To Err Is Human (Good Copy Is Divine)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Author's note: This post was first published February 4th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Let me ask you a question: If I do a butt load of work until this post screams "Awesome!", has my work been "intense" or "intensive"? 

You choose: "JP worked 'intensely' to rock his readers' world" or "JP worked 'intensively' to rock his readers' world."  Which is correct?  (Feel free to make snide comments about the truthiness of either of these statements below ;))

If I decide to shorten this post (and I am notoriously verbose--so this happens often), will I then have "less" words, or "fewer" words?  Which is the correct descriptor?

The answer to both those questions didn't come easily to me.  How 'bout you?

Word choice is the most fundamental act in the writing process and cuts across everything a writer does, from the WIP, to the query letter to the agent, to the email to the publisher's assistant. 

A writer's words are like colors to a painter.  Just as the best painters have an innate ability to understand how a certain shade of red both compliments and enhances the other colors in a painting, good writers understand why a particular word fits their composition. 

Understanding the meaning behind words is a key element of this skill.  Pick the wrong word or term and you're like the watercolor artist with a stunning oceanscape--painted in subtle greys and delicate blues--who abruptly adds a dollop of garish yellow-brown to the white wavetops for no apparent reason.  Trust me.  It's an easy mistake to make.  Don't be that guy/gal!

Solomon, smart fellow that he was, said in Ecclesiastes 1:18: "With great knowledge comes great sorrow" (I always wondered if knowing that bummed him out).  I will co-opt his quote and offer instead: "With great knowledge comes great writing."  (I'll not comment on the connection between writing and sorrow--maybe another time). 

And the good news for all us struggling writers is that the knowledge is out there.  Here is a helpful link a friend sent me to aide in making effective word choices:  Common Errors In English Usage.

A few more great examples:

  • When I want to footnote something, do I use an asterick or asterisk?  Answer here.
  • If I call someone, do I "get ahold" of them or "get hold" of them?  Answer here.
  • Do I have a "method" or "methodology" for coming up with great story ideas?  Answer here.
  • If an agent writes back and says your novel is "mediocre," are they saying it is average or bad?  Answer here
  • If I am in the middle of a "sojourn," am I moving or stationary?  Answer here.
  • Is my midsection my "midrift" or "midriff"?  Answer here.
And check the link for a lot more!

I hope you find the page helpful.  I certainly did.  Oh yeah, my work preparing this post was intense and all the editing resulted in fewer words.

What are the errors you most commonly make?  Also, there's one (pretty obvious IMHO) error in my post.  Can you find it?

HINT: The error is one of the ones listed at the link.

5 bolts from the blue:

farawayeyes said...

This post was boggling my brain and hurting my head, until I answered 5 out of 6 of your questions correctly. Maybe I know more than I think, but this type of thing still gives me a headache.

Wendy Ewurum said...

This was a really fascinating post. Thank you. I'm on my way to checking out that link. I hope you're having fun with that mountain.

jbchicoine said...

I just love stuff like this! learning about words and how they're used/misused is always so interesting to me, as I am a big offender!

Be safe!

Liza said...

And, do you cut the muster or cut the mustard? It's a trick question...I'm not sure anyone knows for sure. But there is "mustering out" (an old military term for dispersing) and "cutting the mustard", meaning, to succeed or make the grade. Opinions on that topic abound. Fun post JP.

Jon Paul said...

Thanks guys! In Tanzania at the moment. All is going well so far. Tomorrow, we climb!

Thanks for stopping in! :D

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