Sharon Honeycutt, Editor

You write. I edit. You shine.

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To Oxford or Not to Oxford, the Comma Is the Question

If I had to name the single-most hated grammar rule I’ve encountered with my clients, it’s the Oxford (serial) comma. Oh my, the number of times I’ve been told “I hate that comma!” is staggering. And now that little ink spot could be worth millions to some laborers (details at the end of this entry).

If you need a quick refresher, the Oxford comma is the one that comes before the conjunction in a series of items. For example: “I want to visit Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York on my next trip.” The comma after “Vermont” and before “and” is the Oxford comma.

You might read that sentence and think, “I don’t need that comma. It makes sense without it.” Yes, you’re right. That one does.

But what about this one: The dress comes in blue and white, black and red, and orange and brown.

If you removed the comma after “red,” would the sentence be as clear? Would you know for sure what colors the dress comes in? Does it come in six different colors, all solid? Does it come in one pattern–blue and white–and four solids? Does it come in two patterns, one that’s blue and white and one that’s a combination of the last four?

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Writing + Reading = Better Writing

When I get a new client who comes to me and tells me that this is their first book, I’m always curious as to the amount of work it’s going to need. Sometimes we have to start at the very beginning and work on their plot structure, their character and conflict development, and their dialogue, if they’re writing fiction; if they’re writing nonfiction, sometimes we start with the organization and the development of their ideas and lessons they’re trying to teach.

Once in a while, I’m amazed by how well a first book is done. Sometimes they don’t need that developmental help because it’s such a strong draft; we can move right to line editing, to polishing the words themselves and how they’re put together.

What makes the difference between the draft that needs a lot of help with the big picture and the one that doesn’t? I think it’s a mix of different things, but I think it often comes down to how much the author has studied the writing process itself as well as how much they’ve read. Whether you’re taking a class (or two or three) or you’re part of a writing group, or you’re simply reading, reading, reading to try to learn how others write successfully, you have to continue to learn and grow. Continue reading

Reading Lessons: When Breath Becomes Air

I’m one month into the new year and holding true to my resolution to read more for both pleasure and to hone my skills as a writer and an editor. I’m enjoying myself too. I can’t say it enough: if you’re a writer, you need to read. Period.

Paul Kalanithi offered many writing lessons in his posthumously published, best-selling memoir, When Breath Becomes Air.

Paul was not only an immensely gifted writer, he was a neurosurgeon at the top of the list of residents ready to graduate from Stanford when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. I recommend reading his book for so many reasons: Continue reading

Reading Lessons: A Man Called Ove: A Novel

So far, so good. I’m keeping up with my resolution to read more for pleasure. I know, I know. It’s only January 16, but still …

I mentioned at the tail end of my last post that I’d started A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman and that even though I’d just started, I could tell he was a master at developing characters. Boy, was I right. The characters he created for this book—not just Ove, but the supporting cast as well—will live with me for a long time. I finished the book yesterday—amid a cascade of tears—and I just can’t quit thinking about those characters. That, my writer friends, is what you want your readers to feel.

How did he do it? Continue reading

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