Thursday, November 8, 2012


In an effort to get my name out there as a thoughtful and capable editor of words, I put up a post on a message board for writers asking if anyone had manuscripts they'd like edited for free in exchange for use of their piece as an example in my editing portfolio.

Holy avalanche, Batman! I was not ready for the kind of response I got. Short stories! Non-fiction books! Novels! There are tons of people writing, and every one of them needs someone else to put eyes on their work.

Though it's tougher than I expected to find the time/energy to dive into editing after my regular full-time job, I'm really enjoying the experiment. I decided to do this trial run of free editing for a few reasons:

  1. To get an idea of how long it takes me to edit a piece (pages per hour). This will aid me in setting up a pricing structure later on.
  2. To get feedback from real, live authors about my editing style and what I could do to improve (Bonus: with the author's permission, I can use their feedback on my website!).
  3. To gain experience and create a word-of-mouth reputation about the quality of my work.
So far, I've edited a few short stories and about 1/10th of a full-length non-fiction book, and I have loved every second of it. It doesn't even feel like work for me, at times. I love moving words around and watching them fall into place. It's like a puzzle, and the correct solution means finding a direct path to the idea using the fewest possible words. And, the feedback I've gotten so far has been great.

I will keep pressing onward and upward!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stranger things

Normally, I shy away from conversation with strangers. It can be hard for an introvert like myself to navigate the crowds of people I encounter on my commute on a daily basis. But sometimes, talking to strangers yields unexpected rewards, and this Tuesday was one of those times.

A young man from South Africa struck up a conversation with me about the book I was reading. Then he told me he'd been travelling for three years, that he'd just completed a hike from Georgia to Harper's Ferry on the Appalachian Trail, and that he was planning on running in the Baltimore marathon... on a whim.

"Wow," I said. "That's quite a whim!"

"Yeah," he replied. "Most of my life is made up of spontaneous decisions."

Whaaat. I sometimes have a hard time deciding if I should start laundry or make coffee first. To live out of a backpack for years, complete a grueling hike and spontaneously decide to run a marathon... that's so far beyond me I can't even see it. (Of course, it doesn't help that the shape I'm in is "miscellaneous.")

I asked him what he does for a living, and he told me he's a motivational speaker.

"What do you speak about?" I asked.

His answer: "I haven't yet. I'll be giving my first speech in Connecticut in a few weeks."

One of my biggest difficulties in going after creative pursuits has been giving myself permission to view myself as an individual with worthwhile creative ideas. To call myself a "writer" or an "artist," or to consider it a remote possibility that one day I could possibly support myself with my creativity is something with which I struggle.

When he calls himself a motivational speaker, having given no speeches as of yet, I believe him. So why shouldn't I believe myself? To be creative, all I have to do is create. For some reason, this has been the most difficult lesson for me to learn, and he made it plain to me in a matter of seconds. Something tells me he's going to be great at motivating a crowd.

Sometimes, you have to break out of your comfort zone. You never know who you'll meet or what you'll discover.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to Tell Truth from Bullshit

The only tangible objects I inherited from my paternal grandfather when he passed away were a set of pajamas and a rubber stamp that said, simply, "BULLSHIT."

Though he didn't specifically bequeath me this item (rather, I picked it out of a pile of things my grandmother gave us to choose from), I like to think that in looking for ways to use the stamp, I developed a nascent tendency to determine if something has the ring of truth or the dull thud of a cow pie hitting the ground.

In college, I took a course on the afterlife in literature, and our class took a field trip to a few "haunted" places in the area, a local "ghost expert" in tow. I noticed some things about the expert's "professional assessment" that indicated she was possibly not on the up-and-up.

For instance, she told us to be careful to use the electromagnetic field (EMF) detector away from any electrically-powered devices to avoid possible interference, but then held one suspiciously close to an electric alarm clock, declaring at the same time that she was definitely picking up on something.

Then, at a local inn, she surreptitiously moved a binder that was sitting on one of the beds before calling the attention of the group and proclaiming "Look at this indentation! There is probably definitely a ghost sitting right here!" I raised one eyebrow as high as it would go and it stayed that way until we got back to the classroom.

"So," asked our professor, "What did you guys think of the expert?" I raised my hand and explained what I had noticed. The professor then gave me the biggest compliment I've ever received: "Erin, you have a foolproof bullshit detector."

While this is my only formal bullshit-detecting qualification, I want to talk about some signs that are total giveaways when you're trying to evaluate the veracity of a particular source. Check it out after the jump.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Green Hair Care, Part 2: How to Dry and Style Your Fabulous Curls

Okay, so I know it's been quite a while since the first part of this series, but if you're still hanging on wondering what to do with your hair after you've washed and conditioned it, not only am I duly impressed by your dedication, your patience is about to pay off in a big way... it's time to dry and style!

I'm really sorry, but this guide only applies to curly-headed people as yet. If anyone requests it, I would be happy to do some research on what works best for other types of hair.

Here are the supplies I use:
  • wide-toothed comb,
  • flour sack towels (these are cheap and work perfectly) or a t-shirt,
  • for fancy days:
    • hair gel,
    • a blow dryer with a diffuser attachment.
First, let's talk about each implement and its intended purpose. Then, we'll get into the actual steps. Check it out after the jump.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Successful Experiment: DIY Lime Popcorn!

Guys! Remember this post? About the lime popcorn? Of course you don't, but I do, and I figured out an alternative!

True Lime powder!

Here's the story. I was at Target, probably buying a bunch of stuff I don't need, when I happened upon this microwave popcorn bowl. It was on clearance, so of course it went straight in the cart, along with a package of loose-kernel popcorn. A bit further down the aisle, a box of True Lime caught my eye, and then something happened: a giant lightbulb went on over my head, the skies opened up, and angels sang. "DUH!" they cried out in their heavenly harmonies, "THIS IS THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION."

I put a little oil (sometimes coconut oil, sometimes a mysterious product called "popcorn oil" that will probably give me cancer of the eyeballs but at least I'm trying to avoid "popcorn lung" [see original lime popcorn post]) in the popcorn bowl, add 1/3 cup kernels, and pop that bad boy in the microwave for about 3 minutes (sometimes takes less time; remove when there are 1-2 seconds in between pops). Be careful, the bowl will be hot! Also, make sure you use the lid; one time I forgot and had to clean Popcorn Armageddon out of my microwave.

After it's popped, sprinkle a packet or two of True Lime over the whole shebang, and a sprinkling of kosher salt if you like. It's just as good as, or perhaps better than, the store-bought lime popcorn. Now that it's accessible to me, I fiend for this stuff day and night. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Prune Your Message

I think one of the reasons I so enjoy proofreading and editing is that I find endless reserves of joy in the process of fixing things that are broken, or bringing new life to what is seemingly unusable.

This is a recurring theme for me; there is nothing I love more than leaving the thrift store or a flea market with an armful of objects that just need a little TLC to become as good as or better than new. By the same token, reordering a wandering paragraph so its message can sing gives me immeasurable satisfaction. It didn't work, and now it does. It was broken, and now it is repaired.

It's the concept of beauty in simplicity: economy of words, economy of materials. The same principles apply; instead of shopping endlessly and watching your home fill with redundant clutter, allow necessity and the desire to use what you have to inspire creative ways to solve a problem. And in writing, rather than inundating your reader with excess language or endless repetitions of the same idea, using as few words as possible with precision lets your idea rise to the top without all the baggage. This is why good editors are so important: as an objective reader, I might see a faster route to your main idea than you can.

Like removing brambles from a path, pruning unnecessary words teaches you to do more with less, but it's not always easy. Writers know, getting too attached to a word or phrase can stand between you and clarity. Instead, focus on the words as means to an end, and commit yourself to your idea rather than the way you've written it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Top 5 Reasons Good Communication Matters

5. Without it, you're selling yourself short.

You are a unique individual with unique things to offer. You bring something to the table that no one else can ever duplicate or replace: your authentic voice. By cultivating your voice (or hiring someone to help you bring out what makes you wonderful), you not only help other people get to know you, you can get up close and personal with what makes your strengths and talents so very valuable to the world. And since no one can tell your story better than you can, bringing your personal and professional communication up to scratch is your best bet for making sure your audience gets the complete picture of what an unmitigated badass you are.

4. Getting it wrong can be disastrous.

Most conflicts are, at the core, matters of miscommunication. Saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time, can have results more far-reaching than you could ever imagine. It's the difference between making an enemy and making a new friend. It's the difference between sending someone back to Google to find a new source for what they need, or a new customer who knows they've come to the right place. An on-point message is your strongest weapon in the cacophony that is the Internet: it's a voice that comes through loud and clear when the rest is just noise.

3. Who doesn't like to save time?

Wrong directions are a bummer. Getting it right saves time on both ends: your audience understands exactly what you mean, and you don't have to re-explain or correct mistaken impressions.

2. Good communication is inviting.

I'm going to describe to you two shop windows, and you tell me which shop you'd like to visit. One display has dirty, fogged glass that makes it difficult to see, dusty and broken merchandise, and an overall feeling of neglect and negligence. The second has crystal clear glass with brightly-lit, perfectly arranged products set against a colorful backdrop.

It's obvious to you, the observer, that the first business doesn't care much for its image, and that gives you a pretty clear idea of the care and attention (or lack thereof) they'll give their customers. At best, you might think they're well-intentioned business owners who let the busy nature of daily life get ahead of them. At worst, you'll assume the shop is closed for good, and you won't even try to open the door.

Glass doesn't stay clear unless someone cleans it. And those products didn't find themselves laid out just-so by accident. The effort the second shop has put into their display, the first "messaging" their customer receives before they even step in the door, is quite plain. These business owners have worked hard to send you a message: we're open for business, we're ready for you to come on inside, and we know exactly how to serve you.

The first shop is the image you create when your grammar is off, your word choices aren't quite right, your information is out of date, or chunks of it are missing altogether. It turns people off or makes them assume nobody's home. After all, if you can't even take the time to make sure your sentences are properly constructed, how much of an expert can you actually be?

The second image, clearly the more successful business of the two, projects professionalism. These are business owners who put time and passion into the work they do, because they've taken care to show you they know how to attend to every last detail. Proper spelling, grammar and accurate, current communications project (loudly!) the message that you've got it together.

1. Ain't nobody a mind reader.

People won't know what you mean unless you tell them. They won't know what you're selling unless you show them. They won't know what you're trying to say unless you say it clearly. Clear communications are a huge sign of respect for your audience: you're showing them that you know their time is too important to waste any of it on a piece of writing or messaging that makes no sense. And respect begets repeat customers.

And there you have it.
If you want people to get the message loud and clear, you have to craft it carefully, or delegate that task to a wordsmith with a vision. Never underestimate the power of good communication -- it will make you or break you, and if you're like me, you'd rather have it made.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Let's bring this mother back to life!

I've spent months and months figuring out to do with myself as an adult human person. The expectations of childhood are that adulthood will bring with it a sense of certainty and purpose; you'll know what you're doing because you're a grown-up, of course. Adults solve problems. Adults know what's up.

As you have perhaps realized in the course of your own introspection, this expectation is farther off-base than Rush Limbaugh talking about women. Mere weeks from my 27th birthday, I now understand what escaped me for years: nobody knows what they are doing, and everybody is winging it.

It's not all bad. Facing a million different paths without a map is daunting, terrifying, but also liberating. I can be anything, do anything! But... how do I do that?

By starting, of course.

Since my last writing, I got a job in the "big city," moved out of my parents' house, and moved apartments twice. Yes, that's three, count 'em, three moves in the last year. Yes, I hate moving. No, I never want to move again.

Having carted enough boxes to last me a lifetime, I moved on to the considerably more arduous process of making a mental move. What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? How many self-help books can I add to my wish list on Amazon before they say "enough"?

And so, I set about combing the Craigslist of the mind to see what kind of gig I'd like to end up with. I bit the bullet and bought one of said self-help books to find out if it would advance my quest, or leave me with more questions. The book is I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It, by Barbara Sher and Barbara Smith.

After pondering sufficiently if they each refer to their writing partner as "The Other Barbara," I actually read the book. On vacation, no less. Nothing like a little soul-searching while one's off-brand sunscreen fails spectacularly, giving one the look and feel of a splotchy, painful tomato. ("Painful Tomato" would be a bitchin' band name.)

Having already given the matter considerable thought, some of the conclusions I drew upon finishing the book were not entirely surprising. I'm not happy where I am in my career. Fact. Obvious fact. I need to do something different. Again, obvious. But what is it?

Despite the title's claim, this was still not immediately clear by book's end. This isn't likely the fault of the text. I've always been a bit of a hobby-go-round. Formal education excepted (my passion for the English language knows no bounds), I tend to learn the gist of something: just enough to be able to understand it or obtain basic skills, and then I move on to uncharted waters.

But you can't specialize in everything, and not all hobbies can be successfully translated to full-time occupation, so it's necessary for me to be a bit more selective. I'll have to keep noodling away at it until the heat from the friction of my brain-gears grinding is enough to boil this idea soup down to its essential parts.

I'm proud of that metaphor, and I'm sticking to it.