Further Proof that Spellcheckers Suck

Here’s my sentence: 

A thunderous roar could be heard throughout the valley as 300,000 armed Gauls rumbled toward the Roman encampments.

Here’s Word Spellcheck’s suggestion: 

A thunderous roar could be heard throughout the valley as 300,000-armed Gauls rumbled toward the Roman encampments.

No, you know what? I take it back. That’s MUCH better. 

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Grammar or Sex? Decisions, decisions…

I was visiting the “Ask an Editor” section of John Ward’s Writer’s Discussion Group on Google+ — because I’m like that — and found this interesting little glimpse into how we editors think: Then vs Than

Which proves one thing for sure: editors would rather talk about grammar THAN sex.

And THEN, I flashed back on a personal WordNerd moment, because “then” vs “than” gave me one of my earliest hints that I would be an editor (for good or ill). (Most would say ill.)

I was reading about some ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT science… thingy in 8th grade, and came across a “then” that ought to have been a “than”. In a textbook. For shame!

I brought it up to my science teacher: “This should be ‘than’, right?”

He — apparently in the “oh, you know what I mean!” camp — said, “Yes, I suppose it should.”

Well, I didn’t mean to ask him whether there was a mistake (there was) or whether my correction was… correct (it was). What I was really asking, as seemed entirely clear to me, was this:

“There is a glaringly obvious error in this book; may I write in the book to fix it? Please? Because otherwise it will bother me from now until the end of time?”

But, of course, this otherwise brilliant man did not fully appreciate the error as the ELE it clearly was. I plowed ahead: “May I write in the book to fix it?”

I think “bemused” would be the best word for his expression; he apparently found it charmingly odd that I would a) notice, b) care, c) go so far as to fix the error, and mostly d) find such obvious heart-and-soul satisfaction in doing so.

I knew I wasn’t… I won’t say “normal”, maybe “typical” is a better word. I wasn’t a typical kid when it came to language. My parents loved language, and I didn’t realize that people who found hyper-precise word choice a positive laugh riot were few and far between.

For example, here’s a family-culture joke from my childhood. Let’s say there was a cake in the fridge. (There wasn’t. Like, ever. But let’s just say.) Given that there wasn’t EVER a cake in the fridge, such a thing would hardly go unnoticed or, for that matter, uneaten. Because cake.

“This cake,” one of my parents would declaim, “is PURPLE.”

Which meant that it was not to be touched — or, most especially, eaten — because it was reserved for some special purpose. Why purple? Because why say something boring like “off limits” when it would be ridiculously precise — and therefore highly amusing — to say…? 10 points if you can guess…?


And thus, “purple”.*

Because, come on! That’s comedy gold right there!

At least I thought so in 8th grade, about the time I was so genuinely, physically pained by a word-choice error in a textbook that I felt the need to actually write in said textbook — a major infraction — to correct it.

And, looking back, I suppose I should have registered the importance of my science teacher’s bemusement. At the time, I could not hear the cosmic “Yoink!” of predestination. At the time, I was just too chuffed about crossing out “then” with a neat little rectangle and printing “than” above it in my best approximation of the font in the textbook.

And so, yeah. Editor. And as I heave a heavy sigh and DRAAAAAG myself to my computer every morning, I look back on that moment and think to myself…

“Somebody wants to PAY me for this? Woo-hoo!”

…and I happily swap “then”s for “than”s all the doo-dah-day!



*It occurs to me now that it would have been funnier to announce “this cake is NOT PURPLE!” Because INviolate. Get it?

(cricket… cricket…)

OK, nevermind.

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Filed under Editors: What is Wrong with Us?, Nerd Candy, Nerd o' the Day

Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors

“What do we get out of this exchange, other than Elle’s stubborn resistance to having a catfish chew on her arm?”

OK, if the title didn’t, THAT little gem has to get you — how do you not click immediately to read the excerpt that inspired a glorious sentence like that? You don’t. I mean, you do. Click, that is…

Oh, just click already; it’s K. M. Weiland, how do you go wrong there?!

(You don’t!)

via Most Common Mistakes: Animate Body Parts – Helping Writers Become Authors.

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In Melbourne, storytelling becomes big business | SmartPlanet

There’s a new breed of consultants cropping up in Melbourne’s corporate landscape. They believe that what they teach can achieve powerful, tangible results, like creating loyalty and engaging with customers, affecting profit margins and radically improving employee performance. Some call it a “secret sauce”, others simply call it “storytelling.”

In the city’s central business district a handful of early adopters are advocating storytelling’s universal application, claiming it has the potential to become part of MBA programs and a key competency for entrepreneurs. One such proponent is Yamini Naidu, co-director at One Thousand and One, a global thought leader in business communication.

The Melburnian declares storytelling as the number one business skill for the 21st century. Across the world, people want to feel connected to the leaders they work for and organization they work in, and storytelling is a powerful way of doing this.

via In Melbourne, storytelling becomes big business | SmartPlanet.

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A Few Minutes with an Editor: An Occasional Series by Dispatches from Wordnerdia

Very, VERY occasionally, someone will ask me what an editor does all day. Very, VERY often, the answer is so far from their personal conception of “things I could stand to do for even one second” they get this expression as if I had told them I sit around playing Stabscotch all day: “Why on Earth would you do that to yourself?”

<digression> Interesting Idioms! A common idiom in Mexico for an activity that is painful and unrewarding — somewhat like “banging [my] head against a brick wall” — is “pulling out [my] eyelashes just to burn them.” Ten points to anyone who posts the Spanish translation in the comments. </digression>

Of course, some people think the world of editors, and say so! “Really? Wow. Editors are magic.” (Yes, that is a direct quote.)

But I’d say most people are in the first group, and it is for their entertainment that I would like to share a few moments, now and then, from my actual work. For example:


Today, I spent a GREAT DEAL OF TIME searching for the names of ancient Gaulish tribes. Why? Because (fun fact!) there are about a hundred possible misspellings of each tribal name — not to mention allowable variants because of course they’re all in GAULISH* — and they are ALL in this manuscript.


*OK, fine, “Gallic” is the more common name, but “Gaulish” is funnier. It’s an allowable variant!


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The Tyranny of Imagination

I have realized lately that one factor, at least, in getting blocked or wandering away from a piece of writing is that I am — stick with me, this sounds stupid, but let me explain — I am afraid of my writer’s imagination. When I sit down to write, I may have the best plan in the world, but then just… stuff… happens. Oh! — my helpful imagination will supply — this character is naturally wary because she was in one of those B-movie, 1950s girls reform schools, fell in love with a guard who broke her out, and while on the run they discovered her natural talent for X, which led them into…

And now I’m writing that. Whether I want to or not, because it is now undisputed head canon for this character and I have to nail it down.

A friend of mine goes to a secluded ferry-access-only island for a month each summer, where her children and husband do… whatever it is that non-writers do, and she writes. She sent me a text the other day, “Hey, guess what?! Ryan’s mother has undiagnosed Aspergers!” I understood what she meant exactly — this little fact INTRUDED itself upon her story and now it’s just true.

OK, fine — unsettling. But actively frightening?

Well, yes! Because my God, what NEXT? It’s like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf where he kills off their imaginary child!

Not only that, but what if it’s wrong? Or, more precisely, what if this new information makes everything else I’ve written wrong? What if, ok, she was in a 1950s B-movie girls reform school… but that would mean she’s 107 years old. Now I have to account for that, somehow. Brilliant.

And even if my imagination doesn’t sling something disruptive at me, there’s plenty of discomfort left over because I am blessed and/or cursed with states of intense hyperfocus and words are infallible triggers for that. A positive boon for my career as an editor, but a genuine problem in the rest of my life, as six straight hours are rarely available to me for writing, and when that feeling comes on me, I guarantee I won’t want to stop before then. But of course, I must, and dragging myself out of that state can be really difficult. Sometimes it seems like it’s easier just not to go there at all.

And there you have it — instant block.

What to do? Well, I would think the solution would be obvious: rearrange the world such that I have an unquestioned minimum of six uninterrupted hours per day of writing time. Seems simple enough.

Get on that, would you?

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“It Writes the Words or It Gets the Hose” -OR- Why Kristin Lamb is Awesome

So, you know Kristin Lamb? I was just looking at…

No? No, seriously? Kristin Lamb? #MyWANA? http://www.warriorwriters.wordpress.com?

Oh, honey, you gotta get out more. Or stay in more. Or something.


Anyway, I was just  looking at a recent post, “Ten ways for an ADD writer to be… OOH! SHINY!… Productive.” Now, first of all, this is a great post. GREAT post. Something for everyone (at least everyone who doesn’t have iron clad focus, which is most of us to one degree or another.)  My favorite tip is her “Swiss Cheese Approach,” which is the same general idea as “Knock a Hole In It” — everything looks easier after you hack some chunks out of it. The really important point is this: once you have a solid sense of all the parts of a project, you do not have to start at the beginning. Unless you’re in construction — in which case yes, please, start with the foundation. But otherwise, if the very first part holds no appeal, by all means, knock a hole somewhere else. 

Then, somewhat by the way as a sort of We Are Not Alone inspiration, Kristin Lamb wrote:

“It writes the words or it gets the hose.”

OH MY GOD. See, this probably seemed like just a quippety quip to her, something the muses flang her way in a moment of schmabulosity, but you don’t understand.

This is a line from “The Silence of the Lambs”. It is said to a character named Catherine Martin (played by Brooke Smith).

Catherine Martin is my HERO.

Now, the movie is not for everyone — what with the kidnapping and murder and eating of body parts with fava beans and a nice chianti — but Catherine Martin is, and here’s why:

In a nutshell, Catherine Martin is every straight-up awesome friend you have, driving back to her apartment complex one night, singing along to Tom Petty: “Oh yeah, all right, take it easy baby, make it last (make it last all night), she was an American girl…”.

She is, in fact, an American girl. Thus, when she arrives home, she is a) helpful enough and b) strong enough to take one end of the couch for the guy with the full arm cast who is trying (and failing) to heft it into his truck.

But she is an American girl. So if the bad guy is clever enough to get her into his truck and slam the door and take her to his spooky-a$$ lair and drop her down a dry well, he ought to be clever enough to know that you really shouldn’t kidnap an American girl and drop her down a dry well because she will lure your fluffy little one-stomp dog down there and she will kill it if you don’t let her out.

Oughtn’t he? He ought.

Catherine Martin is why “it writes the words or it gets the hose” is so brilliant as a motivator. Because when Catherine Martin hears those infuriating words (which, in the film, are actually “it uses the lotion or it gets the hose” but that’s a whole other story) she does not cringe or cower. (Much.) For the most part, she’s just mad as hell. And she’s using all that anger as fuel while she plots her escape. Which involves a healthy dose of revenge, because guess what?

She keeps the bad guy’s dog.


So “it writes the words or it gets the hose” works for me. Not because of the hose. Because screw you, that’s why.

Oh, and, P.S.?

I’m keeping the novel.

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