Category Archives: words

Learning to recognize the signs…

Since July, I have basically stopped blogging. I didn’t feel that I had anything to say, and I figured that a very telling sign that it was time to give it up was the fact that I had to think hard about what to write about, and if you have to dig deep and think about the subject of your blog posts, then the fun kind of goes right out of the window, and the whole venture becomes kinda pointless. My “decision,” if you can call it that (“deciding” not to blog didn’t require very much thought), was made easier by the fact that I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointing hundreds of daily readers who make reading my blog part of their daily schedule, so I slipped away quietly, and my absence by and large went relatively unnoticed – unless there are some lurkers on the site who have laid low.

So why is she back now, I hear you ask. Well, the answer is FACEBOOK. I have become addicted to something I swore from the outset that I would never let myself get suckered into. Facebook, as a social networking tool, is fine and dandy, and reconnecting with old pals is definitely a nice thing, although the point could be argued that there is a reason why people lose touch with each other, and if someone is important to you, you pick up the phone. Well, that’s an argument for another day. In fact, I talked about this very subject a while back… 

Anyway, Facebook has a feature that enables you to update your status, so your friends can view your status. “Sorelle is weighing up the benefits of eating dairy over meat for lunch today.” “Sorelle is reminiscing about days gone by…” The feature presents a grammatical challenge since the beginning of the sentence always begins with “is…” Lately, I have found my statuses getting longer and longer. Just today, for example, I wrote: “Sorelle is wishing she could boycott all kids’ clothes made in Israel, that in truth should be marketed as disposable clothing. Grrr.” The big telltale sign that it was time for me to resume blogging was when the status update feature restricted the amount of words that I used for the updates, and then it became clear that what I really wanted to do was…. WRITE.

So here I am. Have a good one, wherever you are. 

For all you men out there…

If you are looking for a word that will give voice to your frustration at your wives’ incessant nagging – and let’s face it, there isn’t a woman among us who can honestly say that she doesn’t derive some deep satisfaction from nagging her husband –  look no further. Double Take’s word of the day is “Termagant,” meaning A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; a shrew.

NOTE TO READERS: I apologize for the brevity of this post, and my infrequent posting in general. I am actually working, I know it’s hard to believe. I hope to return to my former lazy and procrastinating blog-addicted self shortly.

The three dashes (this is for you, Alan)

One of my readers asked me the following grammar question as a follow-up to this post:

I would appreciate a lesson on the use of the hyphen in sentence construction. I use it sparingly when I think I am using it correctly, but I am never quite sure frankly…My question is … can the hyphens be used as a substitution for commas or is their usage different?

Well, firstly, as listed in every editor’s bible, the Chicago Manual of Style, there are three types of dashes – hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. They all have different functions, and to make life fun, are all different lengths (the dash used in this sentence is an em dash):

  1. The hyphen is the shortest of the three dashes, and is used in the following ways:
    1. hyphens can connect two words, such as “hair-raiser,” “eye-opener.”
    2. hyphens are used in compound numbers, “thirty-seven,” “forty-nine.”
    3. hyphens are used with the prefixes, ex-, self-, and all, e.g. ex-boyfriend, self-assured, and all-encompassing.

    The hyphen can be found on the keyboard on the underscore key, next to the “0” computer key.

  2. Now we come to the en dash, which is longer in length than the hyphen, and is used to connect continuing, or inclusive, numbers, e.g. the years 1968-72, 10:00-5:00 P.M.

    The en dash can be found on the keyboard by pressing Ctrl and the grey minus key on the numeric keyboard.

  3. Last but not least, the em dash, which is double the size of the en dash, and is used in the following ways:
    1. The em dash, or a pair of dashes, can be used to denote a sudden break in thought:

      I know a person—let’s call her Elizabeth—who is extremely gregarious.

    2. And now, in answer to your question, Alan, an em dash can also be used to separate ideas in a sentence which is long and complex, or in one that has an excessive amount of commas:

      On our way to see my brother and sister-in-law in Modi’in—which is located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—we stopped off at a cafe for a bite to eat.

AidelMaidel is engaged!

Okay, perhaps there is something weird about me taking out some tissues when I read the news on AidelMaidel’s blog that she said “yes” to “Mr. Sky High.” I don’t know the woman, for heaven’s sake. Yet here I am crying with tears of joy for this ultra-Orthodox single mother of two.

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about the phenomenon of blogging, and I told him that I read two or three blogs (or six or seven) everyday. The guy was gobsmacked. He thought it was very strange – almost voyeuristic – that I took such an interest in the lives of strangers. Well, the way I see it, it is better than shedding tears over some brainless soap opera that is 100% fiction.

AidelMaidel has, up until this point, suffered a lot in her life: she was the victim of child abuse, and was left virtually penniless after divorcing her husband just a few years ago. I admit to following religiously her trials and tribulations as she went on a series of blind dates with no-hopers, and I rooted for her when she finally met Mr. Sky High (all her dates have been given aliases on the blog). Theirs has not been a long courtship; they started dating less than three months ago (anyone who knows me will realize the irony of this statement, considering Josh and I only dated for six weeks before getting engaged), and today AidelMaidel announced on her site their engagement.

The funny part is that her readers have lately been expressing their concern about her relationship with Mr. Sky High, and the speed at which it was progressing. They feared that she was rushing in to the relationship, and after the debacle of her first marriage, she should be more cautious. I found AidelMaidel’s response to her readers’ expressions of concern very amusing:

I am surprised how many of you commented and emailed me in regards to the Baker’s Dozen post about Mr. Sky-High.

I would like to remind all of you that you only get the information that I give you. What I don’t share here means you don’t know about it. Out of deference to Mr. Sky-High’s right to privacy, and my great respect for him, I don’t share all the gory details of our dates. After 14 dates that average 5 hours a piece, I think I know him significantly better than the readers of my blog, since you only get klalim in regards to him, and I actually know the person.

You also seem to forget that I am not going into this blindly. There were extensive reference checks on Mr. Sky-High before I even agreed to go out with him. There are rabbis, rebbetzins and a shadchan who are all consulted after every date. It’s not like this is some guy I picked up in a bar two days ago and am agreeing to marry him. It’s also not like my parents arranged this match, I meet him once, and BAM, we’re married.

Is Mr. Sky-High perfect? Nope.
Is he everything that I said I wanted in a husband? Almost.
Can I live with the things that he isn’t because he does have the things I truly need? Yes.

I’ve already been in one bad marriage. (Of which, you guys don’t know the details either – you don’t know why it went wrong and what I did to make it work over the years.) I’m not interested in repeating it. I’m going into this with my eyes WIDE open. I know what Mr. Sky-High’s good points are and I know what areas he needs to improve upon. The question is, can I live with those areas that need improvement? Yes, I think I can.

That being all said, Mr. Sky-High is completely different from any man I’ve ever dated. I have always had terrible taste in men, and have always gone for men who were bad boys or simply bad for me. Mr. Sky-High is a boring, straight-forward, nice guy. That’s why I didn’t want to go out with him again after the first date. Thank G-d, my rebbetzin pushed me to go again, because there was simply no reason not to.

And as I’ve discovered, Mr. Sky-High while a boring, straight-forward, nice guy, is also probably the only man I’ve met with real, true passion. Because it’s passion based on a love for another person instead of a passion based on narcissistic self-love. And it’s something deep, profound, and not something easily put into words. I see he cares for me very deeply and cherishes me for me – for who I am, imperfections and all.

Do I know how much longer this is going to take, until we both feel ready? I have no clue. Only Hashem knows if and when. Until that time, feel free to give me your advice – just don’t expect me to take it.

She’s right. She definitely calls the shots in deciding which information to share with her readers, but – and I open up this question to all of you – on the other hand, if she is revealing the details of her personal life on a blog, is she not leaving herself open to people’s comments, opinions (you know, two Jews – three opinions), and unwanted pieces of advice? If she was just blogging for cathartic purposes, why not keep a journal in a Word file, where it is safe from nosy individuals?

That being said, her engagement is really great news, and I wish her and her fiance many happy and healthy years together, whether shared on the blogosphere or not.

  

Rules are made to be broken

Any self-respecting editor or publisher will tell you that it is all well and good to have your own individual preferences when it comes to style issues, but what is critical at the end of the day is consistency. Always be consistent. If you choose to italicize a certain transliterated word, make sure to do this throughout. People can forgive a strange spelling of a word, but what is truly unforgivable is inconsistency.

Be warned, though: Do not get caught in the following trap. Word has a feature called Find and Replace, which enables you to make global changes to the file by finding the word in question and correcting it. NEVER select “Find and replace all” – there may be certain instances where the correction should not be applied. For example, you may want to replace the word “apple” globally with “fruit.” If you were to do a global Find and Replace, you run the risk of inserting the word “fruit” with a lower-case f at the beginning of a sentence, where a capped letter should really be used. As tedious as it is, you need to search through each example of the word, and determine whether the correction is appropriate.

Another little tidbit of information relating to consistency. Let us look at numbers. If your work is filled with a lot of mathematical and statistical data, you may decide to use numerals. For example, “There are 25 graduate students in the French department, 22 in the classics department, and 270 in the physics department, making a total of 317 students in the three departments.” The exception to the rule of using numerals is when the number is the first word in the sentence. At the beginning of a sentence, any number that would ordinarily be written in numerals is spelled out, regardless of any inconsistency this may create:

“Twenty-seven percent of the cost was guaranteed.”

If I could turn back time…

I would never have bought the Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. I had high hopes for this book, and actually bought two copies of it before I even began reading it.

I first purchased the book exactly two years ago.  I was in Ben Gurion Airport on my way to London, and overcome by the excitement of travel and the “anything-could-happen-at-any-moment ” buzz I always feel when I am in the airport, I fell in love with the title and decided to splash out and treat myself to this book.

Well, to cut a long story short, I can’t EVER read on planes due to nausea and the joys of supervising two young children (not necessarily in that order), and didn’t have a second to read while I was in London. I ended up leaving the  book at my sister’s friend’s house, and only realized its absence when my sister called me up and told me that I had left it behind.

Well, I never did get that copy back, and, determined that my luck would change, bought the book again in Ben Gurion a year later on my way to the States. (When you’re from England, and your spouse is from the States, vacations only ever happen in these two countries.)

I guess with such drama surrounding the purchase of the book itself, it stands to reason that the actual reading would be anti-climactic. I was not impressed. I had read some really positive reviews about the book – I had, after all, an entire year before purchasing copy # 2 to read up about it – and expected to be really wowed, but it’s gotta be said, it was an extremely dull reading experience. There were very few redeeming features. The premise of the book was interesting – the aspect of time travel combined with a love story appealed to my romantic sensibilities – but the book itself put me to sleep. The plot felt contrived, the characters were pretentious, and the dialog was unforgivably tedious. I did make it through to the finishing line, but that was due to my determination not to have wasted $30 on two copies rather than tribute to the book itself. Anything positive to say about the book? Yes, it was a great sleep-inducer.

Ten tips on how to turn a writer into a friend, not a foe

During the last seven years of my career, I have not only sharpened my skills as an editor, but I (believe that) I have become a more sensitive human being. 

I have worked with so many authors of different types and stripes that I have come to the realization that as much as it is my job to perfect and polish the text, it is equally my role to hold the writer’s hand, so to speak, and guide him or her through the editing process. 

Writing a book is no mean feat, and revealing your writing – which often, directly or indirectly, exposes your innermost thoughts – to an anonymous editor who is itching to roll up his or her sleeves and take out the unforgiving red pen can be an extremely intimidating prospect.

On that note, implement the following pieces of advice, and you, too, will have your web page filled with glowing testimonials will achieve a harmonious working relationship with your client.

Are you ready?

 1. Meet the writer first. Ideally, you should try to meet your client before you begin the writing process. Nowadays email is the standard means of communication, but it is crucial that you start off on a more personal note. Your client will be entrusting his or her “baby” into your hands, so it is advisable that you meet face-to-face in order to build a rapport. While emails are useful and efficient, they can often be misinterpreted, and it is hard to “read” warmth from impersonal messages. If it is an impossibility for you to meet the writer, pick up the phone.

2. Be friendly. When you write emails to your clients, always try to start off on a light and friendly note. Here is a sample of such an email:

Dear Henry,

I hope you are well.

 I read through the first two chapters, and I have the following comments. Please see the attached document. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask.

Best regards,

Sorelle

3. Explain the process. Do not enter a project with the expectation that the writer is familiar with the editing process. Often writers have never worked with editors before, and are not familiar with Word and track changes. Before you begin editing, send the writer an email explaining to him or her (in a bulleted list) the process of editing, and ALWAYS stress at the end of such an email that if anything is unclear, he or she should not hesitate to ask you any questions. 

When working with a writer, your aim should not only be to dazzle him or her with your brilliance, but also to put him or her at ease. Presuming knowledge from clients is a big no-no, and can often end in tears. If you have a preferred method of working, such as always making a point of renaming drafts, make sure that you tell your client from word go about your preference.

4. Be positive. OK, you have read through the manuscript, and it is going to take a great deal of work and many mugs of coffee to get you through this project. Do not project frustration into your emails. You should adopt the attitude that this project is going to improve your editing skills, and will result in you becoming a sharper editor. When you write an email to the writer with your general comments, try to start the email on a positive note. (There has to be SOMETHING positive you can write about the manuscript, and writers really appreciate any positive feedback you can give them.)  

Even if you believe that the manuscript is in an appalling state, starting off your email with a message similar to the one below is only going to alienate the writer and put him or her on the defensive:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters. I am sorry to say that they are incomprehensible and poorly written. Much work is needed to make these chapters publishable.

Sorelle

No good. Try the following tactic:

Hi John,

I have just finished reading the first five chapters, and am attaching my general comments to this email. From what I have read so far, I believe that the book has a great deal of potential. I have outlined in my comments those issues that I feel need particular attention. Please let me know if you have any questions.

I am very much looking forward to working with you on this project.

Sincerely,

Sorelle

5. Consolidate your comments. If you have multiple comments about the work, it is better for you to write them up in a Word document, and attach them to the email. It is tedious for your client to scroll through an email with fifty points. An added advantage of such a method is that you have your saved file for your records. Emails can get lost.

6. Be clear. If you are inserting comments into the Word file, make sure to phrase your question or comment clearly, and write in full sentences. Don’t fall into the trap of writing short comments that resemble text messages. It looks sloppy.

7. Be humble. The following point cannot be reiterated enough. Always make sure to stress to your client that your editing suggestions are exactly that, suggestions, and that ultimately any major editorial decisions are in the writer’s hands. It is counter-productive to present your argument as an indisputable fact. I find that when I have given the writer the option of rejecting my comments, most times he or she will be more amenable to my suggestions.

8. Be organized. If you are working with a writer who is disorganized and sends you vague emails with vague responses to your questions, it is very important that you formulate your emails in such a way that he or she will be forced to answer your specific points. Number each of your points in a bulleted list, and end the point with a direct question that clearly requires a direct answer.

If the lines of communication seem to be broken, make a point of ending your emails with the following request:

“Please acknowledge that you have received this email.”

9. Keep a list. Keep LOTS of lists. Always keep a running list of the issues that you discuss in your email correspondence with your client. Often interesting ideas will be suggested but sadly forgotten in the midst of more pressing issues, so it is extremely useful to have this list handy.

10. Be humble. Yes, I’m repeating myself. Being an editor requires humility. You are not competing against the writer, you are helping him or her. You are in effect finessing someone else’s work for which you will not receive any credit (aside from a few complimentary words in the Acknowledgments, if you are lucky). If you cannot derive satisfaction from the fact that you have helped steer the writer towards an excellent final product, then you are in the wrong profession.   

Rap music…sounds like somebody feeding a rhyming dictionary to a popcorn popper

The subject of this post is a quote from my favorite writer of all times, Tom Robbins. I start reading his books with the knowledge and acceptance that the world will look radically different once I have finished. When I prepare lunch for myself, I half expect the can of baked beans to start talking to me – inanimate objects take on a special life force in his masterpiece Skinny Legs and All. You come away from the book with the sneaky suspicion that until now, you have lived your life as if you have been on the set of a black and white movie, and suddenly you are seeing things in color. A revelation. Every sentence in his book is a gem, and no word is wasted.

I recently read an online article in which Tom Robbins revealed the secret of his writing, and while I wouldn’t necessarily advise writers to adopt this approach, it was definitely an eye-opener:

When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period.

Next, he rereads the first sentence and starts writing a second, rewriting it again and again until it shimmers. Then, and only then, does he add a period. While working on each sentence, he has no idea what the next sentence is going to be, much less the next chapter or the end of the book. All thoughts of where he is going or where he has been are banished. Each sentence is a Zen universe unto itself, and while working on it, nothing exists but the sentence. He keeps writing in such a manner until he eventually reaches a sentence which he works on like all the others. He adds a period and the book is done. No editing or revising in any way. When you read a Tom Robbins book, you are experiencing the words not only in the exact order that he wrote them but almost in the exact order that he thought them.

“But wait a minute,” I interrupted. “The first sentence of your first book, Another Roadside Attraction, is ‘The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.’ Are you telling me you wrote that sentence having absolutely no idea where it was leading?”

“Yes,” he said. “I knew I could explain it later. I like painting myself in corners and seeing if I can get out.”

Identify your audience

Before you submit your manuscript to a publisher, or better yet, before you begin writing your book, sit down for a minute and consider the potential readership. Ask yourself who you think will most likely want to read this book. This will influence the tone and direction of your book. For example, if you are writing a book about Kabbalah, we all know that you’re not the first or last person to do so; there are a plethora of Kabbalah works out there on the market. You will need to provide a fresh perspective on the subject in order to make your book stand out from the 150 other Kabbalah manuscripts on the publisher’s desk. If you are writing about a subject that requires specialized knowledge, but want to target your book to a wide audience, make sure to explain and define any complex concepts and language.

It is the publisher’s and submission editor’s job to weed out those manuscripts that are cliched and lack originality. They will only take on your book if they can identify a potential market, and unless your writing is of an excellent literary standard, your manuscript will gather dust on their desks and will eventually end up in the garbage.

One final word of advice: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your first page, your first paragraph, your first sentence, needs to grab the reader. Don’t expect the reader to persist through 100 pages of waffle to uncover the point of the book. From word go, you need to engage your readers.

On that note, I will get back to work.