Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Double Negatives

Normally we don't want to use a double negative, meaning we don't want two words in a sentence that indicate that we don't want to do something. For example, "I don't want nothing at the store" reads much better as "I don't want anything at the store." But sometimes there are exceptions.

Often written dialogue sounds more realistic with double negatives, especially if you are quoting people who are deliberately misspeaking such as teenagers who know better but are trying to sound cool, or people who are accidentally misspeaking such as those with English as a second language.

The other time that I like double negatives for writers is for emphasis. I was listening to a song by Boyzone yesterday (yes, I know, a boy band, slightly higher on the totem pole than Backstreet Boys, whom I also like, for the record. So, shoot me.) and they sang the following line: "I'll never not need you." Those words kept going around and around in my head, not just because I'm a writer and an editor and double negatives pop out at me like a caterpillar crawling through a Caesar salad but also because of the impact the line made. Never not need you. It sounded so romantic, much more so than "I'll always need you."

So, double negatives aren't always taboo, but in general they are something we want to avoid. The trick about using them is to know the rule first – that they are not grammatically correct – and then feel free to break that rule if you have good reason.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Slang

Sometimes we're not sure how to spell slang words. Is it gonna and wanna, goo’ night, yer mother, and hook up? What about profanity? God damn right or goddamn right? Can you spell the word boys as boyz if you want to give it a hip-hop feel? Should we just guess and standardize our diction using a style sheet? Urban dictionary to the rescue!

There are a number of excellent slang dictionaries online that tell us the proper way to spell phat (no, I'm not talking about that feeling of despair when you stand on the scale), innit (British), and other words that may not appear in traditional dictionaries. And like Merriam-Webster,, or Collins Gage, these dictionaries are individualized for the US, Canada, and the UK.

Actually, it can be fun to just browse these dictionaries to find new words, but they're also very useful to have in our toolkit when we come up against slang or swear words that we know how to say but we're not completely sure how to spell.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. Her last book, Be Your Own Editor, is available on Amazon: and you can read more about her editing services at  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is: Do Authors Need a Social Media Presence?

Whether a writer self-publishes or publishes through a traditional company, much of the marketing nowadays falls on the writer's shoulders. For years publicists and advertising specialists have encouraged authors to develop a strong social media presence: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and now Instagram have been recommended as essential tools for writers to promote their material. But are these avenues essential? More importantly, are they effective and lucrative? It depends.

Personally, I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on Facebook and Twitter. Out of the 10,000 books I've sold, I probably sold about 30 through Facebook and I've received two or three clients at most for my editing services on LinkedIn and Twitter combined. I have also paid hundreds of dollars to consultants to optimize my Facebook page, to no avail in terms of selling books. I have, however, reconnected with numerous precious people from high school and college, so I would never say Facebook has been a complete waste. But it has not been effective for me in terms of book sales. Ditto for most of the dozens of authors I know.

Because I'm a scientist at heart, I know that my friends and I are just anecdotal evidence. Our experiences don't constitute proof that social media is irrelevant for authors, but if you want to devote hours to Facebook for the sole purpose of selling books, make sure to create a fan page for yourself and update it regularly, preferably every day. The fan page has to be separate from your regular page and you should attempt to build a wide base there. Post excerpts from your book, your book cover, info about book signings, and hold contests. Give away free electronic copies of your book and occasionally a print copy. Consider paying Facebook for advertising. And make yourself accessible. The worst thing to do is to create a fan page and then disappear and only update once a month. No one will read it in that case.

Twitter and LinkedIn are different stories. LinkedIn is much more business oriented and good for connections, but Twitter moves fast. If you follow other authors in your genre, they are likely to follow you back but will not necessarily buy your books. Set aside a certain amount of time per week for promoting your book on these venues – but by all means don't be aggressive. There is nothing people dislike more than people who ramble and obsess on a newsfeed begging them to buy their books. Then do an inventory after a few months to see if your presence there has made any difference in book sales. If not, reconsider the value of social media for book promotion and just use it for fun.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. Her last book, Be Your Own Editor, is available on Amazon:


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Castles Made of Sand

The other day I was in the car listening to Jimi Hendrix and I nearly drove off the road when I heard him sing, "And so castles made of sand melts into the sea eventually." Okay, we have to give this rock God a major pass for making some of the best music in the world when he was out of his mind on too much acid and writing before the invention of the spellchecker. But can we gently, and with love, deconstruct that sentence and try to determine the origin of Jimi's mistake?

Hendrix probably thought that sand melts and he forgot that the beginning of his sentence, and the direct subject, was castles, not sand. Usually we can tell by the way things sound when our subject and verb are not in agreement, but if you tend to go into your own purple haze, where you might forget what’s supposed to match, keep in mind that several extraneous words or clauses may intervene between your primary subject and your verb. And go back to take the extra time to make sure that your subjects and verbs line up.

Of course, you could always try writing when you're high to increase your creativity, but proofreading when you're stone cold sober!

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon:


Monday, October 7, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Efficiency

One way I have found to be efficient in business and my personal life is to take the thing that I want to do least and do it first. Every morning when I get up, I assess what I have to do for work and what I have to do to keep my fabulous recreational life going. And I decide which tasks are fun and easy and which ones are a total bore or difficult. I take the latter and knock them off right away. That means that by 10 a.m. or 11 o'clock, my day is filled with things I want to do because I've already completed the ones I didn't want to do.

This works for writing as well. There are always some things we enjoy more about writing than others. This varies from person to person. Let's say you're writing a novel and you adore writing the action scenes, but you hate fact checking. As soon as you tackle your work, devote a specific period of time to fact checking. It might be twenty minutes or however long you think you can tolerate. Then get back to writing your action scenes. You'll feel so much better knowing that the task you dreaded is already out of the way.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. Her last book, Be Your Own Editor, is available on Amazon:


Monday, September 30, 2013

Make a Living As a Virtual Writer

By Lisa Ramsay

Being a writer is something thousands of people aspire to be. However, there will only ever be a handful of authors whose work is remembered in the decades and centuries to come. The rest of us can accept that while we’ll never be Jane Austen or Dan Brown, it is possible to make a living as a writer. Most aspiring writers who want to put pen to paper, or fingertip to MacBook, do it because they love their craft. It’s this passion for writing which means that many writers work for free, or for a very low wage; but it is possible to make a living from doing what you love. Although the romanticism of writing a novel in longhand might belong to the previous century, the digital age means there’s now more outlets than ever before for wannabe writers.

Traditional media

Trained journalists can write for local and national newspapers, magazines, and media websites. Specialist reporters may write about the arts, culture, sport or business. There are also a huge variety of trade journals which provide news to different industries, such as farming or pharmaceuticals. These are called B2B (business to business) titles. The huge variety of printed and online established media means that there’s plenty of opportunity for writers. Most journalists who work for publications such as these are trained reporters, however there are opportunities for writers who are not specifically trained in journalism to get their work published.

Many local newspapers have leisure, sports, and business sections, either in print, online, or both. To start writing for a local audience, why not get in touch with a title to see if they need any help writing features? If you have a specialist subject, such as farming, flower arranging or pet care, then you could write about this, either as a one-off article or as a regular column. You may not get paid much (or not at all) but if the editor knows that he or she can rely upon you to write good quality material to deadline, then you might be the first person they call when a paid opportunity comes up.

Get paid for writing at home

There are more websites than ever before, and the number is growing by the day. Site owners don’t want empty pages so there are lots of opportunities to write online content. Most online writing includes knowledge of SEO – search engine optimization – and there are lots of online courses and tutorials to help you learn the basics about the importance of key words. The Internet is vast, and so the topics you could write about are endless: from business and finance, to arts and holidays. Unlike printed media, there is a greater opportunity to be paid when it comes to writing online content. Website owners want good quality content which attracts readers to their pages, but they often won’t have the time to source this themselves. This means that online content writing agencies have become an easy way to match writers with websites which need content. By writing for you will have the opportunity to have your work read by thousands of people across the world. It’s a great way to start getting paid for writing. You can even write in the comfort of your own home, at any time of the day you want, so whether you’re an early bird or a night owl you’ll find work to suit you.

Join the writing community

For most people it is a dream to work from home, but some also worry that it will be lonely. Fortunately writers are all in the same situation – and they’re good at expressing themselves! This means there is a lively online community of writers and those interested in writing, all typically sitting at home but connecting with each other online. Twitter is a great place to ‘meet’ other writers, as many well-established and novice authors and journalists have their own accounts. It can be a useful resource for writers who feel they need some moral support, and can also offer practical advice. Accounts such as @writingupdate can offer tips and news about the wider writing community, keeping you in the loop.

Take the first step

Whatever you decide to write, just make sure you fill that blank page. Whether you start by writing your own blog, online content, or features, there is something out there for everyone. The most important thing is to enjoy the process – as that is what writing is all about. 


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Today's Writing Tip – Close Your Clauses

Often in haste, or without realizing that we need to do so, writers will begin to separate a segment of a sentence and then forget to close it off.

Here's an example – "My brother is bringing his fiancée, Diane to Thanksgiving dinner." What's wrong with that sentence? Diane is my brother's one and only fiancée – one would hope. We start out by separating her first name by a comma, but then we don't add the remaining comma which would complete the sentence.
How should we write it? "My brother is bringing his fiancée, Diane, to Thanksgiving dinner." The way you can tell that the latter is right is that you can eliminate Diane altogether from that sentence and it will still make sense. "My brother is bringing his fiancée to Thanksgiving dinner."

Of course, Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without Diane so we are not eliminating her invitation!

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of five books including How to Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon:





Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tips for Writers Honing Their Skills Later in Life

Tips for Writers Honing Their Skills Later in Life
 by Lisa Ramsay

We are often in awe of writers who find success when they are very young: after all, there’s something impressive about reaching the top of your game and finding literary success in your 20s, especially if this is achieved without support. We can all reel off a long list of award winning young things, but it’s much harder to list those writers who came to the art and found success later in life. However, there are many, and some of those might come as a surprise. There are many reasons writers choose to come to writing later in life: redundancy, empty nest, even overcoming a lifelong addiction of some kind. 

Famous Late Bloomers

Donald Ray Pollock, author of 2011’s award winning novel The Devil All the Time, was the ripe age of 55 when this, his debut novel, garnered success. Pollock actually dropped out of school at the age of 17, and went to work in a meatpacking plant. He then worked at a paper mill for 32 years and it was only then he began his education, enrolling in Ohio University’s MFA program. He published a set of short stories the year before he graduated, when he was 55, and his award winning debut quickly followed. A similar tale is that of the more famous Raymond Chandler. Chandler didn’t decide to become a writer until he lost his job as an oil company executive when he was 44 years old. He published his first short story in 1933 and The Big Sleep, his most successful and debut novel, was published in 1939.

Another writer choosing to come to the craft later in life is Deborah Eisenberg, who decided to start writing whilst quitting her three packs a day smoking habit by going cold turkey. She went on to become one of the most amazing living short story writers when her first collection was published at the age of 41, and all because she had an addiction she wanted to quit! Writing is a great way to overcome an addiction, whether that be to cigarettes or alcohol, an illegal substance, an eating disorder, or all the above. When you are struggling with an addiction, you tend to be withdrawn and to focus inwards; however, writing forces you to focus your energy on looking outwards and to channel your emotions in a positive way. If you have a dual-diagnosis of eating disorder and addiction, then it's likely that you will have a multitude of difficult physical and emotional problems to process in order to begin healing, and start your recovery process: perhaps even more so than someone facing just one addiction to overcome.  Dealing with difficult emotions is a great, and very common, reason that people choose to begin writing. It is a positive and productive way to deal with any hard or confusing times in your life.

Top Tips for New Writers

If you are, for whatever reason, thinking of coming to writing later in life, then here are some tips for taking up the craft and honing your skills as a serious writer:

Try Not to Procrastinate

Procrastination is part of the human condition. When you decide you want to write, you’ll suddenly find yourself fascinated with the temperature of your coffee, the color of your pen; anything to avoid actually poring yourself onto that piece of paper. Mary Heaton Vorse famously said that “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” And it’s true that if you want to write, the most important thing you can do is sit down and start writing, even if you have to edit out most of what you have written at the end of every day!

Read a Lot

Having told you not to procrastinate, I will now provide this next tip, which will seem odd: sit down and enjoy a good book. One that wasn’t written by you! Read everything you can get your hands on, and read as many different genres of literature as you can too. You can’t write well without reading: the two skills go hand in hand. Perhaps this is why writers who come to writing later in life find success so quickly: they are well read, they know what they like to read, and this makes writing a successful novel decisively a little easier.

Be Honest

If you’ve lived a long and varied life, and seen a lot of things you never expected to see, then why not incorporate this and embellish it in your writing? People love to sense honesty when they are reading: by writing about what you know, you can make the story you are trying to tell seem more real. And say the things that people think but that no one ever actually says. You’ll soon find that you have a novel that everyone will want to read! 





Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Passive vs. Active Sentences by Lisa Ramsay

Many spellcheckers will flag any passive sentence and suggest that you might want to change it into an active one, but there can be good reasons to write in the passive voice. Knowing when you should take the advice of your spellchecker, and when you should keep your passive sentences, can help you to make the right editing decisions.

Active Sentences

Active sentences in English usually follow the conventional sequence of Subject-Verb-Object. The agent performing the action is introduced, the action being performed is described, and then the object being acted upon is named. In some cases, the object will be replaced with an adverb, describing the action, or a complement, which completes the description of the action without being a true object, as in the following examples.

  • Active sentence with object: The fox jumped over the dog.
  • Active sentence with adverb: The fox jumped quickly.
  • Active sentence with complement: The fox jumped up.

Active sentences tend to be simple, concise and clear. They are about someone who is doing something. It will be obvious who or what is performing the action described by the verb, since the agent performing the action will also be the subject of the sentence. In these examples, it is the fox that is jumping.

Passive Sentences

Passive sentences focus on an action that is being performed, or on the object affected by that action, rather than on who is doing the action. The object who is being acted upon becomes the subject of the sentence, so that the action is being described from their perspective, as in the following examples.

  • The dog was jumped over.
  • The dog is being jumped over.
  • The dog was jumped over, by the fox.

The agent performing the action may appear in an extra phrase, tacked on to the main clause, but it is not an essential part of the sentence. Passive sentences can easily become awkward and confusing, when too many clauses are tacked on, or it is unclear who the agent is that is performing the action. It is this lack of clarity, together with the less than stimulating nature of passages that overuse the passive voice, that make people and spellcheckers believe that active sentences are better than passive ones.

Choosing the Right Voice

Active voice is often used for the sake of clarity and brevity. It can be used to hold the reader's interest, to create a faster pace, and to ensure that fictional characters appear more active. However, the simplicity of active sentences can be reminiscent of the types of sentences given to children who are just starting to learn to read for themselves, and a passage that overuses the active voice can become just as monotonous as one that relies solely on the passive voice.

Whatever spellchecking programs may believe, the passive voice does have its place, and when used well it does not have to result in a loss of clarity. Cutting out repeated references to an agent can even help to create a more concise, faster paced and varied passage. The identification of the agent may be delayed for dramatic effect, or simply unnecessary once it has been established in earlier sentences. The agent can also be cut out of the sentence when it is the action itself, or the object of the action, that is important. In a story about a long-suffering dog troubled by a pesky fox, we might want to describe how the dog was being jumped over again, rather than focusing on the fox's perspective. As long as a passive sentence does not confuse the reader, and it is creating the right effect, it is no worse than an active sentence, and it can even be better.

Passive sentences can make effective rhetorical tools. They can be used to avoid taking responsibility for an action, or attributing blame, by removing any indication of who actually performed the action. In defense of a chicken thief, we might write "The dog was jumped over at the door of the coop," focusing on the guard dog's failure, and drawing attention away from the guilty fox. Passive sentences can also be used to create a sense of objectivity, particularly in academic and scientific writing. The scientist does not intrude into the work by writing "I measured the speed of the jumping fox," but rather suggests that "The speed of the jumping fox was measured."

The passive voice is often confused with the past tense, perhaps because of the idea that we can only look back passively at events that have already happened. Although passive sentences typically involve the use of the past participle, modified by "be" auxiliary verbs, the passive voice is not restricted to any particular tense. These auxiliary verbs can modify the tense to which the past participle applies, for example by determining whether the dog was being jumped over in the past, or is still being jumped over right now. Examples of both active and passive sentences can be found for all sorts of tenses, and it is worth looking at some of these to understand how both types of sentences can be used in all manner of situations. It is little wonder that writers work so hard to keep times and dates in order, and avoid mixing tenses, particularly when they are writing fictional pieces that flash forward and back in time, but understanding how to use different tenses effectively is not the same as understanding how to use active and passive sentences.

Switching Voices

Once you understand the difference between active and passive sentences, it is easy to see how you can change one into the other, simply by identifying the agent performing the action and introducing them or eliminating them as the subject of the sentence. The active sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" and the passive sentence "The lazy dog is jumped over by the quick brown fox" can be switched to make a piece work better. Just make sure that you are choosing your voice for the right reasons, and not because a spellchecking program has told you to be more active.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Constructive Criticism about Your Writing

I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because extra time spent proofreading could be time spent watching Dexter!

Constructive Criticism about Your Writing

Hardly anyone likes criticism. It is rare for someone to say, "Go ahead and insult me. Tell me everything you don't like about me. Bring it on." It almost feels masochistic to be enthusiastic about receiving a put-down. We are social creatures. We strive to please, and we bask in praise and approval. That is why it is often hard to give essays, articles, or book-length manuscripts to someone for a second opinion. We do not want people laughing at us, picking out our faults, or misunderstanding our message. But there are exceptions to this rule. Children and adults accept input from teachers because the latter have more knowledge about a particular subject. We usually accept constructive criticism from a professional because we view them as authorities. So, when should you accept critical feedback about your writing and when should you disregard it?

First, you do not always need a professional to evaluate your essay or manuscript, although sometimes that can be helpful. But much of the time you can present your material to a trusted friend, colleague, or family member; or you can post your short story or parts of your novel on certain writing forums and receive excellent feedback from fellow writers.

Second, no matter whom you choose to share your material with, ask yourself if you respect that person's writing. Are they smart, literate, and kind? Do they have your best interests at heart? Do they understand your genre and audience? If you are writing science fiction and you give your manuscript to someone who has published four books on anatomy and physiology, that person may not be the best judge of your work.

Third, before reading comments about your unpublished work, put yourself in a Zen frame of mind. Detach from the outcome. Resolve not to get upset or be offended. Try to act as though your reader has provided feedback on someone else's manuscript. If this is someone who cares about you, they will not want to hurt you, and as a result, hopefully they will be as tactful as possible. Ask yourself if the criticism rings true. Did you confuse points of view in your story? Are certain parts redundant, boring, or irrelevant? Be honest with yourself. The only one who stands to benefit is you.

Last, do not go to Amazon looking for useful feedback on your published material. Some people on Amazon love to book bash. Ditto for reviewers or certain blogs. Once you have published your book, choose reviewers who are highly rated as impartial and professional. Even then, do not take a negative review to heart. Some bestsellers receive terrible reviews – Fifty Shades of Grey comes to mind – and those mixed reviews have not affected sales adversely at all! That is because I may love a certain book and you may hate it, but our combined opinions have little to do with the objective value of the book.

So, do your best writing your manuscript and when it is time to hand it over for evaluation, choose your readers carefully and establish a confident mindset so that you can hear what they are saying without feeling or hurt or angry, and then just dismiss feedback that is not relevant or helpful.
Happy writing.
Sigrid Mac, Author of Be Your Own Editor

Monday, June 10, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use I Think and I Feel

I Feel versus I Think

These two terms are often used interchangeably when they mean completely different things. Feelings are just that—emotions. I can feel angry, sad, wistful or inspired. I can also feel cold, hungry, and sleepy. I can't feel that I wasted my money going to see a stupid movie but I can think that.

Thoughts are ideas in our head. I think about current events. I think the bombings in Boston were tragic. I think I've been sitting at the computer too long.

Be conscious of these phrases. Usually, the term “I feel” is the one that's misused. We’re not likely to say, “I think I'm angry” or “I think I'm cold,” but if we do, it doesn't mean the same as if we used the word feel. “I think I'm angry” means that I'm trying to decide if I'm angry or not, whereas “I feel angry” is a declarative sentence. Likewise with “I think I'm cold.” That sentence implies that I may or may not be cold; I'm not sure. There is an uncertainty that doesn't exist with the simple statement, “I'm cold.”

This is an excerpt from Sigrid Macdonald's book Be Your Own Editor available on and Barnes & Noble.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Principal Versus Principle

When I was in junior high, we were taught that the way to differentiate these homonyms, or sets of words that sound alike but mean something different, was to think that the principal was our pal (even if he or she is looking for weed in your locker). That way we would remember that principal refers to a person whereas principle refers to an idea.

Thomas Jefferson stood on principle.

A school principal has a tough job.

This one is pretty simple once you remember the rule. I recognize some teens may gag on the pal reference, but if it improves your grade, what the hell?

Sigrid Macdonald is a manuscript editor and the author of Be Your Own Editor. Find her at  



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is about Clarity

Know What I Mean?

You know what you want to say but sometimes it’s hard to express. Try to imagine your reader. Could anything you’ve written be ambiguous? Could it be confusing? Don’t assume that the reader knows what you are thinking. Step back and fill in certain details or clarify to be as precise as possible.

Take this sentence: “That ended her short life in Shadow Lakes.” What ended her life there? Did she die or simply move? Or did she stay but she never had a decent quality of life afterward? Think like a reporter and ask yourself all the W’s: who, where, what and why (and, of course, the non-W, how). Once you’re clear about those, convey them to the reader.

“Marrying Stephen ended her short life in Shadow Lakes because they moved into the city right after their honeymoon.”

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. This is an excerpt from her last book, Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use Can or Could

It's easy to determine when to use the word can and when to use could. Can indicates ability. I can type a letter. I can run 10 miles. I can write a fan letter to Jon Hamm, although he probably won't answer. Can denotes certainty. Could denotes uncertainty.

I could go to visit my sick neighbor if I don't have to work on Thursday night. My neighbor could die from pneumonia if her immune system is not strong. My son' s car could last another five years if he's lucky. The most significant word in the last three sentences is "if" because the first part of every sentence depends on another factor. It could happen, but maybe it won't. Whereas when we use can, something will generally happen or at least the person has the ability to make it happen.

Parents used to teach children table manners by differentiating between the words can and may. A child would say, "Can I go now?" after dessert, and the parent would retort, "May I go." Because clearly the child can go by simply getting up and leaving the table. Using may is a way of asking permission.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and two short stories, and is also a manuscript editor. Find her at



Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is Question Marks In the Middle of a Sentence

Punctuating question marks in the middle of a sentence confuses the best of us. Our instinct is often to capitalize the word that follows the question mark, but usually that's wrong. Here's an example:

When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, "What is the purpose of life?" this is the answer I received.

Note two things about that sentence. One, the word that proceeds the question and the question mark is lowercased. That's because the phrase "What is the purpose of life?" is still part of a larger sentence, even though it is a complete sentence and can stand on its own normally, but in this instance it is only half of the sentence. "This is the answer I received" is the other half and we need it to make our point. Two, there is no comma after the question mark. A version of our example which includes the comma is wrong, e.g., When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, "What is the purpose of life?," this is the answer I received.

Fortunately, your spellcheck will probably pick up the second issue and flag it as a problem; however, spellcheck may incorrectly tell you that you want to capitalize any word after a question mark. Don't do it automatically; do so only if it is not part of a larger sentence and that includes dialogue. ("Is the purpose of life to love and be loved?" she asked. No caps for the pronoun and no comma after the question mark.)

Sigrid Macdonald is an author and an editor. You can find her at   

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use "Like" and When to Use "As If"

Like and As If

Recently, my mother said to me, “I feel like a bowl of soup.” I replied, “You don’t look like a bowl of soup” and she grimaced. Ordinarily the family grammarian, my mother would have been better off saying, “I feel like having a bowl of soup” unless indeed she felt wet, warm, and slushy.

If you like ice cream, if someone is running like a bear, if it feels like 120° in the shade, that’s the appropriate way to write it. But if you write, “I feel like going home,” that’s not optimal grammar. It’s better to say, “I want to go home.” And instead of writing, “I felt like he didn’t respect me” write, “I felt as though…” or “I felt as if he didn’t respect me” because the first phrase is slang, but the second and third are not.

However, if you want to use that line when you are composing dialogue that’s fine because we know you’re simulating authentic conversation. That works especially well if you’re quoting a teenager, who won't necessarily be speaking in full sentences or using proper grammar.

This is unrelated to the word “like” that frequently pops up in slang, especially for those under the age of twenty-five or thirty. “I went to the movie and it was, like, so sweet!” It’s all right to use that sentence in dialogue but the grammar police will be all over your case if you use it in any other context.

This is an excerpt from the book Be Your Own Editor, by Sigrid Macdonald. Visit her at:  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Multitasking – Does It Help or Hinder Writing?

I used to play music when I wrote letters, short stories, and articles. Then when I became an editor, and started proofreading or evaluating manuscripts, I continued this practice. Big mistake. When it comes to editing, I definitely need to focus on one thing at a time. Now I turn off the TV, ignore incoming text messages, and close my Facebook page in my browser; the only windows I leave open are and a search engine if it's related to what I'm researching.

Some people feel more creative writing with music playing in the background, and aren't distracted by answering the occasional text or e-mail. That's fine, but know yourself and try it both ways. If you've been accustomed to doing three or four things at one time while you write, try eliminating them all and just write. Conversely, if you sit in total silence, experiment with playing something soothing, stimulating, or edgy and see if it improves your story. But definitely downplay your distractions when you're proofreading your work.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor. You can find her at


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Critiquing Someone Else's Work

At some point in our writing careers, we may join a writers' group or be asked to provide constructive criticism to a fellow writer. This is not always as easy as it seems. Some people have thick skin and when they say that they want us to be bold and to deconstruct their work, they mean it. Other people may be very sensitive. Some may want a thorough evaluation and others may only want a brief report akin to a book review. What to do?

First, be tactful. Telling someone that the characters in their novel sound like robots is potentially hurtful. Make an honest list of what you think about the material and then go back and revise it as carefully as possible, taking your friend's feelings into account. Second, be honest. It won't help anyone to tell them that their book is on its way to being an Amazon bestseller if it's an inferior and poorly-written piece of work. Third, be helpful and individualize your response. For example, if you think the whole book should be rewritten from start to finish but you know perfectly well that the writer has neither the ability nor the intention to do so, don't provide that kind of feedback. It won't be useful. Make sure that whatever you say is kind and specific so that the writer knows how to implement changes. Instead of saying, "That scene in part two didn't work for me at all," tell the author why and if at all possible, suggest a way to improve it.

Last, talk about the writing instead of the writer so that the person doesn’t feel attacked. In the end, your writer friends will love you for your diplomacy and will benefit by your carefully chosen advice.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and a manuscript editor. You can find her at  



Friday, February 1, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is How to Spell Internet

It comes as a surprise to some people that the word Internet is always capitalized. Ditto for the abbreviation "Net." Why is this?

The Internet is like a place. It is a large computer network that connects computers all over the world. In grammatical terms, it is treated as a proper noun. However, as Wikipedia points out, when we refer to the World Wide Web and the Internet, we want to capitalize that, but if we are referring to smaller internet channels, we don't necessarily have to capitalize them.

By and large, when people write about the Internet, they are referring to the big picture, hence the need for caps. One way to make sure that you spell this right is to perform a spellcheck at the end of your e-mail, article, or manuscript. It will pick that error up right away.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor and two erotic short stories, which she wrote under the pen name Tiffanie Good. Silver Publishing just released "The Pink Triangle," a tale of friendship, lust, and betrayal. You can view her story here: 


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is Going to My Parents' House

Apostrophes can be tricky and, as a manuscript editor, one of the most common errors I see is the misspelling of the term "my parents' house." Most of the writers that I work with are apt to spell the term "my parent’s house." Why is that usually wrong? And when is it right?

It's wrong because most of the time, but certainly not always, we have two parents. Therefore the apostrophe goes after the term "parents" because the house belongs to the parents. It's like saying, "I'm going to the squirrels’ hideout." If there is only one squirrel, we can say, "the squirrel’s hideout"; otherwise, we use the plural.

Likewise for parents. If our parents are divorced, separated, widowed or otherwise reduced from two to one, it's appropriate and absolutely correct to write, "I went over to my parent’s house." But chances are you're not going to say that because it's pretty formal. When you're referring to both your mother and father, you’re likely to say, "parents" whereas if you’re talking about one parent, you'll probably say "my mom," "my stepmom," or "my dad." For example, "I went to my mom's house."

One way to catch this mistake is to keyword your manuscript or article at the end and look for the word "parent’s." Then you can tell if the context is correct.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor (, and is both a line-by-line and a content editor for books, articles, magazines, and essays. Visit her at  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is on Exclamation Marks!!!

Sometimes people use too many exclamation marks. When they do, it may detract from the impact of a dramatic statement. It's best to use exclamation marks sparingly and to save them for emphasis.

For example, "John returned home from work and turned on the TV! He was so hungry that he ate his dinner standing at the counter! Then he wondered where his wife was; he smelled something odd and went into the garage and saw that she was sitting in the car with the engine on!" Clearly, the last line would have more punch if it were the only one with an exclamation.
Other people shy away from using exclamation marks at all. They think they look juvenile. I'm not one of those. I am fond of the exclamation mark, but I use it judiciously and I never use two or three in a row.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor and two short stories which she wrote under the pen name Tiffanie Good. Silver Publishing just released "The Pink Triangle," a tale of friendship, lust, and betrayal. You can view her story here: 

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