Monthly Archives: May 2017

Gerunds at the Airport

Last night, after dropping my girlfriend off at the airport, I sent her a text that included this sentence: “Don’t worry about me driving home” (her plane had been delayed, the hour had grown late, and she was afraid that I might be too tired to make the hour-and-a-half drive home).

Spoiler alert: I’m fine.

In the text, “me driving” is what is called a fused participle, and people are often unsure whether to use that construction or a possessive followed by a gerund (which in this case would be “my driving”).

Helpful discussions on the matter can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style, Garner’s Modern English Usage, and Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. (This is going to be a short post, my main point being that the matter here, while a relatively minor point, is worth investigating for those attempting to fine-tune their grammar).

In my sentence, “me driving” follows a preposition. Looking to Chicago, we have this: “When the noun or pronoun follows a preposition, the possessive is usually optional.”

If you’re worried about making the right choice, “usually” is often reassuring, because you can at least feel some measure of confidence that you’ll be able to make a good argument.

The main consideration for choosing between a fused participle and a possessive plus gerund is usually (there’s that word again) whether the emphasis is on the noun/pronoun or the verb (action). In my case, I’d like to think that my girlfriend’s concern was all about me, and that shifting the emphasis to my driving would miss the mark.

Perhaps if there had been another option, like flying a helicopter home, then “my driving” (as opposed to “my flying”) would have been the better choice.

But as it is, I’m going to stick with the me-first approach!

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Editing Is a Lot Like Shaving—Really!

[Please note that I am not a shaving professional and cannot be held responsible for any injuries that occur while shaving. The following is for entertainment purposes only.]

 

The badger-hair shaving brush I received for my last birthday (Thanks, G!) posed a challenge. I’d seen old-fashioned shaves in the movies, but, looking at the brush, I have to admit I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about the process.

Not to mention that I felt some apprehension over possibly leaving my face and neck looking like something out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But intrigue far outweighed fear. Shaving with what are generally considered antiquated—even dangerous—implements would be undeniably cool (dare I say, manly?), shimmering with the same mystique as an absinthe fountain or manual typewriter.

I vowed to do it, nicks and cuts be damned!

The Tools

An editor can’t edit without the proper tools, and these days that means a decent computer, a monitor (or two or three), a high-speed internet connection, software (Word, PerfectIt, etc.), dictionaries, and style manuals, for starters.

For my shave, I quickly realized I needed to further bolster my shaving arsenal. I was simply not going to use one of the modern five-blade razors with my cool new brush. Not being foolhardy—or perhaps manly—enough to wield a straight razor, I purchased a safety razor, and I assure you, turning the handle and butterflying the top open, then laying a bare blade within, felt plenty dangerous enough for me. Plus, the damn thing looks extremely cool hanging on the stand next to my brush.

Along with the razor I also bought shaving soap, a stainless steel bowl for working the soap into a lather, and some shaving oil and moisturizer.

I was ready to begin.

Prework

Editors don’t just sit down with a document and begin editing. An editor will resave the document with a new name, create a style sheet, perform basic cleanup on the document, and run macros and a variety of programs.

Much the same with shaving.

First, I place the brush in the stainless steel bowl and fill the bowl with warm water to soak the bristles for a few minutes. I then take this time to wash my face with my energizing face wash (Thanks again, G!).

At this stage I apply shaving oil and, pouring a tablespoon onto the shaving soap, dump all but a tablespoon or so of water from the bowl. Then I shake out the brush and swirl it over the soap.

Now for my favorite part!

With soap adhering to the bristles of the brush, I whisk the brush in the bowl to combine it with that little bit of water to create a nice lather. This takes time, and I find that the action of the brush and lather in the bowl centers my thoughts and relaxes me. It helps ready me for the day, and it reminds me a bit of making a roux for gumbo, where the oil and flour gradually assume that perfect peanut-butter color.

My mind clears, and when there are no more bubbles in the lather, I’m getting close.

After the lather is perfect, I apply it to my face, and I really go after it, working the bristles vigorously. The whole point is to raise my whiskers and ready them for the blade, but a pleasant side effect is that the bristles feel wonderful.

The Work

These days, editors have quite a few tools that make editing easier, but at editing’s heart there is always an editor working the text, poring diligently letter by letter over a document. This is where the real work is done, where an editor’s attention to detail and ability to concentrate for extended periods of time come into play.

This is the stage where the editor’s training and experience and knowledge really pay off.

If a mistake at this stage can leave glaring errors in a document, a mistake at the same point while shaving can result in the aforementioned nicks and cuts. But do it correctly and you’re left with smooth skin that you, or your loved one, can’t resist touching (or, for that matter, a clean, error-free document that invites reading).

But let’s make no mistake, shaving with a safety razor is not for the fainthearted.

Even secured in the casing, the blade is lethal, so you can’t shave quickly and recklessly, as you might with a more modern blade (no need to even reassert the editing metaphor here). With a safety razor, the weight of the handle itself is enough, so you let gravity do the work, bringing the blade down, always down, a half inch or so at a time, over and over.

I’ll admit that my first couple shaves with the safety razor could easily have put one in mind of The Wild Bunch, but I learned. Slow and extreme care can literally save your neck (or, when editing, your client’s).

Cleanup

Once a job is complete, an editor can wrap up the work, which of course entails returning the document to the client and, presumably, getting paid in the not-too-distant future. With shaving, this is the point where a hot towel (or cold, as some prefer) would really come in handy, but I haven’t incorporated that into the process. Maybe someday.

Until then, I’m going to enjoy the slow pleasures of a good shave—and I’m going to try to always bring the same level of extreme care to my work.  

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But If It’s a Good Enough Story, No One’s Going to Care About a Few Typos, Right?

You’ve just put the finishing touches on your masterpiece and cannot wait to share it with the world. Readers are going to shower you with positive reviews. You just have to get your story out there. There’s no reason to wait another second, right?

It’s easier than ever to self-publish your work, and we’re farther and farther from the days when the vanity press was viewed with near-universal disdain.

When done right, self-publishing can be profitable—even, dare we say, respectable. Just look at the growing number of authors who have made it going the self-publishing route (E.L. James and Hugh Howey are two well-known examples).

The tools available to self-publishers also make it possible to create beautiful books with relative ease—books with your name on them! How can you resist?

The temptation is almost too much for any writer, one of whose ultimate goals is, of course, to send a written work out into the world. But the ease with which writers can now publish their works can be a trap.

Remember, once you send something into the world, you can’t pull it back, and that first impression can turn off a reader for life. Sure, you can reload a cleaner version, but by then a significant amount of damage may already be done to your reputation.

The Delusion

If you think self-publishing is a good fit for your goals, then there’s every reason to pursue it. But it’s a cruel world out there, and you should make every effort to give your work its best chance for survival.

When we want something badly enough, we are extremely adept at picturing our desired outcome, often turning a blind eye to harder realities. And this can lead to rushing out a work before you’ve helped it achieve its best form.

Think about how fragile your feelings are in regard to something you’ve written, and then think about what lurks online. Have you been on the internet lately? Can’t you hear readers sharpening their knives? Do you really want to let an audience, emboldened by anonymity, take potshots at one of your darlings?

It’s not uncommon for hopeful writers to say to themselves, “But if it’s a good enough story, no one’s going to care about a few typos, right?”

The truth is that the only people who don’t care about typos are the imaginary readers you create for your work.

Again, have you been on the internet lately? Have you seen how people savage each other over minor grammatical gaffes in comment sections? Comment sections!

Eliminate Stumbling Blocks

Some of the best writing advice you’ll ever hear is simply this: Don’t ever give your readers a reason to stop reading.

Dense paragraphs at the beginning of a work might convince your readers that your story is simply too difficult to wade through. For this reason many writers suggest always throwing in dialogue on the first page.

Packing too much information, too much world-building, into the beginning of your story can also give your readers a reason to stop reading, so a better approach might be to let your audience acclimate a little more slowly to your world.

And whether you’d like to believe it or not, misspellings and grammatical errors are a huge reason to stop reading. Your audience will question your professionalism, and if readers have paid for your work, even if it’s only a few dollars, even is it’s only 99 cents, they are going to feel ripped off.

Writers owe their readers, at a minimum, crisp, clear copy that contains none of the stumbling blocks a professional edit could have eliminated.

Before sending your darling out into the world, ensure it’s edited properly, which means another set of eyes. The world’s best editors realize that no one can successfully edit his or her own work. Writers are simply too familiar with their text. So do the right thing and treat your darling to a good edit. You—and your story—deserve it.

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