Write about a party you wish you hadn’t gone to — and why.
I was recently editing a document online for which my client had already done a spell check, and just to be safe, I checked the spelling one more time (the automated way). According to the spell check, all was well — but later, as I read through the document, I discovered that neither of these spell checks had caught the word improeved. (I actually looked it up, thinking perhaps I was missing something, but no: improeved is not a word. Not in the English language, anyway, according to Merriam-Webster’s.)
In the same document, I found the word particilarly — also not a word, also not caught by spell check.
Which brings me to Lesson #1: Do not rely on spell check.
Many of us writers rely on ourselves to edit our own work; after all, good editing is expensive. We may have friends, or a writing buddy or group, to read over our stories or novels — and while we hope that these folks can recognize that words like improeved and particilarly need fixing, they may not have the eagle eyes that experts have. And I’m guessing that most average readers may not know (or care) how to properly use a semi-colon, or what a serial comma is, or when The Chicago Manual of Style calls for an open compound versus a closed one. Not every writer can be an editor — but every writer who wants to be published will eventually put his or her work in front of an acquisitions editor, and part of making a good impression is having a cleanly edited manuscript.
So what is a writer to do? If you can afford to hire an editor, go for it. (There are a great many resources out there, too many to outline here — but visit your local community writing center if you have one, see this post for more on how to hire an editor, and check out this list of editing rates to be sure you pay a fair rate.)
There are a few shortcuts when it comes to self-editing — like spell check (which clearly isn’t entirely reliable) and this free software that apparently targets cliches and overused words — but this leads me to Lesson #2: Writers who hope to be in the game for the long term would be wise to learn how to be their own best editors (even though we all, at some point before publication, need a pro).
Below are a few tips for self-editing — not a comprehensive list, by any means, but a few things to keep in mind so that you can make your manuscript as polished it can be before sending it out, as well as avoid the errors most likely to irritate agents and acquisitions editors.
- Put the writing aside for a bit. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, you’ll be better able to spot errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as well as clunky style issues.
- Read widely when you’re not writing — and choose your material well. If you read professionally edited books and top newspapers and magazines, for the most part you’ll be getting good examples of what well-written, grammatically proper, and well-punctuated sentences should look like. If you read the work of prize-winning authors, you’ll be getting good examples of how to turn a phrase and how to construct a lovely sentence.
- If you’re not comfortable with grammar and punctuation as you’d like to be, take a class and/or read a few books. Even experienced writers will often put a comma in a sentence where they’d like to have a pause — yet if it’s not grammatically correct, this will make an editor’s hair stand on end. I love Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English — and Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is another great resource. And The Bugaboo Review: A Lighthearted Guide to Exterminating Confusion about Words, Spelling, and Grammar by Sue Sommer is a good resource for all those evil word twins and other spelling and grammatical confusions.
- Read your work aloud. This is among the best ways to ferret out clunky sentences. If it sounds odd to your ears, there’s probably something going on grammatically or stylistically; rework and re-read until it sounds great out loud. Also, speaking the words helps you avoid some of the misspellings that spell check doesn’t catch: One writer I know submitted a piece to a critique group in which she’d used the word “pubic” instead of “public” (a mistake that was quite hilarious in the context of the story) — and while we’d all read the scene in question beforehand, not one of us noticed this typo until she read it aloud.
- Read every word. Go through your piece sentence by sentence, word by word. This helps you check for misspellings that you might otherwise skim past, and it also helps you find missing words or repeated words. (I’m always amazed at how many of these show up in my own work…it’s embarrassing, really. But if you catch them all, no one else has to know.)
- Ask a trusted reader to take a look. This isn’t exactly “self-editing,” but if you have someone who’s willing and able to read your work, ask. Even a casual reader might find a missing word or an odd spelling that is all to easy for you to miss because you’ve read the piece dozens of times.
And, finally, Lesson #3: Embrace grammar, style, and punctuation. Don’t make the mistake of being one of those writers who says, “I don’t need to know how to spell; that’s what editors are for.” These are the writers who very rarely make it to the point of having an editor because sloppy work doesn’t pass muster, especially in these days when getting published is more challenging than ever. So if there’s anything about grammar or punctuation that you don’t know, learn it. If you want to be a better stylist, study the authors you love and learn from them. As a writer your job is not only to tell the story and tell it well, but to hide all the strings (i.e., the grammar and punctuation and everything else that makes the story work on a mechanical level), so that readers can see only the story itself — or, better yet, disappear into the story altogether.
This New York Times story about the threat to Antarctica’s krill is quite alarming. Laboratory research is showing that krill eggs can’t survive increases in carbon dioxide, a condition that mimics the acidification of the ocean due to global warming. Dr. So Kawaguchi has been studying krill for 25 years, and as the Times notes, his “recent research has led to dire predictions about how global carbon emissions will significantly reduce the hatch rates of Antarctic krill over the next 100 years.”
In fact, Kawaguchi told the Times: “If we continue with business as usual, and we don’t act on reducing carbon emissions, in that case, there could be a 20 to 70 percent reduction in Antarctic krill by 2100…By 2300, the Southern Ocean might not be suitable for krill reproduction.”
Krill are already being vacuumed from the sea by commercial fishing trawlers and used to feed farmed fish as well as for oil supplements for humans. And these activities take food from the mouths of those who need krill the most: whales and penguins, sea birds and squid.
For the fifth year in a row, the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is discussing the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Antarctic. At 1.25 million square kilometers, it would be the biggest MPA in the world.
Meanwhile, we can all do our part — by avoiding farmed seafood that depletes the Antarctic krill (and if you need further inspiration to give up farmed fish, this post on the conditions in which farmed fish are raised should do it), and also by choosing plant-based supplements, which helps protect all creatures, which in turn helps protect us. As Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson is known for saying, “If the oceans die, we die.” And he is right.
Write about an animal you recently encountered, whether a stray cat, a neighbor’s dog, or a spider in your garden.
Write about a home improvement gone wrong.
Write about a child you interacted with recently who was not related to you … for example, at a store, park, or school.
Write about a time you were on or near a lake, ocean, or river.
Of all that Antarctica is known for, who knew it was once a publishing hub? (Well, sort of.)
I’ve been reading about the Aurora Australis — the first book ever written, printed, illustrated, and bound in Antarctica — soon to be offered at auction by Sotheby’s and expected to bring in £70,000.
Aurora Australis was produced during Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition of 1908–09, at Cape Royds on Ross Island in the McMurdo Sound. It was one of many activities Shackleton encouraged of his team so that “the spectre known as ‘polar ennui’ never made its appearance.”
What’s interesting is that by the time this book was created, publishing was not a new thing in the polar regions. Already explorers were publishing articles and newspapers detailing their expeditions — from Edward Parry’s 1819 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage to the South Polar Times, published during Robert Scott’s Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions. And now, of course, you can go online to read the news of what’s happening in Antarctica — for example, The Antarctic Sun, published by the U.S. Antarctic Program; and blog posts from the British Antarctic Survey.
Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition was sponsored by a printing firm, and Shackleton received training and traveled south with a printing press and paper. (Click here to learn more about the challenges of printing in the extreme temperatures of the Antarctic.)
Aurora Australis, which will be auctioned in London on September 30, is 120 pages long and contains poems, stories, essays, and illustrations by ten members of the expedition. Horse harnesses were recycled to create the leather spines, and the covers of the copy up for auction were made from a tea chest. Only eighty copies of the book were printed.
Write about a hot summer night.
Write about something you regret.
It’s been great to see stories about illegal fishing on the front pages of two major newspapers over the past week. Overfishing is one of the biggest dangers facing our oceans … and yet, often there is little that can be done, as this front-page Los Angeles Times story points out. This is why the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s work is so vital; as the organization puts it: “It takes a pirate to catch a pirate.”
The LA Times story focuses on the Kunlun, “a decrepit fishing vessel, its huge white hull streaked with filth and rust,” which was suspected of holding $5 million worth of illicit Patagonian toothfish, better known by its more user-friendly name “Chilean sea bass,” a fish whose stocks have been dangerously depleted due to overfishing and is now considered a threatened species. After the market for Chilean sea bass boomed in the 1990s, by the year 2000 twice as much of the fish was being caught illegally.
This article, as well as yesterday’s New York Times cover story, feature the Sea Shepherd’s efforts to end illegal fishing (as well as whaling and other atrocities against marine life) in international waters where poachers are rampant. The NYT piece focuses on the Sea Shepherd’s 110-day pursuit of the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, via the Bob Barker.
As the Times points out:
Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.
So Sea Shepherd did instead, stalking the fugitive 202-foot steel-sided ship from a desolate patch of ocean at the bottom of the Earth, deep in Antarctic waters, to any ports it neared, where its crews could alert the authorities.
It’s wonderful to see the Sea Shepherds getting such positive press for the important work they do. “Maritime lawyers question whether the group has legal authority for its actions — ranging from cutting nets and blocking fishermen to ramming whaling vessels — but Sea Shepherd claims its tactics are necessary. So do some Interpol officials.” In waters where no Coast Guard exists and where poachers will change a ship’s name and port registry up to a half-dozen times, as Australian senator Peter Whish-Wilson told the Times, “Sea Shepherd is doing what no one else will.”
Learn more about the Sea Shepherds and how they help protect the oceans … and, even better, help solve the problem at its roots by not eating fish (this article makes a good case for avoiding fish; these 99 reasons not to eat fish include endangered species as well as important health concerns; and this infographic shows the environmental and ethical impacts of the seafood industry).
Write about something you found funny but someone else did not. Create a scene around this incident. Next, write about something that someone else joked about that you did not find amusing yourself.
From being a popular tourist destination (IAATO estimates the numbers of visitors expected in the upcoming 2015-2016 will be an astonishing 40,029) to the actual warming temperatures in the sea and air, Antarctica is hotter than ever. And this doesn’t bode well for the future of the continent or the planet.
While on one hand, the increasing tourism could be a very positive thing — but only if visitors return from Antarctica with a new vision of climate change and a commitment to do their part. On the other hand, the more feet on the ground in Antarctica, the more strain on the wildlife and native landscape. (Click here to check out John Oliver’s hilarious anti-tourism PSA).
And regarding the melting of the ice sheet, this article in OnEarth Magazine puts it very well:
If you want to cook something quickly, you heat it from both sides. This is the genius of the toaster. That’s what’s happening to the West Antarctic ice sheet—with alarming consequences…Think of it as the world’s largest panini press.
In addition to news about the geothermal energy melting the ice from the water below, as well as from the warming temperatures above, is the appearance of king crabs in Antarctica — a species that until 2003 had previously been unable to survive in Antarctica’s icy waters. Now, as this article in The Conversation notes, “[t]hey are seemingly marching up the continental slope and towards the continental shelf, with nothing to stop them…In the Antarctic, the native inhabitants are particularly at risk. These animals have evolved without any major predators for millions of years.”
And this week, former NASA scientist James Hansen has announced a study that outlines a scenario of rapid sea level rise as well as intense storms. As the Washington Post reports:
“If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters,” the new paper says.
It’s all frightening news, and it’s only getting more urgent. So what can we do?
- Visit sites like Antarctic Alliance, Penguin Sentinels, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to learn about what dangers the oceans face and how to protect the seas and their creatures.
- Watch films. A few eye-opening examples include Cowspiracy, which exposes one of the leading causes of climate change; Chasing Ice; and this episode of HBO’s Vice.
- Be as green as you can, in whatever ways you can (from food to recycling to water use), and vote with the future of the planet in mind.
One of the great joys of volunteering with the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels to help count Magellanic penguins was meeting Turbo.
He’s a unique bird in so many ways, and beloved even by those who have never met him. He got his name the year he decided to nest under a Ford Turbo instead of in a burrow or under a bush like most of his species. And while most penguins will scurry away at the sight of humans, Turbo would walk right up to you, and he even liked being patted on the head (which made the neighbor cats a little jealous).
Each year, I eagerly await news from the penguin program about what’s new the colony, but especially for news of Turbo. There’s a lot going on with the Magellanic colony where he lives — the colony is in decline due to such factors as oil pollution, overfishing, and climate change — but hearing news of Turbo each season gives me hope that these magnificent birds will make it in the end.
Researchers believe that Turbo is now about 11 years old. This season, he found himself a wonderful nest in a big molle bush, and we’re all hoping this will help him find a mate. (Yes, he’s still single after all these years.)
If you could change careers, what would you do instead? Write about what your new job/life would look like.