Apr 16

Wednesday Writing Tip #71: “#-year-old” vs. “# year old” (a.k.a. “What’s up with the hyphens?”)

Age - when to use dashesRemembering how old you are is one thing. Remembering where to put (or not put) the hyphens when you describe your age is another.

A thirty-one-year-old woman should be able to write grammatically. I am thirty-one years old. A thirty-one-year-old is old enough to know better.

Did you see those hyphens (or lack thereof)? They’re all correct. Do you know why?

Here’s the reminder: if the age is being used as an adjective or as a noun (as it is in my first and third examples), use hyphens; if the age is part of the adjective phrase following the noun (as it is in my second example), don’t use hyphens. Got it?

When a child is two years old, he or she doesn’t care about grammar. Maybe a ninety-year-old still doesn’t. Either way, knowing the rule doesn’t hurt, right?


Apr 09

Wednesday Writing Tip #70 (Lightening vs. Lightning)

Lightning vs. LighteningPolitics can be fascinating, can’t they? Every once in a while I play with writing opinion pieces (like this), some of which walk on the edge of political debate. Recently, I came across a book on the subject entitled Political Writing: A Guide to the Essentials. In it, the author writes:

“So it stands to reason that one of the tasks you must successfully complete in your quest to become a good writer is to expand your vocabulary. The more words you have mastered, the more distinctions you can make.”

I’m totally cheering on the author at this point. He clearly gets it. He’s helping people change the world. He’s surely a master with words himself. Then, I come upon this sentence:

“Mark Twain, who once observed that there are no true synonyms in the English language, said it best: ‘The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.’”

And once again, I shake my head at the state of politics today. Even their advisers seem lacking. Did you catch why?

“Lightening” and “lightning” are two different words. That giant bolt of static electricity once thought to be summoned by the gods is “lightning.” The verb “to lighten” is written as “lightening” in its present participle state. Auto-correct or spellcheck won’t help you with this one. You just have to pay attention.

Clever old Samuel Clements had his way with words, so let’s at least try to do the man justice by getting them right.

Apr 07

My Writing Process

As writers, so often we talk about our success stories (publication!) and our laments (rejections, pesky punctuation, the bottom of a good bottle of wine…); I love the idea of taking a moment to talk process. Thanks so much to Ellen Boyers Kwatnoski for inviting me to join the #mywritingprocess blog tour. You can see Ellen’s blog here.

John Updike once wrote, “We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings… Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.”

It’s up to the writers. It’s up to us. And there are so many possibilities.

My Writing

What am I working on? 

Isn’t it odd that passionate American politicians of the early 20th century fought for the legal sterilization of certain “lesser” individuals employing the same morality language that politicians of the early 21st century use about prohibiting abortions? This dichotomy of social thought drives my novel Sterile, where neither my protagonist’s past nor her paint brushes have kept her hands clean. She may have lost her baby, but she has to fight not to lose her life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 02

Wednesday Writing Tip #69 (The Thing about “Thing”)

The Little Mermaid and Her Things

Searching for the right word?

The word “thing” is the word that you use when you can’t remember the actual word that you need. It’s true, isn’t it? “Thing” is up there with “stuff,” “whozits,” ”whatsits,” “thingamabobs,” and “snarfblats” – okay, maybe not that last one. Anyone else have a song from The Little Mermaid suddenly pop into their head? No? Yeah, me either…

Admit it. We’re not always the best communicators. Sometimes, we form sloppy habits without realizing it. Edit the word “thing” out of your writing whenever possible. I promise: you can find a better word. Whether I’m ghostwriting professionally for a corporate client or writing or editing fiction, this is one word I don’t allow myself to use. Take it up as your own challenge. Unless you learned your vocabulary from a seagull named Scuttle, I have faith you can do it.

Mar 25

Wednesday Writing Tip #68 (a.k.a. The “i” before “e” except after “c” Challenge)

923 words that break the "i" before "e" rule?Earlier this week, a challenge was thrown down. And you know me; I can’t ignore a good writing dispute. It’s like a double-dog dare in the school yard – just switch out the bold kiddo with me sitting at my computer, glasses on, jaw steeled with determination. (An intimidating picture, I know)

The claim states, “There are 923 words that break the ‘i’ before ‘e’ rule. Only 44 words actually follow that rule.”

For the sake of a writing tip, let’s take a moment to get into the nitty gritty fine print that this statement ignores. The “i” before “e” except after “c” rule applies only to words where the “ie” makes the “ee” sound (e.g. “achieve,” “piece,” “belief,” “receive,” “ceiling,” “receipt,” etc.). Some spelling textbooks even record this as part of the rhyme:

I before E except after C,
When the sound is “ee” Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 19

Wednesday Writing Tip #67 (Commas with Essential vs. Non-essential People)

The Breakfast Club - Claire StandishThe delineation of people into essential versus non-essential categories – it sounds a bit like something out of a John Hughes flick, doesn’t it? But I’m not talking social strata. I’m talking commas. Take that, Claire Standish.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes writers surround appositives with commas and sometimes they don’t? Let me rephrase that. Have you ever started reading a blog and then come across the word “appositives” and then debated whether you should keep reading because you a) didn’t know what it meant and/or b) started feeling a grammar-induced yawn coming on?

Stay with me. This is a helpful one. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 12

Wednesday Writing Tip #66 (The Fictional Novel?)

Fictional Novels: Books within booksAre you writing a fictional novel? Really? Is there a book inside of the book that you’re writing? Confused? Yes, I think you might be.

As you probably have gathered by now, one of K. S. Writing‘s two areas of business is editing book manuscripts for individuals pursuing their publishing dreams. Today’s tip goes out to all of the fiction writers out there and really anyone who enjoys a good made-up story. Here it is, nice and simple:

Never describe a book as a “fictional novel.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 05

Wednesday Writing Tip #65 (Teenage vs. Teen-age vs. Teenaged)

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesUh oh, did the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles get it wrong? Some stuffy grammarians might just raise their noses, insisting these were “teenaged” mutant ninja turtles. In fact, that was the first form of the word and therefore correct, they’d say. But don’t listen. They’re wrong.

I don’t know what it is about this word in particular, but for some reason certain people insist that “teenaged” came first. My guess is that they’re making a connection to words like “ice(d) tea,” “skim(med) milk,” or “whip(ped) cream,” where the final “d” has been lost over time. However, the first use of “teen-age” was in 1921. “Teen-aged” didn’t appear until the early 1950s. Of course, the hyphen was lost over time too.

So what does this all mean when it comes to what form is correct? In American English, “teenage” is the most common and most accepted form. So don’t call out those ninja turtles – not that you’d want to anyway. They’d probably win the fight.

Feb 26

Wednesday Writing Tip #64 (Female vs. Women Olympians)

Olympic_RingsThe Sochi Olympics reporters have had questionable use of feminine descriptors. I’m not even talking about the difference in “Women’s Hockey versus “Ladies’ Figure Skating or the use of “girls” when commentators wouldn’t dream of calling male athletes “boys.” Those are semantic conversations unto themselves, and this isn’t the place for them. I’m talking about the use of “women” as an adjective. (Pssst… hey guys, put down your vodka samples. “Women” is a noun!)

When you’re looking for the adjective form of “women,” “female” is usually your best bet; however, time and time again, writers are using the wrong part of speech. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 19

Wednesday Writing Tip #63 (a.k.a. “Thomas’s Bagels?”)

Thomas' Bagels: A breakfast for rebels All the way back in Writing Tip #14, we talked about the incorrect use of apostrophes in surnames, when attempting to refer to multiple members of the family (i.e. “the Baileys” not “the Bailey’s”), but this subject of apostrophes with names deserves a revisit. Admittedly, there’s contention on this one – and we all know to stay away from fanatical grammarians when things get heated – however, I tend to agree with the Chicago Manual of Style when it comes to making names that end in “s” possessive.

As we learned early on in our grammar training, when a singular noun becomes possessive, we add an apostrophe “s” onto the end:

The man’s phone

The book’s title

Names are no different.* Yes, even when they end in “s”:

Kris’s blog

Thomas’s Bagels

Because plural nouns only gain an apostrophe when they become possessive, often people just add the apostrophe to names ending in “s” in the same form. Yet say one of the above phrases aloud. You’re adding the extra “s” in your head, aren’t you? This is the corporate conundrum of “Thomas’ [sic] Bagels.” The company pronounces it with the extra “s” but leaves it out in the spelling. Oh, watch the grammarians squirm over their breakfast plates!

*I hate when rules have exceptions, but there are two to note here: Jesus and Moses. Why? I have no idea other than a guess that people don’t like to call out flaws in a sacred text. Nevertheless, when you see reference to “Jesus’ words” or “Moses’ staff,” no need to call the Pope.


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