Tag Archives: writing tips

Tricky Words That Trip You Up

Blogs have spell check, but when you use a word wrong, spell check won’t help you. I was reading the first chapter of a book on someone’s blog today, and I kept stumbling over words that didn’t mean what the writer meant.

“His voice has a pleasant timber.” Unless he’s spitting toothpicks, she meant timbre. Timber is wood. Timbre is the pitch of a sound.

“Her decollage peaked his interest.” From the context, it wasn’t deconstructing a pencil-dictionarycollage that excited him, it was her decolletage, a low neckline. And it  piqued his interest. Totally different word. It’s from the French and it means to give it a little stab of interest. Peek is to look, peak is a top of a mountain, and pique (pronounced peek, that’s why it’s a problem) means to be interested in.

Last week, in the newspaper, I read that woman had performed while she was ill. “She was a real trooper.” Only if she was a policeman. In this case, she was a trouper. Because she was in a troupe of actors, dancers, or other performers. And the show must go on.

soup-can-light-1In today’s newspaper, I saw a grocery store that had a “souper sale.” I thought it was a joke, maybe tomato or chicken noodle soup was on sale. Nope, just a typo. A super big one.

Some other words that give us trouble:

It’s is never the possessive. When its tail comes to rest, the dragon will be sleeping. No apostrophe. That’s hard, but the only meaning of it’s (with an apostrophe) is it is or it has.

Disinterested means fair or impartial. It has nothing to do with not being interested.

Peruse means to read carefully, not to skim.

Lie is to recline, lay is to place. I lie down on the bed, I lay the baby back in bed.

Sheer is see-through, shear means to cut off.

It’s a moot point, not a mute point. Moot means debatable, mute is silent.

One of a kind, shortened is  “one of.” If you have three apples on the shelf and one is taken away, you have two on the shelf and one off. If you are talking about single pieces, it’s “one of” not “one off.

Actionable means subject to being sued. It does not mean to take action.

Using words incorrectly makes your writing look unprofessional. And in a world filled with aspiring- and recovering perfectionists, it’s better to check twice, type once.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a recovering perfectionist.

Product Review: Highlighter Tape

Sure, you can use it in your art journal, or your plain journal, but highlighter tape is saving the training side of my business this week.

Highlighter tape comes three to a pack.

On Tuesday, I’m spending the day at a corporation, running a training program I didn’t write or contribute to. That means I have to study the instructor’s book ahead of time to prepare how to present the course. Most of the time I write notes in the margins, underline sentences I want to emphasize, and make time marks on the pages so I can keep the course moving along. But this time I can’t do any of those things.

The instructor’s manual is a loaner from the company and I am not to make one single mark in it. Not a pencil mark, and certainly not a pen or highlighter mark. What to do? Highlighter tape to the rescue.

Goes on easily, comes off clean. No, it's not the workbook, it's my book: Raw Art Journaling.

I purchased the tape from The Container Store in Scottsdale, Arizona. It comes in a small square case containing three transparent colors–green, yellow, orange, so I can color coordinate–green for items I have to mention, yellow for items I can mention if I have time, but can also skip if a discussion or exercise runs long, and red for tips or exercises that are important to put to use immediately.

Lifts off easily with no residue.

The tape sticks to a page, but can be lifted off cleanly, without a residue. It’s as wide as a line of type, so I can pinpoint material. Each tiny roll has a cutter in the box, so I can tear off as much as I need.

The three colors are different enough to use for color coding.

It’s brightly fluorescent so I can find it easily. It doesn’t damage coated or uncoated pages and won’t peel off color or ink. It’s a great tool. All I have to do is make sure I peel off all the evidence before I return the instructor’s manual.

The tape has no manufacturer’s name on it, other than highlighter tape, and the item number 128.

I recommend it highly for other uses as well–cookbooks, sewing/knitting/crocheting patterns, weaving instructions, sheet music (to mark your part), library reference books, as well as design elements on cards and gift wrap.

FTC-required disclosure: I purchased the tape myself and am receiving no compensation for this review.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer who believes in giving the trainer a workbook as part of the requirement to teaching a class. Because that seems to be a pipe dream, she’s happy she found the tape. Quinn teaches writing for the web, writing emails, copywriting, newsletters, blog writing and a long list of soft skills for hard times.  © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. 2011

Marketing When You Don’t Have Time

Whether you are an artist, freelance writer, or any small business owner, you know you have to market yourself and your work.  And as soon as this crush slows down a bit, you plan on doing just that.

Now it’s too late. The time to do marketing is when you don’t need to because you are busy, when you don’t have free time. Once you have free time, it takes weeks for the marketing to work and money isn’t coming in. I hate hearing it; I hate saying it, and it’s true. So I devised a way to get around the roadblocks and market.

One of the ways I market my work is to publish articles in magazines and ezines. Published work not only displays your talent and expertise, but the clips also help you market your work to others. There is a certain amount of drudgery involved in pitching your work,  getting rejections, finding another magazine, re-writing and then re-pitching your work.

I write an article–just getting down the ideas. What Ann Lamott calls a “zero draft”–not even a first draft. If the article is longer than a page, I staple it together and stick it in the yellow folder in my bag. When I’m in line at the post office, the grocery store, or waiting at the dentist, I pull out the folder and read through the articles. Sometimes I circle a paragraph and mark it for deletion, other times I’ll write notes in the margin. I don’t line edit it. I’m not ready for that, I’m still working on the idea stage.

When I’m waiting for a client to call back, when I can’t read another email, when I have a few minutes of time, but no more, I pull out the zero draft and review the notes. Sometimes the zero draft is really two different articles. Sometimes the zero draft is not worth keeping. If the article has promise, I’ll write the first draft, and toss it back into the folder. Over time, creativity wins out. The articles get written, re-written, edited and polished.

When I send them out, I am no longer attached to them. Rejections don’t crush my spirit. And because there are more of them in the folder, if one is rejected, another one can go out. Or the rejected one can be rewritten.

The marketing benefit comes from producing publishable articles without setting aside weeks of time to do it. The emotional benefit is that staying objective about the articles helps you pitch and rewrite more efficiently. There is the added benefit of not buying candy while you are in the supermarket line and not being as anxious when the dentist calls your name.

It’s a slow process that makes the most of how creativity works. Your brain keeps working on the writing, even if you are not focusing on it directly, and the process moves forward in small, but definite steps. When you get an article accepted, it seems like a bonus. Over time, I’ve noticed that I get more and more accepted, and the checks are an incentive to keep working.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Writing Tip: Explain, Don’t Expect

acronym soupWhen I lived in Connecticut (this was during the shock to the economy in 1990-1993), I banked with the FDIC. Each bank I moved to would fold up within a few weeks.  Yellow tape would be wound around the building, bank auditors would drag out boxes and we’d be told how to get our money from the FDIC. The biggest collapse was Connecticut Bank and Trust, or CBT.

When I began teaching writing for the Web, everyone was interested in learning online, at home, on computer-based training, or CBT.

As a financial writer, I often wrote about futures trading, often done on the Chicago Board of Trade, or CBT.

New research on depression has shown that drugs don’t work particularly well over long use. The depression lifts, but then comes back. A new theory of therapy says the way to cure depression is Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, or CBT.

As writers, we often use acronyms instead of spelling out the words, because we know what we mean.  We expect our audience to read our article and gather the meaning from context. Or we simply assume the audience knows what we do. The case of CBT shows that it isn’t enough to use the acronym. A reader skimming the article wants to move on with content, and not get bogged down by deciphering acronyms, particularly if there are a lot of them.

Explain the acronym the first time you use it, then use the letters. No waste, just an increase in understanding.

–Image: sigpc.com

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.