Weekend Reads- Sex and Vanity

Good morning! And happy long weekend!

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Here is my book: Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

And here is my breakfast: Bagel and lox from my local café

What a strange Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It is overcast and on the nippy end in New York today, after some glorious weather Friday and an upcoming week in the 70s. In an alternate version of 2020, I was supposed to be in Santa Barbara this weekend celebrating my cousin Joe’s wedding. I’d been looking forward to it for over a year. My plane ticket was booked, my outfits had been selected, and then the world halted. Compared to what many have gone through, this is nothing but a sad blip, and we’ll gather next year instead–same venue, same weekend, same outfits.

I’m very excited to settle into Kevin Kwan’s latest novel, given my well documented love of the Crazy Rich Asians series. (Thank you, Doubleday!) I logged into my long dormant NetGalley account this weekend and have had lots of fun browsing the options. Sex and Vanity is among my most anticipated of 2020 (out June 30) and given that I would very much like to attend a wedding on Capri right now, I think this will be a perfect pick-me-up. I’d tell you more about it, but I’ve barely started!

I have a new writing project I’m excited about, although it requires much more research than anything I’ve written previously, but I have a solid base knowledge to work with (why didn’t I think of this years ago?!). Everything is slow going in the early stages, but now that I’m nearly finished with the Italian course on Duolingo, I’m ready for a new quarantine hobby.

Wishing you a safe and happy weekend!

 

Quick Fix: Conjunctions

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had Schoolhouse Rock’s “Conjunction Junction” stuck in my head since third grade. People have a tendency to overlook conjunctions; like prepositions, they’re the boring (song exempt!) building blocks of our language. We usually don’t pay a lot of attention to them in writing and editing. But conjunctions help to make ideas flow smoothly. When conjunctions and prepositions are used incorrectly or oddly, they often alert me to an issue with the writing on a syntax level. I’m going to focus on just two conjunctions—”and” and “but”—in today’s post.

Please enjoy my simple examples I obviously put a lot of thought into!

“And” joins two related things

“And” appears everywhere in our writing. On a stylistic level, I love a repeated “and” to increase emotional intensity (“beautiful and lovely and smart” in lieu of “beautiful, lovely, and smart”) or the inverse with “and” eliminated (“beautiful, lovely, smart”). But “and” also serves an important function, especially when combining two independent clauses. Those clauses need to be related. For example: “She sat at her desk and the dog went to get some water.” This would be better separated into two sentences. They have two different subjects. Her sitting down at her desk doesn’t affect whether the dog goes to get water. Consider another example: “She sat at her desk and her eye caught the mirror.” This could be better rephrased as “She sat at her desk and caught her reflection in the mirror.” (Or whatever it is her eye caught.) There are lots of additional options to replace “and.” A semi-colon can be remarkably effective in connecting two phrases that don’t appear related on first glance. For the most part, “and” functions perfectly well and doesn’t necessarily need a second look. But if you do a search and spot an unusual number of them on the page, consider whether they’re working to their full potential.

“But” requires conflict

How many times did I begin a sentence in the last paragraph with “But?” I have no issue starting a sentence with a conjunction. It can be remarkably effective in creative, stylized writing—don’t quote me on formal writing! You should remember, though, that “but” must appear in opposition to something. For example: “she wanted to sit at her desk, but thought better of it.” This is particularly important when discussing competing ideas. They have to be in conflict with each other. “She loved him, but she found him spectacular.” These two things are not in conflict. Now, this is not a complex example of competing ideas. I see issues with this more commonly spread out over several sentences or a paragraph. When using “but,” make sure you’ve clearly identified the antagonist, as it were, earlier in the sentence (or in a close preceding sentence). Again, most people have a firm grasp on the use of “but,” but it never hurts to remain vigilant when editing!

If you have questions about pesky issues like these, please feel to suggest topics for this series in the comments below or on Twitter.

Quick Fix: An Editor’s Tips

After a long hiatus, I’m back to updating my blog and starting a new series: Quick Fix (thank you to The Huntswoman for the name).

In reviewing submissions and editing novels, I see the same small issues pop up again and again. We all have what I refer to as “writing tics.” In fact, I often end editorial letters to my authors with a summary of their most used. These range from overuse of “just” to POV issues signaled by italics to too many em-dashes. I myself am prone to too many parentheses; overladen, overwritten sentences; and repetition.

A large part of my job involves making good writing better. So how do you do that? Establish a voice, consistently apply POV, and eliminate redundancies, among other things.

Above all, good writing requires clarity.

The good news is, there are lots of quick and easy tricks to improve your writing. This series will provide a summary of what I look for as I read, along with issues that pop up consistently over the course of longer edits.

So let’s dive right in. 

Yes, No, Fix It So

“He nods his head ‘yes.'”

“She shakes her head ‘no.'”

Can you guess why I would flag these sentences?

The “yes” and “no” in these examples can and often should be eliminated. These are redundant. The “yes” and “no” are implicit in the action. You don’t nod your head “no” or shake your head “yes” in most cultures (I use “most” only because I don’t know what I don’t know; if this is a common practice in other cultures, please tell me!).

Peak/Peek/Pique 

An agent I work with posted something about this on Twitter the other day. Misuse of peak/peek/pique comes up all the time. I’m often guilty of it. I second-guess peak/peek all the time. But I’m most concerned when I come across a peak/peek used instead of pique. I don’t mind a letter mistake, but I do become concerned at usage that requires a different root and spelling.

All definitions (the most applicable ones) c/o Merriam-Webster:

Peak (noun)- 1. Promontory; 2. A sharp of pointed end.

(adjective) Being at or reaching maximum.

Peek (verb)- 1. To look furtively; 2. To take a brief look; glance

Pique (verb)- 1. to excite or arouse especially by a provocation, challenge, or rebuff; 2. to arouse anger or resentment in; irritate.

(noun) A transient feeling of wounded vanity; resentment

You see the difference? You reach the peak of a mountain or peak productivity. You peek around a corner. His comment piques your interest, which leaves your friend in a fit of pique.

In other words, you peek at the peak of a mountain, the height of which piques your curiosity.

We all make mistakes! I’m sure I’ve made a number here. We all could use an edit. Good writing contains mistakes; the best we can do is be smart about them. I hope Quick Fix will help you do just that.

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250 Words a Day, One Year

In October, I wrote about my goal of writing 250 words every day for the entire year. It had come up as a project of mine for my “25 at 25” list, a manageable daily goal with big returns (91,000 words) by the end of the year.

A few weeks ago, I made my 26 at 26 list, and that 250 words per day goal is still there.

The problem is, I’ve hardly even started on my 26 at 26 list. The perils of creating your yearly list of goals on vacation. So far my word count has been minimal.

But to back up for a second to the first year of 250 words per day.

I didn’t manage 250 words every day. I strived for it, which made a difference. If I knew I had limited time one evening, I tried to make it up the next day. The goal did get me in a pattern of writing more often. As with anything that requires habit and practice, it got easier the more I did it.  By August, I’d written a 91,000 word novel, which fulfilled my yearly word count goal.

And then I kind of took a break. I edited the novel, which counted for something. But I got busy and fell out of the habit. I think I should feel guiltier than I do about it.

So I’m trying 250 words again this year. I’m not going to beat myself up if I skip a day or week, but it’s reassuring to have the goal there; to know that a little bit each day translates to big rewards by the end of the year.