Tighten Up Your Writing #6

A 370-word post in which we realize that things in the past are not happening “now”.

Spaceballs now

Right after Christmas, I finished my mid-draft, which represents the complete book before I check for plot holes, inconsistencies, and other mechanical issues. It’s the first time I read the story straight through and it’s the first time I print out the manuscript to give it a thorough redlining.

I also use blue and green lines, and a yellow highlighter, so perhaps I need a new term.

It’s a time when you sit back and try to enjoy the story (I did!). This additional distance means you’re seeing things you couldn’t when you were nose deep in the writing (oh boy, did I!). I discovered my overuse of the word “now”, which is an odd writing choice when the verbs of the book are all past tense. If you’re not a grammar nerd, it’s the difference between “We walked now” and “We are walking now”.

After Control-F’ing the word (trying saying that in mixed company), I found far too many instances. I was using it as an unnecessary adverb, a way to transition into a new sentence, or as an awkward conjunction. Here’s a list of all the ways I used it.

  • for now
  • until now
  • even now
  • before now
  • by now
  • now that
  • from now on
  • right now

In nearly every case, the writing still made sense after I deleted the phrase. Not only that, the sentences felt stronger, tighter. Better.

  • She was content for now
    • She felt content
  • He’d never heard of such a thing before now
    • He’d never heard of such a thing
  • Even now, after all these years, the pain flared brightly in his memory
    • The old pain flared brightly in his memory

These edits decreased my word count by more than five hundred. That wasn’t my primary reason for doing it, of course. I wanted to tighten up the writing. It’s surprising how many unnecessary words a draft includes, not to mention, how we don’t miss them when they’re gone.

Good luck with your writing and enjoy your Control-F’ing!

–Mike

PS: When you Control-F “now”, “know” also shows up in the results. Guess which overused word I’m replacing next?

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How a typo nearly cost me $3000 dollars

Here’s a delightful tale about my adventures in taxation last year. It’s about 450 words and a quick read. As with any post I write about typos, I’m sure there’s at least one.

I love Turbo Tax. Our taxes are relatively simple and don’t require the services of an expert. Some might say these are famous last words, and last tax season, they nearly were.

After a relatively brief and painless session at the computer, our taxes were done. If you’re familiar with Turbo Tax, it helpfully displays the amount you owe the Feds and State at the top of the screen. If you’re lucky, the number is green and you get a refund! In the spot for State, however, there was a red number. A BIG red number, one that was far larger than it should have been.

cursing-squirrelComparing my results to the previous year, there was a $3,000 discrepancy. And it wasn’t in our favor.

I went back through every single page of my new returns. And again. And again. And again.

The numbers were right. As God as my witness, they were right!

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An illustratration [sic] for the importance of proofing

This post is approximately 600 words, some of which are likely misspelled because that’s what happens when writers talk about typos.

Holy lexicon, do I hate misspellings. When it comes to my own writing, I’m a firm believer in self-flagellation. And I know there’s a special place in dictionary purgatory for self-proclaimed grammar perfectionists and those people who allow typos into published books.

Regardless of how much you’ve typed, or how fast you do it, typos are a way of life. When it comes to typing, I’m a cheetah with 30 years’ experience: bursts of speed followed by periods of rest and reflection. If I’m particularly inspired, I probably reach 120 wpm.

kermit-writing

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Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading

My Writing Rules Differ From Yours #1

This post is approximately 800 words and talks about grammar. I mean, a lot. Now’s your chance to flee.

venkman

“Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”

Still here? Cool. Now we can nerd out about grammar without the eye-rolling judgment of boring people.

This will be the first in a series of recurring posts about English grammar. As a person who delights in the rules (and their exceptions), the eccentricities, and the history of the language, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d be a crusty curmudgeon about the guidelines, norms, and other grammatical commandments. And often, you’d be right. But it also means I put a tremendous amount of brainpower into thinking about the rules.

And how I’m going to break them.

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