Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Today's Writing Tip Is about When to Capitalize New Year

Should you capitalize the term new year? Only if it's a proper noun. If you want to wish someone a happy new year, and you make that a declarative sentence, then don't capitalize it.

Proper noun -- Happy New Year to all my writer friends and subscribers!

Simple greeting -- I want to wish all my writer friends and subscribers a very happy new year. (No capitals.)

The same is true of merry Christmas. If I’m referring to someone having a merry Christmas, I'm not going to capitalize it because I could just as easily use any other adjective -- happy Christmas, festive Christmas, sober Christmas. However, if I am using the saying “Merry Christmas,” which is much like a command, then I will use the caps:

Merry Christmas! (Command.)

Have a very merry Christmas. (No caps, except Christmas is always capitalized because it’s a proper noun and an occasion.)

Let's hope that most people are drinking too much eggnog to notice if you make the occasional slip with these terms.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books including Be Your Own Editor, available for free download on from now until December 31.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today's Writing Tip Is on Our Favorite Words

Many writers have certain words that they use repeatedly without any awareness of doing so. Writer A may love the word invariably and use it throughout a business proposal. Writer B may add the phrase "as well" or "too" to the end of dozens of sentences in her novel.

Often it's hard to recognize words that we overuse, which is why it's good to have someone else read your copy before you submit a manuscript or short story to a publisher. Meanwhile, if you blog or write for an audience, ask your readers what words tend to reappear in your work.

I often use whereas and however; I do this in order to avoid using the word but. But there are times when it's better to choose a different word, even if it sounds pedestrian. Bookmark a good thesaurus and search for synonyms for the words that you tend to use often.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon in paperback for $15.34 ( or Kindle ( for $3.99. Buy it directly from me for $9.99 from now until Christmas. Visit

Friday, November 26, 2010

RE: Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use i.e. and e.g.

Many people are unsure about when to use the abbreviation i.e. and when to use e.g. First, let's look at what these abbreviations stand for.

Contrary to popular belief, the initials i.e. do not stand for Internet Explorer! They stand for “id est," which is Latin for "that is to say" or "in other words." E.g. means "for example" or" such as." Its Latin derivative is "exemplī grātiā .” (If you want to abbreviate Internet Explorer, use the capital letters IE.)

Using these in a sentence, we would say, Darren has a strong background in science (i.e., he has studied physics and chemistry.) Or Darren has an extensive vocabulary (e.g., he can think of 25 different synonyms for awesome or amazing.)

Sometimes these terms can be used interchangeably but other times they can't. A good rule of thumb is to remember that i.e. is a clarification. Christopher is my nephew (i.e., he is my brother's son). We have to use "that is" to explain Christopher's relationship to me. It wouldn't make sense to use e.g.

Note that you always want to insert periods with i.e. and e.g. and then to use a comma afterwards.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon in paperback for $15.79 ( or Kindle ( for $3.99. Buy it directly from me for $9.99 from now until Christmas. Visit

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


From now until Christmas, Be Your Own Editor, which makes a perfect gift for friends, colleagues and family, is available directly through me for $9.99, not including shipping and handling. Please send an e-mail to sigridmac at and put BYOE in the subject title.  Happy writing! Sigrid

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Using the Find and Replace Feature in Microsoft Word

Many of you are probably familiar with the function within Microsoft Word that allows us to find a particular word or phrase, and replace it with something else. Like the ubiquitous spell-check, sometimes this works wonders and other times it can cause more trouble than it's worth.

Let's say I have a 150 page document and I want to change the name Mark to Marvin. I click on the “Home” tab in Office 2010 at the very far left corner of my manuscript. Then on the far right I see the words “Find,” “Replace” and “Select.” I hit “Find” and type in Mark. Then I click “Replace” and type in Marvin and hit OK. Bravo. Everything converts.

But recently I went into a 3,300 word document and tried to replace the word “she” with “I.” Word made 1,119 replacements! Not exactly the correction that I had in mind. Even though I had capitalized the term “I,” it replaced the character “i” in every word including "with," “interesting” or “line.”

That's because I didn't realize that there is a pull-down menu in the “Find” and “Replace” feature. All I had to do was click on "find whole words only" and I was able to substitute the word "I" for "she." Good thing. I'm co-writing a book that started out as fiction but we've turned it into nonfiction; if I had continued to change all of my words manually, I may have still been writing long after Mars had been colonized.

Now you know how to optimize your use of the Find and Replace feature in Microsoft Word, too!

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon in paperback for $15.34 ( or Kindle ( for $3.79.
From now until Christmas, Be Your Own Editor is available directly through me as an e-book for $1.99. Send an e-mail to sigridmac at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Today's Writing Tip Is about Establishing Authority

Often writers want to sound modest, so they say things like "I'm not an authority,” or "I could be wrong.” This may work well in general conversation or on a message board, but it doesn't fly in a book, blog post or an article. Why not? Well, if you're not an authority, why should I care what you write?

Let's say you're discussing bullying. If you preface your remarks by saying that this is just your humble opinion and you may not be right, readers have no reason to give your words any credibility. Take the time and the effort to establish and substantiate your position; then don't undermine yourself by saying that you're not an authority.

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript editor, and the author of three books including Be Your Own Editor. BYOE is available on Amazon in soft cover ( and on Kindle ( Or get 20% off the regular price by writing directly to the author at Read more at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Today's Writing Tip Is Those Damn Homonyms

I live in a small residential community that is part of a large metropolis. My neighborhood will be undergoing extensive construction to build a light rail system. I had questions about this so I wrote to my local town councilman. Because I use a voice dictation program, when I dictated my letter, instead of saying Councillor Chiarelli, it said Counselor Chiarelli. I noticed this while I was dictating, but I forgot about it by the end of the letter, and sent it with the wrong title.

What are some of the most embarrassing typos that you've made? My voice program will make some real doozies that don't even resemble typos because they are related to voice, rather than keyboard errors, so I really have to watch homonyms (e.g., when I said, "dictation" above, my Dragon NaturallySpeaking program typed the words "patient program.") I could use a laugh today. Tell me and my readers about your funniest typos. Post them here on my blog.

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript evaluator, and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, now available on (Paperback) and (Kindle).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Today's Writing Tip Is on Obscure References

Last week, I finished reading Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich. It was a wonderful critique of the down side of too much positive thinking, and how this can be used to blame people for making themselves ill, and even contribute to economic decline, if leaders in power don't want to hear any "bad news."

I wrote Ehrenreich a letter and entitled it "The Bright Side of the Road." I wanted to grab her attention by using a song title by Van Morrison. Right after I pressed send -- naturally! -- it occurred to me that maybe she wasn't a fan of Van's. If so, she could've missed my reference and thought I was misquoting the title of her book.

Now I will be more careful with obscure references. What may seem obvious to me may be a mystery to someone else. The goal of writing is not to be clever, but to be clear in communicating.

This week I'm giving away three free e-copies of Be Your Own Editor to the first people who can each list five well-known dystopian books (not movies). If the first poster mentions The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the second poster cannot repeat that title. Post your answers on my blog at and gear up for the next quiz where the winner will win a free paperback copy of the book!

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor, a manuscript evaluator, and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor. Find it on Amazon in paperback for $12.92 ( or on Kindle for $3.79 (

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Could Care Less about Today's Writing Tip!

Some people have trouble determining when to use the phrase, "I could care less," and when to say, "I couldn't care less." Here's an illustration:

A local radio show is about to go off the air, and Bill is upset. He loves this program, but his friend Bob can't stand it. Bob has no interest in talk radio, therefore, he could not care less about the show's demise. Saying that Bob could care less would mean that he would have to care somewhat to begin with, but he doesn't care at all.

There may be rare instances when you want to say "could care less," but it can only be used when someone already cares. Most of the time this expression is used to indicate indifference, so you want to use, "I couldn't care less."

John Cleese says it best:

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript evaluator, and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, now available on (Paperback) and on sale at (Kindle).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

RSVP, Please -- Today's Writing Tip Is on Redundancy

How many times do you run across phrases like this?

David just sent me a text from his cell phone.
I have to be there at 10 AM in the morning.
He was all alone by himself.
The rugged kayak lover grew up in a tiny little town.

Stop! There's no need to repeat yourself. We know that a text message is not being sent from a toaster, and that 10 AM will always be morning. When you're writing, it's good to be creative and allow your juices to flow. Get everything down. But when you're editing, streamline. Cut everything that's unnecessary. It will make for a much cleaner sentence... And there is no need to add "please" to RSVP because SVP stands for s'il vous plaît, the French term for please.

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, an editor, and the author of three books, including the newly released Be Your Own Editor, available on Lulu or on Amazon in paperback, and on Kindle. (Paperback) (Kindle)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today's Writing Tip -- When to Use Then and Than

People often confuse then and than, although they mean completely different things. Then is most often used as an adverb, and it indicates something that takes place after an initial action, whereas than is a conjunction usually used to make comparisons. Here are some examples:

"I ordered Chinese food. Then I went looking for a great DVD."

"I ordered Chinese food, which is much better than Thai in my opinion."

The hazard of using "then" is that it's easy to write a run-on sentence, because it often seems as though "then" is still part of your initial sentence. But it's not. Example -- "I got in the car, then turned on the radio." That's not officially correct. If you're a stickler for grammar, you can rephrase it by saying, "I got in the car, and then turned on the radio." Or make it into two sentences: "I got in the car. Then I turned on the radio."

Hope everyone enjoyed their Chinese take-in, DVDs, and great music over the weekend.

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript evaluator, and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, now available on (Paperback) and (Kindle).

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Monday, June 7, 2010

How to Write a Smashing E-Mail: Part Three

In part two of this series, I discussed the importance of using a subject line in e-mails. Today, I’d like to focus on the content of e-mails, specifically what information can be omitted.

Don't spend half your e-mail apologizing for the amount of time that it has taken you to reply to the sender. This is the adult version of "the dog ate my homework." There's no need for an explanation and oftentimes it backfires. You're trying to be polite. You want someone to know why it has taken you two days or three weeks to reply to a note. So you expound with an elaborate description of how busy you've been. But does this make the recipients feel better? Not always.

Sometimes, it makes them feel worse. If you're so busy, maybe the people you're writing to aren't that important. Maybe they’re taking up your precious time. You are certainly wasting their time by going on for three or four lines about your busy schedule. Move on! Sometimes an apology is warranted and you can make a brief acknowledgment, simply stating that you're sorry that it took so long to get back to the person. But don't go on about why. No one really needs or cares to know unless the matter is urgent and pertains to them (e.g., your cat died and the person you're writing to is an animal lover).

Tune in on Monday, June 21, for Part Four of "How to Write a Smashing E-mail."

* This article was written for and reprinted from

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript evaluator, and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, now available on (Paperback) and (Kindle).

Today's Writing Tip: Could of, Should of, Would of

I grew up in Northern New Jersey and many people, myself included, would often say, "I could of gone to that movie but I decided to go shopping instead." Well, what we should have done was stay home to study! Because "could of" should be replaced by "could have."

"I could have gone to that movie. I should have gone to that movie. I would have gone to that movie if I hadn't been biologically compelled to go to Bloomingdale's."

Whatever you say can be much more casual than what you write, except if you're a public speaker. In that case, you want to be just as careful when you're speaking as when you're writing. Meanwhile, remember that "could of" is improper usage.

*This article was reprinted from

Sigrid Macdonald is a book coach, a manuscript evaluator, and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, now available on (Paperback) and (Kindle).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Today's Writing Tip: Don't Mix Past and Present Tense

Lately, I've been listening to a CD called "Warning" by Green Day. In fact, it's been on instant replay in my car. I often sing along -- only in private, mind you -- and I always sing the wrong word on a certain line. I finally figured out why that is. It's because the boys are mixing past and present tense, and I'm automatically filling in the correct grammatical version.

Here's the line from "Macy's Day Parade": "When I was a kid, I thought I wanted all the things that I haven't got." Okay. What's wrong with that sentence? The words "thought" and "wanted" are both in past tense, but the word "haven't," a contraction for "have not," is in present tense. There are a couple of ways to fix this. First, we could say, "When I was a kid I thought, I wanted all the things that I had not (or hadn't) got." That keeps everything in past tense. Second, we could have someone from the present reflect back on the past and rephrase the sentence like this: "When I was a kid, I thought, I want all the things that I haven't got." (Many people use italics for thoughts, instead of quotation marks.)

Who knew how educational Green Day could be?

Sigrid Macdonald, Author of Be Your Own Editor, now available on

*This article was reprinted from

Tips for Writing a Smashing E-Mail: Part Two

Two weeks ago, I talked about why we should go out of our way to protect people's identities and privacy in e-mail. Today I'm going to focus on the importance of the subject line.

How many times do you receive an e-mail without a subject line? I get them constantly. How difficult is it to write two or three words, to let the person you're writing to know what your note is about? It will help him or her to prioritize the reading and response time for your message, and will add clarity to what you're trying to say.

For example, if you've been writing back and forth with a topic that started out discussing Charlotte Bronte and your monthly book discussion group, but by the fifth response, you've moved on to talking about your upcoming vacation to the Bahamas, change the subject line to reflect that. It’s confusing to receive a note that says, "hairdresser" when the message inside is all about the BP oil spill. Be clear and pay attention to the way that your e-mail can change topics from the original one.

Unless the material below in ongoing conversations is critical, and someone may want to reference it, it's thoughtful to delete the text. There's nothing like clogging up the bandwidth with clutter. It just takes a few extra seconds to be the one who clears the previous and now irrelevant messages. But don't do this if someone will need the info at the bottom of the page. Maybe it has a phone number, a meeting date or an important address. Check before you remove material.

And tune in on June 7th for tip number three on how to write a terrific e-mail.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, now available on

*This article has been reprinted from

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

You Definitely Want to Pay Attention to This!

This week, I've seen the word definitely spelled wrong about 10 times.

Since this is such a common error, I thought I would take this opportunity to say that if you are spelling definitely as definately, you are definitely wrong!

Why does this happen? I think it has to do with pronunciation. Many people pronounce the term as deaf-in -at-ly instead of deaf-in-net-ly. (Yes, I added the "a" in "deaf" deliberately for phonetics.)

An easy way to remember the correct spelling is to think of the word define. If you remember define, you'll be fine!

Sorry, couldn't pass up the great chance to use that corny pun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Today's Writing Tip -- Talking Italian

Recently, I heard someone on the radio use this line: "It's a bunch of bunk, what the media is trying to feed you." That really made me laugh. I grew up in New Jersey and learned Soprano-speak early on. There is a certain way that ethnic groups, particularly first-generation Italians, will phrase their sentences that makes sense in their language but appears backwards in English. This is a prime example.

If we reverse that sentence, it would read, "What the media is trying to feed you is a bunch of bunk." That's sounds much more straightforward and familiar to us.

This is the kind of error that is made more frequently in speech than in writing, but if English is not your first language, you may want to have someone else review your copy if you're blogging or writing an important article.

And if English is your first language, stop talking Soprano! Tony has ways of punishing you from the great beyond.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor which will be released soon by TotalRecall Press in Texas. You can buy it from her directly for $17.99 by sending an e-mail and using PayPal.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Try to Practice This!

Today's Writing Tip -- Many of my clients use words like try, begin, or start. Often these words dilute the meaning of a sentence, especially when they're used repeatedly. Here's an example: "Ben said that he was going to begin writing his essay." Unless you want to emphasize the fact that he is just starting, a cleaner sentence would read, "Ben said he was going to write his essay."

Likewise with the word try. Often in the motivational speaking world or New Age movement, people like Wayne Dyer or Tony Robbins advise doing away with the word try altogether. Don't try, just do it! Using poor Ben again, we could rephrase that sentence by saying, "Ben said that he was going to try to write his essay." If it's written that way, we have a mental picture of Ben struggling. It's even worse to say, "Ben said that he was going to try beginning writing his essay," because that's a long sentence that's bogged down by too many words. A cleaner sentence would read, "Ben said he was going to write his essay," or " Ben is writing his essay." We don't always need the word going either.

Be aware of words that slow down your sentences or dilute your meaning. There are definitely times that we want to emphasize someone trying, particularly when that person may fail. Or we want to highlight the fact that someone is beginning something because it's brand-new. But frequently, we can do without those terms.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today's Writing Tip is on How to Use the Words First, Second and Third

If you use the word first, remember to follow with the words second or third. For example, "There are many advantages to living in Florida: first, the sun shines all year round. Second, you don't have to devise a budget for snow removal." If you use the word first and neglect to say second or third afterwards, it doesn't make sense and your reader will notice that something is missing.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Today's writing tip is on misplaced modifiers.

What is a misplaced modifier? It's a word that modifies (or clarifies or qualifies) the wrong thing. Here's an example: "Joe almost barbecued all of the chicken." What is the writer trying to say here? "Almost barbecued" means that the food was only half done. Was the chicken raw? Unlikely. The writer probably meant to say, "Joe barbecued almost all of the chicken." That means that there was still some chicken that hadn't been barbecued.

Just recently, I told a friend I had enjoyed visiting my brother and hanging out in his garden with the dog and his wife. When did the dog suddenly get a wife? I was just too lazy to correct that sentence in e-mail but it should have read, "I had fun hanging out in my brother's garden, talking to his wife and playing with the dog." Then no one would be confused about the marital status of dogs.

Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Today's writing tip is on double negatives

I was listening to a local radio station recently -- I won't give you the name because I never kiss and tell -- and one of the announcers was talking about the Nortel pension crisis. He said, "Most people are not going to get nothing." Using a double negative is always awkward. My announcer would have been better off saying, "Most people are going to get something." Not only does that sentence work better grammatically, but it also leaves the listener with a more positive impression about pension funds.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One Word or Two -- Anymore or Any More

Today's Writing Tip -- when should you use anymore or any more? "I don't want any more snow!" means you don't want *additional* snow (and you're in good company). "I don't want to live someplace where it snows anymore" means you don't want to live in a cold weather climate *any longer.* "I'm dying for more snow" means you are a masochist if you live in New York or D.C.

Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Smash your Way onto Kindle

This time last year, hardly anyone had heard of Kindle, a new grayscale, mobile reading application for electronic books. Originally released in 2007 by Amazon, this hardware became available internationally in October of 2009. By the end of the year, Amazon estimated that they had sold 1.5 million units of the original Kindle 1, as well as the newer version, the Kindle 2, priced at $299 US. For the first time ever, sales of e-books exceeded those of books in print on Christmas Day of 2009.

Americans who have their books in print on Amazon can apply for Kindle directly through the company. Then they can easily upload their book in the form of the PDF. This is a cinch compared to what the global community has to go through because at the moment, Amazon only accepts Kindle applications from people living in the U.S. That's hard to understand from an international company, but I think they've applied this restriction because Amazon is paying royalties directly through American bank accounts. So if you are an American author, just log into Amazon and apply for your Kindle account. Then transfer your book and Amazon does all the dirty work. You just sit back and collect the money.

International authors can use to publish, promote and distribute their books. Since they pay a higher percent of royalties, Americans may also consider using this free website to convert material. The downside to Smashwords is that they require a very specific type of formatting in order to make your book presentable to upload. That's because Smashwords goes beyond Kindle; they recognize that people are also downloading e-books and reading them on other apps like the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch, the Sony Reader, the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile Smartphone, Palm Treo, etc.

Personally, I found the formatting process to be complicated, but the technical support was fantastic. First, the company has a free style glide that takes the reader step-by-step through the formatting process. Second, a real live person answers e-mail if you write and talk about your distress! In fact, I formatted my hip replacement book on New Year's Eve day and actually received a response from one of the heads of the company. He bent over backwards to help me out and get my book going.

In addition, Smashwords has a list of low-cost people to hire if you'd rather sit through a root canal than reformat tab and paragraph indents. Finally, Smashwords will take your newly formatted e-book and put it on the Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo (formerly Shortcovers), so you have a greater distribution with them than through Amazon alone.

With technology changing so quickly, we want to keep up with current trends. It's also important to multi-stream our income and have our books in a variety of formats. E-books used to be tedious because they had to be read on a desktop or laptop, but those days are long gone. A Kindle reader can hold up to 1500 non-illustrated books-- make sure that yours is one of them.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of Be Your Own Editor. Visit her at Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Today's Writing Tip -- One Word or Two?

Some words are confusing because they can be spelled as either one word or two. Take percent, anymore, or every day.

Percent was originally spelled as two words, and the British and Canadians continue that trend; however, in the U.S., it's spelled as one word.

Anymore means different things when it's spelled as one word or two. If you're wondering if there is extra chocolate mousse, you would say, "Is there any more chocolate?" (This is reminiscent of Oliver Twist.) In that case, the word means additional. But if you've had too much chocolate -- hard to envision, but I'm sure that it happens to some people -- then you want to say, "No, thanks. I don't even want to see chocolate anymore!" In the last example, anymore means ever again.

Every day is two words when you're using it as a noun. But when you're using everyday as an adjective, make it one word. Here is an example. "Every day I go about my everyday activities."
If you're unsure about when to use one word or two, drop me a comment and I'll reply.

Happy writing! Sigrid

Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bruce Atchison Reviews Be Your Own Editor

We all understand that writing is a craft but it need not be a mysterious or tedious one. Sigrid Macdonald, a Canadian author and editor, has just written a guide to editing that is both informative and conversational. Even irksome subjects such as punctuation and sentence structure are handled in a light-hearted way. This book is perfect for beginners and serves as a refreshing reminder to long-time writers.

English was never my best subject in school. I dreaded receiving my essays back from my Language Arts teacher because I knew there would be red Xs and incomprehensible scribbles all over the page. My mind turned to mush daily as the teacher rambled on about conjunctions and clauses. Worse yet, nobody took the time to explain why my modifiers were misplaced or why my participles were dangling. A book such as Be Your Own Editor would have helped me get better marks and I would have appreciated the flashes of humour in the text.

Sigrid's book takes much of the mystery out of writing and does it with comradely kindness. From building confidence to publishing a story or non-fiction text, this guide will be of help to all who apply its lessons. While the book is not a replacement for style guides and the impartial scrutiny of somebody not emotionally invested in the work, it does serve to remind authors of all calibers about the basic mistakes we all make.

Be Your Own Editor can be purchased through Lulu Enterprises as an e-book and will be in paperback form in February. Visit Sigrid's blog for more information.

Bruce Atchison -- Canadian author of Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind

Posted on Canadian Authors' Network

Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Interview with Bruce Atchison: Being a Visually-Impaired Writer

Interview with Bruce Atchison: Being a Visually-Impaired Writer

Sigrid Macdonald: What kind of special challenges do you face as a visually-impaired writer?

Bruce Atchison: Writing is intensively visual and the procedure of composing a manuscript is oriented toward people with sight. In my case, I can't just pick up a style guide or magazine and read it since I'm almost blind. This also rules out using computers unless they are equipped with screen-reading software that converts the text on the screen to synthetic speech. Totally blind writers are in a worse
bind than I am since I have enough vision to use a magnifier. Imagine how lost you'd be if PCs and Macs had no monitors. Because I can't drive, writerly activities such as doing book signings and readings are out of the question. I personally can't tolerate noise so I moved out to a small hamlet where it's much easier for
me to focus on the synthetic voice from my computer. Because I need isolation to stay sane, I can only promote my writing online or at the local level.

Sigrid Macdonald: That must be very frustrating. Kudos to you for persisting. Are these challenges mainly technical in terms of navigating in Microsoft Word or on the Internet? Or do you also have difficulty describing things if you can't quite see them anymore, or have never seen them clearly?

Bruce Atchison: Though talking computers and the Internet help with writing and research, many programs cause problems with my screen reading software. WordPerfect 12 is one which I can't use because the program clashes with my screen reader. Furthermore, sighted writers can just click on icons but I need to learn keyboard commands, such as Alt F4, to accomplish the same things. Some programs are only accessible with icons so I can't use them. For example, I bought a CD-ROM of a study Bible but I could only access some of its features. Installing printer programs is especially frustrating as my screen reader can't speak the graphic text displayed on the monitor. Fortunately, I have enough sight in my right eye to use a powerful magnifying glass. Even so, it's a real pain to read like that and I really shouldn't be straining what little vision I have lest I lose it. The same happens with graphics-laden sites.

Then there's the problem of homonyms. Words like "berth" and "birth" sound exactly alike. Describing some aspects of scenes is difficult too. Since I've never seen clearly, I don't know what an "oily expression" or similar descriptions look like. I'm tempted to write a short story where the protagonist describes things in terms of blurs and smears instead of the usual visual descriptions. This may give those blessed with good sight an idea of what visually-disabled folks experience. One example of explaining how I see was when I once told a woman that I had trouble walking down her wooden steps because I couldn't tell what was a step and what was a crack. She immediately understood what I meant.

Sigrid Macdonald: I'd love to read a book that described the way you see the world; it would really raise awareness. Tell me about your first book on Jericho. Why did you write it and what would you like the reader to understand about it?

Bruce Atchison: My first book was actually When a Man Loves a Rabbit (Learning and Living With Bunnies),a memoir of my experiences living with house rabbits. I wrote Deliverance From Jericho(Six Years in a Blind School)because the friends who I told about my childhood experiences were astonished that I had to be sent so far from home to attend school. I did go to public school locally first but some government official decided I'd be better off "with my own kind." Though I described the heartbreak of being far from home and all I loved, I also included vignettes of what life was like in that institution. Some of them were outrageous but others were quite hilarious.

I've recently published a blog post at called "The Toilet Paper Caper." It's about the time I learned that soggy toilet paper would stick to the ceiling if it was well-packed and thrown there. I also wrote in Deliverance from Jericho of the effect that the government-run school had on me. Being isolated at that institution made it hard for me to reintegrate into society but I've done rather well. I graduated from public junior high and high school with fairly good marks, though I didn't matriculate.

Sigrid Macdonald: Luckily, we've come a long way since young children like you were sent so far away from home. You must've been so homesick and frightened. What a terrible thing to do to a child, but of course the government thought that they were acting in your best interest. Bruce, is there anything else that you'd like to tell readers?

Bruce Atchison: Though When a Man Loves a Rabbit(Learning and Living With Bunnies) was a reasonably light-hearted and entertaining book, I feel that Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School)has a very important message. Children have a natural longing to be home with their biological parents. Even those who were adopted, like my half sister, feel the pull to be with their real mom and dad. Social engineering schemes such as Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind ignored these factors and kept us apart from society. Had I owned a magnifying glass and monocular (an optical device for reading the blackboard), I could have gone all the way through public school. Institutions also tend to increase the risk of sexual abuse. Jericho was closed in 1998 when 350 deaf students and alumni won a class action suit against the British Columbia government. We blind kids didn't suffer any overt sexual abuse but a gym teacher was fired for playing a lewd game with us.

My hope is that my memoir of those years will encourage parents of disabled children to keep them at home and teach them how to live independently. I was so pathetic when I left Jericho that I didn't even know how to catch a bus or cross a busy street. Nobody there taught us those essential skills that public school students learn early on. If any of your readers are interested in finding out more about me and my books, they can go to the site, e-mail me at, or check out my page. I post updates there on my upcoming How I Was Razed memoir, the story of my involvement with a cult church, and on other writing activities.

Sigrid Macdonald: Yes, those institutions were rife with sexual and emotional abuse. I'm glad that you didn't have to endure that, but it's shocking that you weren't taught any life skills there or that you could have gone to public school with a magnifier! I'm sure that readers will learn quite a bit about life at the blind school, as well as your love for bunnies, in your writing. Bruce, thanks so much for illuminating us on your books and what it's like to be a writer with a visual impairment.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Review by Sid Allcorn

“…May you always be excited by the process as much as the byproduct of your writing.”

I could not pass up this quote from Be Your Own Editor. Sigrid has been my editor for three books now, and has always kept my process exciting by her waving of her magic wand over my notes. I am constantly reminded of this now as I read her masterful treatise on being your own editor.

Sigrid will mesmerize you as she spins her humour, anecdotes and good old–fashioned practical examples into a web of enlightenment. The best part about this book is the power of taking you from where you are to where you should be, and still inspiring and encouraging you all the way.

Bravo, Sigrid. Lead on.

At 74 years young, Sid Allcorn is a writer whose fictional heroine has the job of recreating the world, along with her husband Colin as emissaries of God. It is called "Ordinary Woman, Extraordinary Circumstances." Read more about Sid at

Buy Be Your Own Editor directly through me by hitting the Contact Me button or sending an e-mail to sigridmac at Or simplifiy your life and get it on PayPal.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review of Be Your Own Editor by Alex Binkley

Sigrid Macdonald has done aspiring and published writers alike a big favor by publishing Be Your Own Editor. It’s a highly readable guide to turning a mass of words into a publishable essay, short story, magazine article or book. She provides handy advice on fixing aggravating spelling and grammar mistakes that mar the best arguments and liveliest prose. Anyone struggling to finish an assignment, article or chapter will find useful tips for overcoming everything from the dreaded writer’s block to insipid language.

Macdonald, an editor and author, writes in a straightforward style about subjects that too often are rendered in stultifying academicism. She draws on her experiences to provide good examples about navigating the fine points of grammar and spelling. She has organized the book into chapters that cover pertinent topics such as what to do when the first draft is finished and polishing the prose for submission. In between is excellent advice on punctuation, consistency and how to get the most from the ubiquitous spell checker. And a few chuckles about the foibles of writers and editors along the way.

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writer, and 35-year member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa. He also writes for trade publications and does a weekly column for True North Perspectives.

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