Tag s | Grammar

A Writer’s Best Friend

If I asked you what you considered to be a writer’s best friend, what would you say?

Please don’t say “Wikipedia.”

My clients would probably reply, “Bob Hostetler.” But that can’t be everyone’s answer.

You might consider “a fine fountain pen” or “a blank page in a brand new journal” to be your best friend as a writer. Maybe the thesaurus is your best friend (ally, associate, buddy, companion, comrade, “mate,” pal).

For some, it’s the Control-Z or Command-Z keyboard command to “undo” whatever it was you just did. For others, a writer’s best friend is a strong cup of coffee or the soundtrack from The Last of the Mohicans.

But my nominee for “writer’s best friend” is Find-and-Replace.

I realize that not everyone uses it to death the way I do, but Find-and-Replace has been very good to me—so good that I should buy it flowers. If only I knew where to send them.

Why do I say that?

Because Find-and-Replace has mitigated some of my worst faults and weaknesses as a writer, and helped me hunt them down like the cowards like they are and squash them like bugs. So, yeah, since I have a penchant for bad similes and mixed metaphors, I can use Find-and-Replace, anytime I finish a page, chapter, article, or blog post, to “find” the word “like” and eliminate or improve each occurrence.

Can Find-and-Replace work for you as it does for me? I bet it can. Here are just a few suggestions for how to use it:

  • Double-space after a period. Back in the day, when we wrote with typewriters (if you’re under forty, you might need to Google “typewriter” to see what I’m talking about), it was customary to double space after a period. But that’s no longer necessary in the computer age, though some of us still do it out of habit. So “Find” every double-space and “Replace” with a single space. It takes about a second-and-a-half, even in a long document.
  • “That.” Most writers—even the best among us—overuse the word “that.” If that is a weakness of yours (see what I did there?), simply use Find-and-Replace to locate every “that” in your manuscript and delete those that are superfluous.
  • “Was.” Most writers can reduce the number of passive verbs like “is” and “was” in their writing, replacing them with more active verbs. “Is,” of course, is so short and common in other words as to make Find-and-Replace unhelpful, but searching for “was” and replacing it and its related words can enliven your writing.
  • “Very.” The word “very” is very common in first drafts. Find-and-Replace can help to save you from it, reminding you to replace “very angry” with “incensed,” for example. And that would be very good.
  • Exclamation points! Scott Fitzgerald famously said that an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke. They have a use, of course, but should be sparingly employed. So Find-and-Replace exclamation points with periods! You’ll feel better!
  • Your personal weaknesses. Among the self-editing exercises I urge upon writers when I speak at writers’ conferences is to learn your personal weaknesses and edit accordingly. One of my weaknesses: I love—absolutely love—semi-colons. So, when I finish an article or chapter, I Find-and-Replace semi-colons. It hurts; it must be done, nonetheless.

 These are just a few suggestions, but I hope they help. Do you have a favorite Find-and-Replace habit that strengthens your writing?

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Grammar and the Singular “They”

Yesterday I opened a can of worms. There were many worms in the can; some male and some female. I discovered that a few of the worms were married to each other. One couple was having a marital disagreement. They were arguing about grammar, of all things. The fight was about the proper use of gender pronouns. Here is the sentence under dispute:

“When a spouse greets a partner with derision because of an opinion, what should be ___ reaction?”

Fill in the blank. Should you use his, his or her, or their? This is a grammatical conundrum. Your choice will determine whether you will be categorized as “sexist,” “tiresome,” or “ungrammatical.”

Our vernacular has changed over the past years due to our sensitivity over the generic “he.” For some it is a matter of being politically correct. For others it is merely a way of being inclusive of both genders in their writing. In addition it can be simply a matter of using the common language of everyday speech.

So what is correct?

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Tools to Tackle Grammar Gaffes

Oh my. We all have our peccadillos when it comes to English, don’t we? If I addressed them all, we’d be here til next year. So I’ll just give you the cheats…uh, tips I use most often. —Don’t be afraid of me. Poor ol’ me has been sorely maligned, as …

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When Trying to Sound Intelligent Backfires

So, I’m at a writers’ conference—a professional setting, yes? With folks who are clearly well educated, especially about the use of words, yes?–and this is what I hear: “Just give Jim and I a call, and we’ll talk it over.” Cringe. Then came a recent commercial on TV, where a …

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Misused Words and Phrases


The English language is full of persnickety quirks, the most despicable of which are buzz words. Words and phrases we’ve decided work better than plain speech. Why say what you mean when you can just toss out a phrase that says what you want, but in such a vague and convoluted manner than people spend so much energy figuring it out that they can’t challenge you? Genius! Or how about those words we overuse, or misuse? Oy, da pain!

So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the words and phrases that drive this logophile right up the wall. Literally!

Can you unpack that for me?

Nope. I can’t. Literally. What’s more, I don’t want to. I don’t like packing or unpacking. And what does packing have to do with anything? Whatever happened to the plain and simple, “Would you explain that, please?”


Folks, we all know what this means. Fired. Laid off. Out of a job. You can’t take away the devastation by giving it some innocuous name and hoping nobody challenges you on it.

Baby bump

Seriously? It’s not a bump. It’s a baby. Way better than a bump.

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What’s On Your Desk? (Part Two)

Last week I told you about my writing books, those valued, printed friends who’ve gone through this writing/editing/agenting journey with me. This week, I want to introduce you to some buddies that are too often ignored. Or avoided. Or cursed.

Yes, my friends, I’m talking about grammar books.

I, too, am less than delighted with grammar. However, I’m delighted by the following books that are a wonderful—and fun!—resource for those of us who work with words. So, without further ado…

Of course, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is front and center. I have the little book with a white and red cover, but in ’05 I received a wonderful gift from writer/editor Erin Healy: The Elements of Style, Illustrated. It’s a beautiful clothbound version of EoS, with lovely, four-color illustrations that bring the examples to life. I love it!

Then there are the style and grammar books by

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