CAPA-U 2011

May 5, 2011

This Saturday, May 7, I’ll be speaking at the eighth annual Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association professional-development day for writers. CAPA-U (short for CAPA University) will be at the Hartford Steam Boiler Conference Center, One State Street, Hartford, CT.

I’ll be part of a panel discussing what to expect when working with an editor, and how to get the most from the author-editor relationship. We’ll likely touch on word choice, style, punctuation, spelling, grammar… perhaps even the funny side of the editing process – and, of course, we’ll set aside time to answer your questions.

Your admission gets you the day-long conference, complete with a choice of fifteen different workshops, keynote address, agents’ panel and a one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to discuss your work. A delicious buffet lunch is included… as is secured, indoor parking on site. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet and talk with other authors, hear some informational and inspiring speakers – and possibly win a refund of your registration fee. Not a writer but know someone who is? A ticket to CAPA-U makes a great Mother’s Day present!

There’s still time to sign up for CAPA-U… but don’t delay; registrations are filling up fast! Hope to see you there!


Mother’s Day? Mothers’ Day? Mothers Day? Which is correct?

May 7, 2009

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. That’s right. Not Mothers’ Day. Not Mothers Day. And certainly not mothers day. Mother-apostrophe-ess: Mother’s Day.

A number of folks have asked me via email, “How do I know when to capitalize Mother (or Mom) and when to leave it lowercase?”

Great question. Here’s the quick-and-dirty answer:

If you were writing, for instance, “I went to visit my mother; we played canasta,” the lowercase form of “mother” would be appropriate. However, if you were to write, “I went to visit Mother; we played canasta,” you would capitalize “Mother,” because that is the name you call her.

Have other questions? Just leave a comment.

Oh, and whether you’re currently overrun with young’uns or your kids are grown and gone – or even if you’re someone’s godmother or favorite auntie, Happy Mother’s Day to you!

And, if you happen to be among the women for whom motherhood was cut short, this is your Mother’s Day, too. Take time to honor yourself and your departed child(ren) this Sunday. Remember to be gentle with yourself… and, above all, know there will be better a Mother’s Day for you in time.

CAPA-U… Seven Days and Counting

May 2, 2009

Next Saturday (May 9, 2009), I’ll be taking part in an editors’ panel at CAPA University, a day-long professional-development day for writers; I’ll be part of a three-member panel of experts. This sixth annual event is sponsored by the Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association.

Some of the topics we’re sure to discuss will be word usage, spelling, grammar, punctuation, general editing and proofreading.

What are your thorniest proofreading/editing concerns? If you were to attend this panel discussion, what burning question would you most like answered or addressed?

The Weakest Word in the English Language

February 21, 2009

To keep your writing as flat as matzo and even more bland than week-old white bread, be sure to pepper it with the word “very” as frequently as possible.

I can practically hear you squawking now: “This is a professional writing site; where do you get off saying something like that? That’s dreadful writing advice!”

Well, of course it is. It’s also the best way to ensure dull, unimaginative prose – stuff that’s guaranteed to make your readers want to jam pencils in their eyes. But it’s an ideal way to illustrate the point I’m about to make. Stick with me here.

The word “very” is – quite possibly – the weakest word in the English language. It’s the literary equivalent of adding sand to your tea. It offers zero in the way of nutritive value and even less in the way of flavor to your writing.

When contemplating the use of the word “very” in your writing, stop and ask yourself, “What word or phrase could I use instead to better convey my meaning?” If you’re describing a “very big rock” in the middle of the road, you could instead term it a “gargantuan boulder.” Or a “metamorphic monstrosity,” a “hulking sedimentary mass” or maybe even an “igneous behemoth plunked right in my path.”

Get the idea?

Don’t just look for the easy way out. Go deeper. That’s what writing for expression is all about: knowing what you want to convey and being able to communicate your meaning in a way that resonates with your reader.

For example, saying there’s a “very big rock in the road” means nothing, because it’s so doggone vague! Exactly how big is a “very big” rock? Each reader will have a different interpretation or idea of the word “big.” Stuart Little’s concept of a “very big rock” would be vastly different from, say, Andre the Giant’s. You need to give your readers some frame of reference. Is this rock bigger than the proverbial bread box? Smaller than a German shepherd? Roughly the size of a puma? Just how big is very big?

If you say, “The rock could barely fit into a milk crate,” that’s much better. It gives your readers a decent concept of the rock’s mass. A milk crate-sized rock is certainly large; but try this one on for size: “It was bigger than my ’71 VW Beetle.” Now, that’s big!

Another way around this adverbial quagmire is fairly straightforward: Toy around with different adverbs… like “extremely” or “tremendously.” Granted, that is kind of taking the easy way out, but it helps you neatly elude the “very” trap.

In my own writing, there are only two instances in which I use the word “very”: in nonfiction, when directly quoting another person; and in fiction, only in dialogue – when my control over what those independent and often-headstrong characters say is absolutely nonexistent.

So, if you find yourself with the opportunity to use the word “very,” politely decline it in favor of something a little more… meaty and substantive. Something with spice. Something with flavor. Something tasty!

Now get out there and get writing!