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Relax. Your document is in excellent hands.

You’ve just typed the last sentence, added your last reference citation, and made sure those annoying little red and green squiggly lines aren’t too out of control. Your document is done – almost.

If you want your work to be taken seriously, the next step is editorial review – checking your document for fact accuracy, grammatical/mechanical correctness, and overall readability. Sure, you could do all this without assistance, without that extra pair of eyes to point out your blind spots or the fine tooth comb to uncover any inconsistencies…but why?

Even the most experienced writer can benefit from a fresh perspective. Let L Words trained, professional writing and editing team polish your document while retaining your unique voice and style.

Follow the links above to learn more about our background and services, scroll through our writers’ blog, or browse our Writer’s Workshop resources. We look forward to working with you!

In Pursuit of the Perfect College Admissions Essay

Image courtesy of TheIvyCoach.com

Image courtesy of TheIvyCoach.com

A few months ago, a client asked me for tips on helping her daughter write a great college application essay. "Just tell me the big things a school looks for and how we can fit them in two pages without sounding desperate," she said.

It's been a few years since I wrote an application essay, so I answered that I was hardly an expert. My client didn't care.

"You got in, didn't you? So you already know more than my kid does. Anya thinks all she needs for the perfect essay is to talk about a toilet."

I read the toilet essay, a rambling 14-paragraph affair that did hint of desperation - along with more than a touch of arrogance and a hope to be thought more original than reality reflected. It was Anya's plea to be seen and liked, by whatever hook she could find. In short, it was nearly exactly what schools were looking for (minus the rambling, of course): an insider look at the world according to Anya.

I cut the word count by half, cleaned up the paragraphs and added transitions for better flow, and sent the essay back to my client with this note: "Anya's right - the toilet stays."

There are a ridiculous number of experts, self-proclaimed and otherwise, who have published advice for the scores of nervous high school students all looking to write the perfect application essay. I read dozens of these advice columns when I was writing my first batch of essays. With little exception, they all said some version of the same thing: 

Be original. Be memorable. Be amazing. Be vulnerable. Be (appropriately) funny. And added to all this: Be a Better Than Average writer.

That's an awful lot of BEs.

I wonder if the task would seem less daunting if we whittled that list down to just one BE: Be you - clearly.

Unless you're actually the unwitting subject of a science cloning experiment gone awry (and you have my sympathies if so - I can only imagine the headaches), you've got the be you part in the bag almost before you finish writing your first sentence. There's only one you. You're unique almost by default. So stop trying so hard to find (and in many cases, invent) the perfect hard-luck, underdog tale or fantastical adventure to convince the admissions committee that you're an original.

The best way to ensure you end up looking like everyone else is to try too hard to be what you think the committee wants. Dare to be you - just you - and believe that it's enough. Because it is.

But don't forget the last part of that BE: Be you, but clearly. That's a whole 'nother ball of wax for many writers, especially when the stakes of writing are so high. How are you supposed to clearly tell the story of you - a synopsis of the best parts of 17+ years - in 500-750 words?

Relax. It can be done. But it takes three things:

  • Structure- you need a plan for your essay so you know, point by point, exactly where you're going and how you'll get there.
  • Expression- refuse to settle for any word or phrase that "kinda" makes your point; be willing instead to do the work of searching and revising (and re-revising) until you've got the only phrase that could have possibly made the point (spelled correctly. Obviously.)
  • Selection- you only have a few hundred words, so as tough as it sounds, you must make your point and get out of there - with as little "fluff" as possible. Be willing to sacrifice every word and line, no matter how clever, that does not move you mercilessly toward that final period.

The perfect essay is the one that tells the best story of you, using only the words that really matter. As it so happened, Anya's best story featured a toilet. All she needed help with was getting out of her own way so her story could be clearly told and understood. And that's the point of this whole essay business (and anything else you write, for that matter) in the first place.

There it is: pages and pages of sage advice boiled down to its essence: Be you - clearly. Yes, it's easier said than done. But you've nearly made it through four years of high school; you're practically a superhero.  And while no one can help you be more you, if the clearly part is stumping you, you know who to call. (No, it's not Ghostbusters. You're hopeless.)

[Update: Last week, Anya's mother called to say her daughter got accepted by all five of her college picks. Well played, Toilet Card. Well played.]

To Hyphen or Not to Hyphen? That is the question.

Are you a serial hyphenator? Or do you just wish that was the least of your writing woes? Whether you've overused your life quota or have entirely missed the point of the all-too-often-misunderstood Great H, this one's for you. Today's tip comes from the good folks at Ragan.com:

Clear-cut rules for hyphens

By Denise C. Baron

Let’s show some respect for a punctuation mark that brings clarity to fuzzy language

Whether or not English is your native tongue, users can agree on one thing: It can be one tricky language. In addition to pronunciation irregularities such as rough, bough, through, and dough or homophones such as tootwo, and to, English brims with definition and application nuances that often stump, if not elude, the otherwise proficient writer or speaker. It's a language of hundreds of rules and thousands of exceptions to those rules.

Some may argue this makes the language colorful; others may say it drives them to drink.

Exasperating as it can be, at least it's not boring; and sometimes, elements of the language will cause you to pause and reflect, if only to be certain that you're using them correctly.

Take the hyphen — a little line that often makes a big difference but one that too often is misused, inserted where it doesn't belong or missing altogether where it does. It's the Rodney Dangerfield of punctuation; it deserves a lot more attention and respect than it gets.

The hyphen plays several roles. For one, it's used to break up syllables in dictionary entries. For another, when the hyphen appears at the end of a syllable at the end of a line in print, it's telling you that the remainder of the word has carried over to the following line; it's signaling a continuance.

Grammatically, the hyphen's main purpose is to ensure clarity, and here's where things can get fuzzy. The hyphen commonly is used in a compound adjective — a phrase comprising two or more words that express a single concept. The compound adjective usually describes the noun that immediately follows it. One clue that a hyphen is needed to connect these words is when the lack of the hyphen causes the message to be unclear.

Here are some examples:

  • fastest-growing population
  • four-hour programs
  • little-known company
  • third-world country
  • high-class ring-designer

Without the hyphens, these phrases could be misconstrued. They'll stop you in your tracks as you read them, because without the hyphens, you cannot be sure what's being conveyed.

The "fastest growing population" could be interpreted as a growing population that runs more quickly than any other growing population. "Four hour programs" could describe four programs that are each an hour long. A "little known company" could be a small business that is widely known. A "third world country" could be number three in a list of global nations.

However, for "high class ring designer," is the reference to a designer of class rings who's tipsy or to a skilled designer of rings, in general? The hyphens let you know.

Then there's when not to use the hyphen.

Words such as firsthand, necktie and firewall are not hyphenated, and there are a slew of others that, even though you might think they should be hyphenated or have always hyphenated them or have always seen them hyphenated, aren't. Adding to the confusion are words that, depending on their usage in a sentence, may or may not sport a hyphen. Lowdown, for instance, when used as a noun is a single word; however, used descriptively, as in that low-down, dirty, rotten scoundrel, it needs the hyphen.

Knowing with confidence when or when not to use the hyphen requires the assistance of a good dictionary, because as far as I can figure out, there's no single rule to keep it all straight. Consider the word long. Just look at some of the many entries listed in Webster's II New College Dictionary for nouns and adjectives that have long as a prefix:

  • longboat: noun, no hyphen
  • long suit: noun, space/no hyphen
  • long-distance: adjective, hyphen
  • longhair: noun, no hyphen
  • longhorn: noun, no hyphen
  • long-horned: adjective, hyphen
  • longsighted: adjective, no hyphen
  • long-winded: adjective, hyphen

Cocktails, anyone?

As for adverbs, most English usage manuals advise avoiding hyphens after "-ly" adverbs, such as "fairly close race" and "equally effective medication." As the Associated Press Stylebook explains, readers expect such adverbs to modify the word that follows.

When in doubt about hyphenation, don't guess. Instead, check your stylebook for guidance. Better yet, keep a good dictionary on hand — and use it. Or, even better, consult your local bartender.

Denise C. Baron is a director of global communications with Merck & Co., Inc.

TTEU #417: National African American Read-In Event

Is there enough room in the world for all the things that excite us? Okay - granted, the assigned serial is utterly random, but this little gem is nonetheless incredibly noteworthy:

21st Annual National African American Read-In

In honor of Black History Month and with the endorsement of the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE; of which L Words is a proud member) is once again sponsoring the National African American Read-In, dedicated to celebrating the history of African American literature and further emphasizing the importance of (and joy in!) making reading a lifelong practice.

Originally created by a group of scholars to familiarize readers with great works in African American literature, the event has grown to boast over one million participants internationally, including churches, schools, libraries, bookstores, and other community groups and professional organizations. Participants gather in Read-In groups to experience a variety of African American literature together, from public readings and discussions to media-driven author presentations.

In support of the event, L Words has created an online Read-In group that will be facilitated through this site. For the next 5 weeks, we'll be reading and writing our socks off! (Not literally, of course - the threat posed to the group by such an interpretation is simply too great to comprehend.) Because this event is in truth another lens from which to philosophically view the literacy debate, participants will be considering the following questions (among many others) with each text selection:

How does this work help us understand the concept of literacy, particularly culturally-specific literacy? In what way(s) can this work help us become better readers/writers/speakers?

After days of debate, the following text list (taken from the Recommended Text List created by the NCTE) emerged for our seminar focus: (Notice the range in complexity of subject matter and overall text)

  • Angelou, Maya (1983).  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
  • Comer, James P. (1997). "Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can't Solve Our Problems and How We Can." (Essays)
  • Hill, Patricia (Ed; 1998). Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition.
  • Hurston, Zora Neale (1990). Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  • Jones, Edward P. (2003). The Known World.
  • Morrison, Toni (1992). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. (Criticism)
  • Perry, Theresa, & Lisa Delpit (1988). "The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, & the Education of African American Children." (Essay)
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones (2000). Traces of a Stream: Literacy & Social Change among African American Women.
  • Singley, Bernestine (2002). "When Race Becomes Real: Black & White Writers Confront Their Personal Histories." (Essay)
  • Taylor, Mildred (1984). Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
  • West, Cornel (1993). Race Matters.
  • Wideman, John Edgar (1988). Sent for You Yesterday.

Obviously, this list is too lengthy to tackle singlehandedly; participants should choose 1-2 works only and be prepared to discuss them, forum-style, with the group. Discussions/presentations/questions should be forwarded to the group every Wednesday by no later than 8:30pm PST.

The group is filling up quickly, and we'd like to keep the size reasonable to ensure thoughtful consideration of all posts. To sign up, email us at info@lwordsediting.com with the subject line reading "Read-In."

Read-In guidelines mandate that our last post be turned in by no later than March 15, so there's precious little time to waste. Choose a selection and head to your local library or bookstore today for pickup. L Words will publish the results of our participation and discussion at the conclusion of the Read-In. We are excited to be learning with you all.

Happy Reading!

Things That Excite Us (TTEU) #347

typewriterWonder of wonders, miracle of miracles...November is upon us again. Which means it's time for National Novel Writing Month! It's been a couple of years since we dusted off our trusty mechanical pencils and notebooks and spent long, caffeinated nights plotting the fate of poor unsuspecting (and suspiciously named) characters. And while it's certainly true that fiction is not for every writer, NaNoWriMo offers a relaxed, fun venue for even the worst among us to accomplish the rather enviable task of writing a complete novel - even if it's never published or read by anyone who doesn't share our last names.

Are you up to the challenge? Sign up now and join in on the fun!


(From http://www.nanowrimo.org)

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2008, we had over 119,000 participants. More than 21,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

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