Archive for February, 2012

Loving and Caring for Books

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

It’s no secret that I love books. And although I happily take advantage of the convenience that e-books can lend, in my mind they’re still no substitute for a real, hard copy book.

Our house has plenty of walls filled with books. My mother likes to say that the last time she mentioned that I should sort through and clear some out because we were running out of space, I looked at her like she’d suggested that I give away my firstborn child. The difference being, of course, that I don’t yet have a firstborn child, while many of these books have been with me for years. As I see it, the answer to running out of space is “build more shelves,” not “get rid of books.”

So yes, I’m very attached to my books.

Beyond that, I was also taught from the time I was little that books should be properly cared for. Books shouldn’t get stepped on, spilled on, or bent. I admit, in an “emergency” I occasionally used unusual temporary bookmarks (up to and including the occasional shoe), but rather than through carelessness, it was because I couldn’t bear to damage pages, even through dog-earing to save my place.

Yes,  accidents happen – especially when you’re carrying the book around everywhere you go. But it pains me whenever a once-new book acquires a damaged cover or wrinkled pages.

I do wonder, though, if maintaining pristine condition is really the best expression of love for a book. Some of my most-loved books are now held together only by cautious handling and duct tape, simply because of the sheer number of times they’ve been read.

And although I certainly have no trouble taking a highlighter and “red pen of doom” to a manuscript I’m editing, it goes against all my instincts to write in a book I’ve purchased, even if only to mark my favorite passages. But I’ve realized that I do love to come across others’ notes and underlined sections in the used books that I buy or check out of the library.

It’s an odd contradiction that I’ve only recently noticed, and I think it may be about time for me to relax some of my ideas about the “proper” treatment of books. If nothing else, maybe I can make someone who comes along after me stop and pay a little more attention to some of the parts I love best.

What about you? How do you care for the books you love? Do you think that appreciation is best expressed by carefully preserving it in good condition, or do you prefer the idea of making a book your own, and see the stains and wrinkles and marks that come with it as only giving the book more character? Does it depend on the type of book?

Grabbing Attention… the Right Way.

Friday, February 17th, 2012

The other day, my father came across a news article that he just had to bring to my attention. Not because of the contents of the article itself… but because of the headline:

Columbian Priests Hired Hitmen to Kill Themselves

Now, reading that, the logical assumption might be that the hitmen had been hired to kill … well, themselves. Which, admittedly, would be an interesting way of combating violent crime, but I can hardly picture very many hitmen considering it worth the money.

If you read the article, of course, you’ll see that the reality was rather different: it was the priests who decided to commit suicide-by-hitmen.

It reminded me, in a way, of something I saw while driving past a video rental store some time ago. They had placed this sign in the window:

As you can see, there were no other signs nearby, nothing to clarify their meaning. Since I was in the car and only had a cell phone camera I wasn’t able to get a good closeup at the time, but with a bit of searching I found a picture (from another store in the same chain) that shows the smaller words more clearly:

Free Kids at Hollywood Video

Yep. That’s it. The fine print simply says “See store for details” – twice. Are there free kids’ movies? Free movie rentals to children? Are they running some other sort of children’s program for which they don’t charge? That’s a whole lot of “detail” left out, leaving the passersby with only the information that … they are apparently giving away children at these stores. And here I was under the impression that that might be just a little bit, well, illegal, to say the least. One has to wonder whether this particular promotional is in any way responsible for the fact that the store went out of business shortly thereafter.

In both these cases, the initial goal was achieved, in a way: the words did grab attention. The problem is, they did so in a way that was very misleading.

There are lots of ways that that can happen in writing. Sometimes we’re just not thinking things through, or stopping to consider how our words will come across to others. (Either through laziness, or simply because we know what we meant, and it doesn’t occur to us that that might not be what our words actually said.) Other times the misleading element is intentional, designed to startle readers into paying closer attention.

Now, that latter approach can be effective, especially when paired with a humorous approach to a subject. Sometimes it can be just the thing to make a title stand out to potential readers and arouse their curiosity.

It does, however, require a bit of caution in your approach. An unexpected title or first line may catch a reader’s attention, but you still need to keep it. If you fail in that task, the reader will be disappointed – and may even resent the bait-and-switch approach, feeling that you’ve tricked them into thinking this was going to be more interesting than it really was.

Whatever the subject or tone, it’s important to pay attention, and consider your reader’s perspective as well as your own intent.  Take time to re-read what you’ve written, and ask yourself: Am I actually saying what I think I’m saying?

Vocabulary

Friday, February 10th, 2012

The comedian isn’t one whose work I was previously familiar with, but I must say this retelling of The Three Little Pigs is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. (Link will take you to a Youtube video – I would’ve embedded it directly, but it doesn’t seem to work here.) A thought-provoking, as well as entertaining, look at the breadth of vocabulary commonly seen in older books, as opposed to what most people are familiar with today.

The question of which words to use is one that all authors give some thought to, to one degree or another (or should, at any rate!).

No, of course we don’t want to send readers to the dictionary with every other word we use. But I think we could all agree that writers should work to develop their vocabularies, and that a love of words is a definite asset to anyone in the craft, and can enrich our writing considerably.

English is a rich language, and it’s a shame to see the number of words we can assume the average reader will be familiar with dwindling.

Beginnings

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Beginnings are hard. Whether it’s a book, an article, or a blog, it’s hard to decide on that perfect introduction. That attention-grabbing first sentence. It’s all too easy to give in to the intimidation of the blank page and hesitate, thinking that it will all go so much better if you just wait for inspiration to strike: once you have that perfect start, it’ll be smooth sailing.

But the truth is, if you wait until you’ve got it right, you’re likely to be waiting forever. And since, as they say, it’s easier to steer a moving car, the best way to write well is to start out by just writing. It’s easier to work with a rough draft than with nothing at all—and as often as not, just getting going is the hardest part. And if it’s true in other areas, it’s likely to prove true in blogs as well!

My mother (who is a writer) likes to say that the only reason I became an editor is so that I could tell her what to do. But, of course, there’s more to it than that.

 

I’ve loved reading almost as long as I can remember. Since I was little, I’ve read voraciously—stories, especially, but hardly exclusively. When books were forbidden at the table, the backs of cereal boxes or ketchup bottles would do.

It certainly contributed a lot to my education, especially since, as I grew up, my parents were careful to direct me toward good, worthwhile books and made sure all that time I had my nose stuck in a book was well spent. It wasn’t until my sister took an interest in fiction writing that it occurred to me that all that passion for the written word might have further uses. As she asked for my help with correcting her mistakes before she showed her work to anyone else, or wanted ideas on how to improve her stories or work out tricky plot problems, I discovered that I really enjoyed the editing side of the process, far more than I’d ever liked actually writing.

Things snowballed from there, and I was actually working as an editor (for friends, relatives, and relatives of friends) for some time before I put a name to it and started to seriously consider doing it professionally. The more I worked with writers, the more I wanted to read and study so that I could do it better. I asked for advice from an acquaintance who’d worked as an editor, and he gave me some tips for starting out, along with a list of still more books I should read.

I’ve been working professionally as an editor for about seven or eight years now. In addition to a working on wide variety of freelance projects during that time, I’m now entering my sixth year of editing for TEACH (now Eternal Encouragement) magazine.

I’ve come to realize that, while I love all the ins and outs of grammar and words themselves, what I love most is working one-on-one with writers—helping them improve their current work, but also encouraging, and urging them on to become the best writers that they can be.

So that’s how I got here! Or at least part of it. I don’t expect this blog to be particularly profound most days, but I hope you’ll find something here to inform, entertain, and maybe even help you as you go about the writing process.