Month: January 2015

Word Slayers Rule by Building a Powerful Vocabulary

Word Slayers Rule by Building a Powerful Vocabulary Word Slayers Rule by Building a Powerful Vocabulary 

by Paul Huckelberry

I’ve been writing since the age of three or four. This however, is not a very remarkable feat since practically everyone else in the modern Western world has also been writing since the age of three or four. Yet for many, the quality of their writing rarely grows beyond the level of a 10th grader. I suppose it’s not hard to figure out why. After all, most people don’t plan to make a living as a writer, so they conclude, “Why waste precious energy developing a skill that will never be called into use?” (I guess the same can be said about math, physics, statistics….)

This however, is a fallacy I wish to debunk. For starters, I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t improve the quality of his or her life by becoming a better writer. Take a look at the work place. Even if you’re not a lawyer, a newspaper reporter, or an advertising copywriter, superior writing ability can still help elevate your stature in practically any job. How? Well for starters, if your job requires a computer, then you’re most likely sending and receiving emails all day long. Allowing for those frivolous notes like, “Hey, did you see that game last night?” or, “Where do you want to have lunch?”  I’m betting that the rest of your email production is work related and thus written to influence someone else into giving you what you need to perform your job -thus helping you to either get promoted or simply to keep that job. Then there are proposals, reports and presentations. And if you don’t want to keep your current job but instead choose to look for another, you’ll need to create a resume and a cover letter. The quality of your writing can be a huge, and I trust, obvious advantage (or disadvantage) in all of these cases.

How about away from your day job? Well if you’re single, and would prefer not to be, then skillful writing can go a long way towards finding your soul mate. In fact before smartphones, computers, telephones and telegraphs, writing was practically the only way to win over the object of your desire. Think love letters and poetry. Not your style? Okay, if you choose to join a dating site to increase your chances of meeting Ms. or Mr. Right you’re still going to have to provide information about yourself and what you’re seeking in another. Those who can get this done in a few lines of concise, compelling prose are going to quickly vault to front of the line.

What else? Applying to college? Writing a letter of complaint? Condolence? Holiday wishes? Newsletter for your charity? I could go on, but you get the idea. Becoming a better writer can result in a happier and more fulfilling life.

So what can you do to improve your writing skill? The Prime Directive to becoming a better writer is of course to write, write and write some more. And since writing is about putting words on paper, it only makes sense that the more words you know, the better able you are to express precisely whatever you’re intending to convey. There are over 600,000 words in the English language. An average 8th grader knows roughly 12,000; a high school grad 18,000-20,000 and college grads and post grads over 25,000. Shakespeare used over 30,000 words throughout his works. How many do you know? So along with the Prime Directive, my strongest recommendation for becoming a better writer is to work tirelessly to improve your vocabulary.

There are many ways to accomplish this. One of my favorite and most relaxing ways is to keep a dictionary by my side whenever I’m reading. (HINT: Great writers are also voracious readers.) Whenever an unfamiliar word appears, I first attempt to discern its meaning from the context of the passage, and only then do I look it up. I look through all the definitions, the origin of the word and the example of its use in a sentence. Then I begin to look for opportunities to use that new word in conversation or writing. This allows me to ‘own’ the new word. If I see an unfamiliar word and don’t have a dictionary handy, I’ll jot the word down and come back to it later. The key here is that I make it my mission to own every new word I come across.

There are many books you can use to help you improve your vocabulary as well as ‘Word of the Day’ calendars, apps and exercises. You should try them all and stick with what works for you. Great writers are Word Slayers… and Word Slayers Rule. So I’ll leave you with this Word Slayer Creed

  1. Commit to learning (and owning) at least 2-3 new words per week (that’s 100-150 words per year).
  2. Don’t use the new word in important spoken or written conversation until you own that word.
  3. Don’t use a five syllable word when a two syllable will do just fine. Appearing pedantic and pretentious can confound and divert your reader from a compelling and convincing argument.

Now go forth and slay some words today!

One of the classics I recommend is:

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40 Common Word Mistakes

40 Commom Word Mistakes Writers Make


40 Common Word Mistakes

by Jeff Hayden LinkedIn Influencer and Contributing Editor at Inc.

Most of you like to think you know a little about writing. Yet I’ll wager that many of you still struggle with a few word traps. Take the words “who” and “whom.” Most writers rarely use “whom” when they should — even when spell check suggests “whom”. Many think it sounds pretentious. So they use “who.”

And then they sound dumb.

Just like one misspelled word can get your resume tossed onto the “nope” pile, one incorrectly used word in your synopsis or proposal can impact your entire message and greatly decrease your chances of being accepted by an editor. Fairly or unfairly, it happens — so let’s make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Adverse and averse
Adverse means harmful or unfavorable: “Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed.” Averse refers to feelings of dislike or opposition: “I was averse to paying $18 a share for a company that generates no revenue.”
But hey, feel free to have an aversion to adverse conditions.

Affect and effect
Verbs first. Affect means to influence: “Impatient investors affected our roll-out date.” Effect means to accomplish something: “The board effected a sweeping policy change.”
How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them and can effect changes by directly implementing them. Bottom line, use effect if you’re making it happen, and affect if you’re having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.
As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: “Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects.” Affect refers to an emotional state, so unless you’re a psychologist you probably have little reason to use it.

Bring and take
Both have to do with objects you move or carry. The difference is in the point of reference: you bring things here and you take them there. You ask people to bring something to you, and you ask people to take something to someone or somewhere else.
“Can you bring an appetizer to John’s party”? Nope.

Compliment and complement
Compliment means to say something nice. Complement means to add to, enhance, improve, complete, or bring close to perfection.
I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings you have a full complement of staff. Or your new app may complement your website.
For which I may decide to compliment you.

Criteria and criterion
“We made the decision based on one overriding criteria,” sounds fairly impressive but is also wrong.
Remember: one criterion, two or more criteria. Or just use “reason” or “factors” and you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong.

Discreet and discrete
Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment: “We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company.”
Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct: “We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels.” And if you get confused, remember you don’t use “discretion” to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.

Elicit and illicit
Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract. If one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses.
Illicit means illegal or unlawful, and while I suppose you could elicit a response at gunpoint … you probably shouldn’t.

Farther and further
Farther involves a physical distance: “Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee.” Further involves a figurative distance: “We can take our business plan no further.”
So, as we say in the South (and that “we” has included me), “I don’t trust you any farther than I can throw you,” or, “I ain’t gonna trust you no further.”

Fewer and less
Use fewer when referring to items you can count, like “fewer hours” or “fewer dollars.”
Use “less” when referring to items you can’t (or haven’t tried to) count, like “less time” or “less money.”

Imply and infer
The speaker or writer implies, which means to suggest. The listener or reader infers, which means to deduce, whether correctly or not.
So I might imply you’re going to receive a raise. And you might infer that a pay increase is imminent. (But not eminent, unless the raise will somehow be prominent and distinguished.)

Insure and ensure
This one’s easy. Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure.
So if you promise an order will ship on time, ensure that it actually happens. Unless, of course, you plan to arrange for compensation if the package is damaged or lost — then feel free to insure away.
(While there are exceptions where insure is used, the safe move is to use ensure when you will do everything possible to make sure something happens.)

Irregardless and regardless
Irregardless appears in some dictionaries because it’s widely used to mean “without regard to” or “without respect to”… which is also what regardless means.
In theory the ir-, which typically means “not,” joined up with regardless, which means “without regard to,” makes irregardless mean “not without regard to,” or more simply, “with regard to.”
Which probably makes it a word that does not mean what you think it means.
So save yourself a syllable and just say regardless.

Number and amount
I goof these up all the time. Use number when you can count what you refer to: “The number of subscribers who opted out increased last month.” Amount refers to a quantity of something that can’t be counted: “The amount of alcohol consumed at our last company picnic was staggering.”
Of course it can still be confusing: “I can’t believe the number of beers I drank,” is correct, but so is, “I can’t believe the amount of beer I drank.” The difference is you can count beers, but beer, especially if you were way too drunk to keep track, is an uncountable total and makes amount the correct usage.

Precede and proceed
Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue. Where it gets confusing is when an -ing comes into play. “The proceeding announcement was brought to you by…” sounds fine, but preceding is correct since the announcement came before.
If it helps, think precedence: anything that takes precedence is more important and therefore comes first.

Principal and principle
A principle is a fundamental: “Our culture is based on a set of shared principles.” Principal means primary or of first importance: “Our startup’s principal is located in NYC.” (Sometimes you’ll also see the plural, principals, used to refer to executives or relatively co-equals at the top of a particular food chain.)
Principal can also refer to the most important item in a particular set: “Our principal account makes up 60% of our gross revenues.”
Principal can also refer to money, normally a sum that was borrowed, but can be extended to refer to the amount you owe — hence principal and interest.
If you’re referring to laws, rules, guidelines, ethics, etc., use principle. If you’re referring to the CEO or the president (or an individual in charge of a high school), use principal.

Slander and libel
Don’t like what people say about you? Like slander, libel refers to making a false statement that is harmful to a person’s reputation.
The difference lies in how that statement is expressed. Slanderous remarks are spoken while libelous remarks are written and published (which means defamatory tweets could be considered libelous, not slanderous).
Keep in mind what makes a statement libelous or slanderous is its inaccuracy, not its harshness. No matter how nasty a tweet, as long as it’s factually correct it cannot be libelous. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation; you might wish a customer hadn’t said something derogatory about your business… but if what that customer said is true then you have no legal recourse.

And now for those dreaded apostrophes:

It’s and its
It’s is the contraction of it is. That means it’s doesn’t own anything. If your dog is neutered (the way we make a dog, however much against his or her will, gender neutral), you don’t say, “It’s collar is blue.” You say, “Its collar is blue.”
Here’s an easy test to apply. Whenever you use an apostrophe, un-contract the word to see how it sounds. Turn it’s into it is: “It’s sunny,” becomes, “It is sunny.”
Sounds good to me.

They’re and their
Same with these: They’re is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn’t own anything. We’re going to their house, and I sure hope they’re home.

Who’s and whose
“Whose password hasn’t been changed in six months?” is correct. Use the non-contracted version of who’s, like, “Who is (the non-contracted version of who’s) password hasn’t been changed in six months?” and you sound a little silly.

You’re and your
One more. You’re is the contraction of you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you’re doesn’t own anything.

For a long time a local nonprofit displayed a huge sign that said, “You’re Community Place.”
Hmm. “You Are Community Place” I think not!


10 Ways to Screw up Working with an Editor

what doesnt kill  you makes you stronger

High Fives! After months and months… or years and years, you’re finally able to hold that completed manuscript in your hands.

Can you say “Next hit on the New York Times Bestsellers List? “Booyah!!”

Now what?

Well… you might feel ready to submit your manuscript to publishers. And you should, especially if you’ve gone through one, two, even three or more revisions.

Then again maybe you’d prefer to go the self-publishing route. Again, go for it. However, before embarking on either of these paths –especially if this is your first book- consider submitting your work for a review by a professional editor.

Why? Well, unless you’re already a commercially successful author, chances are your “new baby” isn’t the next Pulitzer Prize winner you and Aunt Trixie think it is.

Working with an editor is a fact of life for all successful writers.

Even if your manuscript is accepted by a publishing house, you should expect to have it critiqued by a professional editor with the expectation you, the author, will incorporate this feedback into yet another revision (or two…or more). The purpose of this process is to make your story as powerful as possible.

Unless Aunt Trixie is a trained professional word slayer, it’s next to impossible to accomplish this without the trained eye of an experienced editor.

Now this is important -we can pretty much guarantee that you’re going be upset when you get your manuscript back from an editor.

Three words to bear in mind:

Get Over It!

Okay, a few more words… If you’re committed to creating a masterful piece of prose, you’re going to need to learn how to work with an editor. But not all writers are wise enough -or open enough- to make the most of it. So our Editors have pointed to these 10 tips on how rookie writers (and even some veterans) can royally screw up the process of working with an editor.

1)    DON’T set aside time to revise your work based on the Editor’s feedback (if you don’t plan to do this, you are not ready for an editor)

2)    DON’T listen to feedback. Instead argue with your editor.  Stand your ground since they don’t understand what you’re trying to convey and should accept your writing as is. I mean, YOU KNOW, the reader will love it.

{Hint: The story needs to stand on its own. You’re not going to be there to explain yourself to each and every reader. In other words: Suck it up- you’re going to hear things you don’t like and it’s your job to fix it.}

3)    DO continue to tweak anything you’ve already sent to your editor! Continuing to revise your work after you’ve sent it to your editor is the surest way to confuse her and run up the cost of completing the editorial process.

4)    DON’T use spell check on your manuscript before sending it to an Editor. Why? It’s like showing up to an interview in shorts and flip flops. Heck, spend your dough on a professional to simply correct for laziness! You go War Bucks!

5)    DO ask a bunch of people to give their opinion of why your editor is wrong. Spend time and money trying to change your Editor’s mind.

{Hint: You’re paying an editor for advice. When you hire an editor, you’re stating that you trust them. Telling her that your friends think she’s wrong is the best way to convince your editor that you’re not a serious writer.}

Tim Staveteig My Literary Coach has this to add,

6)    DON’T form a partnership with your editor. They are idiots. Wing it Baby!

7)    DO assume your editor is out to ruin your book, make you look silly, or punish you for their bad childhood.

8)    DO think your book is just the way you want it and no major changes are warranted.

{Hint: Publishers assume your manuscript is plastic—that is, it can be remolded to fit specific readers or market conditions.}

9)    DON’T follow your editor’s direction. You’re the brightest bulb in this field of tulips!

10) DO assume the editor is an unqualified idiot not capable of writing prose with your command of the language.

{Editors read books and book reviews in their genres. Over time, they develop personal lists of where to focus editorial energy. When an editor flags something in your manuscript for review, they will apply their wisdom of how book strategies work in the marketplace. Your editor is saying, “This doesn’t work very well. Here is how I would change it.” You don’t need to accept exactly what the editor has written. Yet, you need to address the issue that has been flagged until your editor is satisfied that the piece will do the job it’s intended to.}

You’ve worked long and hard on your manuscript. Don’t you owe it to yourself to seek professional advice to make it shine? Of course you don’t…. you know it all! ….yeah.