Hone Your Craft to Own Your Craft

The conversation went a little something like this:

“OMG, are you reading a dictionary right now?”

After glancing up and trying NOT to roll my eyes irretrievably into their sockets, “No, Hon, I’m actually reading a professional guide for editors to refresh my knowledge and see what’s new in the field.”

It was NOT, in fact, a dictionary. It was an editing style guide, thank you very much!

“So, like a dictionary, but worse?” Laughter and mocking conversation followed as the rest of the family got in on the joke.

“Har, har. You guys are hilarious.” I pushed my reading glasses back onto my nose and once more wielded my highlighter like the weapon it is.

The Importance of Staying Current

You know how our kids mock us when we say things like “groovy” or “psychedelic”? As writers, we spend a LOT of time focusing on speech patterns, slang, and even everyday activities of the younger generations. Why? It’s not because we enjoy watching exotic species in their natural environment. It’s because we need our writing to stay relevant—and, also, we don’t want to be mocked into a permanent room at Shady Acres just yet.

Writers today have many options. We’ve all seen the movies about hermits who decide to become lighthouse keepers on remote islands. They end up writing brilliant novels, and they never have human contact—except for that one captain who arrives in a rickety boat that crashes toward shore once per year with the basic supplies needed for survival. And who among us isn’t clamoring for that option?!

But—and this is just me going out on a limb—there are those writers who want to live an existence in modern society and write about current topics. And that means staying up to date with what is going on around them.

Collectors of Knowledge

We’re collectors and learners and hoarders of facts. And when you think about it, observing new trends, behaviors, and speech patterns are all ways of learning and collecting knowledge.

The intuitive and empathetic nature most creative people possess drives them to not only study and recall behaviors, but also try to understand how they fit into the context of the world surrounding them. All the human emotions and behaviors we learn about add to the worlds and stories we create.

But Why Study Grammar & Editing & Stuff?

The mechanics of our jobs—whether you’re a writer, an editor, a proofreader, or all of the above—are the supporting framework of the creativity we put out there. Think of the inner structure of a building, the weight-bearing support.

Is it all about grammar? Absolutely not. Is it about rule-breaking? Nope, not that either.

It’s about how everything works together to form a balance. It used to be all about grammar, but today I read style guides and grammar books to learn about updates and accepted uses.

THEN, I use my professional judgement, based on the text I’m currently writing or editing. True, there are still a few dusty, by-the-book rule followers who are likely growing apoplectic at reading this, but they are few and far between. Most writers recognize they’ll capture a larger and more invested audience if they “speak their language.”

Yeah, I’d Totally Read a Dictionary

When it comes down to it, I suppose I should apologize to my husband for being so appalled that he mocked me for nerding out while reading an editing guide…because it could have just as easily been a dictionary or a thesaurus. (#Guilty)

Why? I want my writing to be the best it can be. Likewise, I want my clients to get the very best work I can give them when I’m editing. That means they deserve the extra time I put in to stay abreast of current style guide updates and even the latest additions to Merriam-Webster.

P.S. Did you guys know that, as of 2021, “hard pass,” “@,” and “cancel culture” have officially been added to the dictionary? Don’t blink! Things change daily.

Your Readers Aren’t Bumblefucks: How to Tell They’re Smart & Treat Them That Way

I get it. It’s tough to give readers the benefit of the doubt when you’re talking about complicated subjects like snow, seafood, and shoes. As writers, we all fight a powerful inner force that drives us to explain things well beyond the point of clarity—often to the point of “Hey, in case you’re a dumbass, let me tell you what water is.”

Your readers will get tired of that faster than yesterday’s playlist.

Here’s a quick sample of what’s sometimes put in front of readers…and what they really think when we talk down to them:

Writer: Snow is white and cold.

Reader: No shit. There better be an inescapable blizzard trapping an entire town within the terrorizing clutches of an abominable snowman before you tell me more about this white, cold snow.

Writer: Seafood comes from the ocean…and often tastes (gasp!) “fishy.”

Reader: Unless you just pulled a megalodon from the sea, I don’t need the genealogy of the dinner you’re describing. However, if some prehistoric badassery is going down, then by all means, continue the explanation.

Writer: Shoes are utilized to protect the feet and often worn when leaving the home.

Reader: I’d really want to read more of this…IF the protagonist were running through a volcanic lava flow while wearing the latest lava-repellant footwear. However, I don’t need to be reminded every time Karen needs to slip on her Birks before leaving the house. Move on. We’re all well-versed in the role shoes play in our lives.

Remember

Cut the filler. Cut the fluff. Get to the good stuff.

We don’t do it on purpose. But every now and then, we write one of those sentences that makes it seem like our readers have the mental acuity of a box of rocks. Take a look at the last couple things you wrote. Is there anything you can omit (either because the reader likely already has that knowledge OR because the reader would love the opportunity to build that picture up in their own mind)?

PRO TIP: Never make your readers feel like they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. If you’re planning on a long-term career as a writer, this is BAD for business.

Why Focus on Readers?

When you empower your readers, you create excited, confident readers. You produce readers of more books! Remember every time you had a great book-reading experience as a kid or young adult? What did you do? You went and found another book. As writers, that’s all we can hope for: readers who want to READ MORE BOOKS.

Your Readers Are Worldly, Intelligent & Insightful

Readers have life experience, and you can assume that if they’ve picked up your book, they have interest in the topics you’ve tackled. (That means they probably have at least a little bit of subject matter knowledge, and they’re engaged in your content. Bonus!)

Your Readers Wear Pants

And they drive cars. And they know that water comes out of water fountains. (See? Smart!)

This is momentous insight for writers, because it means you don’t have to tell readers what pants feel like or how they work! You also are not obligated to tell them that cars have steering wheels and four tires; nor do you need to tell them water comes out of fountains. Unless something utterly STRANGE and UNEXPECTED is happening with the aforementioned objects, your readers can paint those pictures all on their own. (And they LOVE doing that. It’s part of THEIR creative process.)

Why Readers Read

Readers are a huge part of your creative process. They are the recipients of your stories, and they turn the words you’ve written into entire worlds in their minds. The best writers, the writers we all return to, are those who create just enough story to intrigue us, draw us in, and challenge us to fill in the blanks. They paint the picture—just not the ENTIRE picture.

Challenge: Read your latest writing and look for signs that you’re accusing your readers of bumblefuckery. Avoid this at all costs, because nobody wants to be known as the reader who needed to be told that “the rain fell down.” (Well I damned well hope so. Tell ‘em something they didn’t know.)

Read the following encouraging signs to remind you that your readers are total BRAINIACS who just want to read some great writing. So let loose, sling some creativity, and stop second-guessing yourself about what they can handle.

5 Pretty Obvious Giveaways That Your Readers Are Smart

  • They are holding a book. And if they aren’t currently holding a book, they’re likely shopping for a book, telling another person about the book they just read, or reading book reviews online to decide which book to purchase next (probably while listening to an audio book).
  • They are alive. Meaning, they have experienced life things. If your reader has ever been through a breakup, they know it causes sadness, so get more creative than that when describing a similar situation in your writing. They know dogs bark, but a snarler evokes a completely different feeling. Small changes in your writing infuse more emotion AND give readers credit for being able to fill in some of the blanks.
  • They speak your language. This is fan-freakin’-tabulous news, because it means you don’t need to fluff up your writing with pretentious words readers don’t understand. They talk just like you do, so wa-bam! You can just start typing. Unless you’re completing a post-grad thesis, uptight writing will only make you seem stuffy and in need of a fiber supplement. Plus, readers will wonder why you’re making their brains hurt.
  • They can imagine. If you tell readers about the “scraggly, bony-fingered witch who mumbles to herself each time a well-dressed businessman passes by,” you’ll have 500 readers who come up with 500 different mental images of that witch. And that is AMAZING! Do more of that! Encourage your readers to be smart and creative and whimsical. This is what brings joy to reading…and therefore, potentially an inkling of job security to the lowly writers of the world.
  • They contribute. Yep, that’s right. Think you’re the only one contributing to your writing? Think again. You are setting up a platform that invites readers to enter, absorb, and then create worlds of their own—all by reading what you’ve written. You are dancing with the reader, and there is a fine balance between telling them enough and telling them too much.

Readers are brainy and creative. They are learners, and they want to be part of the adventures in the books they read. As a writer, it’s your job to bring the story into focus. Paint just enough of a picture to connect almost all the dots; and then let readers fill in some of the blanks to envision specifics. Part of the beauty of creativity lies in the give and take between writer and reader.

Now, get out there and write a literary masterpiece. Go…scoot! Before I am forced to tell you that grass is green.

Going COVID Chic: Desperate times, desperate wardrobe choices

We’ve all been making alarminly different fashion choices since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and we can blame that mostly on the fact that we’re spending more time (A LOT MORE TIME) at home. I feel a duty to report that standards have been on a steady deline as many of us continue to work from home.

It all started just over a year ago. Back then, many of us had cute, matching workout outfits from places like Fabletics and Victoria’s Secret and even Target. It was easy to look cute for the occasional WFH day. Now, however, months have passed, and much like the elastic on my underwear, the lycra in most of our leggings is waving flags of surrender.

Admit it or not, we’ve all made the it’s-just-to-the-mailbox walk in our mismatched pajamas and slippers. And a lot of us have been balancing work with futile attempts at trying to educate our own children. (My kid asked if frogs had hair the other day, so we’re gonna need to play a whole lotta catch-up to ensure our future is secure.) Everyone is overdosing on board games and Netflix, and no one wants to play ANYmore educational video games. Even the dogs are ready for us to get the hell out of the house. I think that about sums it up.

We’re all just trying to hang in there

If you find yourself suddenly needing a refresh before your sanity completely escapes you, here’s a handy-dandy list of updated fashion rules to help you navigate the stress of working from home, kid-wrangling, and facing the possibility of never seeing the light of day again. (We’re all hanging onto the edge of this cliff together, so there’s no shame in the game…let’s just help each other out a little.)

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1.    Prioritize laundry cycles by ALWAYS washing pajamas first. You will wake, function, sleep, and do it all over again in these functional clothing pieces. Don’t let yourself stress over matching tops with bottoms. At this point in our lives, nothing needs to match. The only people you are going to see are the Amazon guy, the FedEx guy, and if you’re lucky, the GrubHub guy. If your undies and pjs are fresh, you’re good to go!

2.    Sort your nighttime pajamas from your daytime pajamas. This will help you clearly outline your day and stay on track. Obviously, daytime pajamas are for people who have a plan and want to execute and be productive. Daytime pajamas either match or they are paired with a sporty t-shirt so you can pretend you’re part of the up-and-moving crowd. Nighttime pajamas are for those who are DONE. They are reserved for Netflix and wine, and they almost never match. These are the ones with faded cats, over-stretched elastic, and frayed hemlines–but damn, they are comfy! When you keep your pjs aligned to your goals, you’ll end up feeling much better about your day.

3.    Re-name your clothing staples. Leggings are essentially exercise pajamas, and we’re all living in them now, so let’s embrace it. Just before coronavirus hit, I remember sharing a meme about leggings not being pants. Now, when I see that, I just laugh and laugh. Also recognized as “dressy pajamas” or “going-out pajamas,” leggings are extremely handy for extreme bouts of physical activity like going to the grocery store or sneaking in quick trips to Target.

4.    All sock-and-sandal rules are null and void. Seriously, if we can now wear leggings that come in skin tones, then we can wear socks with our sandals. And do you know why we’re wearing socks with our sandals? Because we haven’t been to get a pedicure in approximately 6 months, and our toenails could rival the claws on a pterodactyl. It’s a new world, and we’re ALL wearing fuzzy socks–in the summer, with our sandals, on the porch, any which way we please.

5.    Roots are the new highlights. We’re letting things go a little longer than we used to, but this isn’t just a fashion tip about what’s going on from the neck up, ladies. The other day, I stepped into the sunlight, and the glint of the light hit my shins in such as way as to highlight the amber waves of…OMG I need to order razors! (Another reason to opt for the leggings.) The fun part of letting our roots grow out? You can go purple, blue, or pink. Whatever you decide, get a little crazy with it and perk up your WFH day with a splash of color. Even if it goes haywire, it’s just you, the fam, and a quick run-in with the Amazon guy, right?

6.  Ponytails are perfection! Down low, up high, in the middle, messy bun, loopy-do, half-pony…girl, you do YOU. If your hair isn’t full of grease, twigs, or actual birds, that bird’s nest will fit right in with all the other looks happening right now. It’s hot, we’re stressed, and nobody’s got time for hair flying all over the place.

7.    If you tuck it in or wear a belt, you are fancy. If you’re feeling like a fancy stroll to the mailbox or a glam day of homeschooling, simply tuck your hoodie into your sweatpants or layer a belt over your ensemble to add dimension and style. Covid rules are different, and you’ll get points for creativity. Just remember, not too tight with the belt or it’ll be tough to eat ice cream while you’re watching Dr. Phil.

There will be tests

Stay strong and stick with your uncanny sense of pandemic style. Tests will be sent your way, but when you look your best, you feel your best. Or maybe now, it should be…When you feel your best, you feel your best? So whip that hair into a messy bun, pull on your softest sweatpants, and deal with all the sarcasm, bullish attitudes, and I-don’t-wanna-do-it attitudes that are thrown your way every day.

Just remember: every challenge you face is merely a chance to build up your willpower to last until the kids’ bedtime before breaking open that new bottle of cabernet and switching the TV to the Lifetime Movie Channel. Fortify yourself in stretchy clothing, and wait for the younglings to collapse into exhausted oblivion.

And as for creativity & productivity

If you’re trying to produce new material right now, Dear cats and kittens, remember to turn of Tiger King before doing so. (Yes, we’ve all seen it…at least once. No, I will NEVER admit to owning Tiger King socks.)

It may not seem like it now, but we’ve all been given an opportunity to flourish and grow. You know how weeds grown through concrete? Yeah, we’re gonna grow through this, too. We’re figuring it out, and we’re moving forward. I mean, we look pretty ridiculous in leggings and bathrobes, but we are persevering.

The finish line

That feeling when you can see the finish line is pretty damned gratifying. Especially if you are a fat girl who is really running (and not writing a metaphor). OMG, sometimes that finish line seems so far away…and donuts seem even further away! But we can all do this if we stick together.

So gather up a load of casual laundry and cue up a disastrous, yet affirming, Lifetime movie. Check on your friends, feed your kids, curl up in a blankie, luxuriate in those over-worn leggings, and disappear into someone else’s fictional drama for a couple of hours.

We’re gonna make it through this. And someday, history books will reflect on this period of fashion and dub it “Covid Chic.”

The Care & Keeping of Your Bridge-Troll Soul

I get it. People are tired of being cooped up in their houses and going on long, solitary walks and sitting on their front porches reading books and well, generally being not surrounded by people. It sounds absolutely excruciating—unless you are an introvert, in which case, you’ve been given an extended vacation from people-ing that is akin to winning a getaway to a tropical island filled with coconuts, island breezes, and cabana boys—the kind that deliver drinks and don’t want deep conversation.

It’s not the most popular opinion. Most of my friends are chomping at the bit to GET. OUT. THERE. To get back to normal, whatever that was. To get back to the office, get back to the grind, the carpools, the birthday parties, the over-committing, the general busy factor of life. But what if… What if this has been a way to get us all to slow down, look around, and appreciate what we do have? So take a minute. Look around. Breathe. Play some silly games and watch Netflix. We WILL all be back out there soon. Soon the tide will turn, and it will be the introverts who are uncomfortable again.

Just give us some pajama pants, fuzzy blankets, and books…and everything will be ok.

This post is for you, introverts. We’ve all become accustomed to being at home, and quite honestly, we’re loving the fact that we don’t have to work so hard to bury our introvert tendencies just to function in the real world. We can be productive, work successfully, and NOT be in such a loud, extroverted world. We don’t have to worry that the spotlight will turn on us in meetings—but we can still do amazing work. We LOVE our teams, but we don’t have to worry about team-building activities that include constructing the tallest spaghetti towers. (Please stop doing this to us. It’s unnecessary, and we don’t need spaghetti to understand the concept of teamwork.)

But I digress. Let’s get down to the business of taking care of your inner bridge troll. My inner bridge troll is the one who does not want anyone TROMP-TROMP-TROMPING over her bridge (or getting in her personal space). She’s an unpredictable troll because sometimes she likes to go out, have fun, and kick back…but those times are exhausting—and they require recovery time. You see, we introverts LOVE our people, but we recharge in our solitary environments.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure your inner bridge troll is the happiest troll around—and in turn, you can be sure to be the best friend, co-worker, and family member to those around you. They’ll understand you better, and you’ll FEEL better, so just go for it:

Don’t overcommit. I know, it’s difficult, but when things get back to some semblance of normal, everyone will want to do ALL. THE. THINGS. And probably all at once. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, introverts. You’ve been in your house for weeks with nothing but your kids and your toilet paper stash, so ease back into outside life gradually.

Prioritize. There will be things you really, really want to do—and then things you feel like you have to do. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to do anything. Be gentle, be kind, and learn how to say no.

Do what you love. Things are changing daily—heck, probably even hourly—and no one really knows what’s coming next. What do you love to do? Answer that question…and then REMEMBER the answer. Don’t forget to do the things you love. I love to write, make mosaics, spend time with my family, and currently, my new fascination is bullet journaling. Don’t let any of those things go. Instead, build on them—even when life lets us get out and about again.

Reach out. Ok trolls, here’s the hard part. You are not the only people on the planet—and there are people out there who love you and care for you. That means you have a responsibility to not only focus on your own introverted comfort, but also look outward and focus on the needs of your loved ones. Try picking a day or two a week to make phone calls and check in on people, send good old-fashioned cards, and plan coffee dates with friends. If they can respect us as introverts, then we can at least go get a damn cup of coffee.

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Relax. Life will go on. We will adapt—humans are good at that. Let’s all just lean into each other’s strengths and get through this thing. Some of us are good at people-ing. Some of us are good at introverting. Let’s all work together.

My hope is that from all of this we will emerge smarter, more intuitive, and more able to respect boundaries of those who work differently, play differently, and live differently. That’s the beauty of being human. Find your people, love them, and appreciate them even more after all of this is over.

Bridge trolls: Come out of your caves occasionally to chat with people and get in touch with what’s going on in the world.

Extroverts: Reach out the introverts and try to understand that it’s sort of tough for us to leave our Hobbit houses and socialize…but we really love you and want to be your friends.

And there you have it. Bridge trolls, meet the extroverts. Extroverts, meet the bridge trolls. Now, y’all work that shit out.