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Writing and Publishing

Don’t Be Possessive About Writing Rules

When I was in grade school I learned that to make a word possessive you simply added ’s to the end of it. That was easy. Oh, and there was one exception. If the word already ended in s, you simply added the apostrophe. Okay, I got it.

Then, when my kids were in high school, they corrected me. The rule had changed. The new convention was to add ’s anytime you wanted to show possession, regardless of the word ended in s or not. I struggled for years to retrain myself; it just looked so wrong.

Later, I worked on a book that needed to follow the requirements found in A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, sometimes called Turabian for short. While maintaining the rule to add ’s anytime you wanted to show possession, including words ending in s, Turabian gave two exceptions: Jesus and Moses. This means it was correct to write “Jesus’ disciples.” Not only did this look cleaner, but I liked the idea of giving Jesus special consideration.

Now, I learn that according to The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, the exception for Jesus and Moses no longer applies. This means that “Jesus’s disciples” is now correct.

Of course, there are still other special cases relating to making a word possessive. It’s enough to make my head spin. But then, grammar always did have that effect on me.

From this, we can learn three things:

Not Everyone Agrees

Not all “experts” agree on the rules of writing. If they all did, there would only be one style guide to follow. Instead, we have many. To further complicate things, many publishers have their own peculiar deviations from the various style guides. For myself, I attempt to follow The Chicago Manual of Style, as it works in most situations, most of the time. I think it may be the closest we have to have a standard writing guide.

Rules Change

Over time writing rules, expectations, and standards change. Some of the things we learned in grade school, high school, and college no longer apply. And the greater the distance we have from our formal education, the increased likelihood some of the rules we once learned are now wrong.

We Need to Change, Too

As the rules change, we need to change how we write. To resist these changes keeps us mired in the past, fixated on the old ways of doing things. Others will view us as out of touch writers, and they will dismiss our writing as antiquated. Ignorance is no excuse.

As writers, we always need to be learning, and we need to be ready to change. The acceptance of our work depends on it.

What changes do you struggle with? What steps do you take to be aware of changes? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Don’t Expect an Editor to Do Your Job

As a magazine publisher, I edit every submission I receive. Yes, every single one. (And then a proofreader fixes everything I miss.) Though some submissions are in much better shape than others, each one receives some changes. In fifteen years, I’ve never ever accepted a submission without making at least a few edits.

I may need to shorten a piece to meet space requirements. Or I may need to fix issues with the writing itself, such as using complete sentences, ensuring a consistent tense or perspective, fixing punctuation, and so forth.

I may need to remove self-promotion, something that is unprofessional and that we prohibit. Other times I need to correct sections that readers will likely misunderstand. Occasionally, I need to remove something that will offend our audience.

Whatever the reason for the edits, I keep two things in mind: I don’t want to embarrass the writer, and I don’t want to change his or her voice. Most editors have a similar perspective: they have the writer’s best interest in mind.

Given that, some writers may wonder: If it’s going to be edited anyway, why should I submit my best work?

Submitting your best writing results in less work for the editor and earns you their respect. Your future submissions will be anticipated, more likely to be accepted, and may even be published sooner.

Submitting sloppy work has the opposite effect. The editor groans when your email arrives, puts off reading it, and is more likely to reject it. Don’t earn that reputation. This applies to both article and book submissions.

I have several writers who submit content on a regular basis. For some, each piece is well written and professional. For others, I see their quality slide over time, often degrading to a point where I think I’m reading their first draft; they didn’t even bother to proofread it.

Maybe they’ve become complacent or perhaps they figure that since it’s going to be edited anyway, why bother?

Don’t be that writer.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Proof then Publish

Another blogging tip is to proof and then publish. That is, once written, review with care and post without delay. It’s that simple.

Some beginning bloggers are afraid to share what they write. They fear it’s not good enough or people will criticize their words. They talk themselves into waiting until it’s better. They search for a title with pizzazz or a conclusion with punch. They worry about formatting, search engine optimization, and finding the right picture. And if the post is controversial, they dread the firestorm that could erupt—or that no one will react. Will anyone even read it? Given all that, the safest thing is to never post.

I once fell into that trap. Fortunately I escaped quickly. If no one reads our words, they mean nothing. We must publish.

The other extreme is to gush a flurry of words, and toss them to the world without a worry. Who cares about typos, word choices, fact checking, or excellence? Just spew forth our stream-of-consciousness and call it good. Disregard the craft of writing; seek quantity over quality.

I understand that mindset, too. In my early days as a blogger, circa 2008, I sought to write quickly and post even quicker. I hoped one scan of my draft would catch all errors. My objective was a twenty-minute post. And though I sometimes hit my goal, the results fell short. Typos overshadowed my prose; sloppy writing detracted from my ideas. I needed to turn off the timer and to take more time. Though perfect posting is an illusion, we need to be close; errors should be the exception and not the norm.

Successful blogging requires a rhythm: we sit down and write; we proof our words and then publish the results. No more, no less.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Perfect Proofing Practices

It’s hard for most people to proof their own writing. I’m no exception. For my magazines, I hire a proofreader to check my work and the other submissions that will appear in each issue. For my books, I pay a copy editor to catch my errors. For blogs, I rely on my wife and friends to offer correction, albeit only after I post it.

Sometimes my mistakes are significant errors, such as the wrong word spelled correctly or stating something in the negative when I intended the positive. Other errors are not so weighty, but merely embarrassing, such as incorrect word usage, a missing word, or an extra word.

When someone tells me of an error, I quickly correct the offense. Those who read my posts via email miss the corrections, but those who use a reader or bookmark my blog have a good chance of seeing the revised version.

For a while, every post seemed to contain errors. Then I tried reading my work aloud before I published my post. This greatly reduced my mistakes but not all of them. More recently, I’ve been using text-to-speech software (TextAloud), where Crystal and Mike take turns reading my work to me. Hearing my words through someone else’s voice helps me catch most of the errors I make.

I hope it worked this time.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Six Tips for Proofing Your Work

Proofing your own work is hard for most people. After all, you know what you intended to say, so that is what you tend to see when you proofread your writing. Proofing is a huge challenge for me, as you have likely seen in past posts.

I am much more likely to catch errors when I let my work sit for a day or two. With the distance of time, I am less likely to see what I intended to say and actually see what I really wrote. But this is not a guaranteed solution either. Plus, waiting is a luxury not afforded when blogging.

Another proofing technique is to read your work aloud. Yes, it is a bit strange at first, but reading it aloud does help you catch errors. A side benefit is this also aids in catching awkward sentence structure and poorly crafted wording.

A third method is to read it backwards. Yeah, I don’t get it either, but some people swear by this technique.

Also, I tend to proof better from a printout versus working directly on my computer. (Interestingly, when proofing on my computer, it makes a difference if I adjust the font type or size. I guess the change of perspective helps.)

But the best way is to have someone else proofread my work!

Regardless of how skilled or lacking you are at proofreading, be sure to spell check your final version. I am shocked at how often I receive submissions with errors that spell check would have caught. That is inexcusable.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.