Wordy vs. Concise

Hello everyone,

It seems the last time I posted on this blog was in late March. Oops!  How can we possibly be in the midst of November already? Life just gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it? (Thank goodness for clichéd phrasing to explain away a situation!)

In an effort to dust off and revive my poor blog, let’s talk about November. What about it? No, not the weather. Not Thanksgiving or football season. Since I’m an American, it’s safe to assume I’m talking about American football, of course. And the holiday in which we remember a three-day feast attended by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians at Plymouth back in 1621, to celebrate the harvest after the Pilgrims’ first harsh year in America. A holiday that did not exist officially until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it so in 1863. A holiday that intentionally forgets all the wrongs done by European Americans to American Indians over the years. A holiday that—sorry. The historian side of me kicked in. I do apologize for that. I mean Turkey Day—or not turkey day for some folks, as the case may be—the holiday that involves family, consuming large quantities of food, watching football, and either preparing to avoid or take on the shopping madness that is Black Friday. For those of my readers who are not American: Happy upcoming St. Andrew’s Day, etc., etc.!

This is a blog about editing and writing, remember? Apparently, I need to remind myself of that as well. So, how does good writing relate to the month of November? I could make the case that good writing relates to every month. Oh look, I just did.

First off, the 2012 US presidential election. I will not get into politics here, except to post and comment on the following that went viral during the presidential debates:

Let’s ignore the grammar mishaps and talk about the content. What content? Exactly. The political practice of talking a lot without actually answering a direct question is really annoying, isn’t it? It’s just as annoying for an editor to read content like that. Or for anyone else. Writers are often wordy in the hopes that flowery language will appeal to the reader and to make it sound like the writer is the authority on a particular subject. (Which, unfortunately, is not always the case.) Writers, please think of your readers! They might not want to wade through all of those words. It is the editor’s job to help the writer trim the fat, as it were, and get to the real meat of his or her topic.

The meat of this topic: Cut the crap and get to the point! Or: Be concise!

I admit, when I write, I often go on tangents (see Thanksgiving rant above). I tend to be extremely wordy, at least at first. My writing process is to throw a bunch of ideas down on the page and then to cut and stylize after.  Other writers prefer to outline first and/or edit as they go. The writing process doesn’t matter. What does is the clarity of your end result.

That brings me to my second topic: When not to be concise. “Rough” drafts. A prime example of this is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which takes place annually during the course of November. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. That translates to 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Five thousand words is a bit on the short side for a full-length adult novel. But that’s not the point. The point is to get in the habit of writing every day. That’s the real goal for writers participating in NaNo. Whether the quality is beautiful or garbage does not matter. What does is getting words on the page every day, and lots of them. NaNoWriMo is an example of when you can and should let conciseness go. Be creative and let your ideas flow! You can return to your manuscript later to fix it. During NaNo, we are told to shut off our inner editor. (Hi, me!) This is a really difficult thing for most writers to do, but trust me, it is liberating and well worth the journey.

-Julia

28,377 words

The Dangers of Bad Grammar

Just a quick post today, for those of you who haven’t seen this yet:

Working from Home: The Perks

Last week, we covered the not-so-fun topic of plagiarism. To give you some variety, this week’s post is a bit silly. Though I promise it’s useful, too.

Being your own boss has a lot of advantages. Below are just a few of them—most of which apply to working from home in general.

You can:

  • Choose what assignments you want to work on.
  • Spend as much or as little time on a project as you want, depending on client deadlines.

    Less need to do this at people interrupting. (Bernard, Black Books)

  • Set your own work times: Mornings just don’t do it for you? Don’t work in the morning! Maybe you work best at 2 a.m., or 10 p.m., or 6 a.m., or…you get the idea. You might prefer to work for a couple of hours, go run an errand, go for a run, and then work for another couple of hours.
  • Cut your commute time down to zero. Okay, maybe a few seconds to at least get from your breakfast table to your work desk.
  • Spend more time with your loved ones when you work your schedule around them.
  • Play loud music or work in total silence. During your breaks, you can sing at the top of your lungs and scare the neighbors/the mailman/the neighbor’s cat with your funky dance moves.

    Juliette gets a little too into it. (Psych)

  • Sit at a desk, stand at a desk, run in place, perch on a balance ball…whatever works best for you. No one will give you a weird look for spinning around in your chair multiple times.

    You can make silly faces, too. (Charlie McDonnell, aka Charlieiscoollike)

  • Eat stinky food for lunch: fish, curry, whatever has a strong scent. No workers are around to complain.

    Delicious.

  • Work in your pajamas. Work naked! (No one needs to know.)
  • Get your ideas flowing while running on the treadmill or singing in the shower.
  • Do errands mid-day, cook, do your laundry, etc. As long as you get in a full-day of work at some point during the earth’s 24-hour rotation, it doesn’t matter what you schedule when.

Overall, you’ll have a lot less stress and be a happier person. 🙂

Just don't get so stressed that your work turns into your pajamas.

Today’s post has been brought to you by Black Books, Psych, Charlieiscoollike, and possibly too much time spent laughing at silly animated gifs.

The Evil P Word: Plagiarism

All right, folks. I hate to say that today’s topic is necessary, but it is. Even for an audience of writers, editors, and adults in general who should know better. It’s time for the plagiarism talk.

Think back to your school days, perhaps a high school or college English class. When your teacher assigned a paper, she or he probably included a warning against plagiarism in the instructions. Your college course syllabi likely had anti-plagiarism policies in them as well. By then, you already learned the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. You knew how to cite properly for the subject at hand.

There might have been instances when you didn’t have interest in the subject matter, time to research and write the paper, or the energy to write. In those moments, plagiarism could become extremely tempting. That other writer says what I need to a whole lot better than I can. What harm can it do to copy a sentence here, a phrase there? My instructor probably won’t notice, what with having to read through a stack of papers from the entire class.

Chances are, your instructor will notice. And that leads to something worse than anger: disappointment. Disappointment not just because you stole from someone else, but because saying something in your own words is so important. Communication shows your understanding of a topic. But even more importantly is your voice, your thoughts, your individuality.

I know what you’re thinking: “That was school. I never plagiarized. What does this have to do with me?”

A lot. I understand the reasons students sometimes plagiarize (or even pay for a paper written by someone else), though I don’t condone them. But professional writers? You don’t have an excuse. The teacher/student analogy applies here. For example, when a freelance writer submits a piece commissioned by their editor, the editor does check for plagiarism. We see it sometimes—and sometimes is too often when it’s submitted by a professional. Being a professional writer means you should know how to craft your own sentences. That’s your job. How hard can it be for you to synthesize information you’ve read and summarize it in your own words? Self-plagiarism is also a no-no. The article may be your own words, but if it already got published elsewhere, we can’t use it.

Plagiarism tells us that you’re lazy, that you don’t really care about working for us. It will come back to bite you with more than just a slap on the wrist. We cannot let plagiarized material slip, because if it gets published—and caught—the publisher’s reputation goes down the drain. Never mind a legal fine—a failed company means the loss of our jobs. Yes, it could become that serious. As for the plagiarizing writer, we might be lenient the first time. We might send the piece back, showing where you’ve plagiarized, and tell you to write it again. We probably won’t hire you for future assignments. Do you really want to lose a client? What if that client happens to know someone at another publisher you submit work to? They could spread the word not to hire you. If you want to continue your writing career, I recommend not getting blacklisted.

Let’s talk about detecting plagiarism. Do you know how easy it is to spot? Pretty darn easy. Each writer has a unique voice, an individual style of writing. Each piece written has a certain ring to it, a certain tone. When reading the piece as a whole, it’s not that difficult to pick up on a phrase that just doesn’t sound like the rest of the work, even when you’re not actively looking for plagiarism. It’s especially not that hard for someone who reads and writes for a living.

There’s some pretty nifty software out there that can detect plagiarism and point out its original source. Universities use this kind of software, as do publishers. There’s also Google. I often google a phrase to learn more about the subject and thus be better informed when editing the piece. In doing so, I’ve stumbled upon plagiarism. Here’s an example from this past week at the office: I was reading two paragraphs about the Indian independence movement. The sentences were just plain dull—not even a mention of Gandhi! In order to spice up the writing, I did some research via Google. (The piece was short enough and our deadline tight enough that I decided not to bother sending the article back to the writer.) Lo and behold, the sentences were ripped word-for-word from Wikipedia. Wikipedia! Yes, even editors use Wikipedia—as a quick jumping-off point for fact-checking, not for trusting its accuracy. The internet is a wonderful place, with plenty of credible sources of information. Please use those instead.

I want to trust you. Initially, I do, but plagiarism ruins that trust. If you really think the other writer can say it better, quote and cite the source! Don’t use the evil P word. Say NO to Plagiarism! (In the United States, anyway. Not a topic I will get into here.)

*Update: My company is taking legal action against another for plagiarizing from us. I found the material plagiarized. See how easy and dangerous both plagiarizing and catching plagiarism are?

“I’ll Do It Tomorrow”: The Procrastinator’s Way

Today’s topic is procrastination, the first part of a series I’ll be writing on time management. To demonstrate how you should not manage your time, I’ve procrastinated writing this blog entry for a solid two weeks. Remember when I said I’d post at least once a week? All right, it wasn’t an intentional demonstration. And I have my excuses: moving, getting to know my new roommate, starting a full-time editor job with EBSCO Publishing, adjusting to my new schedule, answering interview questions from fellow writer and blogger Vanessa Kelman. All valid reasons not to write. All excuses. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s first definition of excuse: “a: to make an apology for b: to try to remove blame from.” The second part implies that there is blame to go around in the first place. I can only blame myself for putting off writing this blog entry.

Here are some typical procrastinator excuses, with suggestions to avoid them (or in Julia terminology, “Smash them over the head!”):

“I don’t have the time!”

  • You can always make the time. Heck, you can make time for free time. Write down a schedule; write a to-do list. These are visual reminders that help keep you on the ball. Keep them open on your computer desktop, printed out and taped to your desk, or written on a calendar or whiteboard hanging by your desk. Anywhere that’s not hidden from view. As you get into the swing of your new schedule, you’ll learn how to judge the length of time tasks will take you. Manageable schedules only, please! Don’t overdo it. If you truly do have too much on your plate, cut something out. You still need to eat, sleep, and stay sane.
  • Crossing off each little task is incredibly satisfying. Even if it’s something as simple as “feed the fish.” (Your fish will thank you.) Actually, feeding the fish is a life or death situation for them, so it’s kind of a big task. To use an editing-related example, finding your red pen is an important small step toward the big one—editing that paper.
  • Reward yourself for a job well-done! Rewards are excellent motivators. Here’s one that works particularly well for me: “Once I finish this paper, I can read from Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel.”

“I keep getting distracted.”

  • Disconnect the internet. Go on, I dare you. Make sure you have everything you need to do the task at hand. You’ll no longer have a valid excuse to stay connected.
  • For when you are clicking on article after article on a favorite website, do so at a particular time of day. I set a half hour aside every morning before diving into my work. Also try to check your personal Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest account in a different area from your work space; designate your work space for work only. Even if you’re working from home, which has comfort advantages over an office, a barrier between work and play will help you get things done.
  • Use a totem. No, I’m not talking about totem poles or totem animals. Not unless they help you meet the following criteria: an item that inspires you to write, edit, or simply buckle down and work by getting you in the right mindset. For examples, I recommend checking out the forums for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); writers enjoy sharing their writing totems there. When I slip on my fingerless black and white striped gloves, that’s a signal for me to get writing, particularly on my fiction. (It also keeps my fingers warm if the room happens to be cold.) When it’s time for me to get to work, I place my second totem within view on my desk: a four-inch high knitted Death of Rats, a character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. (Check out more of Paul Kidby’s artwork here.) He was thoughtfully crafted by a friend who understands my obsession with all things Discworld. (I somehow find him cute rather than threatening.)
  • Play music that will get you in the right frame of mind—not the kind that will have you singing at the top of your lungs, scaring the neighbors with your funky dance moves. Save that for your breaks.
  • If nothing else, employ the acronym coined by cartoonist Howard Tayler over at Writing Excuses: BIC HOK. “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.”

“I’m exhausted.”

  • Yeah? Me too. Take breaks! Burnout is a bad, bad thing. Avoid it. Of course, you can’t be burnt out if you haven’t started working yet, can you?
  • Grab a caffeinated drink. (My name is Julia Gilstein, and I am a tea addict.) Stay hydrated. Water is a wonderful thing. It helps keep you alert. It also forces you to get up and take a bathroom break.
  • Run a lap around the office/the house/your sleeping chinchilla. (I do not own a pet chinchilla, nor do I endorse running around them.) Better, yet, fit in exercise sometime during the day. It’ll help you stay energized.
  • Turn on some music. Figure out what type of genre/artist sets you in the right frame of mind for work. I’m sure you’ve heard of classical music increasing productivity—instrumentals in general are great. My personal preference is for movie soundtracks. When the music gets especially dramatic, I suddenly feel as though placing that apostrophe is the key to saving the world.
  • If you find yourself staring at the computer screen, reading the same sentence over and over again, switch to a different project. You’ll be able to pour more energy into that second project, since it’s fresh on your mind. When that energy dies down, switch back to the first one.
  • It’s okay to have an unproductive day. Hey, that rhymes! Useful for a mantra, isn’t it? “Unproductive day? That’s okay!” Repeat this to lessen procrastination guilt. Sometimes, you just can’t concentrate. It happens. (If you’re like me, take pride in the cleaning frenzy you just went on because your brain felt too overloaded to work.) Just don’t let it happen all the time. To prevent that, having a habitual schedule will come in handy.

“The deadline’s not for a few days.” (Also known as: “There’s always tomorrow!”)

  • Except when tomorrow is today. And then you panic.
  • The hardest deadline to stick to is the one you make for yourself. Yet you need to do that if you want to be a successful freelancer. If you push things off until the last minute, you risk losing sleep, getting overly stressed, and turning in a lesser quality product. Even if you just meet your client’s deadline, you could lose that client.
  • I’m a procrastinator by nature, driven by the deadline. (As you can see, I have to work on keeping my own deadlines.) The closer the deadline approaches, the more I’ll dive into my work. That time pressure helps me turn out a decent product, because I’ll have poured my all into it at one go.
  • But I admit, I’ve been a lot happier when I know how long a project will take me. I’ll plan everything else that I need/want to occur at the same time around it, and then parcel it out, doing bits at a time. Turning something in early becomes possible, and it feels so good. I find that when I actually follow the advice I just gave above, I’m happily productive. Stopping procrastination before it starts is a habit that takes getting used to, one that you can manage if you listen to yourself—acknowledge how you best work, then follow through with it.

Spelling Lesson

On days when I lack the time and energy to blog, I link to someone else.

Today’s link: “10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling.” Check out more of the Oatmeal’s entertaining grammar comics here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Over at the LinkedIn Publishing and Editing Professionals group, members are sharing how they broke into publishing. I told my story there, so why not here as well?

I worked as a writing tutor during college. (I also did layout for the student newspaper, but that wasn’t working with words.) It was then that I decided I really wanted to be an editor. I’d always been an avid reader, a stickler for grammar, and often helped friends proofread their essays. Overall: I loved to write, and I loved assisting others with their writing. As a tutor, I learned so much from the variety of subjects brought before me—honestly, what typical English major is versed in physical chemistry? Meanwhile, I built up a myriad of methods for tutoring various learning styles. Editing in the publishing world isn’t the same as tutoring, but there’s a strong collaborative process that permeates both.

Once I graduated college, I attended the Columbia Publishing Course. I was lucky to get in! It’s an extremely competitive summer program hosted by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism; they only allow 100 students in the class each year. During my six weeks there, I learned an absolute ton about all aspects of the publishing industry—and I mean all—spending evenings schmoozing with numerous publishing professionals. That summer led to my decision to pursue educational publishing.

After several frustrating months of applying, I got in, hired as a temporary Editorial Assistant for Pearson Education’s Social Studies K-12 group. My manager hired me not just because of my English major background, but because I had majored in History as well. It’s always good when one’s liberal arts degree applies directly to one’s job! (What also might have helped me land the position was an internship at The History Press, a publisher of local history books.)

I worked with the Social Studies group for five months, proofreading final pages before they went to print, writing pieces, and creating bookmaps—but with the uncertainty that comes with a temp job, continued to look elsewhere. I found out that my godmother’s half-brother worked in the same building, at Pearson Learning Solutions, a higher education textbook customization group. (It’s not as boring as it sounds, I promise!) We chatted, and soon I was interviewing for an editorial position there. I stayed for about ten months, working on contract as an Assistant Development Editor. I learned how to project manage, and project manage fast. PLS has a busy season best described as insane. You receive some training beforehand, but then you have to dive in and swim fast. Post-busy season, when the office was fairly quiet, I ran into my old manager at Social Studies. Literally, in an elevator. (Okay, we didn’t actually bump into each other.) She told me she was looking for an Associate Editor. So I rejoined the Social Studies team! One big lesson to take away here: network, network, network. If you know someone at the company, your chances of getting a foot in the door shoot sky high.

I loved working for the Social Studies team. I managed and edited programs for elementary, middle, and high school. Switching between reading levels was refreshing. My knowledge of United States history, world geography, and economics got a nice refresher, plus a bonus dose of Alabama’s history. Yes, an entire book about the history of Alabama, written for fourth graders. Fascinating from a Massachusetts perspective.

Unfortunately, my Associate Editor role was also a contract one. After two and a half years at Pearson, I had to leave for a year before reapplying. It’s Pearson HR policy; contract employees can stay for a maximum of two years, then have to wait six months to a year before they are eligible reapply. My situation had a particular twist: my manager and her manager wanted to hire me as staff. They fought to keep me. But in the end, Social Studies lacked the budget and had to say goodbye. Considering how quickly I moved up at Pearson, I was really disappointed. I began applying to other publishing houses. Since I wasn’t having much luck, I resolved to take matters into my own hands. I started JGilstein Editing, and that’s where I am today!

How did you start your journey into publishing? Writing? Editing?

Hello and welcome!

Hello dear readers,

My name is Julia. I’m a freelance editor and writer over at www.jgilstein-editing.com. Feel free to check out the site! It’s still in the works, but you can learn more about me and the services I offer there. What am I doing on WordPress? I’ve decided it’s high time I publish blog entries in relation to my business and my life’s passion: words.

Though I’ve called myself a writer and editor for years now, I’m relatively new to the business of freelancing. I don’t know why I didn’t start sooner. Get paid for doing what I love? Yes, please! Last year, my contract with an educational publisher ended. I became one of the many people desperately searching for a new full-time job, every day a battle against the poor job market. Then I said to myself, “You know what, self? I have valuable skills I can offer to just about anyone. Clear communication is so important!” And that is how JGilstein Editing got started. Well, maybe not in those exact words.

That said, blogging is nothing new to me. I’ve kept up at least one personal blog ever since my mid-adolescent years. (Any other old school Livejournal users out there?) So, how is this blog different? Instead of “this is what I did today” updates or “[insert rant here]” meant for a select audience of friends, I’ll be opening up to anyone who feels like following my Adventures in Freelance. As of now, I envision this blog covering topics about adjusting to the life of a freelancer: setting up a business, marketing that business, working from home, etc. etc. I also plan to post writing/editing tips and other related bits of interest.

The three main goals for this blog:

  • To be informative
  • To be entertaining
  • To post at least once a week, more once I get into the swing of things

Thank you in advance for following my blog, for sharing it with friends, for leaving comments—a great forum for discussion, by the way—and for being an awesome supporter!

Until next time,

Julia