Tag Archives: writing advice

Today’s Writing Tip: Efficiency

sig2010by Sigrid Macdonald

One way I have found to be efficient in business and my personal life is to take the thing that I want to do least and do it first. Every morning when I get up, I assess what I have to do for work and what I have to do to keep my fabulous recreational life going. And I decide which tasks are fun and easy and which ones are a total bore or difficult.

I take the latter and knock them off right away. That means that by 10 a.m. or 11 o’clock, my day is filled with things I want to do because I’ve already completed the ones I didn’t want to do.

This works for writing as well. There are always some things we enjoy more about writing than others. This varies from person to person. Let’s say you’re writing a novel and you adore writing the action scenes, but you hate fact checking.

As soon as you tackle your work, devote a specific period of time to fact checking. It might be twenty minutes or however long you think you can tolerate. Then get back to writing your action scenes. You’ll feel so much better knowing that the task you dreaded is already out of the way.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. Her last book, Be Your Own Editor, is available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/c3az54r


Today’s Writing Tip: Principal versus Principle


When I was in junior high, we were taught that the way to differentiate these homonyms, or sets of words that sound alike but mean something different, was to think that the principal was our pal. That way we would remember that principal refers to a person whereas principle refers to an idea.

Thomas Jefferson stood on principle.

A high school principal has a tough job.

This one is pretty simple once you remember the rule. I recognize some teens may gag on the pal reference, but if it improves your grade, what the hell?

Sigrid Macdonald is a manuscript editor and the author of Be Your Own Editor. Find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/.  


Today’s Writing Tip: When to Use Can or Could


It’s easy to determine when to use the word can and when to use could. Can indicates ability. I can type a letter. I can run 10 miles. I can write a fan letter to Jon Hamm, although he probably won’t answer. Can denotes certainty. Could denotes uncertainty.

I could go to visit my sick neighbor if I don’t have to work on Thursday night. My neighbor could die from pneumonia if her immune system is not strong. My son’ s car could last another five years if he’s lucky. The most significant word in the last three sentences is “if” because the first part of every sentence depends on another factor.

It could happen, but maybe it won’t. Whereas when we use can, something will generally happen or at least the person has the ability to make it happen.

Parents used to teach children table manners by differentiating between the words can and may. A child would say, “Can I go now?” after dessert, and the parent would retort, “May I go.” Because clearly the child can go by simply getting up and leaving the table. Using may is a way of asking permission.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and two short stories, and is also a manuscript editor. Find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/.


Today’s Writing Tip: Question Marks In the Middle of a Sentence

sig2010Punctuating question marks in the middle of a sentence confuses the best of us. Our instinct is often to capitalize the word that follows the question mark, but usually that’s wrong. Here’s an example:

When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, “What is the purpose of life?” this is the answer I received.

Note two things about that sentence. One, the word that proceeds the question and the question mark is lowercased. That’s because the phrase “What is the purpose of life?” is still part of a larger sentence, even though it is a complete sentence and can stand on its own normally, but in this instance it is only half of the sentence.

“This is the answer I received” is the other half and we need it to make our point. Two, there is no comma after the question mark. A version of our example which includes the comma is wrong, e.g., When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, “What is the purpose of life?,” this is the answer I received.

Fortunately, your spellcheck will probably pick up the second issue and flag it as a problem; however, spellcheck may incorrectly tell you that you want to capitalize any word after a question mark. Don’t do it automatically; do so only if it is not part of a larger sentence and that includes dialogue. (“Is the purpose of life to love and be loved?” she asked. No caps for the pronoun and no comma after the question mark.)

Sigrid Macdonald is an author and an editor. You can find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/ 

Today’s Writing Tip: Critiquing Someone Else’s Work

sig2010At some point in our writing careers, we may join a writers’ group or be asked to provide constructive criticism to a fellow writer. This is not always as easy as it seems. Some people have thick skin and when they say that they want us to be bold and to deconstruct their work, they mean it.

Other people may be very sensitive. Some may want a thorough evaluation and others may only want a brief report akin to a book review. What to do?

First, be tactful. Telling someone that the characters in their novel sound like robots is potentially hurtful. Make an honest list of what you think about the material and then go back and revise it as carefully as possible, taking your friend’s feelings into account.

Second, be honest. It won’t help anyone to tell them that their book is on its way to being an Amazon bestseller if it’s an inferior and poorly-written piece of work. Third, be helpful and individualize your response. For example, if you think the whole book should be rewritten from start to finish but you know perfectly well that the writer has neither the ability nor the intention to do so, don’t provide that kind of feedback. It won’t be useful.

Make sure that whatever you say is kind and specific so that the writer knows how to implement changes. Instead of saying, “That scene in part two didn’t work for me at all,” tell the author why and if at all possible, suggest a way to improve it.

Last, talk about the writing instead of the writer so that the person doesn’t feel attacked. In the end, your writer friends will love you for your diplomacy and will benefit by your carefully chosen advice.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books and a manuscript editor. You can find her at http://sigridmacdonald.blogspot.com/.

Today’s Writing Tip: How to Spell Internet


It comes as a surprise to some people that the word Internet is always capitalized. Ditto for the abbreviation “Net.” Why is this?

The Internet is like a place. It is a large computer network that connects computers all over the world. In grammatical terms, it is treated as a proper noun. However, as Wikipedia points out, when we refer to the World Wide Web and the Internet, we want to capitalize that, but if we are referring to smaller internet channels, we don’t necessarily have to capitalize them.

By and large, when people write about the Internet, they are referring to the big picture, hence the need for caps. One way to make sure that you spell this right is to perform a spellcheck at the end of your e-mail, article, or manuscript.

It will pick that error up right away.

Sigrid Macdonald is the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor http://tinyurl.com/7wnk5se and two erotic short stories, which she wrote under the pen name Tiffanie Good. Silver Publishing just released “The Pink Triangle,” a tale of friendship, lust, and betrayal. You can view her story here: http://tinyurl.com/6v65rgr