Thursday, January 18, 2018

Editor's Notes #41: Best Books on Writing and Editing Part 1—My Thoughts

Now that the first couple weeks of January are a tired memory of back to work, back to school, back to healthy eating, a wee bit of self-care and readjustment to routine, I'm ready to get things rolling again here. I have a lot of things I'm excited about this year, and one of them deals with my reading life, of course.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a few sort-of goals for 2017 that were more in my head than written anywhere, but since I had so few of them, they were pretty easy to remember.

For my professional growth, I set out to have one non-fiction book—related to editing or writing—happening at all times. This one yielded some fun reads. And before you say that there is nothing funny about grammar and "How to Write the More Better Stuff" books out there, I need to stop you. There are some terrific books that are instructional but far from boring (even for those who hate grammar rules). I firmly believe that reading books geared toward the writing craft helps my editing.

Copy editing deals with the hard and fast rules more often than not—the nonnegotiables, as I think of them—so a quick search through The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster, the Associated Press Stylebook or similar books will yield answers without much fuss. Commas, punctuation, common spellings, even UK v. US styles . . . all very black and white.

However, line editing is slightly different and involves sentence structure, POV inconsistencies, awkward phrasing, clich├ęs, verb tense, ambiguity, and more. This is where the writing books come in handy for me. The more I know about why sentences are constructed in a particular way for a particular purpose, the better I become at spotting when something is "off." This not only makes the editing itself more thorough, but it also speeds up my work process as I become more adept, and errors sort of jump out at me. I also may or may not get a teeny thrill when I catch something particularly tricky.

One of my favorite books from 2017 was It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande. This is, as the subtitle claims, "a writer's guide to crafting killer sentences." The book is practical but filled with good, sarcastic, wicked sass, and that's one of two reasons I loved it. The second reason is that the writing advice is as solid as they come. It covers a lot of ground but never gets boring. Casagrande has a handful of books out there I plan on working my way through, including Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite. I'm a sucker for a great title.

The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon is also a favorite of mine, though not technically one I read in 2017. Again, like Casagrande's book, it's filled with humor while not compromising on solid information. Where else can you find a chapter on serial commas that includes the following example?
She attended the wedding feast in her Buster Brown collar, her water moccasins, her spring-loaded pelvic girdle, and her coiffeur's interpretation of Medusa at the Mardi Gras.
I also own another book by Gordon, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, which looks promising but which I've not yet gotten through. It is set up as a gothic narrative with a cast of characters that includes a vampire (of course), bat, wolf, pizza chef, mastodon, and more. I don't see any reason why this book shouldn't be a win.

I finally got around to reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, which has been read by probably every writer out there, and a great many non-writers who simply like Stephen King. I didn't know what to expect from this and was almost overwhelmed by how much I enjoyed it. I used to love reading his books when I was in college and then somehow got away from them as life got busy, marriage and kids took over, and my reading tastes shifted. But the autobiographical portion of this one rekindled my desire to read his stuff, and the writing advice portion of it was just so practical and no-nonsense that it made me want to write a book. If you happen to be in the .001% of the population who has not read this gem, I suggest you get your butt to the bookstore.

I'm currently in the middle of Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read by Brooks Landon. This one is slow going for me, probably because I've now become spoiled by funny, entertaining writing/editing books like the ones mentioned above. However, I'm persevering through this one, because it's actually good. It's just not entertaining, which doesn't diminish the kind of writing advice it includes. At first, I found it ironic that the subtitle talked about the kind of sentences I "love to read" but the sentences I was reading in it were not as lovable as I'd expected. I don't agree with 100% of his advice, because he seems to be a lover of longer sentences, and I imagine his more devoted followers might lean toward purple prose if given the opportunity. However, I have to admit the sometimes-tedious detail he goes into when deconstructing sentences for analysis is helpful when all is said and done. He even says, at the end of an exercise on page 93, "We do not actually think like this when we write! This is a highly artificial and arbitrary exercise, but there is no better way to internalize the various logic patterns available to the writer who knows how cumulative sentences work." So let me say that I do recommend this one, but know what you're in for when you pick it up.

I've shared some of my favorites with you in this post. Part 2 will be focused on your favorites, and the books I've seen recommended over and over again in writer and editor groups. So if you would, please drop me a line at and tell me what your favorite writing books are, and why. I'll gladly include them.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

It seems that January is the most common time of year to set ourselves up with a list of intentions that are supposed to make us better people. One of the podcasts from Writers After Dark tackled this very topic, and they did such a great job of it that I'm going to send you there if you click on this link. As they put it, "Why does the 'new you' have to come right after the 'old you' just enjoyed a few weeks of absolute decadence?"

[Hey, and while you're over there, if you really, REALLY want to start your New Year right—and I think you do—listen to my own podcast interview and get your first dose of editing inspiration for 2018. The three of us have a great time and actually discuss real things that might help you!]

Even so, I find myself each year with list in hand, breaking down into categories that which is my life, and trying to figure out how to make it better for me and those around me. One of my categories is professional growth, and a subcategory of that is education. I am of the opinion that the more I learn, the more I realize I still have a lot more to learn. This past year, I had some sort-of goals that got completely derailed for a while and then back on track when I received some incredibly useful advice from S.K. Anthony: "Let's just start 2017 over again. So what if it's June?"

And we did.

Over the past few years, I'd had to put much of my business on hold due to the intensity of my day job. As a result, what little time I had left for editing didn't leave any room for growth, and I found myself narrowed down to a handful of clients I scheduled around everything else. In fact, I'd had potential clients walk away because I couldn't fit them in quickly enough, and that was discouraging, to say the least.

When I rebooted 2017, I sat down and thought about my business goals and how I'd allowed myself to lose sight of them. Obviously, the lack of a plan—and pantsing it from week to week—was not working. So I started writing, and came up with a list of things I wanted to accomplish, and whaddya know, I've even gotten to most of them.

I have continued to blog regularly, both here and at my personal blog, and have met and interacted with a whole host of new acquaintances across the globe. Yes, it's time-consuming stuff, blogging, but I love learning more about the world through one-on-one interactions with people I wouldn't have run into otherwise.

I started loading my stuff onto Pinterest with regularity. I have to admit that I don't allow myself to browse Pinterest all that often because (for me, anyway) it is a black hole that sucks away hours of my life without me even realizing it. But I look at it as one more avenue to share my work for those who may or may not ever find my blogs or my IG account.

I started an Instagram account for my business, rather than trying to shove a bunch of business-y things on my personal account. That has proven to be a load of fun, and I've found some new authors to read. Instagram is where I share my fun stuff, where I run promotions like this, and where I can explore, two minutes at a time.

I got some new clients, I joined the Editorial Freelancers Association, became an active participant on a few editors' groups on Facebook, and got off my butt to make my own ERE Facebook page active and growing. Growth is slow, but it's genuine, with people who actually read and engage with my posts there.

Just in time for the end of the year, I had my branding redone by Rachel at Imaginary Beast, and I couldn't be happier. The new look is great, and now I finally have continuity across all my social media. It's professional with just a bit of quirk, like me.

I think the restart midyear was a good move overall. Thank you, S.K.!

What about you? Did you meet your goals? Did you get off track? Did you slam it out of the park? In my next post, I'll be discussing one of my sort-of goals from last year and reviewing the books that helped me achieve it. See you then!