Publication Coach Beating writer's block, writing faster, writing tips, better writing, editing, communications consulting 2017-09-20T08:00:53Z http://www.publicationcoach.com/feed/atom/ WordPress Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[On the road again…]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17196 2017-09-03T19:08:43Z 2017-09-20T08:00:53Z I’m currently travelling and taking a break from blogging. Please expect my next blog entry on Tuesday, Sept. 26.]]>

I’m currently travelling and taking a break from blogging. Please expect my next blog entry on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[How to write a complaint]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=8091 2017-09-03T23:25:53Z 2017-09-19T08:00:48Z Reading time: About 3 minutes Do you know how to write a complaint letter? The rules are straightforward but surprisingly.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Do you know how to write a complaint letter? The rules are straightforward but surprisingly challenging to apply…

My 20-year-old son, who’s studying to become an opera singer, recently gave me a complaint he’d written about one of his professors. He wanted to know if it was “too harsh.” More importantly, because the complaint was to be anonymous, he wanted reassurance it couldn’t be traced back to him.

I wasn’t surprised my son had asked me. My family considers me to be the diva of complaint letters — I’ve had denied health insurance claims turned around, received free services and even landed the occasional free product.

Here’s how you can achieve the same results. Note that I’ve listed these tips in order of importance…

1)   Keep your letter short and to the point. It should never be more than one page long including addresses and letterhead. (This will limit you to roughly 300 words.) If you need to include additional info, make it an appendix or an attachment, rather than part of the main letter. Busy people, like customer service managers or CEOs, don’t have the time to read essays. Being short will also force you to focus on the one or two things that are most crucial to you, which means you’re less likely to sound like a crank.

2)   Don’t try to be clever or smart. Sarcasm and strong language may make you feel better, but they won’t help your complaint. Instead, use friendly — or, at the very least, studiously neutral — language. If you want to express emotion, try to sound sad and disappointed rather than enraged and angry. And never sound gleeful about the chance to exercise your complaint or show off your superior vocabulary.

3)   Address the letter to a specific person. Establishing a personal connection is one of the keys to successful complaints. Get the name of someone, spell it correctly and get his/her title as well.

4)   Understand that everyone listens to the radio station WII-FM. Also known as “What’s In It For Me,” this network plays the songs that cause all of our toes to tap. Try to figure out how what you have to complain about is also hurting the company/organization you are complaining to. In my son’s case, he feels the professor is using techniques that will damage the voices of young singers. Is he right? Who knows? But I bet it’s a concern that will make the university pay attention.

5)    Ask for something specific. Don’t just complain. Tell them exactly how you want them to make it up to you. Do you want a fee waived? Do you want a return accepted? Do you want a complete refund? Do you want a professor instructed to teach in a different way? Or do you simply want an apology? Spell it out.

6)   Be persistent. If you can’t get what you want from your initial complaint, be prepared to take it up the chain of command. Last year, I tried to set up a merchant account with a credit card company (and they completely botched the application process, wasting three hours of my time). I asked for them to waive the $200 annual fee. “That’s not possible,” the rep told me. “Then whom do I need to ask?” I replied. He told me and I emailed that person, who immediately granted my request. (I was amused, but not surprised, to see how quickly and easily something deemed “impossible” could be achieved.) Show some grit and you’re more likely to succeed.

7)   Take excellent notes. Whenever I make a complaint about a company, I put a note in my iPhone’s contact list, filed by the name of the company. In the “notes” section I add the date, the problem and the name of the person I wrote or spoke with and his/her response. Because I always approach this in exactly the same way, and because it’s linked to my cell phone, that’s always with me, I never lose my notes. (This is invaluable with verbal complaints. Sometimes simply reciting the names of all the customer service reps I’ve spoken with is enough to get the company to pay attention to my complaint.)

Yes, complaining effectively takes effort. But it’s almost always worth it.

What’s your biggest complaint-writing success story? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Becoming an Academic Writer by Patricia Goodson. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

This post first appeared on my blog on April 15/14.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[On the road again…]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17193 2017-09-03T19:05:37Z 2017-09-13T08:00:01Z I’m currently travelling so I won’t be able to blog regularly until Sept. 26. I have scheduled my Tuesday posts in.. Continue Reading]]>

I’m currently travelling so I won’t be able to blog regularly until Sept. 26. I have scheduled my Tuesday posts in advance so expect the next one Sept. 19. I’ll give you the details of the trip on my return.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[10 ways to become a better proofreader]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=7432 2017-09-03T22:56:06Z 2017-09-12T08:00:59Z Reading time: About 2 minutes If you can afford to outsource your proofreading, do it. If you can’t here are.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: About 2 minutes

If you can afford to outsource your proofreading, do it. If you can’t here are some tips that will help…

Do you clean your own gutters? Change the oil in your own car? Bake every birthday cake from scratch? I’m guessing you don’t do many — if any — of these things. And you shouldn’t proofread, either.

Proofreading is a specialized job requiring someone with talent and training. I’m not a natural proofreader myself, but I know how to hire excellent ones. They should cost about $40/hour.

But if I must proofread, I can do it using the following tricks. You can use them, too:

(1) Allow some time to pass after you finish writing/editing and before you start proofreading. We all make unconscious mistakes and they are hard to spot because our brains “fill in” the correct word. You may have meant to write trickier but somehow it came out as tricker. The trouble is, if you’re familiar with the story, your eye will glide right by the error. If you take a break, however, you’re far more likely to catch the problem.

(2) Print out your text and proofread on paper. In part, because using a computer shines a light in our eyes, we all read material on screen much more quickly and less carefully than we do in print. Try to print out your work before proofing it.

(3) If there is some reason that prevents you from printing, use a distinctive typeface and dramatically increase the point size before proofing. When I am forced to proof on screen, I like to use Papyrus or Candara 18 point – this makes it easier to spot errors.

(4) Pay particular attention to names (people, books, movies, songs), addresses, titles and dates. Be aware the single most common mistake is to mismatch days with dates. (For example: saying Monday, Sept. 19, when in fact it is Tuesday, Sept. 19.)

(5) Check what I call the “ big, obvious yet somehow invisible” stuff. By this, I mean logos, company names, and extra-large headlines. Ironically, the bigger the type, the more likely you are to miss a typo.

(6) Start at the end. Professional proofreaders often read at least once backwards. No, I don’t mean they read the words backwards. I mean, they read the last sentence first. Then the second last sentence, then the third last sentence…until they work their way back to the beginning. This forces them to read each sentence in isolation – breaking the familiarity with the piece that might cause them to miss errors.

(7) Put a ruler underneath each line as you read the text. This forces you to work much more slowly and stops your eye from jumping ahead.

(8) Consider what you might have left out. For instance, if the piece requires an RSVP, it needs a phone number or e-mail address to which someone can respond. It should also have the date of the event and an address.

(9) Make a list of your own common spelling or grammar errors and check for those specifically — do you mix “affect” and “effect” for example?

(10) Read your work aloud at least once. You’ll catch a lot more errors this way.

What are your proofreading secrets? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Becoming an Academic Writer by Patricia Goodson. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

This post originally appeared on my blog on Feb. 7/14.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[On the road again…]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17188 2017-09-03T19:03:52Z 2017-09-06T08:00:07Z I’m currently travelling so I won’t be able to blog regularly until Sept. 26. I have scheduled my Tuesday posts in.. Continue Reading]]>

I’m currently travelling so I won’t be able to blog regularly until Sept. 26. I have scheduled my Tuesday posts in advance so expect the next one Sept. 12. I’ll give you the details of the trip on my return.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[How to save yourself from boredom while writing]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=3377 2017-09-03T22:42:37Z 2017-09-05T08:00:19Z Reading time: Less than 3 minutes Here are 10 boredom cures — also known as writing tips — that can.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Here are 10 boredom cures — also known as writing tips — that can help any writer have a bit more verve….

I sometimes find myself getting bored when I write. This feeling is not the end of the world, but it’s not very pleasant, either. And if we’re bored as writers, think about how our poor readers are going to feel!

Or maybe I should say “former readers” because people don’t continue reading when they’re bored unless they’re forced to by their boss or their school teacher.

Here are 10 ways to help you fight the curse of writerly boredom:

1. Take frequent breaks. Sometimes you’re not really bored, you’re tired or burned out. I think everyone should take a three-to-five minute break every 30 minutes and not ever write for more than four hours per day. (Of course, you can always do other writing related work such as interviewing, reading, organizing, planning, researching and mindmapping.)

2. Ensure your “well” is full. Closely related to the problem of not taking enough breaks is the challenge of making sure your brain has had enough stimulation to be able to write. I call this our “well” (as in a well of water) but you can also think of it as a bank account. You can’t withdraw money that isn’t there! To be able to write you need to have spent enough time reading, getting exercise, talking to friends and enjoying leisure activities, whether that’s going to a hockey game or to the symphony concert.

3. Create a new writing-related challenge for yourself. Here, I’m thinking about challenges that will specifically help your writing. For example, I want to become better at using figurative language in my writing. I’m working as hard on this as a 16-year-old trying to get her driver’s license. Another useful challenge would be to improve your readability stats.

4. Turn your writing into a game. Instead of thinking of writing as work, imagine it to be a computer game. You have to succeed at various tasks before you’re admitted into the next level. For example, imagine you need to write 1,000 words in 60 minutes. Go!

5. Go for a walk. Sometimes, when we’re bored, the real problem is that our major muscles need some exercise. Go for a walk or, if you have time, a swim. When you return to work, you’ll feel less bored.

6. Put yourself in jail. Turn off your email notifications and shut down Facebook and Twitter. Set a timer for 30 minutes and force yourself to work with total concentration on your writing until the timer beeps. Then, stop, and reward yourself for being so diligent.

7. Write a first draft in the opposite direction. Bored with a topic you’ve been given? Let’s say you need to write 500 words on the best ways to improve safety at your company. So, make your first draft: 10 best ways to get into an accident. Doesn’t that sound more interesting? (Your boss may agree with your approach. But, if he or she doesn’t, you’ll be able to redraft it to the original assignment relatively quickly.)

8. Use an unusual word in your writing. When I worked in daily newspapers, one writer in my department tried to use the word “hilarious” in every story. Why? No good reason. It just amused him. So, do the same to your boss. Pick a word that’s unusual for your workplace and fit it, surreptitiously, into your next story.

9. Identify your natural rhythm and adjust your writing schedule to suit it. What’s your best time for writing? Mine used to be late at night; now, it’s early in the morning. Write only at your most powerful time and use other times of day for other tasks. If you’re writing at your “best” time, you’re less likely to become bored.

10. Adopt the voice of a different writer. For fun, try to write a piece that sounds like Ernest Hemingway. Or Jane Austen. Or Charles Dickens. Doing this skillfully will be an enormous challenge and might be just enough to take an otherwise dull topic and give it the spark of life you need to make it enjoyable.

When life hands you lemons you can either curse the tartness of the fruit or turn it into lemonade. Or, as Dorothy Parker put it: “The cure for boredom is curiosity.” And then she added: “There is no cure for curiosity.”

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My video podcast (with transcript) last week offered advice on how to spend less time rewriting. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How do you deal with boredom while writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Pat Bowden, the winner of this month’s book prize, The Email Warrior by Ann Gomez for an Aug. 25/17 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/17 will be put into a draw for a copy of Becoming an Academic Writer, by Patricia Goodson. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

This post first appeared on my blog on Aug. 28/12

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[Roger Rosenblatt’s ‘invisible forces’]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17183 2017-09-03T18:55:48Z 2017-09-04T08:00:13Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article by Roger Rosenblatt….

I spend much of my working life thinking about writing. But when I read Roger Rosenblatt’s profoundly insightful New York Times piece, headlined, “The Invisible Forces that Make Writing Work,” I felt as though I’d never thought about writing at all.

Speculating that there are three invisible forces —  things the writer sees that the reader does not; things the reader sees that the writer does not; and things neither of us sees — Rosenblatt (pictured above) meditates as to why we choose certain words or phrases or settings in our writing. One of his images particularly captivated me: “Many a writer has started out certain of a particular direction only to change course midway, as though a ghost’s hand took the tiller.”

But I especially liked his discussion of the most mysterious force — one seen neither by the writer nor the reader — as shown by the example of Jules Feiffer. Here’s the story in Rosenblatt’s words:

Feiffer tells the story of starting his cartoons for The Village Voice. Before his first strip came out, his mother — who terrified and tyrannized Jules — warned him that if there were a terrifying, tyrannizing woman in the strip, it better not look like her! Confident that his drawing looked nothing like his mother, Jules assured her she was safe. When the strip came out, Jules writes in his memoir, he stared at it. There was his mother.

I teach others to write and recognize that some people want a 10-easy-step version of how to succeed. “No,” I have to tell them. “It doesn’t work that way.”

I can help you get started and I can make the job easier. But part of the writing process will always remain mysterious.

My thanks to Peter Wilson for alerting me to the New York Times story.

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[How can I spend less time rewriting?]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17177 2017-09-01T00:02:04Z 2017-09-01T08:00:44Z Viewing time: 3 mins. 55 secs. The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question focuses.. Continue Reading]]>

Viewing time: 3 mins. 55 secs.

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question focuses on spending less time rewriting.

If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me at daphne@publicationcoach.com, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.

Transcript: 

Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant. Today we’re talking about the difference between editing and rewriting — and the benefits of thinking in advance.

Today I’m answering a question from Johanna Lönngren, a PhD candidate at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. Here’s what she wrote.

“I am wondering how exactly you define “editing”? For me — I write mostly academic texts —  “editing” a crappy first draft always means that I am completely rewriting the text. I don’t bother using track changes because there will not be any words that have not been changed. How do you manage to separate editing and writing? Or do you consider rewriting as editing?”

Thanks for your question, Johanna. The mix-up between writing and editing, and rewriting and editing plagues many academics and I have a suggestion for you that I think will make your academic life both easier and more productive.

Here’s the big idea: Don’t try to do all of your thinking on paper. There is lots of evidence that our brains work better when we’re moving or doing something else. So, instead of sitting at your computer, go for a walk. Or a run, or a swim. Getting the big muscles of your body moving will help your brain work better. This is partly because our brains use a LOT of oxygen. Even though the brain is a relatively small part of our body it needs 20% of the oxygen we require. Below, I’m attaching a link to a recent blog post I’ve written about that topic.

Now, I know it is probably not a good idea – or even possible – to take notes while swimming. But, the amazing thing about big ideas is that you won’t forget them. Of course, for those people who still want to be able to take notes, stick to walking and take your cell phone with you.

I’ve worked with many academics in the last five years and they’ve all told me that adding walking — or some other form of exercise — to their daily working life has made a huge difference to them.

But if you have any doubt about whether this is a good idea, let me spell out the other downsides of “thinking on paper.”

First, every word you write takes a certain effort. If you haven’t done the thinking beforehand, you’re going to be writing down all sorts of words you aren’t going to be able to use.

Second, every word you write also needs to be edited. Editing is hard work. And time consuming. Every minute you spend editing words that will eventually be removed is time wasted!

It makes way more sense, and it’s a lot more productive to do your work in a more logical order. First, think and research and read. Then, mindmap. Then, write. And finally, revise. Of course, when you’re revising you might get new ideas — and that’s not a problem.

But if you’re always planning on substantial rewriting — so substantial that no words will remain unchanged — that suggests to me that you’re not allowing enough time for thinking in the first place.

As for what to call your rewriting — is it editing or is it writing? — I don’t think it really matters. It’s still work. And you want to get the most value possible for every minute you put in.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of where you do your thinking, let me wrap up with a quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the groundbreaking musical Hamilton: “The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son.”

Thanks for your question, Johanna. I wish you luck in finding new places to do your thinking so you develop really good ideas that need less rewriting.

Links:

Why is writing so tiring?

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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[The figurative language of Tom Perrotta….]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17157 2017-08-30T13:38:07Z 2017-08-31T08:00:23Z Reading time: Just over 1 minute I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading... Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors and similes from novelist and screenplay writer Tom Perrotta….

Tom Perrotta (pictured above) is the bestselling author of nine works of fiction, including Election and Little Children, both of which were made into Oscar-nominated films. I read his latest novel, Mrs Fletcher, eagerly because I enjoy satirical writing as long as it’s handled by someone with a heart. This book, however, I found sadder and grimmer than his previous titles.Beccca released the bike – it balanced on its own for a moment before toppling dreamily onto the grass.

Still, Perrotta displayed his usual flair for figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • Becca released the bike – it balanced on its own for a moment before toppling dreamily onto the grass.
  • He was one of Eve’s favorites, a longtime regular at the Center, one of those chatty, friendly guys who moved through life like a politician running for reelection, shaking everyone’s hand, always asking after the grandkids.
  • At the Senior Center, Amanda’s tattoos were a constant source of friction with the clients, and, apparently, an open invitation to criticism, like one of those bumper stickers that read, How’s my driving?
  • “Visiting my mom.” Trish made a sour face, as if this were an unpleasant obligation, like jury duty.
  • There was nothing to do but lie awake in the darkness and watch the bad thoughts float by, an armada of bleak prospects and unhappy memories.
  • A professor with crazy-clown hair was lecturing a bearded grad student who kept nodding like his head was on a spring.
  • Feeling a little self-conscious, Eve removed the olive pit from her mouth and placed it daintily on her plate. There were six of them now, lined up like bullets with bits of stray flesh stuck to the surface.
  • Chris took another napkin from the dispenser. Instead of wiping his face, he unfolded I very carefully and laid it over his plate, like he was covering his bones with a blanket.
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Daphne Gray-Grant http://publicationcoach.com/old <![CDATA[What does the word ‘skeevy’ mean?]]> http://www.publicationcoach.com/?p=17150 2017-08-29T03:01:50Z 2017-08-30T08:00:21Z Reading time: Less than 1 minute Increase your vocabulary, and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I.. Continue Reading]]>

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary, and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: skeevy….

I choose today’s word, skeevy, not because I didn’t know what it meant but because I wanted to take the chance to explore its etymology.

I encountered it in an Aug. 7 & 14/17 New Yorker review of  Tom Perrotta’s latest novel, Mrs Fletcher. Written by Laura Miller, the review appeared under the headline, “A Family Affair.” But, interestingly, the Internet version of the story carried a different headline, using the word in question: “When the suburbs get skeevy.” Here is how Miller used the adjective:

Brendan has inherited some of his father’s skeevy prerogatives.

I’d long understood the word to mean “sleazy,” the use employed here, but some quick research revealed that it can also mean creepy, dirty, dodgy, repulsive and nasty. Typically, the word is used to describe people but it can also apply to situations or objects, such as the garbage bins in the picture above.

The word is Italian in origin, schifo meaning ‘repugnance, disgust.’ (In Italian, SCH is pronounced with a hard K sound.) It dates back to as recently as the 1970s.

 

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