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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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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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.

The man stepped onto the bus

London Bus

Who cares if the man stepped onto the bus?

Anyone who’s ever tried to learn more about writing will have come across the writing rule ‘show don’t tell’. It’s a tip that can lead to frustration – especially in a world where so much information is obtained from visual media.

Because people are so used to absorbing information from TV, movies and visual advertising (like billboards and magazines) that use very few words and a lot of imagery, it seems logical that when we write a story we might describe the visual only:

‘The man stepped onto the bus.’

This sentence tells the basic fact of an action. It may even be all that is needed to keep the story moving forward. But I would argue that if the only significance of this action is to get the man on the bus, then you don’t need it all. Cut it out and simply start the next paragraph with the man already on the bus. The fact he got on the bus will be inferred by the reader.

Things should not be shown or told when there is nothing to show or tell. The last thing you want to do is to make something out of nothing:

‘The man, fraught with unprecedented normality, moved his left foot to the first step of the bus’s entrance. He didn’t ponder the significance of this action, because there was none to be pondered. Nevertheless, he moved his right foot hence. A wave of no change washed over him as the bright sunlight hit his face. The warmth might have reminded him of his mother, but it didn’t.’

If, however, there is some significance to his stepping onto the bus, then that should be described.

‘Already on edge from the previous night’s encounter, the noisy hum of chatter and music that greeted the man as he climbed the steps of the bus made him rethink his decision to go to work.’

‘Show don’t tell’ is about explaining the why, as well as the what. It describes reactions, and smells and thoughts and emotions and reason. It explains things which cannot be seen and adds a deeper level of empathy and understanding to a story.

Grammar Police!

Wherever appropriate, correct grammar and syntax should be incorporated into advertising and copywriting. When correct grammar is used, sentences tend to be less confusing and the intended meaning is clearer. However, it is not always necessary.

Copywriting and advertising will usually have two goals 1) send a clear message and 2) compel the reader to act.

As such, advertising copy should more closely reflect conversational speech than the Oxford English Grammar book – but do try to avoid common grammatical mistakes such as split infinitives and lost apostrophes.


Use more contractions!

Copywriting should usually use correct English, but rarely does it require formal English.

Many writers believe that writing for the public requires the Queen’s English and that it somehow makes the writing seem more professional or correct. This is not the case. When reading, most people want to read words the way they speak. This includes the use of contractions.

Consider the following sentence:

“We are looking for smart, talented people who love a challenge. If you are charismatic, engaging and love to laugh then you will find yourself at home with us.”

The sentence above has not used any contractions and as a result sounds quite stilted when read. Compare it to the similar sentence below:

“We’re looking for smart, talented people who love a challenge. If you’re charismatic, engaging and love to laugh then you’ll find yourself at home with us.”

The second sentence not only flows better and reads more quickly, it also uses fewer words to better effect – an important goal with any writing. Unless you wish to emphasise one half of the contraction, such as WE are, or we ARE, then “we’re” will usually suffice.

Consider the difference between:

Don’t miss out!


Do not miss out!

Is it just me, or does the first version sound like a friendly tip, and the second like a dictatorial order?

Be careful not to get too blasé with contractions, though, as some contractions can come across as too casual or even confuse readers.

Contractions best to avoid

  • Any contractions of ‘have’ (e.g. should’ve, must’ve) as these are sometimes difficult to read and can be too casual.
  • Who’re (most people don’t say this, and it looks like ‘whore’ on the page).
  • Double contractions (e.g. she’d’ve) as these are colloquialisms.
  • Most of the contractions of ‘had’ and ‘would’ (e.g. what’d, when’d, how’d etc.). These can look odd when written and can sometimes look like other words (e.g. I’d, she’d, we’d). These may work if they are to be spoken, rather than read (e.g. a radio ad).