Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's play Linko

Ka’ching! You’ve hit the jackpot, dear Reader. Yes, you’re in for a really big win. Instead of doing the usual, this week your bashful blagger is going to shaddap her pen and leave you to wind and weave your way through a whirlwind of links related to writing, language and life in the fast lane of freelancing.

Whoa there, li’l blagger! Sounds like you’re setting readers off on a wild goose chase.

Au contraire, o ye of little Hope, Faith and Charity! And if it does end up a wild chase, rest assured, these goosey-loosies all lay olden but golden eggs. So...drum roll, please Maestro! Let the links speak for themselves. Without any further ado (or a don’t) let’s play Linko!

How to Stop Digital Fiddling and Start Writing
by Mary Jaksch

50 Useful Blogs for Writers
by Randy Ray

10 Tips for Kicking Ass as a Freelance Writer
by James Chartrand

How to Create a Highly Viral Blog
by Jonathan Mead

The Art vs. Craft Gap - a Writer’s Paradox
by Larry Brooks

The Agatha Christie Code: Stylometry, serotonin and the oscillation overthruster
by Mark Liberman

Less Rigor, Fewer Ulcers?
by Editrix

The Basics of Copy Editing
by Mike Billings

Gormenghastocabulary IX
by Sarah Et Cetera

Talk Wordy to Me
by Brian White

A Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Freelance Career
by Collis Ta’eed

How to Get More Referrals
by Cyan Ta’eed

What the Carnies Can Teach You About Freelancing
by James Chartrand

10 Ways to Make Laziness Work for You
by Leo Babauta

Hourly rates calculator
on FreelanceSwitch

Very Funny Ads
for a laugh since all work and no play makes Jack a dull pot. Ka’ching!

On which bright shiny note let me leave you with the dulcet Joe Dolce singing words of wisdom. Let it be (hey) and see you next week!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Here’s a riddle for all you brainiacs: Q. What is a banano?
A. Exactly the same as an ordinary banana, only one billion times smaller.
I know, banano, bah no-no! It’s one of my nerdier jokes, but after a long day’s editing of a long, long book (did I tell you this book is looong?) nano nonsense is all my nerdy birdy brain can come up with. So this week’s episode is going to be entertainment, short and sweet, and no harder on the brain than a… now tell me, what rhymes with sweet?

Talking of Twitter, have you heard about the two 19-year-olds at the University of Chicago who are retelling the Great Works of Literature in nano episodes 140 characters long. Their book Twitterature will be published in Autumn 2009. I read about it in an article by Jim White in the British paper The Daily Telegraph (my nice neighbour gives me his copy when he’s done with it and, as an incorrigible wordaholic, who am I to turn down this free read)(admittedly I skip the gory Tory bits).

The article is headed Bloke goes bonkers pursuing whale and in it Jim White has Twitterised some famous books. Here are a few of my favourites:

“Group of teenagers adopt incomprehensible jargon, drink milk and discuss Beethoven before terrorising the community. All society's fault.”
“Hero constantly spied upon by someone claiming to be older sibling. When he complains, finds himself with head in cage of rats.”
“Conscientious female farmer, ignoring claims of every decent bloke around, is seduced by disreputable soldier. Sheep don't much like it.”
“Wild-eyed, bushy-haired fellow on moors causes havoc with local females. If you haven't time to read it, listen to song of same name.”
“Sharp-toothed aristocratic night owl shows interest in local girls. Sales of garlic in nearby market go through roof. Stakes big seller too.”
Can you guess which books these Tweets refer to? Feel free to drop me a comment if you want to have a go at the answers. Which reminds me, someone called pedanticKarl left a nice comment on my post about about his favourite philologist, HotForWords (Sex symbol, June 4), otherwise known as Marina Orlova.

Back at the HFW site pedanticKarl noted my use of the friendly term ‘Dunglish’ which many language pro’s working in the Netherlands use to describe ‘English writing with a Dutch accent’. He suggested that Dunglish might be a candidate for HFW’s Nerd Word of the Day. I had a quick butcher’s at what has already been given the HFW nerdy treatment and really liked Weisure, a blend of work and leisure meaning free time spent doing work or work-related tasks, and Attachmeant meaning an e-mail you have to resend because you forgot to add the attachment the first time. This is something I have to do sickeningly often. If only the pain would fade faster than a nanosecond.

Which brings me neatly on to this Slate V mockumentary on the next big thing in nanoblogging. Have a look at...

Fluttery footnote
If you haven't got time to revise your text to fit in a Tweet, just 140 it and voila! These guys will do it for you. Ever wondered why texts are limited to 140 characters (160 actually; Twitter reserves 20 characters for the user's name). Find out right here.

Finally, here's one of the nerdiest jokes ever published by a British newspaper. The Guardian announced on April 1, 2009 that it had a "mammoth project under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper's archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see for more"; and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"

The article continues: "Sceptics have expressed concerns that 140 characters may be insufficient to capture the full breadth of meaningful human activity, but social media experts say the spread of Twitter encourages brevity, and that it ought to be possible to convey the gist of any message in a tweet."

Read the full story right here and don't forget to comment below if you know what the Tweeted book titles are. Cheers!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free style

It can be risky fishing for business in the uncharted waters of the internet. What may seem like a goldfish nibbling the bait dangling from your website may be a shark who'll savage your tasty offer and swim off without remorse.

In other words, whenever someone you don’t know approaches you through your website, asking for a free sample before committing to paying for your professional language services, be very cautious indeed.

Silly me, I let myself get bitten this week. The "shark" was a researcher in material sciences based somewhere in the Far East. As a rule I don’t do samples because I think the client recommendations on my business website let people know what they can expect from my copywriting or editing services. But the sun was shining, I’d just landed a huge book to edit over the summer and was in a generous mood so, why not?

I told Dr So Me-One (as I think of this "someone") that I’d be glad to do a sample one-page edit from the paper he intended submitting for publication in the Journal of Materials Processing Technology (JMPT).

The quality of Dr So Me-One’s English was generally fine. After checking that the paper complied with the JMPT submission guidelines, I whizzed through editing the sample. Then I sent off the corrected page with a comment pointing to the one and only confusing sentence I hadn’t managed to decipher. I offered an interpretation, and politely asked Dr So Me-One to let me know if I’d gotten his meaning right.

Well, dear Reader, it took another three sets of e-mails before that one sentence was clarified. And then, at the end of this lengthy exchange, Dr So Me-One dove back into the nether depths, never to surface near me again and leaving me ruefully aware that this shark had bitten off far more of my time than I’d ever intended to serve, certainly for free.

Live and learn, and on the upside, it was a useful little lesson. It reminded me (a) to be wary of strangers wanting something for nothing and (b) even better, it led me to the serendipitous discovery of one of the best style guides to academic writing I’ve ever come across. Writing a good paper for JMPT is clearly written for material scientists submitting to JMPT, but I think authors in any academic field would benefit from its free advice. Take a look at this sample:

"What readers like is clarity about the purpose of the work, clarity about how it fits into previous work, clarity about what was done and clear evaluation of the outcomes without any hint of ‘salesmanship’. Inexperienced writers often make statements of the type ‘the model and experiments showed perfect agreement’ where actually the statement ‘the model matched the experiments well within normal operating conditions, but was never less than 20% inaccurate outside of this range’ is both more honest and more useful."

Go read the rest of the article now. Or at least bookmark the link and check it out later. I’m trying to find out who wrote this epitome of lucidity so I can give the author proper credit. Watch this space!

Before I go, here’s another link for lovers of style, free or otherwise. Arts & Letters Daily is an old favourite of mine, updated six days a week and edited by Denis Dutton. Besides lecturing in philosophy at the University of Canterbury (NZ) and writing critically respected and popular books, Prof. Dutton is editor of Philosophy and Literature and, incidentally, was the driving force behind that scholarly journal’s notoriously funny Bad Writing Contest.

Let me leave you now with something at once free and stylish yet completely different: Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands riding the sublime Salinero in the freestyle dressage final of the World Equestrian Games. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Friday, July 10, 2009

And so fifth

Recognise this, all you freelancers? One week you’re faffing about at your desk, with not a lot to do. You’ve done the filing, done the dishes, even done the doggies (taken them for a walk, that is) and now you’re all done. Tempus fidgets slowly and you’re fretting, no frantic about the dire dearth of deadlines.

But hey! No use feeling sorry for youself! Off you go, tapping out a short but sweet note advising all your faithful clients (plus a few more whom you don’t know so well) that you may have “availability coming up soon”.

Next day (hooray!) your inbox is jammed with job offers and before you can say “hey fiddle-di-de, a freelancer’s life for me,” you’re opening up piles of files of wonderful work. Yippie! Now, it’s full speed ahead, you’re taking on texts left, right and centre, and hitting those deadlines el pronto, delivering as per schedule when horrors! One frazzled day the phone rings and an ever so kind bookkeeper from a big university accounts department is calling to check ever so carefully if you really and truly meant to send in that bill not once but twice, no thrice, or was it perhaps a mistake?

Not that this sort of thing ever happens to me, oh no! This is purely a hypothetical case, believe me, an illustration of what just mightily may happen to a freelancer somewhat similar in appearance to your bashful blagger when frantically rushed off her footsies by an utterly welcome deluge of work!

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Seriously now, this week I'm going to get all serious and deal with the depressing economic climate. I mean, take a look at what I got today in my daily dose of Dutch News: a report on the incredible shrinking economy. Yes, the Dutch economy contracted by 4.5% in the first quarter of this year, its sharpest drop in growth in more than 60 years, according to CBS, the national statistics office.

The CBS also said that Dutch inflation fell slightly to 1.4% in June, compared with 1.6% in May but it was still higher by far than in other EU contries. On the upside, the CBS said that consumer confidence was stable and industry slightly less pessimistic, although business service providers were less positive than they had been in May.

Well, I can’t say this business service provider (if I may call myself one) agrees with the last bit. Today I feel a lot more positive than I did in May and I can’t help but keep looking on the bright side. Call me Ms Positivity (Pollyanna if you like) (Polyfiller if you must) but given such a hectic time as I had last week, and the full work schedule I’ve already got booked for the coming weeks of summer, I’d say I had reason enough to feel warm and cheerful even in this chilly economic climate.

Please, let me hold onto my madelaine moment, believing I can smell the sweet scent of success… for as long as it lasts. Don’t disillusion me, not yet. I know the bubble will burst and I’ll end up dealing with another spate of the working doldrums in due course and so on and so forth.

Or so on and so fifth, as in the twoderful “inflationary language” invented by that Great Dane of music and comedy, Victor Borge. Let me leave you now with the Clown Prince of Denmark explaining his language for himself. Enjoy, and see you next week!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Brave new word

Have you ever been hit by a word that looks like it’s perfectly good English until you realise you don’t understand it? That happened to me the other day. I was surfing Cadrona snowfields high above Wanaka, my old hometown in New Zealand, when I came across this vivid report. An excerpt:

“The NZ Uni snow games was awesome fun. The results were wicked and the peeps and good times rocked harder and bigger than ever! The boardercross was in sweet shape and in the finals a wipe out lost my win and in the big air I stomped a sweet indy grab over the big table at Cadrona so I was stoked I even hit it, and then a shifty back one on the smaller table which I butt checked…but it felt mean. The pipe was super slushy but I was getting lofty on it and it was wicked to ride a pipe again!”

Peeps? Stomp a sweet indy grab? Butt checked? I can guess what the last one means (ouch) but the other terms go beyond me. Okay, it’s snow sport slang, and since I don’t belong to the in-group of crossboarders and their fans no one would expect me to understand it. It’s like the arcane jargonology philosphers use to exclude ‘the amateur riff-raff’, in the view of the former professor of cognitive psychology Steven Lehar.

Insider talk keeps outsiders out. But not me, or not for long if I can help it. I love brave new words to discover, and old words too, like the opposite of gazumping, which I tottered across while reading Country Life. My passion for seeking the source of the strange makes me fond of Wordnik, devoted to discovering ‘words and everything about them’. Wordnik gives real-time examples, like this gem from ozzieCousins on Twitter. “Twaddle is my word for today. It means: to tweet in the manner of a duck walking.”

Wordnik now contains more than 1.7 million words and 130 million examples, but alas, nothing on gazundering or, funnily enough, wordnik. To be fair, it does invite you to add new words and lawd-a-mercy on us language professionals, it lets you report a typo.

Reminds me of something else of interest to language pro’s: "Copy Editor's Revenge Takes Form Of Unhyphenated Word". Seduced by the revenge bit (if only), I clicked on the link before realising the headline belonged to a lofty story in The Onion. If you don’t already know it, this site is super slushy wicked!

That leads me to the stonkingly wicked comedian Catherine Tate and her Helen I-can-do-that Marsh translating CEO-speak in national stereotypes. Hilarious Hells will forgive you for thinking she’s talking English, albeit offensive English, throughout. Whatever. Is she bovver’d? Not!

Brave new exit
You know what? Aldous Huxley didn't make up Brave New World for the title of his book. He nicked the line from Shakespeare, that’s what, along with a Fordist factory full of sundry other quotes. Waaaaay back in 1978, I worked on The Tempest at the Sydney Opera House. The show was directed by Ted Craig, and it had Michael Craig (no relation?) as Prospero and Barry Otto in the cast.

These thespians are all still enjoying the juicy fruits of their careers. Even my fellow assistant stage manager, Nick Schlieper, went on to make an international name for himself as ├╝berkreativ lighting designer and winner of countless awards. He’s lighting up London’s West End at the moment with the fabulous Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Crikey! All this lovey talk makes me wonder how my life might have turned out, had I not had an attack of the Ethels (as in la Merman belting Anything you can do, I can do better) upon hearing that my ex-lover was heading for the louche lights of London. I might have stayed on in the theatre and become a Famous Director (sigh) but then the world would have been a language professional poorer and ye gads that’s enough blagging for one week. Let me really leave you now with a bonus vid on Priscilla’s brave new entrance to Auckland. It also gives you a game idea of what an assistant stage manager does. Enjoy, and see you next week!