How The Web Can
Kill Your Career
Writers or Anyone Who Writes
I recently read a grammar and editing
column in my local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press.
In June Casagrande’s “A Word Please,”
she groused about the problems so many writers having
with hyphens. She noted the sad (or not so sad) influence
of the Web on our grammar, punctuation, and style choices
and there are enough of them to give the average author
who pulled down As in English a big headache!
June mentioned the disappearing hyphen as one of the
things we authors must contend with. but that is just
the beginning. The Net also encourages us to push all
kinds of words together. Let’s call that the "domain
name influence" or, perhaps the domainnameinfluence.
Do we write “book” or “bookcover?”
“Bookfair” or “book fair?” “Backmatter”
or “back matter?” “Hard copy”
or “hardcopy?” You’ll never know because
generally the trusted Chicago Style Guide doesn’t
weigh in on these trends and dictionaries haven’t
caught up with the quickly changing domainnameinfluence
either. And the spell checker in Word? Well, it doesn’t
put a red squiggle under either “Hard copy”
or “hardcopy.” That leaves the writer—whether
she’s writing fiction or a resume in a style-choice
Frugal Editor, I suggest the zero-tolerance approach
to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers
(and therefore make it more likely they'll get published).
Still, I admit I love to stick words together. It isn’t
really a new thing. I mean, word-bonding is a time-honored
tradition in English. The word therefore is an example.
We’ve been using words like that for eons. Word-gluing
goes back to the English language’s Germanic roots
German is a creative language. The Deutsch do things
like push the words for finger and hat together to make
the word for thimble (fingerhut).
Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So,
except when I am trying to get something like a pitch
or a query or a book proposal past a gatekeeper, I make
combined-word style choices for myself and let the so-called
rules be damned. We authors can have it our way—we
just need to be careful where we choose to exercise
Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress
a literary agent or prospective boss, please don't put
hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only
one way. If you think your contact believes it's nonfiction,
not non-fiction, there is no point flaunting your style
choice You won’t get a red squiggle with either
version from your Word spell checker (or spellchecker),
but that doesn’t mean your run-of-the-mill agent
or future employer won’t be more judgmental.
I could go on and on about the way the Web has mislead
us. It practically coaxes us to overuse ampersands and
most don’t haven’t the faintest idea we’re
being mislead. We see question marks and exclamation
points and caps and titles overused. What if we emulate
those affectations because they start to become so familiar
we think they’re being used correctly? Agents
and publishers will hate it, that’s what. And
that can be disastrous for our careers.
Then there is improperly punctuated dialogue. We see
it on the Web and even in books. There’ are many
other grammar idiosyncrasies that your English teacher
never told you but that are sure to annoy the feature
editor at The New York Times or the powerful agent you
want to impress.
The list is endless. Lucky that writers have June Casagrande's
grammar books like Grammar
Snobs Are Great Big Meanies (Penguin), and
my multi award-winning book, The Frugal Editor,
to help them through the grammar and syntax swamps,
Tips and Tidbits
(Each month in this box,
Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors
write or promote better. She will also include
a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected
books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)
this box, I list a Tidbit that will help
authors write or promote better on the
months my “Back To Literature”
columns appear and includes a Tip to help
readers find a treasure among long-neglected
books or a sapphire among the newly-published.
This week, however (because everyone is
a writer), I want you to improve your
style choice sense so I’m suggesting
these books on editing taken directly
from my multi award-winning The
Frugal Editor .
READING FOR THOSE WHO WRITE JUST ABOUT
Into a Coma: A Curmudgeon’s
Guide to the Many Things That Can Go
Wrong in Print—And How to Avoid
Them by Bill Walsh.
is a text-analyzing computer program
that makes indexes and wordlists, counts
word frequency, compares uses of a word,
analyzes keywords, finds phrases and
idioms, and publishes to the Web.
Help is a collection of computer programs
by Roger Carlson, including highlighters
for passive words, prepositions, and
adverbs as well as an “Adverb
Eliminator,” “Word Frequency
Counter,” and “Count Lines.”
You need some computer expertise to
set your computer’s security settings
to accept macros, reboot your computer
so the new settings will take effect,
and install the programs.
McNichol, editor and writer, was
introduced earlier in this book. Nonfiction
• For an editor with a UK sensibility
(though he edits for Yanks, too, including
this one), check Dr.
Perry, owner of Writers in the Sky,
is a developmental editor for fiction
and nonfiction. She also has team members
Quinn provides all aspects of editing
from developmental consulting and manuscript
evaluations, to proofreading services.
Stylebook by Associated Press, Especially
good for those who write for newspapers
and some magazines.
Dictionary of Troublesome Words:
A Writer’s Guide to Getting It
Right by Bill Bryson
Manual of Style by the University
of Chicago Press Staff .
Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance
Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.
Especially good (and fun) for those
writing for the UK market.
From the Madding Gerund by Geoffrey
K. Pullum et al.
Modern American Usage by Bryan A.
Garner is excellent for Americans. For
our purposes—that is not to rile
an agent or publisher—choose the
more formal of possibilities it offers.
If the suggestion feels stilted, rearrange
the construction of your sentence.
Snobs Are Big Meanies: Guide to
Language for Fun & Spite by June
Casagrande, published by Penguin. Use
this book when you want to be informed
and confident enough to edit on your
own or to judge the expertise of the
editor you hire. It is an excellent
source (and a fun one) to learn more
about style choice vs. grammar rules.
A more formal tome that helps with basics
but isn’t as fun is The
New Fowler’s Modern English Usage
by Fowler and Burchfield.
Syntax: 101 Language Choices That
Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar
Snobs—Even If You’re Right
by June Casagrande. The more you know
about choices, the better writer you’ll
be. You will not always need to cater
Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the
Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s
Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by
June Casagrande. This is the best single
book to review before you begin to edit
any major writing project.
for Chicago Manual of Style by Kate
A Manual for Writers of Research Papers,
Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition:
Chicago Style for Students and Researchers
by Kate L. Turabian is an excellent
resource for academics.
• Perrin and Smith Handbook of
Current English has been around a long
time. When you have read it, you will
know the difference between temerity
and timidity—or at least know
to look them up. “Half knowing
a word may be more dangerous than not
knowing it at all” is the kind
of truth you will find within its pages.
Trouble is, you may need to search for
it in a bookstore that sells used books
or watch for it at garage sales.
Elements of Style, Fourth Edition,
by William Strunk Jr., E. B. White,
Roger Angell. See my cautionary notes
in this book about using Elements as
if it were The Ten Commandments.
Describer’s Dictionary: A
Treasury of Terms & Literary Quotations
by David Grambs. One of my favorite
references for creative writing.
Words Collide: A Media Writer’s
Guide to Grammar and Style (Wadsworth
Series in Mass Communication and Journalism)
by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald.
Perfect for freelance writers, copywriters,
journalists, and media writers.
Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella
is a must-read because poor dialogue
technique is a glaring tipoff to editors
and publishers that a manuscript is
written by a beginner who has not taken
the time to learn his or her craft.
It is one of those books I wish I had
written myself. No need. Chiarella did
for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic
Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate
the Reader from Beginning to End by
Karl Iglesias. Fiction writers can learn
a lot from screenwriters and playwrights
and vice versa.
for Story by Lisa Cron. I recommend
this book to all my editing clients.
to Blog a Book: Write, Publish,
and Promote Your Work One Post at a
Time by Nina Amir. A Writer’s
Digest book that encourages and inspires—and
makes the writing of your book a little
professional organizations share their
print conventions with authors. Just ask.
I list a few so you will see there might
be an appropriate one for you even if
your topic is . . . well . . . esoteric.