How to edit your own writing

7 Jan Writing in notebook

Whether you are pitching an article to a publication, applying for a job or posting to your own blog or business website, there are many times in life where you won’t have the benefit of a professional editor.

Editing your own writing is an essential skill for work and life, regardless of your profession. Here are some tips for polishing your work before you hit send or publish.

Use a good spelling and grammar checker

Sometimes the spellcheck built into your word processing program will fail you. Consider installing Grammarly, which will catch more errors, even with the free version.

Have a checklist

Think about the errors you commonly make. This could be using “their” when you mean “there” or spelling people’s names wrong. Create a checklist so that your editing is consistent.

Edit out unnecessary words and phrases

One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is to add lots of words to sentences. At some point in our education, we must have been taught that we need a big vocabulary to sound intelligent and we need to use all the words in that big vocabulary at the same time. In reality, being able to write clearly and concisely will benefit both you and your reader in the long term.

Hint: A good place to start is with the adverbs.

Print it out or read it out loud

In these days of environmental awareness, people try to limit their printing, but printing items out in hard copy can make them much easier to read and edit. Also try reading your work out loud as you go or once you finish writing. Reading out loud will not only test the readability and flow of your piece, but it also makes it harder to scan over your mistakes.

Slow down and magnify

Have you ever watched a child move his or her lips while reading? This is because, as a beginner, they are being careful to read each word. As we become advanced readers, we don’t focus on the words as much as we focus on the meaning. We stop worrying about letters and syllables and start scanning. We recognize the shapes of words and we fill in information through the context. When you read for the purpose of editing, it will help to read each word, even if you are only saying it in your head. You don’t actually need to move your lips if you think your coworkers will make fun of you. Zoom in magnify the words and punctuation.

Fact check

When you are writing the first draft, you may think about looking things up, such as the spelling of a name, the population of Canada, or the world’s largest river, but in the excitement of finishing the draft, you forget all about it. Take the time to double check every name (except possibly your own), date, number and fact in your article.

Do you need to (wo)mansplain anything?

You know your stuff, but think about how familiar your topic is to the reader. They may not get all the references in your piece. Explain anything that isn’t obvious. For example, you may decide to include a quote by John A. Macdonald and assume that everyone knows he was the first prime minister of Canada. However, unless you know that your article is only going to be read by people who either received at least part of their education in Canada or who took the citizenship test, there is a good chance that some readers will not know who he was.

Consistency

You are going to need to make decisions before you start writing. These include:

  • Canadian or American spelling
  • First, second or third person
  • Do you use a comma before “and” when listing more than two items?
  • How do you refer to someone on second reference? Should you use “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Ms”? Is this an informal piece where you can use first names throughout?

Whatever decisions you make, use the same style consistently.

Read widely

The more you read the better you will become as a writer and the easier it will be to edit your work.

You can follow all of this advice and still find mistakes. If you have the opportunity, ask someone else to read your work.

Always strive to submit clean copy and the perception of your value as a writer will increase with editors, blog managers and bosses.

If you are an entrepreneur, I’m running a free five-day copywriting challenge just for you. This challenge is all about website copy with a in-depth copywriting session at the end. You’ll polish the main pages of your website and walk away with some general principles that you can use in your everyday business writing. I’d love to see you in the challenge. Sign up here.

Advertisements

Authors reveal what you need to know about traditional and self-publishing

2 Oct authors panel at Joy Kagawa House

Much of the stigma has gone out of self-publishing, which means that writers have more opportunities to get their words in print than ever before. However, they still need to be tenacious and able to handle rejection. That’s what I learned after attending an event at Joy Kogawa House in South Vancouver on Friday, Sept. 28.

The event Opening New Frontiers: Art of Self Publishing & Traditional Publishing was part of the Word Vancouver Festival, which takes place every year. Most of the events take place at the main public library branch. However, there are events scattered around the community.

The authors on the panel discussing the art of self publishing and traditional publishing were William Tham, author and editor of Ricepaper Magazine, Vincent Ternida, author of The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo, and Cynda Yeasting, author of For Michael, Love Cynda.

Types of publishing

Tham’s novel the Kings of Petaling Street was published by Fixi London, a publisher that focuses on pulp fiction novels from Southeast Asia. Ternida was published by Ricepaper, and Yeasting published through Friesen Press, which is a self-publishing company.

As you can see, publishing involves a wide spectrum of types and that’s even before you consider e-book publishing. Another option that has worked for Tham was publishing with a foreign publisher, Fixi, through its London office.

“Publishing is not easy,” said Tham. “But it isn’t necessarily one straight route. There are many ways to get there.”

It’s understandable that writers would be looking for alternative publishing routes in the current business climate, as big publishers are most interested in the types of books that sell the most.  Canada’s biggest publishing company, McClelland & Stewart, was sold to Random House in 2012, which raised fears of increased commercialization. Although getting published by one of the big five publishers is a long shot, there are also many small independents, including in Vancouver. Given the expense of book publishing, Tham notes that it can be a conservative industry, “which is why it’s great that we have self-publishing and independent publishers.”

Facing down rejection

Joy Kogawa HouseTernida kicked off one of the main themes of the evening with an excerpt from his book. His character shares many of his characteristics, but not all. It’s a work of fiction, not an autobiography, but, as a writer, Harry also knows what it’s like to face rejection from your writing: “A piece of my soul died in quiet agony.” Sounds pretty harsh. However, if you want to be a writer you have to get used to it.

Ternida started out as a novelist after receiving many rejections for his screenwriting. He started writing short stories and the opportunity to publish through Ricepaper eventually arose.

Yeasting, whose work is a non-fiction memoir, said she tried the traditional route, but was told as a first-time author she was unlikely to be successful. With her package from Friesen, she received some help with selling, but then realized that by being persistent she was able to gain traction with her own marketing efforts. This resulted in two appearances at Indigo, newspaper articles and an interview on Vancouver Television.

“I basically became a one-woman publicist,” she said.

Yeasting says she did face rejection when trying to line up opportunities to promote her book, but she pushed through it. In fact, she has even sent her book to the Ellen Show.

“If one person says no, that is one person’s opinion,” she said. “That is not everybody.”

Benefits of publishing a book

Books for sale at author eventHowever one publishes, it is rare to earn enough to make a living from a book. However, the writers agree that having a book opens up other opportunities. Ternida said that it acts as a calling card and opens up other doors. Yeasting says she has had amazing opportunities because of having a book to promote and discuss, including having the opportunity to meet other authors and speak at the Joy Kogawa House. (She’s still waiting for the call from Ellen, though.)

Having a book can open doors, and these days the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing is narrowing. What’s important is persistence. Keep writing, then get out and promote.

What is fake news and what can we do about it?

15 Oct

computers-chairs-tables copyFake news is a word whose meaning has shifted recently. On the surface, the words can be taken literally to mean, “made-up news.” Of course if every journalist out there was simply making up stories to fill the little rectangular places in the newspaper, we would have a major problem. However, the phrase did not come from something so black and white. (Or if it did, it’s no longer black and white.)

Inaccurate statements always played a huge role in journalism. If you have ever visited a museum or a town’s archives and read through old newspapers, you would notice that things were a little different back in the day. The concept of objectivity did not play a big part in journalism until the end of the 20th Century. Before then an objective story was one where the editor or reporter didn’t care enough to get outraged and outraging others sold more papers. Even then it took time for the idea to spread to smaller towns where the newspaper was the de facto opposition to the municipal government and everything they ever attempted to achieve.

In these days of Fox News, the Internet and the alt-right, the pendulum might be swinging back to those days. Newspapers work hard to inflame passions. Even so called “legacy media” will frame certain issues to attempt to make people angry. An example is the way PostMedia portrayed the payment to Omar Khadr.

Compare the headline, “PM defends $10.5M payout, apology to convicted terrorist Omar Khadr” (Toronto Sun) to the headline, “Liberals defend and Tories attack Omar Khadr payout, both citing principles” (CBC News). One seeks to cast aspersions on the subject in order to put the prime minister in a bad light, while the other announces that the article is going to sum up both sides of the issue (as far as the sparring politicians are concerned.)

One element of “fake news” is this lack of objectivity, which can be taken to extremes when one encounters news sties or publications that don’t care about reaching a general audience.

In marketing we say you should know your audience and have a niche. We can see that many of the websites and publications out there are only focusing on those who are likely to agree with them ideologically. In order to ensure that they keep agreeing with them, they need some evidence. So what if a few things get fabricated here and there? Or a few things get taken so far out of context that there is no other side to consider? We can see evidence of this in the fact that some sites tried to finger an innocent man who was known to be a Democrat in the Las Vegas shooting, and this fake news was even spread on social media.

It’s clear that fake news can be dangerous if it is used in the way that it is often used – to inflame offense and a sense of grievance.

The changing meaning of fake news

However, thanks to US President Donald Trump, this force has become pretty much unstoppable, because he has changed the meaning, while falsely claiming he invented it. When you’re talking about fake news, why not create a little more of it while you’re at it?

Trump uses the words fake news to describe things that are critical of him and his administration, even if all the evidence is there to support the criticism. He even applies it to news outlets that report facts such as the current state of Puerto Rico.

The reason that this makes fake news unstoppable is because suddenly, the president of the United States is suggesting that there should be censorship of news media, even going so far as to say that the FCC should “look at” NBC’s licence. Suddenly, the term fake news is being used to justify censorship by a president who is looking more and more like a dictator each day. If the mainstream tries to shut down fake news, who’s to say that someone more powerful could not come after mainstream news outlets.

To be honest, this is one of the first things that came to my mind when people first started to call on social media companies to prevent “fake news” from spreading. One of the suggestions made to users of these apps was to check the number of outlets sharing the same story. This is not a great method of isolating fake news. For one thing, it suggests that news is really just repetition of the same thing. There is already too much of that. Secondly, it suggests that citizens cannot break news or that the newsworthy personal stories people tell are not real. Thirdly, there are independent news outlets doing journalism about things the mainstream won’t cover. This, of course, is why these outlets are created.

The only way we can stop fake news are the old-fashioned ways.

  • Educating kids in school to be able to think critically.
  • Educating ourselves.
  • Talking to others and keeping the dialogue open.

Of course, if “fake news” is hateful, racist and defamatory or puts people at risk, there are other laws in place to deal with it. Social media has a responsibility to censor hate speech just as a newspaper editor would have a responsibility to keep hateful, racist or defamatory letters out of the paper.

However, when the war on fake news spreads into censoring legitimate news or into issues the mainstream won’t cover, we need to be on guard to ensure that our fundamental freedoms aren’t being taken away by a phrase whose meaning is rapidly shifting.

 

 

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Crafting a book proposal that sells

7 Apr Table, beer, notepad, BCATW card, coaster Big Rock Urban Brewery

A book proposal is a sales document. Not only do you need to sell the book, but you also need to sell yourself as the best person to write the book, and, these days, you need to sell yourself as the best person to sell the book.

I attended the BC Association of Travel Writers (BCATW) Meetup on April 5, where author Taylore Daniel introduced us to the book proposal and the importance of taking marketing seriously if you plan to be a published author.

Daniel is a graduate of the UBC Creative Writing program and has a new book coming out called, “Travel and Retire Abroad.”

Social media followings, speaking engagements, published articles, and industry contacts are all ways you can demonstrate to a publisher that your book will be successful and that you are committed enough to make it happen, says Daniel.

That probably means that you should start selling before the book proposal has even been accepted.

Another important aspect of selling your manuscript is research. You should understand what other books are similar to it and how your book is going to be different. You should also know about your audience. Who are they and where are they? Where are they likely to pick up a copy of your book.

While writing about marketing and demographic research sounds dull, Daniel did give us licence to exercise our creativity in the title. Don’t bother pitching your proposal with a working title. You should make this an attention-grabbing aspect of your proposal.

Non-fiction titles should be catchy and give the reader a good idea of what the book is about before they pull it off the shelf.

The biggest concept I took away from this event was that the book proposal is more a culmination of a lot of hard work crafting and selling your book than it is an idea. If you have gotten to the book proposal stage you’re already committed to achieving your goal and you already know how to get there.

The BCATW met at Big Rock Urban Brewery where we enjoyed craft beer and pub food.

 

Room Magazine’s inaugural literary event features Myths and Legends

4 Apr book covers of works by the authors

Myths and legends are passed down through the ages and help societies define who they are. However, many myths and legends have largely escaped the feminist lens as the dialogue has been defined by others.

Today people are redefining the old myths and legends and adding some of their own through literature.

On March 11, I attended one of the panel discussions, Myths and Legends, hosted by Room Magazine during their inaugural feminist literary festival, Growing Room.

Author Aislinn Hunter talked about how her novels gravitate towards the classic Victorian storytelling traditions of protagonists haunted by the ghosts and mysteries of the past.

Her novel, The World Before Us, is about a modern-day museum archivist haunted by a traumatic experience and being followed, unbeknownst to her, by a group of chattering ghosts dating from the Victorian era. These are inmates of what would have been called a “lunatic asylum.” Her book blends the past and present demonstrating the continuity of the human condition.

Hiromi Goto grew up listening to stories from her family, which included many of the folk elements of Japan. Though literary, her stories incorporate elements of fantasy and explore issues of gender and sexuality.

She read to us from a short story that reworks the creation myth and the idea of transformation, by putting a pregnancy in to the modern-day relationship of a “gold-star lesbian” and her partner. A gold-star lesbian is a lesbian who has never had sex with a man, in case you didn’t know. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the name of this story, but I’ll be on the lookout to hear the rest of it.

Fantasy novel writer, Rachel Hartman, talked about how fantasy can help us work through trauma by mythologizing our own experience. In a way this is where all of our myths come from, our desire to make sense of our world by giving it deeper meaning.

Ali Blythe and Jennifer Zilm represented poetry at the event. Blythe’s collection of poems, Twoism was widely acclaimed. His work explores the complexities of gender identity, incorporating literary allusions and Greek mythology.

Zilm doesn’t shy from her “Surrey girl” identity even though she says she’s always “chasing a reference.” She read from her first collection, Waiting Room.

This festival was a great opportunity to explore the local literary scene and realize the great talent we have here in British Columbia. I wanted to see more events, but unfortunately, they were sold out. Hopefully, next year they will be able to find larger venues to accommodate more people. Let’s hope Growing Room becomes a part of the local event schedule for many years to come.

TEDX motivates ideas and action

6 Mar Vancouver Community College student volunteers greet attendees at TedX Stanley Park.

If you want to try new ideas and take action to make your life better, you might want to hear from people who have already done it. That’s what a TEDX event does through a series of short, inspirational speeches.

On March 4, I attended the TEDX Stanley Park event at Queen Elizabeth Theatre thanks to my employer, Pardon Services Canada, which sponsored a row. The first part of the day was mostly dedicated to ideas, while the second was dedicated to motivation (not officially; that’s just how it seemed to me.)

The first speaker, Bill Stainton told us how creative ideas come together, by taking two seemingly different things and finding the similarities. This is called connecting the dots. However, before we can even think about connecting the dots, we need to start making connections ourselves. That means expanding our own circles and being part of a larger community. Talk to people who are different from you and take the earbuds out of your ears.

The first place you might want to start connecting is around the dinner table. Chef Vikram Vij scolded the audience humorously about all those selfies they’ve been taking with his dishes. According to Vij this takes away, not only from our appreciation of the food, but also from our relationships.

Speakers also talked about some of the harder challenges of our times. Some fascinating talks were about confronting the challenges of car-centric cities, the importance of electoral reform, the amount of plastic in the ocean and how science is working on better, cheaper and safer drugs through bio printing human tissues. Not only did we learn about these big issue problems, we also were given action steps that we, as audience members and concerned citizens, could start taking today.

Jonathan X. Cote, the mayor of New Westminster, says we need to start walking more to learn about our cities from ground level. Cotes concern is that our cities are too car-oriented pushing out vibrant public spaces. However, people in North America are starting to try to reclaim areas with plazas and other initiatives, such as movie nights in downtown parking lots.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, talked about electoral reform and how our current system works for political parties, but not for voters. With the first past the post system, too many votes get lost as really only two parties have enough chance of winning. As a result some people don’t even vote for their favoured party when it’s a smaller party. Meanwhile, the two main parties don’t have the same incentive to work for our votes, as they know they will be elected to the top spot eventually. This leaves us to a situation where we “vote the bums out” every four to eight years instead of getting what we really want – a collaborative government focused on improving things for voters. May encouraged the crowd to keep asking the government for reform through letters to their MPs and action campaigns.

Tamer Mohamed talked about fascinating advances in the development of drugs using bio printing using the cells of real people. This will help the medical world avoid the problems of testing drugs on humans, reduce animal testing and may even lead to entire organs being created to replace diseased ones.

Of course, in this case, there is little we can do as laypeople to take action. However, Mohamed did talk about how multi-disciplinary collaboration can result in innovative solutions to complex problems.

Many of the talks were about how people had overcome adversity in their lives such as addictions and spinal cord injuries. If you are facing your own challenges, these talks provide a wealth of inspiration.

 

Getting ready to write an explainer video script

22 Feb cameraman

Writing an explainer script for a product or service can seem daunting at first. Most of us didn’t study scriptwriting in school. Often we think we can’t do a video about what we do because we don’t have an expensive production team in the back office.

In reality, people who want to know more about your product are not that picky. You won’t completely destroy your brand if you just want to stand in front of a whiteboard and explain it to them. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste the opportunity to make something that has lasting impact. Here are a few steps to good explainer video.

Research

Just as with any type of marketing, it is important to know who your customer is. Consider your ideal customer who will be watching this video. Sometimes you will have different audiences. For example, is your script for the person buying the product or the investor? Figure out who you want to see the video and then write a sketch of who this person is. What do they do for a living? What are their hobbies? Most importantly, what is your customer’s biggest problem? What is the one thing that will push him or her towards using your product.

Your ideal customer will dictate the tone of your video. You may find that humour is not appropriate for the person you are targeting, or you may find that you want to use easier or harder concepts to get your message across.

Goal

Once you know who your customer is, you will know what you want them to do when they are finished watching the video. You may want them to go to your website and buy the product, go the store and buy the product, download a free trial, give you a call, leave a comment in the comment section, follow you on Facebook, etc. Whatever your call to action is, make sure it’s clearly stated. You can embed a clickable button right in your video using programs such as Camtasia. Or you can simply say what you want the customer to do.

Do some competitive research if you don’t know where to start. Look at your best performing competition. What is their message? Who is their audience? What is their call to action?

Crafting your message

Write down your features and benefits. It’s the benefits column that you will want to draw from. For example, if your product has long battery life, the benefit is it gives people the freedom to use it all day without worrying. In this case, your video might focus on a hiker going out into the woods or a busy urbanite zipping from meeting to coffee bar to work to the mall to dinner to a nightclub carrying your fully operational product. The benefits column will give you excellent ideas for your script. Ask other people what they like about the product for ideas.

Use a narrative arc. One popular narrative in explainer videos is to show what happens when people don’t have what you are offering and then show the solution and resolution. For example, your main character went off in the woods without your GPS device and got lost. He runs into someone who has the GPS device and the problem is solved.

Another popular narrative arch is the founder’s story. How did the founder decide he or she wanted to make the product. Often it’s because they saw a need that wasn’t being met by anyone else or they had a challenge in their own lives. What challenges did they face in bringing their vision to life?

Lay out your video using time code. What will happen at each part of the video? At 0:00 music may start playing. At 0:05 your main character might make his or her first appearance. We learn a bit about him before he walks off into the woods at 0:10.

Practice

Try putting your audio together with stock photos so that you can get a feel of how the story will look before you hire a film crew. You might identify problems in the flow or things that just don’t work. Or, if your video relies on interviews with employees of your company, do a simple run-through with your phone camera. You might find that some of the sentences are too long or that the story becomes less engaging in some parts. This will help you fine tune your script.