Where I Have the Temerity to Copyedit Sir Winston Churchill

I came across an excellent article in a little journal known as the New York Times about the “music” of language. It really spoke to me, as I’ve always said that while I have no actual musical talent, I do seem to have a knack for understanding the rhythm and flow of language. That’s probably why I […]

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How to Spot the Words You Abuse and Overuse

I talked the other day about how writers squander their most powerful words and ideas by burying them. Just as bad is the opposite problem: growing overly fond and even dependent on certain words to the point we repeat them incessantly. In the book I call them crutch words, and when you learn what yours […]

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Is Your Writing Missing the Element of Suspense?

Writers constantly struggle to find just the right words. But then we go and squander them by burying them somewhere in the middle of a sentence, undermining the strength of the point we’re trying to make. The issue is captured in a book I often reference: Story, by Robert McKee, which is widely acknowledged as one […]

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Show Don't Tell

A Smart Lesson from a Dead Company

They say dead men tell no tales. But dead companies do. And not all those tales are cautionary. At first glance, you might not think much of the old Montgomery Ward headquarters building in Chicago. But its design holds a powerful lesson. And not just for architects — for anybody. Why are the corners blocked […]

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Grammar faux pas

Et tu, Game of Thrones?

So there I was, watching Game of Thrones on the iPad, checking out the “interactive features” for a richer viewing experience, when it hits me right in the face: one of my major grammar/usage pet peeves. I trust anyone who’s studied my 10 Everyday Words You’re Misusing post either on this blog or in its […]

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One Tiny but Common Math Error That Adds up Big

This election year, as in election years past, you will see one glaring error repeated over and over and over again. And it’s all a matter of simple math. This morning I had CBS on in the background and they were reporting on the numbers for and against gay marriage. They said 38% of Americans […]

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Grammar and usage

10 Everyday Words You’re Misusing (Including ‘Everyday’)

Certain word pairs that look or sound alike cause a lot of confusion. I’m not talking about the ones you hear about all the time, like there and their, it’s and its and to and too. Or even the more recently problematic (and inexplicable to me) lose and loose. That’s all remedial stuff. Here’s an advanced […]

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Correct Use of ‘Obviously’ Not So Obvious

Practically everyone makes this mistake. I used to make it myself, which may be why it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. We’re talking about where to put the word “obviously” in a sentence when you’re expressing disappointment. As press secretary for the Ohio Attorney General, I had many, many occasions to use this […]

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The 7 Habits of Highly Incompetent Editors

We hear the complaint all the time — most often, it’s about “the kids these days” — that nobody knows how to write anymore. We can blame bad parenting or inadequate schooling or text messaging, but there’s at least one thing we can do about it: help them improve. It’s called editing and, unfortunately, few […]

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‘My’ is the Rudest Word

Madonna gave an acceptance speech at the Golden Globes the other night in which she used the word “my” six times in just a minute and thirty-nine seconds. * My writers. My co-producer. My leading lady. My film. My, my, my … I was taught by a very proper Southern Lady (the mother of a […]

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