Prepositions

Prepositions (e.g. for, to, with, of, in, etc.) help us lengthen our sentences. One thing is for certain: They need help themselves, for they are not meant to stand alone. This fact translates into lengthy sentence constructions, an aspect in our writing that we want to eliminate – within reasonable limits, of course. By making sure to decrease the number of prepositions and the words that tag along with them, we can compact our sentences to a significant degree. We must keep in mind that one word can replace an entire prepositional phrase. How can we achieve such an outcome? By resorting to the possessive. A preposition-rich example: The teaching style of the new instructor soon became a hit among the seniors of our school. The same sample sentence, after the replacement of the prepositions by possessives: The new instructor’s teaching style soon became a hit among our school’s seniors.

With or Without an Adverb?

I was one of those individuals who would adamantly protest against the call to “lose” adverbs in any given English sentence. For in my poetry, I bend what I consider to be the rigid language rules to leave room for creativity. Besides, “poetic license” is a right too precious to abandon . . . Even as a novice writer of prose however, I had for long accepted the fact that adverbs, AKA the “-ly”-words, add only weakness to our (written or spoken) expression. They become excessive due to their lack of descriptiveness. We have an example right here in my text: “[. . .] who would adamantly protest [. . .]”. Now that you know what to improve upon, please go ahead and replace the notorious “-ly”-word with an alternative. There are a few options to lend the infected (!) sentence succinctness. Bear in mind: The key is to provide it with a descriptive. Or better yet, to replace the existing verb + adverb team with its more persuasive counterpart(s).

Sentence-Length

Throughout our early schooling, we hear how poor of an impression “run-on” sentences make on behalf of our composition homework. This “warning” does not stop after our school years are long over. My focus here is not those red flag-language aspects, however. Long sentences need to be tenderized as well. Even those where the structure is grammatically sound. After all, a sentence must contain an idea. When we resort to long sentences, several ideas may end up finding a comfortable home in them. A red flag! Our readers will unavoidably lose focus. So, let us make an effort to provide them with a breather. Let us also consider eliminating comma-rich sentences while we are in the midst of some spring-cleaning. Gifting each sentence with an idea of its own could and would help the process.

When / Where We Could “Tighten” Our Writing ~ 1

I often wonder how many writers consider the type of or the extent to which they use punctuation in their writing before they present their work to the reader. A rule of thumb: Simplification. An occasional hyphen, a semicolon or an ellipsis can be effective. The excessive use of hyphens, parentheses, colons, semicolons, ellipses, etc. however will interrupt the flow. One could avoid extreme indulgences in this area by resorting to commas or by lending a lengthy sentence a much-needed end, with a promising guidance to a new sentence.

A Perfect First Draft?

I am not going to mince any words today – for my own or for your psyche, dear reader. So, be prepared for pure bluntness.

Are you by any chance one of those writers who conclude that the first draft of their text is perfect? If so, think again. For the sake of your readership foremost, but also for your own ego’s unbruised preservation.

Who among us is unaware of the American literature classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? (I want to safely assume that we all have at least heard about this masterpiece, even if we have not read it cover to cover as of yet.) It is not at all difficult to assume that this great writing was completed in one single sitting session by the author. Based on the outcome – meaning, readers’ and critics’ responses across the globe. Not so! In fact, it has taken the author several rewrites over more than two years to arrive at the final draft of her novel. Several rewrites over more than two years . . .

How many of us have known that the first draft, published in 2015 as Go Set a Watchman transpired as one of the most effective lessons to a writer, to any writer who erroneously would consider his / her first textual drawings to be perfect? As it is stated time and again in- and outside the field of literature, without the help of an editor, without continuous hard work and without substantial editing, history may have never heard of the author of one of the “Great Books” in English.

Before we – any of us, published writers and / or author-candidates – even begin to entertain the thought that our text is complete in its first draft, we had better re-think our stance and re-evaluate as to what it is we are in actuality placing in the hands of our readers. One of us, maybe even several of us, may already be holding on to the material worthy of becoming another ‘great’ novel or short story, or the ‘great’ epic / hybrid / prose / narrative poem, or the ‘great’ play, etc. Without the help of an editor, without continuous hard work and without substantial editing, however, that initial text-drawing may never have a chance to take flight . . .

And the Saga (of Self-Editing) Lives on . . .

Today, we will continue to take more steps on the way to fine-tuning our written word. Once again, I am here to share a quote with you. These brief notes tend to attract my attention for their succinct message as far as the core focus, as opposed to depending on either my extensive texts or lengthy write-ups by others. Hoping that you will enjoy today’s post enough to come back for another visit, I leave you with my best wishes.

[*] Be A Verbal Sniper

“Editing is little like being a verbal sniper—you’re going back to readjust your aim continually. So I don’t necessarily like to get too far in front of myself without having edited the piece. Sometimes I’ll reread and edit 30 times or more. (Of course, you’ll probably still catch typos in this writing!)”

Dr. Barbara Oakley, bestselling author of A Mind for Numbers and former Army Captain

And the Saga Goes on . . .

After an absence of a couple of weeks, I would like to greet you, dear reader, with the following quote. The authorial sentiment in the paragraph below reflects my professional view as an editor and a writer. On a personal level, I could not agree more with the thoughts expressed.

Question: Where do you find yourself, once you have a draft of one of your writings awaiting its next step? Moving in the direction of self-help only or both – self-editing and in search of professional assistance? Your answer will begin to get you on the path toward the fulfillment of your self-designated objective (make sure it is not because of someone else that you decide to opt for one of the alternatives – own your choice / decision). Happy reading!  (Note: The following text is a quote in its entirety. The active link on “Alane Mason” is my addition.)

[*] Do It, Swallow The Medicine

“I tend to edit heavily and repeatedly as I go along, so I don’t make the distinction, at least by myself. For the books that I’ve written for a larger public, however, I’ve had the help of an immensely gifted editor (Alane Mason, at Norton), so there I do separate out the tasks: in effect my own writing/editing; and then a further editing after receiving her suggestions. I tend to hate the latter experience, though I recognize that it is almost invariably good—a bit like swallowing disagreeable but essential medicine.

Stephen GreenblattHarvard Professor, author of  The Swerve, that landed on the bestseller lists and won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award

“[S]anding a piece of wood, again and again, until it’s perfectly smooth.”

The following text is a quote in its entirety. It articulates a sentiment with which I am in complete agreement. At times, we need to hear / read a common-sense advice from widely recognized authors. So, I introduce (or re-introduce) to you one who in her own words (see below) also happens to be a gracious writer for taking an editor’s work seriously and with trust – as required, but also realizes that professional labor’s value.

“For me, editing is as important as writing. No, probably even more important. I’ve never been able to sit down and write the perfect sentence. I re–write constantly – it’s almost like being a carpenter sanding a piece of wood, again and again, until it’s perfectly smooth. My best and oldest friend is my first editor; she’s ruthless, clever and amazing. I don’t trust anyone like her.”

Andrea Wulf, bestselling author of Invention of Nature, Brother Gardeners, Founding Gardeners, Chasing Venus, and the co-author of This Other Eden.