Saturday, November 21, 2015

10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals

10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals
How do you express numbers in your writing? When do you use figures (digits) and when do you write out the number in words (letters)? That is, when do you write 9 and when do you write nine?

1. Number versus numeral. First things first, what is the difference between a number and a numeral? A number is an abstract concept while a numeral is a symbol used to express that number. “Three,” “3″ and “III” are all symbols used to express the same number (or the concept of “threeness”). One could say that the difference between a number and its numerals is like the difference between a person and her name.

2. Spell small numbers out. The small numbers, such as whole numbers smaller than ten, should be spelled out. That’s one rule you can count on. If you don’t spell numbers out it will look like you’re sending an instant message, and you want to be more formal than that in your writing.

3. No other standard rule: Experts don’t always agree on other rules. Some experts say that any one-word number should be written out. Two-word numbers should be expressed in figures. That is, they say you should write out twelve or twenty. But not 24.

4. Using the comma. In English, the comma is used as a thousands separator (and the period as a decimal separator), to make large numbers easier to read. So write the size of Alaska as 571,951 square miles instead of 571951 square miles. In Continental Europe the opposite is true, periods are used to separate large numbers and the comma is used for decimals. Finally, the International Systems of Units (SI) recommends that a space should be used to separate groups of three digits, and both the comma and the period should be used only to denote decimals, like $13 200,50 (the comma part is a mess… I know).

5. Don’t start a sentence with a numeral. Make it “Fourscore and seven years ago,” not “4 score and 7 years ago.” That means you might have to rewrite some sentences: “Fans bought 400,000 copies the first day” instead of “400,000 copies were sold the first day.”

6. Centuries and decades should be spelled out. Use the Eighties or nineteenth century.

7. Percentages and recipes. With everyday writing and recipes you can use digits, like “4% of the children” or “Add 2 cups of brown rice.” In formal writing, however, you should spell the percentage out like “12 percent of the players” (or “twelve percent of the players,” depending on your preference as explained in point three).

8. If the number is rounded or estimated, spell it out. Rounded numbers over a million are written as a numeral plus a word. Use “About 400 million people speak Spanish natively,” instead of “About 400,000,000 people speak Spanish natively.” If you’re using the exact number, you’d write it out, of course.

9. Two numbers next to each other. It can be confusing if you write “7 13-year-olds”, so write one of them as a numeral, like “seven 13-year-olds”. Pick the number that has the fewest letters.

10. Ordinal numbers and consistency. Don’t say “He was my 1st true love,” but rather “He was my first true love.” Be consistent within the same sentence. If my teacher has 23 beginning students, she also has 18 advanced students, not eighteen advanced students.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Writing Tips - Part 2

Writing Tips

Follow these writing tips so your book will be the highest quality possible.

People respect high quality writing. If you deliver your work in a strong and error-free package, people take you seriously. Your message comes through clearly.

Your words reach people's hearts and minds. Your writing is more powerful than the sword. It inspires, educates, entertains.

If the writing is weak, readers say, "So what?" If the writing has errors, readers are confused or distracted.

Compelling, clear, error-free writing is what people expect when they buy a book. Give them what they expect. Readers will recommend your book to their friends, give it as a gift, and wait expectantly for your next publication.

Reader by reader you will change your world.

What an awesome responsibility! What a wonderful privilege!

With respect for language I offer these writing tips.The first tip may sound strange coming from an editor....

Writing Tip #1: Put off editing

Each of us works at writing on two levels:a creative, unconscious level and a critical, conscious level.

The unconscious produces creative and powerful words and images. It makes surprising and original connections. It shuts down if the critical "editor" part of your mind goes to work too soon.If your High School English teacher's voice runs through your mind as you write, if you worry about spelling, grammar, or how to sell your book while you write, you are writing with a dull pencil.

There are many books written on how to unlock your unconscious and let the writing flow. Here are just a few ideas

  • Brainstorm words or images about your topic. Don't stop to evaluate their worth. Keep writing down ideas. When you can't think of another word, wait a while. Often the most powerful idea will surface after you have cleared all the less valuable ideas out of the way.

  • Write a page or two with your eyes shut. It doesn't matter if you can't read what you've written. You are giving your mind permission to make "mistakes" and just get on with it.

  • Write with music in the background. Experiment to find the style that you like. I prefer baroque or classical music. One of my writing teachers needed country and western.

  • Give yourself permission to be emotional. If your writing begins to move you, experience the full emotion. Before your writing changes others it will change you.

Edit your work only when you have drawn deeply from the well of your unconscious.

Spelling counts. So does good grammar. They support vibrant writing. They do not create vibrant writing. There are a great many correctly written lifeless sentences.

The best writing comes to life, and then is refined just enough to make it crystal clear.

First, give it life.

Writing Tip #2: Write what you know

Given the chance, what do you talk about endlessly? What drives you to seek out information? What are your passions? When you write what you know, you write with authority. People listen to you because you are one who knows. You are interesting because you are interested. Your knowledge is a gift to share.

Writing Tip #3: Research

Deepen the well. No matter what you know about the subject, there is always more to learn. Make sure you have the latest information available on your subject.

If there are differences of opinion in the area you are writing about, acknowledge the other side. Your statements will come across more strongly if the reader knows you have addressed the arguments others would raise.

Once you write something, at least some of your readers are going to believe you. You owe them accuracy.

"Yes, but...

I'm writing my autobiography."
Or, "This is my family history. I know this story like no one else."

That's true, but others have a perspective not like yours. Memories, even yours, can be faulty.

"Yes, but...

I'm writing fiction."

O.K. The details of fiction need to be as accurate as the details of nonfiction. Margaret Atwood won The Booker Prize for her novel The Blind Assassin. Her work is powerful on many levels. She took no chances with the details. At the back of her book is a list of acknowledgements 2 1/2 pages long: libraries, archives, museums...

"Yes, but...

My story is a fantasy."

Even when you invent a universe, you invent it to be understood by earthlings. If you are going to have impossible things happening, you need to offer some explanation that will make sense.

Writing Tip #4: Use a structure

For some writers, having a structure in place first makes the writing easier. These writers prefer to think things out ahead of time and then build to a plan.

Other writers put down all their ideas in a glorious profusion of words. Papers may be spread all over the house, the car, the office desk, in fishing tackle boxes.... These writers like to see all the material and then build the structure.

Both approaches work well depending on the personality of the writer. Both kinds of writers need to end up with a structure that supports the reader's understanding.

There is no one right structure for a book any more than there is one right structure for a house. Some will be linear, and take the reader step by step directly through to a conclusion like a long hallway opening into an inner courtyard.

Others will feature a spiraling staircase that takes the reader around and around the topic, always climbing higher to the secret chamber at the top, or to the rooftop view where everything becomes clear.

The fair thing to do is to use a reasonable route to the destination. It's unfair to take your reader up the staircase to the fourth floor and then to push him out a window so he can enjoy the inner courtyard.

Writing Tip #5: Use strong verbs and nouns

The verbs are the action words. They put things in motion. Make yours as strong as possible.

The verb to be (am, is, are, was, were) puddles on the floor. Eliminate it wherever possible. I spent a year in Ukraine and experienced Russian, where the verb to be exists, but almost never appears. People simply leave it out and I found the effect powerful. In English we can't leave verbs out of our sentences, but we can make those we use work hard for us.

Nouns name the people, places, and things in our world. English has multiple words for almost everything. A male parent can be father, dad, pop, daddy, the old man, pater, progenitor, sire, begetter, conceiver, governor, abba, papa, pa, pap, pappy, pops, daddums, patriarch, paterfamilias, stepfather, foster father, and other family nicknames. Choose the noun that does the best work for you.

Short words are usually best. They have more punch. They hit the gut hard.

The paragraph above has only one word with more than one syllable.

Writing Tip #6: Be wary of adverbs and adjectives

If your verbs and nouns are strong, you can get rid of many adverbs or adjectives. Don't know what they are? They are the "describing words" your elementary school teachers told you to use to make your writing "more interesting."

The boy ran to the store.

The tall, tanned boy ran quickly to the store. 

The teacher gives you a check mark.
The reader goes to sleep.
Wake up your reader with

The surfer raced to the store.

Be particularly wary of words ending with -ly.

Writing Tip #7: Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar

Yes, there is a time to turn on the proofreader.A book is like housework.

No one notices when it is done well, but they see your mistakes clearly.

The guest who comes for tea concentrates on conversation and a developing friendship--unless the windows are streaky or a cobweb hangs in the corner. She is polite so she says nothing, but her attention is divided.

Those pesky flaws in your book will make some readers turn away in disgust. Mistakes distract even the most sympathetic reader. The reader does not necessarily even know the rule you've broken, but he feels uneasy.

The best reference book with writing tips about troublesome grammar, punctuation, and word choice is small, simple, and inexpensive. Affectionately called "Strunk and White" by generations of writers, it is still a required text in many writing classes. 

Writing Tip #8: Work the details

Your ideas come through more clearly when they are supported by details. Sensory details bring a scene clearly to mind. Most of us rely on sight, so visual details are most common in writing. But use other senses, too. Psychologists tell us the most evocative sense is smell.

Give specific names for things.

The pine is better than the tree. 

Give evidence for your point of view. Anecdotes, quotes from reputable sources, statistics, all add credibility.(See Writing Tip #12.)

Writing Tip #9: Cut, cut, cut

Writers often fall in love with their own words and phrases. Cutting them can feel like killing a person.

It only feels like that.

Cutting words from writing is like pruning in the garden. When we get rid of the dead, diseased, and ugly, we are left with a stronger, more beautiful, fruitful plant.

Be ruthless with your writing. Chop out every unnecessary word.

How do you know what can go?

Read what you've written leaving out parts you question. If the piece still makes sense, leave out the excess. Compressed writing packs a punch.

Writing Tip #10: Use active voice

Technically, active voice puts the active agent first, followed by the verb (the action), followed by the object of the action.

Passive voice reverses the order.

Active - The boy hit the ball.

Passive - The ball was hit by the boy.

If you take care of the verb to be (See Writing Tip #5) you will be using active voice more often. (Notice was in the example.)

Active voice is stronger and moves the action along. Passive voice sounds like someone is trying to hide something or to avoid responsibility. We find passive voice in many government documents.

Hm-m-m. Do you aspire to write like the government?

Writing Tip #11: Use parallel structure

Doing the same thing in the same way creates a pattern that helps a reader follow along.

On this page I've used a parallel structure for the tips. Each one is written as a command. I used the imperative mood (the command) because these tips are vital parts of writing. I used it in each case because that creates a pattern your brain picked up by the time you reached Writing Tip #3.

If I had changed Writing Tip #8 to "Details are important," your brain would have registered the shift in structure and for a moment would have flickered away from what I want you to do:

keep reading,
accept these tips,
use them,
become a stronger writer,
sell lots of books,
advance the general quality of written English in the world.

Human brains love pattern. Give your reader's brain a pattern and your ideas will come through like sunshine through a window. Your reader will

keep reading,
take you seriously,
recommend your book,
change the world...

Writing Tip #12: Show, don't tell

If it's a sermon your reader wants, there are churches to oblige.

What does it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like? When you describe a person or event, your reader is there with you. When you tell, the reader relaxes to the point of mental slumber.

Not sure of the difference?

Telling: John was sad after Susan broke up with him.

Reader: Yawn!

Showing: John shut his cell phone and leaned against the wall. He heaved a sigh and dropped his head into his hands.

Hear the reader's mind working:

"What's with John? Oh, I get it, he feels Susan let him down."

In nonfiction, details show, generalities or opinions tell.

Telling: Children are out of shape these days.

Reader: "I don't think that's true. My neighbor's kid plays Little League."

Showing: Forty percent of 5 to 8-year olds are obese.

The reader's mind kicks in:

"Wow! Children are out of shape these days!"

Writing Tip #13: Use humor when you can

Not everyone cracks jokes all day long. But a light touch from time to time lowers a reader's guard and opens her to your ideas. Be careful that your humor is kind and tasteful, unless of course you are writing for seven-year-olds, when bodily function humor is high on the list.

Writing Tip #14: Build to the end

In English we expect the most important item to be at the end. When you write a list, put the most important, unusual, or powerful item last.

The final sentence in a paragraph ties up your ideas in a neat package or hints at what is to come.

Your most powerful paragraph comes at the end of the chapter.

Poets labour over their final word. Let yours linger in the mind.

Writing Tip #15: Choose a beckoning title

A good title is catchy and says, "Read me." Depending on your topic, you may want to steer clear of a "cute" or "witty" title in favor of one that makes a clear promise of what is inside.

Writers often discover a title as they write. Sometimes a phrase or reference in the book comes to stand for the whole work.

Take your time to find a good title. You want one that calls to a reader, insisting on a purchase.

Writing Tip #16: Print out a hard copy


Many people compose directly onto a computer. That's what I'm doing as I write this. Even if your printing company wants an electronic file, and most do, print yourself a hard copy. It is easier to read and to find your mistakes on paper.

Worried about the trees? So am I. I print my work on the backs of pages as often as possible. I use flyers, form letters, fax cover sheets, any piece of paper with a blank side. I've discovered even loose leaf paper will go through my printer.

Writing Tip #17: Read your work aloud


No cheating.

Read all the words out loud in the order in which you've written them.

This is the single best self-editing technique.

You will find awkward places or unclear references as soon as the words are out of your mouth. Some writers stop immediately to fix the problem. Others mark their paper and keep reading, going back later to fix things.

Either way, read every word out loud.

After you've fixed the problems, read it aloud again.

Keep doing this until you can't find any more problems.

Writing Tip #18: Find an editor

Professional writers edit their own work, share it with trusted friends, and then submit it to a publishing house. There another editor is selected to read the work closely, looking for areas that need improvement or a special polish. In fact, more than one editor will check every book. Professional editors know these 18 writing tips and many more. Furthermore, they recognize strengths and weaknesses in writing.

As a self publishing author you are in the precarious position of making the final decision about when to go to print. If you go too soon, your book will not be all it could be. No one wants to have an inferior product attached to his or her name. Once a book is printed it's there forever.

You are a writer and you are close to your own work; that closeness can blind you to its flaws. Trusted friends can encourage you and those with good English skills can find mistakes. If the friendship is robust and the friend fearless, you can get good feedback from a friend.

If you can find a writing group where people critique each other's work, I strongly recommend attending.

  • You will learn from other writers as you watch their work evolve.
  • You will have help with your own writing.

Most groups are free or have a nominal charge for renting space. Ask at the library or bookstore or put an ad in the paper. If you can't find a group, start your own.

You may choose to hire someone for some or all of the editing your book needs. You can hire an editor at any stage of your writing. There are as many ways for an editor and writer to work together as there are editors and writers.

Choose your editor carefully.
and personality enter into the relationship.

What you look for in an editor depends on your personality and your personal development as a writer.

I am a writer as well as an editor.

I want an editor to be
  • kind towards me
  • ruthless towards my words.

I am confident in my abilities so I care much more about the ruthlessness than the kindness. I get cuddles from my cat.

Not everyone feels the same way. Contact an editor to get a feel for how you might work together. This is a personal relationship that works best when based on trust.

Your writing will be strongest if at some point you separate yourself from your writing. The editor wants to make it better. If that is your goal, too, you will be a great team.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Literary Term You Should Know

Mise en scene: While mostly used in cinema or theatre critique, literary aficionados can still (and often do) use "mise en scene" to describe the setting, mood and atmosphere of a text.