Safeguard Your Credibility

Note: This post was originally scheduled for sometime in 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

For anyone who’s interested, The Professional Fiction Writer: A Year in the Life is available for preorder in all electronic venues. It will ship on January 15.

Also, while I’m pushing help for writers here, I can’t do better than recommend you read Dean Wesley Smith’s recent post titled “Once More… For the New Year… Pulp Speed.” This one is massively important for anyone who wants to be a professional fiction writer. To see it, click this link: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/once-more-for-the-new-year-pulp-speed/.

Hi Folks,

A long time ago, those who made their living with the written or spoken word obeyed two self-imposed rules:

  1. they knew the language intimately, and
  2. they applied that knowledge skillfully.

It seems that level of commitment has become the exception rather than the rule.

Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Edwin Newman, Mark Twain, Papa Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and countless other professional writers studied the language and knew the meanings (both denotation and connotation in all its delightful intimacies) and spellings of the words they used.

They also knew and applied the rules of grammar and syntax, not because they had to, but because they knew it would enhance reader understanding. And they themselves wouldn’t look like blithering morons.

Those news professionals and writers took no chances that their readers might misunderstand, and they took no chances that their readers or listeners might think them ignorant. And yet the battlecry of contemporary so-called professionals seems to be “Well, it’s close enough. The readers will know what I was trying to say.”

I mention Murrow, Cronkite and Newman because they were news professionals who wrote and read the news on radio and television. I mention them because today’s news professionals apparently don’t know that “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not “probably.”

They don’t understand that a “weapons cache” (pronounced “cash”) is a store of weapons and that “weapons cachet” makes no sense at all to a thinking person. Why? Because a “cachet” (pronounced “cashay”) is an aroma, not a stored collection of weapons or anything else.

And worst of all, at least to me, they don’t understand that such errors DO matter. In fact, they are grievous affronts to our language and to the writing profession as a whole.

A recent correspondent mentioned that in a Michael Crichton novel she repeatedly saw statements like “I better be going” instead of “I’d better be going”  (this would be okay in dialogue, but not in narrative) or  “would of” and “could of” in place of “would’ve” and “could’ve” (this would not be all right in dialogue or narrative). And this is an author whose works regularly populate the bestseller lists.

So what’s going on? Are these usages simply considered acceptable now?

Sadly, the answer is yes.

They are considered acceptable because it’s much easier to simply accept something as “good enough” than to expend the effort to teach students the correct way to spell and the rules of grammar and syntax.

Consider, the word “acceptable” doesn’t even mean “adequate.” It simply means “good enough.” If it were a letter grade, “acceptable” would be a D, and “adequate” would be a C.

In other words, it’s a soup sandwich, sloppy at best.

“The Reader Will Know What I Mean”

Umm, no, Sparky. Bad writer. It isn’t the reader’s responsibility to figure out what you mean.

That responsibility belongs to the person who puts the words on the page, and um, that would be You.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to simply ask the teachers in public schools to begin (please) teaching their students proper grammar and syntax. Many of today’s teachers can’t do so because they don’t know it themselves.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen in written works that a room was “void” of furniture. Of course, the writer meant “devoid.”

In the manuscript I’m currently working on (back when I wrote this) a character “embarked from” a train. Yes, I changed it to “disembarked.”

The writer or speaker can “imply” something; only the reader or listener can “infer,” yet increasing numbers of writers treat those terms as if they’re interchangeable.

  • Would you want your next surgery to be conducted by a guy who barely made it through med school?
  • Would you want the guy who’s adjusting your heater to get it ready for the winter to do a job that’s just passable?
  • Would you want a contractor whose buildings routinely barely pass inspection?

The fact that increasing numbers of writers accept “good enough” as a standard is an abomination that contributes more every day to the dumbing down of America.

And to any writer who’s worth his or her salt, “good enough” is never good enough. You’re an artisan, one who strives constantly to perfect your craft. And that, my friends, is “good enough.”

Next up, more on safeguarding your credibility as a writer.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

THIS JUST IN FROM KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH: If you have ANY books with All Romance Ebooks/OmniLit, read Kris’ post here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/business-musings-7624150. This is an advance look at her post from later this week.

Two other links that might help are these:

All Romance Ebooks Closing

All Romance Ebooks Suddenly Closing

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

The Saga of the Adverb-Finder Thingy

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

A correspondent on a ListServ I used to attend regularly wrote that she was searching for the name of “a bit of editing software that would highlight all adverbs if you typed search adverbs or all verbs if you typed search verbs.”

Hackles rose on my neck. Here we are, back to the topic that won’t die: the dumbing down of America.

This is a writer’s slippery slope.

Searching for, finding, installing and using software that highlights all adverbs put the writer a tempting single click away from deleting all adverbs. And that’s just plain silly. I strongly advise against such software, even if you can find it.

If you believe perhaps you’re using too many adverbs, follow these two simple guidelines. The third point is a tidbit of important parenthetical information (and no, parenthetical information doesn’t have to be enclosed in parentheses):

  1. Never use an adverb in a tag line (the bit of he said, she said narrative that doesn’t make sense by itself and is most often attached to the dialogue with a comma). If the narrator has described the scene well enough, you won’t need adverbs in tag lines.
  2. Use only strong action verbs in your narrative sentences. This will cause all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to fall away of their own accord. If you use only strong action verbs, you will consciously select only necessary adverbs and adjectives to modify the picture you’re placing in the reader’s mind. Again, this will occur naturally. It’s as easy as falling off a stack of platitudes.
  3. Despite what some folks say, not every word that ends in “ly” is an adverb. For example, the widely misused “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not an adverb that’s synonymous with “probably.”

English just isn’t a one-rule-fits-all language. DESPITE Mark Twain, who once wrote that when you find an adverb you should kill it, and DESPITE the felonious intent of wannabe writing instructors who tell their charges to use no more than three (or five or some other arbitrary number) of exclamation points per page.

I’ve heard similar advice concerning the use of em dashes (long dashes) and colons and semicolons. And of course we’ve all been taught that hunting season never closes on state-of-being verbs or “had” or gerunds (many alleged writing instructors call gerunds “ing words”) because those three word-types cause passive voice.

Uhh, no, they don’t, Grasshopper.

State-of-being verbs by themselves do not cause passive voice, and neither the word “had” nor those pesky “ing words” are within a thousand mles of having anything to do with passive voice.

Although it’s true that adverbs can clutter up your writing, some adverbs in some situations are necessary. And “necessary” is the key word. See item 3 above.

The secret to good usage is not to get rid of “all” adverbs, state-of-being verbs, instances of “had,” adjectives, or anything else, but to get rid of any unnecessary adverbs, state-of-being verbs, adjectives, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, narrative, and dialogue.

It is the Human Mind (yours) that should determine which words and sentences and paragraphs remain and in what sequence.

Okay, here are a few guidelines (flexible, not “rules”) you can apply to your own writing:

  1. The state-of-being verbs are am, is, are, was, were, be, being and been. When one of these is used in conjunction with a “by phrase” (e.g., The pizza was delivered by Harvey) you’ve written a passive construction (or passive voice). Passive constructions, unless you’re writing a service manual for a vacuum cleaner, are bad.
  2. Some state-of-being verbs are necessary. To describe the size or relative size (the state of being) of a city, you have to use a state-of-being verb.  But don’t allow your narrator to describe the state of being of a character. (Don’t let him say “John was angry” or “John was livid” or “Joaquin was frightened” etc.)
  3. Use Your Mind. Despite what your  father said, it’s a wonderful thing. The human mind is the original spell checker, the original grammar checker, and the original verb and adverb-finder thingy.
  4. As part of using your mind, Read Your Work Aloud. If it sounds good to you, it will sound good in the reader’s mind. If you hit a spot that sounds awkward or rough, that’s because it’s, you know, awkward or rough. Fix it.

Remember that you’re only in charge until the reader gets hold of your work. Only You can decide what to leave in or omit from your writing, but only the reader gets to determine whether it’s necessary or distracting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Defining “A Huge Amount of Time”

Hi Folks,

Well, here we are with another post that isn’t part of the usual series. Still, even with these that are not part of the normal series, I try to pass along what I’ve learned as a writer.

This post is the result of an email I received in response to a recent short story of the week. The respondent (also a writer) writes,

[H]ow do you manage to get all these  stories edited?  Congratulations on your many stories…wow, one a week- sort of takes a huge amount of time.

I didn’t respond to him as thoroughly as I wanted to or probably should have, but I’ve grown a bit gun shy recently.

What I did tell him is that I send the stories to a first reader and then publish them. I told him I follow Heinlein’s Rules and that I follow a process called Writing Into the Dark. I said like Bradbury, I believe “plot” is what the characters leave behind as they run through the story. And finally I said I write about 1000 words per hour so writing a short story per week really doesn’t take up all that much time.

Then I got to thinking, I kind of enjoy writing these little interim posts, the ones that appear between the posts in the normal ten-day rotation, so why not write one about this and expand on my answer to him? After all, if even one writer out there gets an aha moment from it, that will be great for that one writer.

For the majority, who will think this is all hooey or that Heinlein’s Rules can’t possibly work for anyone but SF writers or whatever, well, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to help them anyway. They’ll have to just keep doing what they’re doing, and that’s fine with me.

But for that one guy, that one woman, for whom the little light might come on, here’s what I should have written in response to the gentleman’s email:

I don’t have the stories edited, per se. I do have a first reader (and copy editor) read over them and look for inconsistencies, wrong words (e.g. waist vs. waste), etc. but nothing else. The cost of the copy edit, like the cost of the cover and the time involved in writing the story, is an investment. Whatever that total cost is, that’s all I’m ever going to put into it. Yet the story will earn income for me and my heirs from the time I publish it until 70 years after I die.

If it costs you $150 (time writing plus cover plus edit) to publish a story, and you make only $15 per year on that story from all sales venues, that’s a ten percent Return On Investment. Not too shabby. And if you’re smart you publish every short story on its own plus in a five-story collection plus in a ten-story collection. So for every story I write, I have three streams of revenue.

So here’s what I do. Per Heinlein’s Rules,

  1. You must write. (I write.)
  2. You must finish what you write. (I finish what I write.)
  3. You must not rewrite except to editorial order, and then only if you agree. (I don’t rewrite.)
  4. You must put your work on the market. (I publish what I write so readers can buy it.)
  5. You must keep your work on the market. (I keep it published so more writers can buy it.)

Writing a short story per week isn’t a problem for me because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Does it take some time? Yes. About one hour per 1000 words plus an hour to design a cover and publish it. But what else am I gonna do? I’m a writer. Writers write.

Would you say to a mechanic, “Man, you put in one carburetor per week? That must sort of take a huge amount of time.” If he’s a mechanic, what else is he gonna do?

As I also told my respondent, writing a story per week isn’t a problem. The problem is having to stop working on the current novel to write the story. Over the first 15 days of March 2015, I wrote 30,852 new words of fiction. That’s only a little over 2000 words per day, so right at 2 hours per day.

From January 1, 2015 through March 15, 2015 (so 74 days), I’ve written 172,354 words of new fiction. Still, that’s only 2329 words per day. That’s less than 3 hours per day. I’m currently working on two novels. For those of you who have read the Wes Crowley series (Leaving Amarillo, Longing for Mexico, and South to Mexico), I’m currently writing a prequel to Leaving Amarillo and a sequel to South to Mexico. It’s absolutely the greatest fun I’ve ever had.

I mentioned earlier I write about 1000 words per hour. If that seems like a lot, divide it by 60. You’ll find that 1000 words per hour is only 17 words per minute. Can you write 17 words in a minute?

Now, my respondent was impressed that I write a short story per week. He said it “sort of takes a huge amount of time.” But I’m a writer. Why do folks—and especially other writers—find it unusual that I want to (or can) Just Do My Job (write) three or four or five hours per day? Is that really “a huge amount of time”? Not if you’re a writer.

Life is all about priorities, and we each set our own. I mean, if you have other things in your life that are more important to you than writing, then spending three hours per day writing probably would seem like a lot of time to you. But to me, walking along the beach for three hours would seem a horrible waste of time. Watching TV for more than about an hour per day would be excruciating.

I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else than writing, because I’m a writer and writing is my priority.

Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I love to write. It’s all I do.” I can relate. At one point during his career, Bradbury was writing a short story every day.

More than one time during his long career, Harlan Ellison set up a small desk and a chair and typewriter in the display window of a department store and wrote stories “live.” As he rolled a completed sheet of paper out of the typewriter, he’d tape it to the window so people outside could read the story as he was writing it.

Writers write. That’s all. Writers write.

If you want to be a prolific writer (if you want to make your living as a writer) you don’t have to write  garbage, and you don’t have to be a “hack” writer. You just have to put the hours in the chair.

What you do have to do is stop rewriting and polishing your original voice off everything you write. Follow Heinlein’s Rules. And instead of being the great Writer God On High directing the little characters, step down off your pedestal and run through the story WITH them. Enjoy.

I promise, it will be the most fun you’ve ever had.

Harvey

PS: If you’d like to learn some of these techniques and you live in or near Tucson, I’m teaching what will probably be the final presentation of Writing the Character Driven Story in Tucson on Saturday, March 28. We’ll begin at 9 a.m. and go all day. If you want in, email me pronto and I’ll send the rest of the info. I have only a couple of slots left.

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

A Bunch of New Stuff

Hi Folks,

Yeah, I know it isn’t the 10th or 20th or 30th, but then again this isn’t a normal blog post about writing. I mean, it’s about writing in a way, but first it’s about my website.

I’ve made a lot of changes to the site. The first is a general reorganization. I added a sidebar, made my new picture the subscription button, moved my Meet Harvey stuff (formerly Connect with Harvey) over under my picture, added some things I believe in and recent posts under that.

Over on the right side is an extremely important blogroll (especially the first link) if you are serious about Being A Writer. Below that are a series of links to writers’ resources. If you explore it, you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t… well, suffer. 🙂

The menu across the top of the page has changed too, with a couple of exciting additions. I changed the former Events tab to read Calendar. (By the way, my complete series of core seminars are scheduled now. Take a look so you don’t miss the ones you need.) On the far right end of the menu, you’ll see a Downloads tab. If you click that, you will find some valuable information, and it’s free. Click one or more of those links and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll be adding more information papers and documents and ebooks to the Downloads page as I think of new stuff to give away.

The next tab to the left is extremely exciting to me because it represents a new venture: if you click Lecture Series and read that page, you’ll see wheat I mean. In the coming weeks I’ll be recording video lectures on all of the topics and subtopics you see there. Once I get a few recorded and available, I’ll announce that through this blog. Then anyone who’s interested can sign up and begin viewing the ones they would like to view. If you prefer to simply revisit the page from time to time, as the lectures become available I’ll highlight the title in bold blue.

Finally, there will be other changes coming. I’ve decided to divest myself—albeit very slowly—of my publishing responsibilities at StoneThread. I won’t be entertaining any new submissions or extending any of the current contracts. If you know someone who would like to buy StoneThread, let me know. This change will enable me to return to my first love, Writing. Of course, I’ll still make my living as an editor, writing instructor, eformatter and ebook cover designer.

By the way, StoneThread is participating in Read an Ebook Week over at Smashwords. From now through March 8, all our ebooks are absolutely free. Just go to Smashwords Read an Ebook Week and enter coupon code RW100 during checkout to get your selections free of charge. Note: this is a Smashwords promotion, so it doesn’t work at Amazon or Apple or Barnes & Noble. If you poke around over there, you’ll find that a lot of my personal titles are free this week too. Same coupon code applies.

I think that’s it for this time. Oh, if you need the Microsoft Word Essentials for Writers seminar I’m teaching on March 15, you might want to check your calendar and sign up. It’s filling up fairly quickly.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey