Monthly Archives: March 2012

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.