Tuesday, February 5, 2013

“Historic” or “Historical”

When should one use “historic” and when “historical”?

These two adjectives are often confused. Many think they are interchangeable. But they are distinctly different.

“Historic” refers to something monumental, noteworthy, such as an epic event that promises to go down in history. “Historical” means anything that's past, regardless of significance. “Historic election”: a very important election that will go down in history. “Historical records”: past records, not necessarily important.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


"If you can see though the lens, you’re a photographer. If you can see beyond the lens, you’re a photojournalist."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Three Words of Advice

I just finished editing another book and there are three things that stand out. Do these and your writing will be better.

1. Use fewer words. Most writing is loaded with redundancies. Chop it out.

2. Write shorter sentences. Even when you have cut your word count, prefer two or three short sentences to one long, convoluted sentence. As much as you admire the apostle Paul, don't try to write like him.

3. Take it easy on exclamation points! If you use too many of them, they lose their meaning when you really need to use them!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Effect or Affect?

Which to use: effect or affect? As a general rule, effect is a noun and affect is a verb. There are exceptions but the general rule should serve most of the time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Words That Will Get Your Manuscript Rejected

The words that will get your manuscript rejected: "And according to Wikipedia, ..."

I received (and rejected) a manuscript this morning with these words. Why? See my earlier posts on the subject:

Make Sure Your Sources Are Accurate

Get It Right

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quote Well

"One must be a wise reader to quote wisely and well." —Amos Bronson Alcott

Reading feeds writing. That means writers need to be reading good material. It is good to read. But not everything is worth reading. Not everything will help your writing. Read good, well-written books. And never read a book without being prepared to take notes. I always read with three things at hand—a marker, a pen, and a pad.

Often I have come across just the right quote to stimulate a column, or to complete an article. Some great quotes wait patiently for me for years after I write them down. Then, suddenly, there is the ideal piece in which to use them.

As a writer who uses pull quotes in our weekly magazine, I've had enough experience to naturally see these great quotes tucked into the narrative. Train yourself to look for repeatable nuggets as you turn pages. And write them down!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


As publisher of a weekly magazine and a number of books annually, I know the importance of deadlines. There are many for any given piece of writing. But there are writers who just don't get it. They don't realize the importance of meeting deadlines. A day late on a deadline can paralyze a publishing team. When an assignment is accepted, or an agreement is made, part of that agreement includes a pledge by the writer to meet all deadlines. That means not one day late.

I read this recently from prolific author Dennis Hensley (who is also a great speaker/teacher). It may seem over the top but it really makes the point.

“On my office wall at the university where I direct a professional writing program, I have a large sign. It reads: ‘Deadline is a literal, not a figurative term. It means, “Go past this line, and you are dead.”’ I don’t allow papers to be turned in late for any reason. I don’t allow students to show up late for class. (I literally lock the door to the classroom.) The sooner students learn to revere deadlines, the sooner they will be on the road to becoming professional writers.” (“How to Hit Deadlines” by Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, Christian Communicator, April 2010, p. 3.)

I have a quiet way of dealing with writers who don't make deadlines and thus increase our work burden—I don't give them any more assignments.

If you are lucky enough to get an assignment, don't throw away a possible career by being dilatory. Good writing starts with meeting deadlines.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More From Twain

"Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph. 
I never write 'metropolis' for seven cents when I can write 'city' and get paid the same. 
As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out." 
—Mark Twain

Monday, April 19, 2010

Short Speech

"Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words." —The 

Though the 
Apocrypha is not inspired, it does carry some good advice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hard Writing

Hard writing makes easy reading. 

Writing isn't easy for most of us, including me. But our effort is well worth it for the reader—and for your opportunity to sell manuscripts.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jefferson on Brevity

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."

Thomas Jefferson

A historical source weighs in on the necessity to write tight.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

It is axiomatic that in writing you should show rather than tell. This means fewer adjectives and more concrete words. Mark Twain notwithstanding, there are good adjectives and bad adjectives. Bad ones are opinions: ugly, terrible, gorgeous. Instead, describe objectively and let the reader make the conclusion. Show that something is ugly, terrible, gorgeous with a clever description. If your description can't lead the reader to your desired conclusion, it's not well written.

When an adjective is called for, make it a concrete, evocative one: jagged, icy, billowy, wrinkled, oily, bright.

The job of the writer is to put the reader in his story. That means fewer adjectives, and, when an adjective is called for, stronger, concrete ones.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blogging is a two-edged sword

I have several blogs. Anybody can get published now. If you have something to say, you should blog.

But the immediacy of blogging leads to lower standards for factual accuracy, grammatical accuracy and writing style.

I must admit, I do not perfect my blog posts as I do my writing. But it’s OK; people understand what a blog is (a lot of it is stream of consciousness). But DO NOT let your blogging lower the quality of your writing for publication.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Translation Bloopers

My prodigious blooper file surfaces in most of my writing seminars. Actually, it is probably the most popular part of my sessions. (Not sure what that says.) I have a collection of very funny bloopers from other countries I have been in. Signs and restaurant menus are great sources for humor when you are overseas. I recently found this great source of hilarious photos in other countries. Attempted translations.
engrish funny crabonated drink

Would you drink this?

(North Korea)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Do Your Background Work for Interviews

"Study to show yourself approved" (2 Tim. 2:15) is not just for pastors. It's a really good idea, too, for writers. (I know, the context of the verse is Bible study but I'm taking some creative license here.)

This is especially important for interviews. It takes more than just asking a few questions to conduct a decent interview. You have to be familiar enough with your topic to ask intelligent follow-up questions and not miss opportunities that a good follow-up question would bring.

Many moons ago a writer had been assigned a phone interview with a Christian football player. I had no idea he knew zip about football. That is until I happened to overhear him ask this question fairly deep into his interview: "So, what does a linebacker do?"


You've got to know basic background for any interview. In this case, the player's promo identified him as an All-Pro linebacker. You don't waste your interviewee's time with questions like that. Look it up before the interview.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Practice What You Preach (Write)

Adlai Stevenson said, "It's always easier to fight for your principles than to live up to them."

If you are going to put bold opinions or exhortations into your writing, make sure you are living up to the principles you espouse. When strong writing goes into print, people can (and will) check your life against it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Words, Thoughts, Ink

"Words are things, and a small drop of ink falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think." – Sir Aubrey De Vere

Monday, July 20, 2009

Write Every Day

If you are serious about being a writer, write something every day ... no exceptions. By this I do not mean a blog or something you're unlikely to use. Write something for publication. It doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be viable. make progress every day as a writer.

I have dozens of columns and several articles in various stages of completion that are not yet scheduled. Write daily, and keep what you write. Add to your pieces or revise them occasionally. Some day they may see publication.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Use New Words

Writing can be spiced up by the addition of interesting recently coined words ... within reason. A recent example:


Apparently a combination of "green" and "brainwashing" it is used to describe false or misleading claims about a "green" (pro-environment) practice or product.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Editor Should Be a Writer

I do both. In fact, all the editors on my staff also write. I believe that all editors should also be writers.

Not everyone agrees with me—mostly editors who don't write. I've seen many good pieces ruined by editors who understood vocabulary, grammar, and syntax but not writing. Being edited by someone who doesn't also write professionally can lead to wooden, uninteresting writing.

A copyeditor or proofreader is something different. That level of editing doesn't require writing abilities. But if the editor has any authority to change the content, you had better make sure he or she understands writing—not by reading it, but by writing it.