If you've ever stared at the words affect and effect so long that they turned into nonsense before you could figure out which one you ought to use, this post is for you. We have two quick mnemonic devices that will help you remember how to use these almost-homophones properly--most of the time. We'll talk about the rule-breakers at the end.
A is for ACTION and AFFECT.
To affect something is an action. I might affect a chain of dominoes by tipping the first one over.
Cause and effect becomes CausEffect. You can also think of it as ChangEffect.
An effect is a noun.
He made the kids smile; he had that effect on everyone.
So I affected the dominoes by pushing them; a side effect was the clatter and the mess.
An effect of reading this blog is better editing skills.
You affect your chances of being published by working hard.
These are the standard ways of using affect/effect, so most of the time those tips will steer you in the right direction. HOWEVER. Because English is such a fun and exciting language, effect occasionally is used as a verb and affect as a noun.
Effect is still always a part of cause and effect, though, so when it becomes a verb, it basically becomes a stand-in for "cause". And it's usually used with "change" or "solution" as its direct object. So someone can effect change (cause a change) or effect a solution (cause/create a solution).
Affect as a noun is even rarer in contemporary English. It means "a feeling, emotion, or specific emotional response." It's often used in cases where the attitude or emotion the person is displaying seems false, or affected.
So to sum up: A, Action, Affect (verb). Cause and effect go together to become CausEffect (noun).
And I'll admit that after typing all of this, I don't want to see the words affect OR effect again for a very long time. That's quite the effect!
It's time for a quick tip! One of the most common, simple spelling/grammar mistakes we see is the misuse of its and it's. And if your autocorrect is like mine, sometimes even knowing which one you want to use isn't good enough.
Always double check its/it's by thinking if it should be expanded into "it is."
Every single time I use either form, I check. (As an added bonus, that way, when my auto "correct" messes it up for me, I catch it.)
"Its" is the possessive form: The dog chased its tail.
Double-check: does The dog chased it is tail make sense? No? Then I want the form without the apostrophe, and I'm good.
"It's" is the contraction of it is: It's cold tonight.
Double-check: does It is cold tonight make sense? Yes? Then I want the apostrophe.
The reason this is confusing is that with other nouns, we add an apostrophe+s to indicate possession. But we don't do it with pronouns, and that's what "it" is.
So let's practice a few:
Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Double-check: It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. So I would want to add in the ' here.
Once there was a cat who loved its owner.
Double-check: Once there was a cat who loved it is owner. So no ' is correct.
Hopefully this quick tip will help you next time you want to use its--or was it it's?--in your writing!
Today's tip is for when you're ready to query your manuscript, also known as "when you'll likely start raking in the rejections." Most authors hear "no" many, many times before they finally hear "yes!" In fact, our very own Kate Foster posted a little bit about her story of how she signed with her agent last week here.
But even though all authors will receive rejections--my personal favorites are the stories of agents writing back years later to reject a book that's just gone on sale--there are things you can do to limit your number of rejections somewhat.
The first step is thorough editing, of course. A clean manuscript is more appealing than one that's riddled with errors.
But the second step, where a lot of authors stumble, is doing their homework. Agents are inundated with queries. Most of them post guidelines about what they represent and what sort of stories they're currently looking for. Research anyone you're interested in, and respect those preferences. Agents might enjoy reading stories outside their wishlists, but they know what they can realistically sell.
If an agent lists triggers that they personally have and do not want to see in manuscripts, respect that. Don't traumatize someone; you won't get an agent or make any friends that way.
Respect agency guidelines. Always send materials in the proper format, whether it's in an email or as an attachment; ten pages, or twenty, or fifty. If an agent I queried asked for my submission via snail mail, in purple Comic Sans font, I'd give it to them. Yes, it can be inconvenient having to format things differently for each agent. But they ask for formats that suit their reading devices and preferences. And showing that you can follow a simple request is the beginning of a good business relationship.
Lastly, and most importantly, always be respectful. Queries can be lighthearted, but not rude. If you receive a rejection, move on. If an intern is helping an agent read subs, be grateful, because it means that agent got to your query quicker. Bad behavior gets talked about, and you don't want to earn yourself a reputation as someone no one wants to work with.
Today, instead of focusing on how to take care of your manuscripts, we're going to focus for a minute on how to take care of you. As writers, it's easy to get too absorbed in our work at times. No matter what stage of writing you're in, it seems like there's always something to worry about. Deadlines, bad reviews, querying, CPs to keep up with, personal and work responsibilities...it never ends.
All that pressure can contribute to a bad case of writer's block or mental and emotional fatigue. When that happens, you need to find a way to rest and recharge your inner battery. Plowing on through and ignoring that fatigue will catch up with you sooner or later, so finding a self-care routine that works for you is vital to relieving stress.
If you ask any group of writers online for their stress-relieving, writer's block-breaking tips, you'll get a lot of this: enjoy some junk food, go out drinking, binge on Netflix, etc.
Those are all good ideas that can be helpful. But I'd like to suggest that indulging in bad habits maybe shouldn't be our "go-to" move, especially when a writer's life can be so constantly full of stress. I asked around for some "healthier" suggestions, and here's what writers had to say:
When you get a rejection letter, write down anything nice they had to say. Keep a document of compliments to read when you're feeling down.
Use those compliments to make fun graphics and make them your screensavers or put them on your desktop. Print them out and hang them in your writing space.
Alternatively, you can take bad reviews or insults and pair them with "motivational" type pictures to make them sting less. Mean words just don't hurt as much when they're being said by the "hang in there!" kitten.
If you're having writer's block on a particular project, try switching to a back burner project for a few days. Let your subconscious brain work on the problem for you.
Try writing something in a completely different style or medium. Do freeform poetry. Write to music. Write a sensory passage. Change up your routine to shake up your thought process; it helps break through whatever you're stuck on.
If you have a manuscript problem you can't figure out (and you have time to do this), don't get up right away in the morning. Think about the story before you go to bed, then again when you wake up. Listen to your mind; your subconscious may have solved it for you while you slept.
Go for a walk or a jog, or whatever type of exercise you enjoy.
Try a creative activity with an outcome you can control, like baking, music, gardening, or crafting. Engage your creative energy without the frustration of writer's block, and it may help loosen up your creative muscles.
Try mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or simply taking a bath.
Read for fun.
Any physical activity with rhythmic movement is good for relaxing your brain and stimulating thought. Often you're increasing bloodflow and endorphins without having to focus on what you're doing. Walking on a treadmill, crocheting or knitting, running, etc.
Coloring, painting, or other artistic activities.
Baking or cooking, especially something new and interesting.
Talking any story problems out with a friend or family member. Often someone who doesn't know your story very well (NOT your CPs) can offer you simple solutions to whatever's wrong. They aren't bogged down by preconceived notions of how the story ought to go. You don't have to take all the advice, but talking it over can get your brain going in new directions.
Hopefully you all find these tips as helpful as I did. Take care of yourselves, and happy editing!
When it comes to writing, there are a lot of rules. Always use complete sentences. Never use passive voice. Avoid cliches like the plague. Run-on sentences are not allowed. Cut your usage of the word "was." Eliminate filter words. And on, and on, and on.
Most of the time, following all the writing "rules" is the right choice. But every now and then, you'll find that breaking these style rules is the better choice.
For example, I've seen writers contort their sentences into thesaurus pretzels in their efforts to avoid using "was." The strange phrasing or bizarre word choice draws attention to the sentence and pulls the reader out of the narrative. Every now and then, the simple, neutral "was" construction is the better choice.
Or take sentence fragments. A well-placed sentence fragment in a sequence of high-intensity action or emotion can pack a serious emotional punch, hitting the reader right in the gut. When we feel something strongly in real life, we often struggle to put it into words. Using fragments or run-ons can reflect that awkwardness in language, mirroring the real human experience.
Please note that I'm not advising breaking rules about word count, genre, punctuation, or following agency guidelines. I'm only suggesting that rules about writing style aren't carved in stone. They'll hold true most of the time, but every now and then you'll find a place where it's more effective to break the rule than to keep it.
One of the most common homophone mistakes we all see is the mix-up of those three simple words: there, they're, and their. If you've ever been a victim of this classic blunder, don't worry, we're here to help--as long as you haven't also gotten involved in a land war in Asia. We aren't equipped to help with that outside of our imaginations.
There's a simple trick to remembering which one of those pesky words you need.
Break them down.
Let's start with there. Inside "there" is the word "here." So there, like here, is a location word.
Next up, we have their. Inside you can find an "heir." And being an heir is all about possession--not the demonic kind, however. So their, like heir, is about possession.
Last, we have they're. Any time you have a contraction, remember that the apostrophe is taking the place of a letter and a space. In this case, "they are" turned into "they're." If you're looking at they're and can't remember which usage it's for, eliminate the apostrophe and turn it back into two words and see if "they are" is the usage you wanted.
*Bonus tip: I always double-check the word its/it's this same way. Literally every single time I write the word, because it feels counter-intuitive. It's is a contraction word, short for it is; the apostrophe is NOT to mark possession. Pronouns don't use apostrophes for possession.
Hopefully these quick tips will help you remember which form you want next time you start to wonder whether you're using the right spelling. Happy editing!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!