Who’s got a great word? I do!

Every now and then I come across a word which stops me in my tracks because it is simply fabulous. Today that happened. The word is:

Honeyfuggle

It’s not from Harry Potter and it’s not a Muppet. In fact it’s a 19th century US word.

President Roosevelt was considered a “prize honey-fugler” by the Syracuse Herald in 1934 . So what does it mean?

Well, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English it means “to hoodwink or entice by flattery”.

I think this could be appropriately applied to many people in the 21st century, so it’s a shame it’s fallen out of fashion. Perhaps, together, we people of the internet might bring it back. I think you’re all good enough to do it. You’re attractive and you’ll get a lot out of it. You’ll feel like a million bucks, so who’s with me? Anyone?

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Recurrence vs. Reoccurrence

A mate recently asked me about the difference between ‘recurrence’ and ‘reoccurrence’. He firmly believed that ‘reoccurrence’ was ugly (I tend to agree) and that recurrence should be used instead.

Although my initial thought was that he was right. I was ready to get on my soapbox and demand that ugly words like ‘reoccurrence’ (and to a lesser extent ‘bewigged’) be defenestrated. However, I dug a little deeper and found a subtle difference.

Both appear in the Oxford English with essentially the same definition. The only difference being that recur mentions the word ‘periodic’.

Recur – verb (recurs, recurring, recurred)
occur again periodically or repeatedly:

“when the symptoms recurred, the doctor diagnosed something different.”

Reoccur – verb (reoccurs, reoccurring, reoccurred)
occur again or repeatedly:

“ulcers tend to reoccur after treatment has stopped.”

The difference is subtle, but with the definition of ‘recur’ (the inclusion of periodically) you can infer that a recurrence happens more than once, whereas a ‘reoccurrence’ might only be a once off repeat.

Although it seems to me that they can be used pretty much interchangeably (noting the subtle difference) there is a perception that reoccur is incorrect and ugly, and so might be avoided in formal documentation.

That’s how I see it anyway.

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Are writers more critical readers?

This is a question I’ve often wondered and can really only comment from my own perspective.

As a writer I don’t think I am more critical of average writing, but I do think that perhaps I appreciate great writing more than non-writers might. I think I’m more likely to think “wow, I wish I could write like that” than say, a wig-maker might.

When talking to other writers, I get the feeling that in some circumstances writers may sometimes be even less critical. As someone who works with words all the time, and probably edits their own work, they don’t want to be reading someone else’s work with a mind to editing it. They just want to enjoy it.

Where I think my reading of a book may significantly differ from a non-writer reader is what my mind does with the ideas I read. When I’m reading a novel I will often think I know where it’s going. Sometimes it goes there and sometimes it surprises me. When it surprises me I consider using the concept of where I thought it was going as inspiration for my own writing. Especially if I think that my prediction was better than what eventuated in the novel!

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Editing your own writing

If you want to publish and you can afford it, you should employ a professional editor for your work. A good editor doesn’t rewrite, a good editor will work with a writer to get the best from that writer.

But not everyone can afford to pay the cost of a professional editor.

If you can’t afford an editor, and you don’t have any friends or family who can give you useful, honest criticism and feedback on your work, you are left with the reality that you must edit your own work.

Writing is rewriting

Editing your own work is challenging but rewarding.

Editing your own work is challenging but rewarding.

“Writing is rewriting” wrote Richard North Patterson. This is true. A first draft is never the best it can be. Never.

Editing your own work is very challenging as many writers put a lot of work into their first drafts and find it difficult to delete or change what has taken them so long to create. It takes significant discipline to be able to do it, but your work will be better for it.

To edit your own work you must read your work through someone else’s eyes, distancing yourself as author from the work, so that you can understand it as a piece of writing rather than as a piece of yourself. Yet, while you read it through someone else’s eyes, you must ensure that you stay true to your own voice and what you want the piece of writing to achieve.  This delicate balancing act is difficult but possible.

Tips to editing your own writing:

  • Wait – sometimes putting your work away for a month or more can help you distance yourself from the work.
  • Focus on individual aspects – go through your work in its entirety focusing on certain aspects only – eg are there too many adjectives? Do you tell, not show?
  • Read your work through someone else’s eyes – read the work front to back without making any changes. How would you feel about the work if you hadn’t written it? What are its strengths, its weaknesses?
  • Rewrite whole paragraphs or chapters – is there a paragraph or even a chapter that just isn’t working? Instead of changing a sentence here or there, think about what you want the chapter or paragraph to achieve and completely rewrite it. Don’t copy anything from the first draft. Is the rewrite better?
  • Don’t be lazy – when you read something that you know isn’t working, and you know that to fix it you will need to do a complete rewrite, or put in a lot of time and effort, it’s easy to put it aside. Don’t. Do it now. Get started. It’ll be hard and time-consuming, but it’ll be worth it.
  • Change your characters’ names – this is an odd idea but sometimes as writers we get so attached to our characters that we find it hard to edit them. By changing the names of your characters it is easier to distance yourself from the manuscript. Do a quick find and replace of character names and sometimes it can even feel like a completely different piece of writing.
  • Don’t be afraid to delete – if there are sections of your manuscript that just aren’t working, don’t be afraid to throw them away. Look at the section and decide what aspects of it are critical to the story. Can you incorporate those elements somewhere else and throw the rest away? Does that improve the flow?

The more you do it, the better you get

The more you edit your own work, the better you will get at at it and the easier it will be. You will also probably find that your first drafts get better as you can implement many of your editing strategies while you write leading to better drafts and better writing.

Editing your own work is not easy, but nothing worth doing is. Stay focused, be disciplined and trust your instinct.

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Rare Book Week and the Printed Word

Celebrating rare booksAs Melbourne celebrates Rare Book Week and the value of the printed word, I start to think about the demise of the traditional (paper) book and wonder what it all means.

Like the demise of the pen before it (replaced by typewriters and then computers) we won’t see a total replacement of the paper book. However, just as we see less and less handwriting in the digital age we are likely to see fewer and fewer books printed.

What does this mean? I don’t think anyone really knows where it’s all going – but if fewer books are produced, does that mean that contemporary printed books will become rarer and hence more valuable?

Like some of the classic publications celebrated in Rare Book Week, perhaps a few hundred or thousand printed books will become a standard print run, or even fewer if they are only printed on demand. This will inevitably lead to extra value being added to those editions at the point of production, and as time goes by.
As a historical document, the medium is just as important as the words themselves. Rarity adds value, but specks of dust between the pages of a centuries old book tell as much of a story as the narrative within. Imagine finding one of Jane Austen’s hairs inside a personal journal? Which is more valuable, the words or the hair – or do they work together to form something unique and immensely valuable?

There are millions of copies of Shakespeare’s works in the world. Many selling for 50 cents or less. So, the words have little monetary value. However, a book by Shakespeare published at the time of Shakespeare, or a rare edition from the 1800s is a very different story, despite the words being the same.

It’s an interesting thought. I don’t believe that digital books will ever hold the sentimental value of their printed ancestors. I’m not sure that an e-book digitally signed by the author will ever fetch a million dollars at auction.

Interesting times we live in, but perhaps not the end of the printed word. Perhaps we have ventured past the glut and maybe its value will grow again as it becomes rarer and saved for special occasions.

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What’s the preposition rule for?

Grammar blackboardOr: For what is the preposition rule?

Grammatically speaking, ending a sentence with a preposition (on, in, for, of, as etc.) is against the rules and the bane of English language pedants’ existence (along with stray apostrophes and young people in general). But why?

When encountering an unlabeled envelope, do they ask, “For whom is this letter?” or do they ask, “Who is this letter for?”

I truly hope it is the latter, for ‘tis the only way they will get a response that doesn’t comprise an undertone of mockery.

There is also no particular reason for this rule. Most rules in grammar are in place to ensure clarity of meaning, yet this rule adds no clarity. So, why does it exist?

The most likely answer is that in the seventeenth century, English scholars who were involved in the development of the first books on English usage were also Latin lovers (the language that is, not our Latin American friends). Within the confines of Latin, there is no way to end a sentence with a preposition. As many of the rules for English usage come from Latin, it is most likely that the seventeenth century ancestors of today’s pedants decided that if you can’t do it in Latin, then you shouldn’t do it in English.

Having said all that, there are still times when you probably should follow the rule. Very formal writing, and writing for universities and scholars should probably follow the rule book. But, if you’re ever criticised for ending a sentence with a preposition, feel free to tell the criticiser that Shakespeare, Jane Austen, James Joyce and many more classic literary authors have all broken the rule without damaging their reputations.

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There are more than a thousand words to write

I recently met with a photographer to discuss her new website and burgeoning photography business Julie Turner Photographer. I’m an enthusiastic amateur photographer myself and always enjoy meeting photographers and discussing their craft. But, it got me thinking about that old expression: a picture is worth a thousand words…

It is very true, a picture is a very powerful thing. We live in an ever increasingly visual world – people are reading less, watching more screen entertainment etc. and I started to wonder where that left me as a writer of words.

Young girl smelling a flower.

Beautiful photo, but what is she thinking?

Although powerful, pictures are limited. There are more than a thousand words to write. The Mona Lisa is a beautiful painting – one that evokes so much emotion and intrigue, but the picture only tells part of the story. Some 500 years later, people still wonder why Lisa is smirking.

Words can explain that which cannot be seen. Pictures are purely visual, whereas words can describe all of the senses. We can infer meaning from the visual but words can explain the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’. A beautiful photo of a child smelling a flower in a field may evoke emotion and even tell a story, but why is the child in the field? What emotions or memories does that situation evoke in the child? What does the flower smell like?

For the record, this blog smells like beetroot.

My recent blog post on the writing tip ‘Show Don’t Tell’ touches on this idea. Don’t limit your writing to describing that which can be seen only. Use the power of words to evoke all of your reader’s senses, and your writing will be better for it.

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