A Christian wouldn’t do that! Or a Christian wouldn’t think that! Whatever “that” is for you, I’ve probably either done it or thought it. You probably have too. So have the publishers, and so have the readers. At least some of them. Or they know someone. Or they used to.

And they deserve straight, unashamed writing from us. Whether we’re addressing drugs and human trafficking or confessing sexual sin or anger, readers need us to be honest and realistic. And they’ll love us for it. Because one of the last things Christians need to do is avoid things. Who else will bring light into darkness?

Do we write about being good, or do we write about being redeemed?

We need authenticity in all sectors. However old or uncool you may be, don’t worry. However young and cool you may be, don’t be smug. Be real. The world is so full of superficiality that people are hungry for those who are uncommonly genuine.

This is especially true in the Christian sphere. We carry the burden, whether real or imagined, of having to fit into an acceptable mold. Within that mold the things we write easily get boring and predicable.

Good news: It’s very Christian to be real. Let’s use another word for it: honesty. Or truthfulness. Or authentic. As opposed to fake, superficial, phony.

One of the great things about the Bible is how shockingly real it is with people’s sins and foibles. May that be one of the great things about your writing too. 

 —Peter Lundell, peter@PeterLundell.com

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Fear of Being Real: Guts (Part 3 of 4)

(This is a guest post from Peter Lundell.)

Having guts is not the first thing that most of us would list as characteristics of good writing. Legendary editor Sol Stein would disagree:
A long time ago I took an oath never to write anything inoffensive. 
In working with literally hundreds of authors over a period of many years, I concluded that the single characteristic that most makes a difference in the success of an article or nonfiction book is the author’s courage in revealing normally unspoken things about himself for his society. It takes guts to be a writer. . . .
The novelist has it easier. He hides a little—just a little—under the presumption that he is making things up. We all know that the most truth-bearing parts of superior fiction aren’t “made up.” (Sol Stein, Stein on Writing, p. 242)
Look at whatever you’re writing, whether a book or article, fiction or nonfiction. Ask yourself questions such as:

-What are you holding back?

-If you could say something without any backlash, what would you say?

-If you expressed something, or raised a subject, that might be offensive or taboo to some readers—but not to God—what would that be?

The point is not to be offensive but to be real. How can we expect readers to be honest with God or themselves if we’re not? We set the example. We are leaders on the page.

What illicit topic in your nonfiction article or book needs to be raised? What dark aspect of your novel’s story ought to be expressed? Do you benefit readers by avoiding topics that they wish you would confront? They need your example, your insight, your guidance.

Besides the limits of common sense and godliness, make sure that what you write doesn’t get you in big trouble or deeply hurt someone you write about. Exercise wisdom. But most of all exercise courage. 

—Peter Lundell, peter@PeterLundell.com

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Fear of Being Real: Trusting Readers (Part 2 of 4)

(This is a guest post from Peter Lundell.)

Too often we harbor an unspoken fear about our readers. It’s so unspoken we’re often not aware of it ourselves. The fear is this: If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.

When Cec Murphey first said that line to me, I didn’t want it to be true in what I wrote. But it was true. I wanted readers to like me, and I falsely thought that if I revealed my failings, they wouldn’t like me. So I put on a mask of success. Not only did readers not like me. I didn’t even like me.

When my readers commented on my book, Prayer Power (retitled Closer to God), they typically most liked the parts where I messed up. They could relate. And when I expressed what I learned, they received it.

They didn’t turn away from me. They turned toward me. And they turned their friends toward me too. And toward my message.

Does your best friend want you to be openly honest about your shortcomings? Yes. And does he or she still like you? Yes. And value your friendship even more? Yes. Treat your reader as your best friend.

If doing this scares you, try it in small ways at first. Maybe in an email to just one person. Maybe in a blog post you can remove. Go from there, and your readers will go with you.

—Peter Lundell, peter@PeterLundell.com

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Fear of Being Real: Waking Up (Part 1 of 4)

(This is a guest post from Peter Lundell.)

The first time I went to a Cec Murphey Writing Clinic, I showed him the opening section of a manuscript. I figured it was good and looked forward to his compliments. He read two pages, thrust the manuscript back at my chest, and said, “You’re hiding behind your words.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. My initial thought was, What are you talking about? Then something deep inside me, deeper than words or rational thought, knew he was right.

Two pages. That’s all it took for him to see that I was faking my identity. He probably could have done it in one.

He showed me the places in those two pages where I wrote like a know-it-all scholar telling the reader a thing or two, and where I wrote like a spiritual superman who condescended to inform the reader how to be like me. Cec showed me how my phrasing, and my very ideas, functioned like a mask that made me look good and hid the real me from the reader.

He was right, and I was in tears. We hugged and prayed and soon got down to business.

I tore down the words that had constructed my half-intellectual/half-spiritual mask and replaced them with words that revealed my struggles, my questions, and my doubt. I learned that readers would identify much more with the truth of who I was—and that they would detect a mask anyway and probably quit reading.

So are your words a mask or a window?

A mask is anything that gives readers the idea that you’re something you’re not. What kind of masks have you put up in your writing?

A window is anything that gives readers a view and a feel of who you honestly are and what you genuinely go through. What kind of windows have you allowed your readers to look through?

I encourage you to look through something you’ve recently written, as if you’re another person reading your blog, article, or chapter for the first time. Do you see masks, or do you see windows?

—Peter Lundell, peter@PeterLundell.com

Friday, August 22, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 11 of 11)

Can you explain clauses or phrases that begin with that?

We call them noun clauses, which is a group of words that function as a noun in a sentence or phrase. The clause contains a subject and a verb, but it's not a complete statement. (Or as the grammarians like to say, it's a subordinate clause.) Therefore, it has to be connected to an independent clause (main clause). The noun clause usually appears after the main verb of the sentence.

The most common noun clauses begin with that. Others are how, what, whatever, when, where, which, who, whoever, and why

Here are examples of noun clauses using that.

1. I thought that the test was simple. The noun clause is the object of the verb thought. Ask yourself, Thought what?

2. He proved that he was strong. (The noun clause answers the question, "Proved what?")

3. Sometimes we omit that, but it's implied: He heard (that) she might visit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 10 of 11)

Giving Reasons. (I’ve received several questions on this topic.)

What’s the difference between because, on account of, owing to the fact that, as, on account of, due to, and since? There are a lot of words here and the answer is: Not much difference. Of course no serious writer ever uses because the reason is or the reason why. Both are redundant.

Purists can (and do) distinguish, but most of us see it as a matter of personal taste. I've noticed that writers who want to sound scholarly tend to use due to most of the time. I suppose it sounds more intellectual. I associate it with the writers of the past two centuries.

The rule is that due to modifies nouns and follows state-of-being verbs (am, is, were). In reality, due to has become a generally accepted synonym for because.

Since refers to time, according to the purists, but most people either ignore that or aren't aware. Today, since and because can be synonyms. The same is true for using as when you mean because.

In short, English offers many ways to express reasons and the distinction has long been lost, except to people who love to cite rules.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 9 of 11)

Let's look at easily confused words. (These have also come from blog readers.)

One of the most common is lose and loose. I don't know why this is a problem, because the meanings are obvious; I suppose it's the spelling. Here's a mnemonic device a friend suggested: He's as loose as a goose. By saying it aloud, he says he gets the sound and spelling correct.

Another help is to pronounce the word aloud. If it has an audible Z sound, then you write lose. If you use the hissing S sound, it's loose.

Orientate and orient. British writers seem to prefer orientate; in the US, we use orient. That's the only difference I see. On several websites, some have argued that orientate isn't a proper word (and they're wrong).

My opinion is that people who want to sound better educated than they are tend to use more ostentatious words such as orientate.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 8 of 11)

What's the difference between that and who?

The standard answer says we use who when we refer to a person; we use that when we refer to things. But again, it's a rule broken as often as it's followed.

Many people include animals or any living creature in the who category, which traditionalists dislike. They insist on using who only for animals with names. That seems arbitrary to me.

It's helpful to remember the rule (especially if you have too many that expressions in your prose.) My assumption is that most readers don't know or care about the difference.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 7 of 11)

That and which: What's the difference?

I know the rule even though I'm not consistent in following it—and apparently most writers aren't either. The objection I hear from nongrammarians is, "I get tired of reading that all the time." My answer: So revise the sentence.

Here's the rule. That introduces an essential clause. We should play with the ball that Jack gave us. (That is, don't use just any ball, but a specific one, the one from Jack.) We sometimes call that a restrictive element because it refers to a part of the sentence we can't delete and keep the intended meaning.

Which adds information. We played with the ball, which was in the box. It's not pointing to a specific box. We set off nonessential clauses by commas, which means we could eliminate the statement. (Did you catch the use of which in the previous sentence?)

Here's a simple way to remember: If we throw out which, we don't harm or change the meaning of the sentence. I like gala apples, which I buy at Krogers. I've given you an additional detail beyond my fondness for the fruit. And I show that it's not essential by adding the comma.

By contrast, I could have written the following sentence. I like gala apples that I buy at Krogers. It means I don't like gala apples if I buy them at Publix.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 6 of 11)

6. When do I use like, and when is as correct?

This battle has probably been lost, but here's the rule anyway. As far as I can tell, like came with the hipsters in the 1950s. They used the word to introduce their feelings or perceptions. When I learned I had won the contest, I was like, overwhelmed. When I saw the man with the gun, I was like, running for cover.

But here's the rule of grammar: Like doesn't introduce a clause (with a subject and verb), because it is a preposition. Instead, use as or as if. The plan succeeded as we hoped; however, other plans like it have failed. Did you notice as introduced the subject (we) and the verb (hoped)?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 5 of 11)

5. I hear a lot of people using amongst instead of among. What's the difference?

There is no difference, and we hear either word in speech. I suspect those who use amongst are trying too hard to speak properly. Or they're trying to sound British, among whom the use is common.

The use of amongst hasn't aged as badly as whilst, but they both come out of the same period. For consistency, if the speakers (or writers) use amongst, I would expect them to use whilst. Strange, but I don't hear the second word.

Along the same line is the use of as to, which I read and hear often these days. As one grammarian told me, "As to is a stuffy substitute for about." The prosecutor asked him about his action (not as to his actions).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 4 of 11)

4. What's the difference between most and almost?

This is one of my favorite peeves. Almost means nearly; most refers to the greater part or number.

Most every Sunday we see Evelyn. That's clearly wrong. We mean we see her on more Sundays than we don't. Better: Almost every Sunday we see Evelyn.

Perhaps this will help. Most can be followed directly by a noun or the phrase "of the," but not "of" or "the" alone.

Almost is usually followed by a number or quantifier (all, 83 percent). After almost we use the qualifiers such as "of the," "all," or simply "the."

Like the use of the word only, almost comes immediately before the word or phrase it modifies. Consider the difference: Hanna almost gave her church a million dollars. Hanna gave her church almost a million dollars.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 3 of 11)

3. When do I write the word percent in numbers?

Percent and percentage refer to fractions of 100. Percent always follows a number: I sell 85 percent of the books I write. Do not use the symbol (%) when writing for book publication. Some magazines and newspapers use the percent symbol.

Percentage stands alone without numbers. A high percentage of writers never earn back their advance payments.

At the beginning of this entry I wrote 100 in numerals. My rule is to write everything up to 10 in words. Some publishers say up to and including ten. One editor says he always writes out every number no matter how large. This practice seems fluid, so I suggest you make your choice and remain consistent.

The dollar sign seems to present problems to some. Think of it the same way as using percent above. In commercial writing (which is what we do), we write the word: He earned four thousand dollars, but Maisie spent nine thousand.

One thing to remember is consistency. If you write a sentence with lower numerals such as one or five, which you write out, you do the same with any numbers within that same sentence. (I would say the same paragraph, but everyone doesn't agree.) Martha wrote two books after the age of one hundred seven.

I'll remember that word when I make writing choices.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 2 of 11)

2. When do I use upon and entitled?

If we watch the screen credits of older films based on a book, we'll usually see, "Based upon the novel . . ." In recent years, the word upon has become more restrictive. (Notice: restrictive, which means it's not wrong, but it indicates a change in our use of language). The modern way to think of upon is to mean on top of. One authority says using upon is a stuffy way of saying on.

The use of entitled is similar. The word has long referred to the title. He wrote a book entitled Eat Less; Gain Weight. Today, titled is the preferred way to write. Entitled has also become restrictive, meaning to deserve. Margo feels she's entitled to a bigger advance because it's her fourth book and it's titled My Life as a Genius.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 1 of 11)

This series comes from questions my blog readers have asked.

1. Which words do you capitalize in a title?

We cap all nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives. The tricky part comes with conjunctions, prepositions, articles, and adverbs. Here's the rule I learned more than twenty years ago and have held to it. The Chicago Manual of Style disagrees.

If any of those other words is five or more letters, cap them; if not, don't. For example, with my book Unleash the Writer Within, I capped the verb (unleash), the noun (writer), and the adverb (within). The is an article and unless the title begins with an article, we don't cap it. Within is more than five letters long.

Here's the way Harvest House printed the title of my latest gift book: Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One. They capped the words I would have.

However, some publishers establish their own rules. For example, the book I wrote for Eva Piper and published by Thomas Nelson has the title with almost every word and every letter capped, including the subtitle, and used bold as indicated: A WALK THROUGH THE DARK: HOW MY HUSBAND'S 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN DEEPENED MY FAITH for a LIFETIME. I have no idea why they put "for a" in lower case. Their decision.

Here's a good rule to remember when we write for publication. Look up what you can, and online resources are abundant. If there are different opinions—and there usually are—make your choice and stay with it. If your choice isn't what the publisher wants, it's a minor task for them to make it conform to their standards.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 10 of 10)

(an encore post)

10. We behave professionally.

Professionals are people on whom editors depend. We don't just make our deadlines, we beat them. We're dependable. Many years I received opportunities to ghostwrite for a publisher—and did a total of 35 for them. Although I didn't know the reason for at least a decade, a woman had written many books for them and she was excellent. She had failed to meet every deadline. They got tired of working with her.

Another thing about professionals is that we take criticism well. We know we have things to learn. Even if we don’t agree with what an editor says, we seriously ponder it instead of responding with anger. A once-famous writer called an editor on the phone and berated her. The story I heard (from someone who sat there) was that the writer yelled and screamed for nearly five hours. Maybe that's a reason she's no longer a famous writer.

I could list other characteristics, but professionals seem to have an innate sense of the correct thing to do at the right time. Perhaps I could sum it up by saying that professionals try to be sensitive to others, especially in the way they treat people who are a few rungs lower on the ladder than they are.

I am a professional and I behave professionally.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 9 of 10)

(an encore post)

9. We reach out to other writers.

Thirty years ago, Suzanne refused to help another writer because "she'll become my competition." I didn't agree then; I strongly disagree today.

I believe in the principle of giving ourselves freely and sharing what we know. I don't think of others as my competition. I think of them as other writers who are trying to sell what they write. I want to help.

Here's my favorite verse that's not from the Bible: Yea, the Lord shoveleth it in; I shoveleth it out; and behold, the Lord hath a larger shovel (Jubilations 4:4).

To the fearful and insecure, it may sound outrageous to give away what we've worked hard to learn. But it really works the other way. I'm a giver and I like to give. As I examine my writing career, every upward step I've taken has come about because someone else opened the door. My first book publisher and my first agent came because someone else opened the door. In both instances, the help was from individuals I had helped but never expected any return.

Professionals know that. They enjoy sharing what they know and giving to others. That puts them in a position to receive from others.

We receive by giving; we grow by sharing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 8b of 10)

(an encore post)

8b. We study the markets.

If you don't study the markets, you lower your chances of selling anything because you don't know what publishers want. If you send in something that's outdated or no longer of interest, you frustrate editors. Do it often enough and you create a negative reputation among editors (and they do talk with each other).

As you study what's out there, you can ask yourself, "To what does that lead?" You can learn to anticipate what the public will read next. For example, I've been suggesting for five years that books for retiring baby boomers will be a big thing. So far I haven't seen many books on the topic, but they're definitely on the way.

Studying the markets is more than selling; it's staying abreast about what goes on in the world. We figure out the felt-needs of people, sometimes before they're aware.

We study the markets because we're professionals.
Professionals are always on the learning curve.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 8a of 10)

(an encore post)

8a. We study the markets.

One way to define success is that we sell what we write. Professionals don't rely solely on agents, but they know what's going on in the world around them. They're aware of writing trends. The best professionals spot trends before they become trends.

In 1989, I wrote a book for caregivers of loved ones who suffered from Alzheimer's. I wrote two other books for caregivers. They didn't do well because I was too far ahead of the loop. In 2004, I did another series of caregiving books with only slightly better results. The trend had begun and I lectured often on caregiving.

In 2009, I started a series of gift books for caregivers and they've done quite well. I'll continue to write in that field, but it's no longer my focus because there are already so many people out speaking and teaching.

That's what I mean by studying the markets. I co-wrote Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven and it stayed five years on the New York Times' best-seller list. Since then, other books have come out about heaven. In the fall of 2010, two books, both about a child who went to heaven, appeared.

In the summer of 2010, I released my book When a Man You Love Was Abused. So far as I know, it was the first book on the topic aimed at the Christian market by a royalty-paying publisher. The book has done well and I know of two other books on the topic that have gotten a thumbs up because of my book's success.

By contrast, memoirs and autobiographies aren't doing well, unless the subject is a celebrity, and some of them haven't shown strong results, such as Kitty Kelley's bio of Oprah.

Awareness of the market doesn't guarantee sales,
but it does increase your chances of selling.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 7 of 10)

(an encore post)

7. We write what we know and what we yearn to know.

Each of us leads a unique life. We are products of our past experiences and no one has a background exactly like ours. Draw from that background. Reflect on what you already know and write it either as fiction, autobiography, how-to, or any other genre you like. Use your already accumulated knowledge and wisdom (and we all have more than we think we do).

But don't stop with what you know. Move into what you'd like to know. Research by reading and asking questions, and learn about topics that grab your interest. For instance, in 1990 and 1995 I co-wrote two books about Antarctica, even though I never went there until 2003. I read widely because of the two books, the first of which was published by a company that specializes in true adventure, and they called it With Byrd at the Bottom of the World. It's the story of Norman Vaughan who was then the last surviving member of Richard Byrd's historic flight over the South Pole. (He went on a ship, disembarked on the icy continent, and a team of men with dog sleds went 400 miles inland. Norman was in charge of the dogs.)

I didn't know much about Antarctica, but I read widely and felt as if I had been there long before I boarded a ship. That's one of the marks of a professional—we're curious people. We want to know more. We don't settle for surface information.

Good writers write what they know; 
good writers explore new areas to increase their knowledge.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 6 of 10)

(an encore post)

6. We mimic the best.

I can't say this enough: Imitate the writers you admire. Would-be basketball heroes copy the moves of the players they admire.

For example, when I was 15 years old I first read William Saroyan's The Human Comedy. I didn't know much about writing, but I knew I wanted to write and that I wanted to write with his warmth. Saroyan's writing gave me permission to express my heart on paper. That's one kind of imitation.

The other is to copy their words. When you read something that makes you pause and say, "I wish I had written that," copy the words. File them. Read them occasionally. As you copy and ponder the prose, you're absorbing their style.

Don't just copy best-selling writers. I can think of several top-grossing writers. It's not their mastery of the craft that makes them sell, but it's their plots or the material they cover.

I started with two writers I like, and neither of them was in my field. That didn't matter and may have been a positive factor. I couldn't steal or copy their prose, but I could learn syntax and phrasing that equaled theirs.

I find superior writers; 
I imitate them so that I can become better than they are.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 5 of 10)

(an encore post)

5. We Grow Professionally.

Learn—and keep learning—the craft. We strive to become the best writers we’re capable of becoming.

Growing professionally means an unrelenting search for excellence. We're never satisfied. We smile when we've constructed a good paragraph and say to ourselves, I'll continue to improve.

Here's something else we can do for ourselves: Connect with other writers, those who will help us push ourselves. We don't want to connect just to get someone to stay at us until we finish an article or book. I urge writers to covenant with another to push you to make your manuscript the best writing you can do at this stage of your development.

Professionals are never pleased with their writing 
because they know they can improve.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 4 of 10)

(an encore post)

4. We Read. A Lot. Often. Constantly.

As serious writers, we read, and we do so in a variety of areas, always seeking to know more about writing and about our world. We read in our genre, but we read outside our field.

Too often I meet want-to-be writers who don't read—people who don't like to read—and yet they feel they must write. That doesn't make sense to me. Someone said it's like hating horses while raising herds of them, and lecturing around the country on how to love your horse. It's not only hypocritical; it won't work.

Professional writers don't like to read---they're compulsive and must read. They snatch minutes whenever possible to fill their eyes and minds with words and new thoughts.

Words are our tools and we examine their meanings. We feel them and we learn to distinguish between when to use small or littletinyminiscule, or minute. We read and pick up nuances of meaning, marvel at the expressive efforts of others, or groan at the lack of skill in our own manuscripts.

We absorb techniques and ideas when we read, mostly unconsciously. We find ourselves absorbed and challenged by writers who are better than we are. And there are always writers who are superior.

We read for pleasure but even then we read to learn and to grow. Every article or book we read becomes a teacher. As we read, we ask questions. Why did she start the story there? What does that word mean? Why did he use the subjunctive mood?

Professional writers are compulsive readers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 3 of 10)

(an encore post)

3. We Rewrite.

The best writing is rewriting. That means not being easily satisfied and sensing we can make our prose better.

To rewrite means to change our writing so that it becomes sharper and more coherent. That's what moves writers into the professional level.

When we rewrite we rethink what we've written. We admit that some words feel exactly right and we leave them. We delete sentences that don't flow or we add words for clarity.

I say it this way: I write subjectively; I edit objectively. That means that on my first draft I let words flow without censoring or interrupting. Once I finish I go back and objectively correct what I've written.

Effective rewriting is a skill we learn gradually
by going through the process hundreds of times.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 2 of 10)

(an encore post)

2. We Write, Write, and Write Some More.

Would-be-writers often ask whether they should write every day. Instead of answering, here's my question: Why wouldn't we yearn to write every day? We may not do it every day of the year, but we do it as often and as faithfully as possible. And we form the writing habit.

I began my writing career with the commitment to write at least 15 minutes every day. At the time, that was all the time I could comfortably squeeze. (Within six months, I was writing an hour a day.)

If our goal is to be a great hitter, we swing at the baseball every day; opera singers sing every day; writers write every day. Every day and every chance. Nothing else betters our writing than working at it faithfully.

If we write on a regular basis, we’ll probably improve our writing. Not everyone improves, because some won’t learn.

We write at noon or nighttime, in the bedroom and the boardroom, on Saturdays and stolen moments.

But we write. We write faithfully.

We write fast, write slow, but we write.

You want to be a writer, don't you? Then write. If you want to write well and sell much, write much.

If you are a writer or want to be a writer, 
three things you do regularly:
Write, write, and write.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 1 of 10)

(This is an encore post.)

1. We Don’t Bore Our Readers.

We can't bore readers, instead they stop reading. Perhaps that sounds obvious, but too many writers are fascinated with their topic—usually their own lives—and assume everyone else cares. If we write as a form of therapy (and that's valid), and recognize what we're doing, we don't try to push the rest of the world to read our struggles.

Some writers assume readers are eager to grasp every word they write. The opposite is true: We have to persuade people to read us and assure them that the time they spend with us will be rewarding.

We do that at the start of our manuscripts. What promises do we make in our titles? In our first sentence? Opening paragraph?

When we forget readers, we invite them to close the book. Whether we're entertaining or teaching, people read because of their perceived needs. We write to meet those needs.

Because we find it interesting, or we think our life is newsworthy, it's easy to assume everyone cares. It's better to assume no one cares about what we write. Our task is to give readers reasons to care—early in the article or book—and keep them interested because we relate to their lives.

If we put the needs of readers first, 
we earn the right to be read.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 3 of 3)

(an encore post)

"If I could just find the right publisher/editor/agent."

In 1997, I taught at the Greater Colorado Christian Writers Conference. One man had a lengthy manuscript and asked me to look at it. I thought he had a few good ideas but nothing particularly original. It wasn't different from anything I'd read many times.

I told him but he didn't listen.

"If I could just find the right editor, I know my book will sell." Those were his final words.

Afterward I walked toward the dining room and a woman came up to me and said she saw me looking at the man's manuscript. Before I could comment, she said, "He comes every year with the same book. He hasn't changed a word. He's convinced that if he keeps trying he'll find the right publisher."

Since then I've met several others like him. Their attitude says they don't want to grow, don't want to work hard to improve the manuscript, and they're satisfied with what they've written. They're usually the ones who cry about publishing being a closed group and "common people like me" can't get inside. It doesn't seem to occur to them that good writing opens many doors.

To find the right publisher become the right writer.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 2 of 3)

(This is an encore post.)

"God gave this to me so I know you'll publish it." I've heard variations on that one, but they all say something like this:

• "God gave it to me."

• "God dictated every word."

• "God awakened me in the middle of the night and said, 'Write!' "

My wife has heard all the stories. For several years, she was the acquisitions editor of a devotional magazine. Even though she received a number of such manuscripts, she never found one worthy of publishing.

Here's my suggestion: If God gives you a message to write, don't tell an editor; let an editor tell you. Early in my writing career, I wrote an article called "Grace Builders," and I honestly felt God had given the article to me. I changed exactly one word after my first draft.

I sent it to a publisher and it was accepted. After that, 16 other magazines reprinted it. This is the first time I've ever said God gave me a message and I can do so now because the results provide strong evidence for my claim. (I didn't tell that to the publisher when I sent the article.)

When I hear people declare they have received divine inspiration, I believe it's a defensive statement. It's as if the person says, "God gave it to me and you can't argue with God or reject God." God's words can stand scrutiny.

One editor told me she responds this way: "God may have told you to write it, but God didn't say I would publish it. When I prayed today, God told me to reject your manuscript."

If God inspires your writing, 
others will know because it will inspire them when they read it.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 1 of 3)

(an encore post)

"I know there are mistakes, but an editor can fix it. That's what editors do, isn't it?" While I was doing a Q & A on a radio station, a caller said those words.

Yes, that is what editors do—after they accept a manuscript. They expect well written, grammatically correct submissions. Their job is to improve a good manuscript and make it into an excellent one. As a professional, I'd be ashamed to send anything to an editor that was less than my best work.

"I want to write good," one woman said at a writers conference. (She should have said well.) "But if I spent all my time learning to spell and write better English, I wouldn't get any good writing done."

"I wouldn't hire a carpenter who didn't know how to use a hammer," I replied. "Good writers know their craft—that's their box of tools. If you don't know sentence structure, learn before you submit."

She shrugged and walked away.

Professional writers take pride in presenting quality manuscripts; 
those who don't care remain amateurs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I Write (Part 3 of 3)

Do I have to be gifted to be a writer? That's a natural question and the answer is simple: No one else can answer that but you and God. Too many people seem to assume that because they wrote something and it was published that they're gifted.

As I see it, gifted writers are those with that "something extra" in the way they write. Their words are memorable; their stories or illustrations stay with us. When we read, the rhythm of their prose carries us along and we're hardly aware of the writing.

By contrast, haven't all of us read books and articles that were laborious and wooden? We might even ask ourselves, Why am I reading this? Lack of ability has never stopped people. Some less-than-good writers get by with excellent plotting or interesting characters.

We also have to allow for taste. I rarely read literary fiction, even though my friends tell me some of those authors are highly talented. When I was a pastor, our organist believed nothing of true beauty had ever been written after the baroque period.

You are the only one to whom the answer is important. If you recognize you're gifted, your continued improvement shows your giftedness. If others comment on your improvement that may be a hint of your having talent.

Along that line, I had to take a series of tests before I could enter graduate school and I scored quite well. "Am I really smart?" I asked the man who scored the test. "Or is it that I work hard?"

He laughed. "If you weren't smart, it wouldn't have mattered how hard you worked."

Apply that to writing. If there is no ability, you won't improve. You won't learn. And I've had a few students like that. No matter how much I tried to help, they couldn't understand what was wrong with their prose.

If I can improve my writing (and do so)
that implies some level of giftedness.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Why Do I Write (Part 2 of 3)

Panelists for TheWritersView post questions for three-day periods and members can answer. On my reason for writing I posted a second time. "I write because it is a gift.”

God endowed all of us with gifts—call them talents or abilities—and in varying qualities. Although I wanted to believe I had the gift, a long time lapsed before I admitted that truth—even to myself. Perhaps it was lack of self-confidence, but I felt I would be presumptuous in using the term.

As I wrote on the loop, I didn't want God to be blamed for my ineptitude. Like other newbies, my writing wasn't very good, even though it was the best I could do. I had published between 100 and 200 articles and four books before I said to anyone in conversation, "God gave me the gift to write."

That also means something more. With a given ability comes responsibility to improve and to continue to learn. God gave me the raw talent and it has been up to me to develop and nurture that.

Today I can say—easily—that I have a gift, but that's not to mean, "This is wonderful, so don't criticize it." For me, the statement means I have continued to develop, polish, and mature in my expressions. I'm still learning.

Are you gifted?

An affirmative answer doesn't indicate that you've sold millions of books or hit the best-seller lists. It states that one of the talents God gave you is to write. If you answer yes, then you have to ask God a question: How do I actualize my gift?

Am I gifted to write?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Do I Write? (Part 1 of 3)

About ten years after I began to write professionally, I heard the question, "Why do I write?" Until then, I hadn't considered the reason; I focused on how—how I could get the time to write.

Recently, on TheWritersView loop[1], Frank Ball asked the why question and a number of members responded. Their reasons varied. Some were practical, a few quite spiritual in tone, and I wouldn't argue with any of them.

Here's my response: I write because I'm so full of myself I believe the world is waiting to read my words. I went on to say that it takes a certain amount of conceit to be a writer.

One member objected to the word conceit, but I stick by my statement. I assume she objected to the implication of pride or self-importance, but that's exactly the point I wanted to make. What is more arrogant than to think that I could write words to enrich or change others? Even if my purpose is purely entertainment, doesn't that suggest smugness? Try it another way: Who am I to think that I could entertain or enlighten someone else?

To be a successful writer takes a certain amount of conceit.
It means I believe that I have something significant to say.

[1] TheWritersView@yahoo.com

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bad Ways to Build Your Platform (Part 4 of 4)

(another post from Twila)

I bantered with a publishing house editor as I waited for an appointment with another industry professional at a conference. His crazy personality reminded me of my brother’s, and for a fraction of a second I lost control of my senses. “You’re such a dork,” I said. Yes, I called an editor of a publishing house a dork! That surely left a lasting impression—and it gave me a creative connecting point for the query letter I later sent him—BUT I don’t recommend this method for building a platform.

When building our platforms we want to be memorable. We also need to keep in mind that there are good ways and bad ways to make an impact on our readers and on the industry professionals who give us opportunities.

If we want people to remember us as an obnoxious fool, we will force our books on them.

If we want people to remember us as stupid and insecure, we will put down other authors’ books because they’re not as good as ours.

If we want people to remember us as a pompous twit, we will insist we’ve written a book that everybody needs.

If we want industry professionals to remember us as rude and disrespectful, and if we want to make a bad name for ourselves in the industry, we will throw hissy fits and say horrible things to those who’ve given us opportunities.

If we want people to remember us as a diva, we should work in Hollywood.

BUT if we want people to remember us as a writer worth reading, we will maintain control of our senses. We will use wisdom and discernment. We will show kindness and grace. And we will act with professionalism.

We can learn a lot of things about building our platforms from other people’s mistakes, or even from our own. What bad examples have you seen?

* * * * *

Twila Belk, aka The Gotta Tell Somebody Gal, is a writer and speaker who loves braggin’ on God. She works full time with best-selling author Cecil Murphey and enjoys teaching at writers conferences across the nation. Twila has written or co-written five books and contributed to several others. For more info, visit www.gottatellsomebody.com.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bad Ways to Build Your Platform (Part 3 of 4)

(another post from Twila)

Cec and I contracted to do a compilation book with Guideposts and we carefully chose our stories from hundreds that came in. The submission guidelines clearly stated that the publisher’s senior editor would make final decisions for inclusion in the book. At the stage just before the publisher sent the manuscript to the printer, the editor had to cut two stories. It wasn’t because they were bad; it was because the pagination in the book was off.

The editor felt terrible about the situation, and I felt even worse because I had the unfortunate task of informing the two contributors. In the email to them I apologized on the editor’s behalf and told the two ladies that he offered to send their stories to the editor-in-chief of another Guideposts publication with a circulation of half a million. Not only was it an opportunity for greater exposure, but they would also get paid a second time for the use of their stories.

Contributor #1 did not respond well. She acted as though we were best friends up to that point, but the news I delivered caused her to become a vicious, evil woman. I became the target of her wrath through Facebook messages and several emails (with copies sent to Cec, the editor, and contributor #2). She also emailed contributor #2 privately and said harsh things. She used an abundance of words to make it clear that the situation was not acceptable to her and why.

It turned into a huge mess, and Cec was ready to pay big bucks to send me to therapy. He stepped in and told her that such actions are not unusual in publication and that it was a professional issue and not a personal one. The editor attempted to calm her down with a thorough explanation of why he had to cut her story.

After her tirade neared an end—finally—she emailed again and asked if she should still contact the editor at Guideposts about the other publishing possibility, “or did I overstep the line when I shared my honest feelings with you?”

Contributor #2 was, of course, disappointed her story had to be cut, but she responded professionally with grace and kindness. She continues to stay in contact with us, and Cec wrote the foreword to her new book. Contributor #1 unfriended me on Facebook and unsubscribed from Cec’s monthly newsletter.

My advice? If you truly want to build your platform, think twice about the way you treat the ones giving you publishing opportunities.

* * * * *

Twila Belk, aka The Gotta Tell Somebody Gal, is a writer and speaker who loves braggin’ on God. She works full time with best-selling author Cecil Murphey and enjoys teaching at writers conferences across the nation. Twila has written or co-written five books and contributed to several others. For more info, visit www.gottatellsomebody.com.