25 Writing Competitions You Should Enter

Have you completed one or more short stories, poems, or nonfiction pieces? Perhaps you’d like some motivation — or to take the next step with them. This post lists writing competitions for 2011 that feature cash prizes of $1,000 or more and, often, publication deals for the winner (plus, for many contests, additional prizes for winners and other contestants).
Note, however, that such competitions often require an entry fee (generally $15-$20 per entry), and some require the submitted material to be previously unpublished. Go to the contest Web site for information about costs and other details.
The competition can be fierce, but even if you don’t win, the benefits are valuable:
  • Completing and submitting an entry helps you develop word-count precision and deadline discipline.
  • You may not earn a four-figure cash prize, but you could win some honorable-mention mad money or other prizes.
  • You have a completed manuscript you can submit to other competitions or to agents.
Good luck!


1. The Pinch Journal Poetry Contest
Deadline: March 1
Type of submission: online or offline
Length of submission: 1-3 poems
Prizes: $1,000 and publication
2. Normal Prize in Poetry
Deadline: March 4
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: 5 pages or 5 poems
Prizes: $1,000 and publication
3. Boston Review Fourteenth Annual Poetry Contest
Deadline: June 1
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 10 pages
Prize: $1,500 and publication
4. Bellevue Literary Review’s Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize in Poetry
Deadline: July 1
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: up to 3 poems (maximum 5 pages)
Prizes: $1,000 and publication
5. Lulu Poetry Contest
Deadline: continuous entry
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: not specified
Prizes: annual $5,000; monthly $250; daily $25

Short Fiction

6. The Pinch Journal Fiction Contest
Deadline: March 1
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 5,000 words
Prizes: $1,500 and publication
7. Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize for Fiction
Deadline: March 1
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 10,000 words
Prize: $1,000 and publication for winner
8. Potomac Review Annual Contest
Deadline: March 1
Type of submission: online or offline
Length of submission: 2 stories of up to 2,000 words
Prize: $1,000 and publication for winner
9. Normal Prize in Fiction
Deadline: March 4
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: up to 10,000 words
Prizes: $1,000 and publication for winner
10. Colorado Review’s Nelligan Prize
Deadline: postmarked March 11
Type of submission: online or offline
Length of submission: under 50 pages
Prizes: $1,500 and publication for winner
11. New Rivers Press American Fiction Prize
Deadline: May 1
Type of submission: online or offline
Length of submission: up to 7,500 words
Prizes: $1,000, $500, $250; publication for winners
12. Drue Heinz Literature Prize
Deadline: postmarked May 1-June 30
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: not specified
Prize: $15,000 and publication
13. Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest
Deadline: May 15-June 30
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up 6,000 words
Prizes: $1,000, $750, $500, $250; considered by literary agencies
14. Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize
Deadline: postmarked June 30
Type of submission: online or offline
Length of submission: up to 10,000 words
Prizes: $1,000 and publication, $100
15. Bellevue Literary Review’s Goldenberg Prize in Fiction
Deadline: July 1
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: up to 5,000 words
Prizes: $1,000 and publication


16. Michael Steinberg Essay Prize
Deadline: February 28
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 6,000 words
Prizes: $1,000 and publication; publication consideration for runner-up
17. Normal Prize in Nonfiction
Deadline: March 4
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: up to 10,000 words
Prizes: $1,000 and publication
18. Creative Nonfiction Anger & Revenge Contest
Deadline: March 16
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 4,000 words
Prizes: $1,000, $500
19. Writers @ Work Writing Competition
Deadline: March 20
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 7,500 words
Prizes: $1,000, $350, $100; publication consideration for each winner
20. Bellevue Literary Review’s Burns Archive Prize in Nonfiction
Deadline: July 1
Type of submission: online
Length of submission: up to 5,000 words
Prizes: $1,000 and publication

Multiple Awards

21. Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award
Deadline: January 1-31, July 1-31
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: up to 3,000 words
Prizes: $1,200, publication, and 20 copies; $500; $300
22. Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open
Deadline: March 1-31, June 1-30, August 1-30, December 1-31
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: 2,000-20,000 words
Prizes: $2,000, publication, and 20 copies; $1,000; $600
23. Glimmer Train’s Short-Story Award for New Writers
Deadline: postmarked March 31, postmarked September 30
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: 3,000-12,000 words
Prizes: $1,200, publication, and 20 copies; $500; $300
24. Glimmer Train’s Family Matters
Deadline: April 1-30, October 1-31
Type of submission: offline
Length of submission: 3,000-12,000 words
Prizes: $1,200, publication, and 20 copies; $500; $300


And, of course, no self-respecting list of writing competitions would be complete without this one:
25. Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
Deadline: April 15
Type of submission: online or offline
Length of submission: up to about 50-60 words
Prize: “a pittance”
This whimsical contest is devoted to parodying the purple prose of Edward George “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” Bulwer-Lytton and his ilk by crafting, as it were, the most absurdly inept opening line from a (fortunately) nonexistent novel. For more information, go to the slightly disheveled Web site and search for “The rules to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.”


5 Billboard Taglines That Advertise Errors

I strongly advise against employing billboards to teach you proper English grammar and spelling, but you can certainly use them to learn what not to do. Here are some pain-inducing billboard boo-boos:

1. “Are you in or out?”

This tagline from the remake of Ocean’s Eleven won’t strike many people as erroneous, but the omission of a comma ruins the effect for me. Read as is, this sentence calls for upward inflection: Are you one of these? But the inflection should fall, and whether your voice catches instantaneously before your pitch falls after in or you don’t actually pause, a comma signals the difference: Are you this, or are you that?

2. “All day, everyday.”

This error in an advertisement for a major chain supermarket went viral some years ago, and the English language hasn’t been able to shake the bug since. Make everyday two words, and call me in the morning.

3. “Name’s Mel-care to have a drink?”

This confused come-on appeared in an advertisement for Tanqueray gin featuring a comely woman inviting the billboard viewer to join her for a cocktail. With a disregard for the visual esthetics of language endemic to the marketing industry, the copywriter puzzled readers with what appeared to be a non sequitur reference in a liquor ad to a variant of Medicare known as Mel-care.
By separating Mel’s introduction from her invitation with a mere hyphen when a mighty em dash was called for (“Name’s Mel — care to have a drink?”), this multimillion-dollar ad campaign cried out for a pocket-change fix. The ubiquitous unwitting use of hyphens in place of dashes is wrong, but, almost worse, it’s ugly.

4. “You provide the truck. We’ll bring the barbeque.”

An ad for a pickup truck big enough to haul around an oil-barrel barbecue grill misspelled the last word. “But, Mark, we see it like that all the time!” Yes, you see it misspelled all the time. It’s an understandable error, extending from the slang abbreviation BBQ, and it may end up in the dictionary someday. But it’s not there yet. Honor the language.

5. “Don’t stare, you might miss your exit.”

Come on, a comma is too weak to convey the cadence of this sentence. (It didn’t work in that sentence, either, did it?) There’s a definite break in the two parts of this sentence, and the rhythm cries out for an em dash or even a period after stare.
Again, as in the first and third examples, the copywriter failed to use the nuances of punctuation to help upload the desire to buy a product or use a service to the consumer’s brain.
This message is brought to you by DailyWritingTips.com: When you seek to sell, consider not only words but also punctuation in the sell’s structure.


5 Calls for a Comma Before “Because”

Use of the word because as a subordinating conjunction — to link a main clause to a subordinating clause — should be simple, but a sentence’s meaning often hinges on whether it’s preceded by a comma.
A straightforward sentence such as “We’re off to see the wizard because of the wonderful things he does” requires no comma; the meaning of this sentence — “This is what we’re doing, and that is why we’re doing it” — is unambiguous. But when the sentence begins with a negative proposition, that’s not the case, as these examples show:
1. “Few adult Romanians speak English because it was forbidden during the Ceausescu era.”
This sentence, as (not) punctuated, absurdly implies a meaning of “This is not the primary reason adult Romanians speak English,” accompanied by the expectation of a follow-up sentence identifying one or more other causes for bilingual ability despite its prohibition.

But it doesn’t mean “There are more common reasons adult Romanians speak English”; it means “This is the reason few adult Romanians speak English.” Insert a comma, and the sentence tells you what, and then tells you why: “Few adult Romanians speak English, because it was forbidden during the Ceausescu era.”
2. “They don’t want to diagnose or treat Lyme disease because it is very costly to do so.”
Oh. Then why do they want to diagnose or treat Lyme disease? Again, a comma makes it clear that this sentence doesn’t serve to set up one or more alternate reasons; rather, the subordinating clause provides an explanation for the reluctance: “They don’t want to diagnose or treat Lyme disease, because it is very costly to do so.”

3. “Dementia can’t be ignored by the larger community because individuals with the disease cannot manage independently.”
Why, then, can dementia be ignored? That’s not what the sentence is trying to tell you. It’s explaining why the general populace should attend to the affliction: “Dementia can’t be ignored by the larger community, because individuals with the disease cannot manage independently.”

4. “I wouldn’t recommend chicken pox parties because of the risk.”
Tell me, then, why you would recommend them? (Aside: Said parties are often organized by groups of parents to deliberately expose their kids to chicken pox to get it over with.) The subordinate clause explains the statement in the main clause: “I wouldn’t recommend chicken pox parties, because of the risk.”

5. “The model couldn’t be applied to other sectors because it evolved to care for water, not civilization’s infrastructure.”
The implication is that the model could be applied to other sectors, but not for the reason stated. But the point is that it couldn’t be applied, and the reason follows: “The model couldn’t be applied to other sectors, because it evolved to care for water, not civilization’s infrastructure.”

See how a comma’s presence or absence can drastically change a sentence’s meaning? Sometimes, it’s important even when the sentence doesn’t begin with a negative proposition: “I know he got the biggest raise in the department because his wife told me” reads as if the writer is aware that the person got the raise because the person’s wife told the writer that the person got the raise — and the sentence turns into a Moebius strip. A comma nips this perpetual-motion machine in the bud: “I know he got the biggest raise in the department, because his wife told me.”


How to Style Titles of Compositions

Navigating the formatting rules about titles of compositions — books and chapters, movies and TV shows, albums and songs, and the like — can seem like negotiating a minefield. Here’s a handy map to help you maneuver through the terrain:
In print, two primary formats exist for identifying a creative work. Titles of entire bodies of work such as a book, a TV series, or an album are often italicized, while titles for components of each — book chapters, TV episodes, or songs — are usually enclosed in quotation marks.
Easy enough, but what about creations such as paintings and poems? A painting is a discrete work, but it is also often displayed as part of an exhibition. What do you do? In this case, italicize the painting’s title but style the title of the exhibition in roman, or ordinary, type. (However, single ancient works of art, such as the Venus de Milo, are simply styled in roman.) As for short poems collected in an anthology, style their titles like those of book chapters, but italicize the titles of book-length poems.
Photographs are considered elements of a larger work, such as a book or an exhibition, and their titles are simply enclosed in quotation marks.
And what about capitalization? Generally, in a title, always capitalize the first and last words regardless of part of speech, plus nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and long conjunctions (those other than and, but, for, nor, and or.) Lowercase prepositions (over, under, through, etc.) unless they are key to the title (A Walk Through Time) or as part of an adverbial or adjectival phrase (Turn Up the Volume).
The initial definite or indefinite article in a title can be preempted by a nonitalicized article if it conflicts with the sentence structure. For example, write “The Wizard of Oz audio book is a best-seller.” But if this style looks awkward, just relax the sentence: “The audio-book version of The Wizard of Oz is a best-seller.”


Rules for Capitalization in Titles

I used to think there were only two ways to use capitalization in a title: (1) Capitalize only the first word in the title (except for proper nouns), which I learned working for a local newspaper; and (2) Capitalize the principal and longer words and lowercase the minor, shorter words, which I learned was wrong.
I also came to learn that the rules for capitalization in titles—like the rules for other areas of English grammar—are not set in stone; style guides and grammarians disagree on which words to capitalize in a title.
In fact, there are really only two rules that are consistent across the board:
  • Capitalize the first word of the title
  • Capitalize all proper nouns
Sentence case, or down style, is one method, preferred by many print and online publications and recommended by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. The only two rules are the two rules mentioned above: Capitalize the first word and all proper nouns. Everything else is in lowercase. For example:
Why it’s never too late to learn grammar (all words lowercased except “Why”—first word in title)
Another method is to capitalize all words in a title. This one is considered simple because there’s no struggle trying to remember which words to capitalize and which ones to lowercase; they’re all capitalized. However, one could argue it’s the lazy man’s method or that it’s not very aesthetic. For example:
Why It’s Never Too Late To Learn Grammar (all words capitalized)
Title case, or up style, is another method. Whether or not you capitalize a word in a title depends on its part of speech. According to most style guides that use title case, the basic rules are as follows:
  • Capitalize the first and last word in a title, regardless of part of speech
  • Capitalize all nouns (baby, country, picture), pronouns (you, she, it), verbs (walk, think, dream), adjectives (sweet, large, perfect), adverbs (immediately, quietly), and subordinating conjunctions (as, because, although)
  • Lowercase “to” as part of an infinitive
  • Lowercase all articles (a, the), prepositions (to, at, in, with), and coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or)
For example:
Why It’s Never Too Late to Learn Grammar (all words capitalized except “to,” a preposition)
That last rule for title case is upheld by some style guides, but not all. The Chicago Manual of Style follows that rule (except in cases in which an article, preposition, or coordinating conjunction is the first or last word in a title). However, The Associated Press would have you capitalize prepositions and conjunctions if they are four or more letters long. For others, the magic number is five rather than four. So, according to some guides, you have to worry not only about the part of speech, but also about the length of the words.
There is another common—but incorrect—“method” of using capitalization in titles. I used to follow it myself (see my first paragraph). Many writers mistakenly believe that in a title, you should capitalize the principal and longer words and lowercase the minor, shorter words.
For example, writers often lowercase all two- or three-letter words in a title because they’re short, and many articles, prepositions, and conjunctions—most of which should be lowercased—are short, as well. However, short words can be nouns, pronouns, and verbs, etc., which should be capitalized. Part of speech is more important than length when it comes to determining capitalization in titles. For example:
Why it’s Never too Late to Learn Grammar (wrong)
“It’s” is a contraction of “it,” a pronoun, and “is,” a verb, both of which should be capitalized; “too” is an adverb, which should also be capitalized.
Regardless of which convention you’d prefer to follow (except for the last example), you need to be consistent. Pick one (or follow the style guide of your employer, school, or clients) and stick with it.


Use Common Sense for Commas

Commas are such cute little things with curly tails that their strength is often overlooked. When used haphazardly, their power can be untapped or misused. Employed correctly, however, they do much to convey a sentence’s meaning. The rules may seem complex, but they are also commonsensical.
Many writers believe that commas are necessary in the middle of a sentence only when they divide two independent clauses — two parts of a sentence that could stand on their own as distinct statements. But commas also serve as comprehension aids: Note the difference between “Knights wore metal shoes and gloves called gauntlets” and “Knights wore metal shoes, and gloves called gauntlets.” The first version implies that both items were referred to as gauntlets, and the second version correctly distinguishes that only the second item was labeled as such.
“Are they going to lock me up or shoot me?” looks like the writer is asking if one of these two outcomes will occur. “Are they going to lock me up, or shoot me?” correctly clarifies that the writer is asking which outcome will occur — and that’s a big difference made clear by the mighty little comma.
Traditionally, a comma was inserted after all introductory phrases, no matter how short: But the trend toward open punctuation and away from closed punctuation has relaxed this tradition. Unfortunately, though short introductory phrases may not look wrong in isolation, in text containing both short and long introductory phrases, when the latter cry out for a comma to give the reader a rest, inconsistency is awkward, so it’s best to always retain closed punctuation.
Sometimes, misunderstandings may occur when you omit a comma, as when a reader reads, “When she returned Jim’s head was already lying back against the pillow” and thinks at first that Jim’s head is being handed back to him — or its current owner.
Comments actually or conjecturally directed toward readers or a third party are awkward without a comma following an imperative (a form of address that tells someone to do something). The warning statement “Move over RCA and Sony, computer firms are becoming TV makers” starts the reader off at a disadvantage; who, they may think, is steamrolling over the television manufacturers in question? A comma after “move over” solves that problem.
Similarly, “Attention shoppers!” implies that attention is a commodity some store patrons are there to buy, and that the voice on the intercom is acoustically accosting just that class of consumer; “Attention, shoppers!” meanwhile, asks for something, then identifies who is being asked.
These rules may seem complicated. But there’s a simple test that usually works: When in doubt about whether or where to place a comma, read aloud the sentence in question, and visualize the comma as a hook that briefly makes the sentence run in place. If you hesitate or pause, insert the hook in the sentence to mark that place. If you don’t, don’t.


Writing Dialogue In Accents and Dialect

“W’en old man Rabbit say ‘scoot,’ dey scooted, en w’en ole Miss Rabbit say ‘scat,’ dey scatted. Dey did dat. En dey kep’ der cloze clean, and day ain’t had no smut on der nose nudder.” Uncle Remus – A Story About Little Rabbits, Joel Chandler Harris.
We have a long literary tradition of writing dialogue in accents and dialect. Mark Twain comes to mind, as a master of the written idiom. Dialect instantly gives characters authenticity and offers insight into their attitudes, background, and education. An accent allows the reader to use their sense of hearing and gives text depth and flavor.
On the other hand, using dialects and accents is often a distraction. When accented words are spelled phonetically, they can frustrate and slow the reader down. If accents are inaccurate or inauthentic, they can stereotype or even insult. With all of these risks, writing dialects has largely gone out of fashion. So what is a writer to do instead?
The first step would be to describe patterns of speech in prose. For example, “her honeyed accent melted off of her tongue, slowly, sweetly, and with the same elongated syllables that her mama used.” Already, the character has an established geographical place and a hint of her history. From then on, the reader can hear and even visualize the honeyed accent.
Another tactic is to reflect dialect with commonly spoken words in commonly spelled ways. A writer could insert “gonna” for “going to.” The reader registers these words easily but the speech pattern can also convey information about the characters.
Finally, a writer can pay close attention to phrases and idioms that pertain to a character’s geographic location or time in history. Phrases, such as “she’s dumber than a bucket of hair, bless her heart,” places someone in the American South. “The craic is mighty,” puts someone in modern day Ireland. When carefully researched and used advantageously, simple colloquial phrases can carry as much weight as paragraphs of complicated written dialect.
While we don’t want to lose the art of conveying speech patterns through the written word, in today’s world, there are more subtle ways to illustrate character traits.


10 Words for Categories of Words

Antonym, homonym, pseudonym. Do nyms make you numb? Here’s a handy guide to words, familiar or unfamiliar, for classes of words:

Acronym: An abbreviation, pronounced as a word, consisting of the initial letters of a multiword name or expression. It can consist entirely of uppercase letters (NASA) –thought British English has adopted an initial-cap style, which is employed in American English for longer acronyms like Nasdaq — or lowercase letters (radar); the latter are also known as anacronyms.

Anepronym: A trademarked brand name now used generically, such as aspirin or kleenex.

Antonym: A word distinguished from another with an opposite meaning, such as large, as compared to small. There’s also a class of words called autoantonyms, contranyms, or contronyms, single words with contrasting meanings, like oversight, which can mean either “responsibility for” or “failure to be responsible for.”

Eponym: A proper or common name deriving from another name, as San Francisco (in honor of St. Francis) or many scientific terms, such as watt (named after James Watt) and volt (from Allesandro Volta).

Heteronym: A word spelled the same way for different meanings, such as wear (to clothe oneself) as opposed to wear (to atrophy); sometimes, as in this case, however, they have the same origin. A heteronym can be pronounced differently depending on meaning, such as bass, the musical instrument, and bass, the fish; this type of word is also called a heterophone.

Homonym: A word pronounced or spelled the same but different in meaning, like hi and high (also called homophones). Bass, referred to above, is both a heteronym and a homonym. (Does that make it a binym or a duonym?) The homonym sow, which can mean a female animal such as a pig or can refer to planting seeds, is also a homograph, meaning that not only its pronunciation but also its origin and definition can differ.

Metonym: A term that identifies something by its association: Articles about Microsoft often used to refer to the company metonymically as Redmond, the city in Washington State where its headquarters are located, just as Washington stands in for the U.S. government.

Pseudonym: A name adopted by an author, such as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s use of Lewis Carroll. In a literary context, this is often referred to as a nom de plume (“name of the pen”). A related term is nom de guerre (“name of war”), originally in reference to French Foreign Legion enlistees who masked their identities but since then employed by guerrilla fighters to avoid reprisals against their families. Other examples of pseudonyms include stage names (performing arts), ring names (professional wrestling), and handles (computer hacking, or CB or ham radio operation).

Synonym: A word with the same meaning as another, such as small, as compared to little.

Toponym: A place name, whether it retains capitalization, or is lowercased in generic usage, such as burgundy.

Dozens of other -nym words exist — many for, as you might imagine, obscure classes of words.

10 Writing Exercises to Tighten Your Writing

Writing projects can be like children. You love them dearly, but sometimes they irritate you to the point that you just need a break. Working on something fresh and new can invigorate your mind and give you a new approach to your work. These exercises can work for any genre of writing, fiction and non-fiction alike.

1. Free Association

This is probably the most popular writing exercise to get the juices flowing. Pull up a new Word document, take a deep breath and just write whatever comes to mind. Dig as deep as you can into your subconscious and don’t worry about what comes out. Sometimes there’s a mental blockage with something that’s been bothering you, so it helps to write it down and get it out of your system.

2. Think Outside the Box

Think of something you’re passionate about, like a hobby or a love interest, and write everything you know about it. Sometimes writing slumps happen and it helps to write about something you love. Even if you just write a paragraph, it’s better to write something that’s not your current project. This will rejuvenate you to re-start on your current project.

3. Sharpen the Saw

Something I love to do when I’m stuck is read another author’s work, especially an author who writes in the same style or format as my current project. If you’re writing fantasy, read some Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. If you’re writing a biography, try taking a look at some biographies of your favorite actors or writers. Escaping into someone else’s world for a bit can relax you enough to delve into your own imaginary world again.

4. Use the Musical Muse

Writers feel their work, and when you can quite describe what you’re feeling on paper, it can be frustrating. Get out your ipod or computer, put on your earphones and find some songs that appeal to you and the scene or piece you’re working on. Grooveshark.com and Pandora.com are two websites that offer free, instant music streaming to get those juices flowing.

5. Mad Libs

Choose one noun, adjective and verb. Make them as random as possible. Write a story using these words in context. You can also do this exercise with a fellow writer and give each other your noun, adjective and verb to see what you both come up with.

6. Eavesdropper

This is a wonderful exercise if you struggle to write natural dialogue between your characters. Sit in a public place like a park or at your local college campus and listen to the things people say as they walk by. Take copious notes and share them with other writers. This exercise is also great if you need a laugh.

7. Use Writing Prompts

A writing prompt is simply a topic around which you start jotting down ideas. The prompt could be a single word, a short phrase, a complete paragraph or even a picture, with the idea being to give you something to focus upon as you write. You can find examples and resources about on our Writing Prompts 101 article.

8. Person, Place, Event

If you’re in the middle of coming up with some new ideas, this exercise can help. Get a piece of paper and a pen and draw two lines down the middle to form three columns. In the first column, list every type of person you can think of, such as the police, firemen, grandparents, your spouse, a princess or whatever comes to mind. Next, think of a variety of places. It can range from the grocery store to Ireland. In the last column, list a time period or famous historical event like the Battle of Gettysburg or the year 1492. Combine a person, place and event and experiment with writing about that particular situation. You can try as many as you like!

9. Research Rendezvous

Select a random topic, like the African Bush or squids and look it up on as many reference sites as you can find. Dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, Wikipedia.org and about.com are some research sites you can begin with. Learn as much as you can about this new topic. Keep a file for research notes.

10. A New Point of View

Pick a genre or point of view you have never tried before and write a short story with it. If you normally use third-person point of view, switch to first-person. If you normally focus on non-fiction, branch out and write some fiction. If you normally write sappy romances, give action/adventure a try. It’s scary to leave your comfort zone, but you’d be surprised the kind of inspiration you get when you switch perspective. 


“Because Of” and “Due To”

The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” is spot on in the case of English language. Today, even native speakers make blunders in written and spoken English, being influenced by current trends. One such trend we are talking about is the misuse of “due to” and “because of.”
Many are of the opinion that both of the pairs refer to the same thing, and that they can be used as synonyms. This is an absolute misconception. They cannot be used interchangeably because they do not belong to the same classification. When the classification is not the same, how can the usage be?
Some native English speakers also claim that a sentence cannot be started with the pair “because of.” However, they are unable to demonstrate the reasons. In some cases, the sentence cannot be started with “because of” whereas in some cases it can.
This is the sole purpose of this post. We will be discussing the legitimate reasons, usage and rules associated with both the word pairs.

The Classification of The Word Groups

In order to get a clear understanding of how to use both the word groups it is imperative to first know their classifications.
“Due to” is an adjective, which means it can only modify pronouns and nouns according to the purest English grammar rules.
“Because of” is an adverb, which means it can only modify verbs, adjectives and clauses, but not nouns and pronouns.

The Explanation

It is quite difficult to grasp the concept outrightly with just categorizing the two word groups. So, it is important to lay down a little explanation along with some examples for you to get a clearer idea. Here are some examples of the usage of both the word groups:
His frustration was due to the mucked up windscreen.
He was frustrated due to the mucked up windscreen.
In general, both of the sentences may sound right to you, but they are not. Carefully look at the first sentence and apply the grammar rule of noun modification. The word “his” is a possessive noun and it is complementing the noun “frustration,” and “was” is there as a linking verb. Now, “due to the mucked up windscreen” itself is an adjectival prepositional phrase which is the complement or the reason being attached to the noun with the help of the linking verb “was.” Therefore, in this case the usage of “due to” is absolutely right because it is fulfilling the purpose of modifying the noun.
Now, take a look at the second and apply the same rule there. The pair “due to” is not connecting nor complementing the noun because the possessive noun “his” has been changed to “he,” which is a pronoun. This way, “he” is not the possessive noun now has become the main subject of the sentence and a pronoun.
The pair “due to” has nothing to modify here because the verb is now “was frustrated” and adjectives cannot modify verbs. Henceforth, to connect a reason or a compliment to this sentence the adverb “because of” should be attached with the reason to make it appropriate. The correct sentence would be:
He was frustrated because of the mucked up windscreen.
As you can see, the pair “because of” is now modifying the verb “was frustrated,” so this sentence is correct now.

Use This Trick When in Doubt

One trick you can use is to substitute “due to” with “caused by.” If the substitution does not work, then you probably shouldn’t use “due to” there. For example:
My low grade was due to lack of study.
My low grade was caused by lack of study.
The substitution works, so “due to” is being used correctly. Here is another example:
I missed the class due to the rain.
I missed the class caused by the rain.
The substitution doesn’t work here, so “due to” shouldn’t be used there. The correct sentence would be:
I missed the class because of the rain.


How to Add Emphasis to Your Writing

Some people consider italics and boldface type — and quotation marks, when they’re used other than as dialogue markers — to be just so many noisy bells and whistles. They often are, when they’re misused, but when they’re employed correctly and strategically, they send strong signals. The following rules apply primarily for books and magazines.
1. Italics
Italics, based on handwriting script, serve several functions.
They identify the titles of stand-alone creative works like books, films and television series, and paintings. But parts of compositions — chapters, episodes of TV shows, short poems collected into anthologies, and the like — are enclosed in quotation marks.
They denote a word that would be stressed if spoken: “Stop the car — I really have to go to the bathroom.”
They indicate a word being introduced as itself, not as an idea: “Write, right, and rite are all pronounced identically.” Terms of more than one word are often enclosed in quotation marks, but this format may look awkward when used inconsistently alongside single italicized words, so self-referring phrases are often italicized as well (“it’s rank and file, not rank in file”).
They also identify letters used as such: “The letter n on that sign is backward.”
But letters compared to shapes (“turn right at the Y in the road”; “I watched a graceful V of geese fly overhead”) are set in roman type. (The lowercase term roman refers to the default type style.) The same is true for names of letters used in expressions (“dot your i’s and cross your t’s”).
They signal the use of an unfamiliar foreign term: “The Roman legatus was the equivalent of a general in a modern army.”
Note, however, that many words you might think are foreign have been adopted into English, that most welcoming of languages. Check your dictionary’s main section (not the foreign-words appendix); if a foreign term appears there, no italics are necessary. Also, foreign proper nouns need no emphasis.
The rule of thumb for repetition of foreign terms is to italicize on first reference only, and leave them in roman type when they recur. Use your judgment, though, depending on the frequency and interval of recurrence.
2. Boldface
Boldface lettering is best reserved for display type (chapter and section titles and the like). But they’re often used in textbooks and other learning materials to emphasize newly introduced terms, such as those that would appear in a glossary or be on a vocabulary quiz. Otherwise, this type style is the printed or posted equivalent of shouting.
3. Quotation Marks
Quotation marks are often used as what are called scare quotes — emphasis markers that communicate novelty, irony, or a nontraditional use of a word or phrase. Writers overuse scare quotes. Except in special cases, they should trust readers to understand the unusual use of a word or phrase.
The context in “I played dumb,” for example, precludes the need for a visual hint to the reader that the writer’s stupidity was an act, but “I had a ‘fit’ so she’d go away” may need a subtle clue that the tantrum was feigned. (Fit appears in single, not double, quotation marks here because they’re used within double quotes.)
Newspapers traditionally omit emphasis because formatting it is time consuming, and many web sites have the same policy, but the many exceptions in both cases — or using quotation marks in place of italics, as often seen on this site — acknowledge that italics and judicious use of boldface and scare quotes aid comprehension. Just don’t have a fit and go “overboard.”


Compound Modifiers: Man-Eating Shark or Man Eating Shark?

The conventional reason for hyphenating words that temporarily work together as a single adjective is to avoid ambiguity.

Generations of young writers and editors have been advised by sadder but wiser colleagues that they should swim well clear of a man-eating shark. On the other hand, a man eating shark is likely to have a bag of chips dripping with salt and vinegar, and if you have the understandable desire to nick one as you saunter by, he seldom has teeth sharp enough to inflict a fatal wound — although there’s a growing school of thought that he’s justified in trying.

It’s sound advice. All the same, The Chicago Manual of Style concedes: “Where no ambiguity could result, as in public welfare administration or graduate student housing, hyphenation is not mandatory…”.
My question is: how often does the context of a sentence really leave room for significant ambiguity?
Consider these sentences.
A surfer was attacked by a man-eating shark near the beach yesterday.
At a restaurant, a man eating shark complimented the chef.
If the hyphen were removed from the first sentence would readers really be confused? Would they think a man eating a shark had either the ingenuity or perverse desire to attack a surfer at the same time?
More likely, it’s the man in the second sentence — eating shark in the grammatically prescribed manner — who is likely to make readers giggle when they recognise the possible ambiguity.

Here’s another example. In my second paragraph above, many writers would jump on sadder but wiser colleagues and hyphenate sadder-but-wiser with manic satisfaction.
Would hyphenation make the sentence more readable? It would take a properly designed survey of actual readers to settle this question (which no prescriptive grammarian is ever likely to do), but hyphenation may sometimes make reading more difficult.
For example, when a compound modifier falls at the end of a line of justified type, it might have to be hyphenated again if it runs onto the next line. An extra hyphen can produce grotesqueries that look like this:
Generations of young writers and editors have been advised by sad-
der-but-wiser colleagues that they should swim well clear of a man-eating shark.
Editing applications provide ways of fixing a bad break, as copy editors call such ill-placed hyphens, but when every compound modifier must be conscientiously hyphenated, this can consume an unconscionable amount of editorial time, with dubious gains for the reader.
Another problem is that many writers are actually confused about what constitutes a compound modifier. Their typical response is to hurl hyphens into the breaches and hope they fall in the right places.
Here are examples that I encounter constantly:
an 80 year-old man
an 80-year-old-man
an 80-year old man
For the record, it should read an 80-year-old man, since man is the noun being described and 80-year-old is the single adjective formed by the preceding words.
Would anyone be substantially confused if the phrase read an 80 year old man?
Writers should think a bit before a rule becomes a knee-jerk response, especially when they’re uncertain of how it should really be applied. 


7 Essay Writing Tips To Ace Your Next Exam

1. After the initial panic passes, read through all the questions before you begin to answer any of them, underlining key words and phrases that will help guide you in your answer. In many cases, instructors will incorporate key words and phrases from their lectures in the exam question, so make sure that you focus on these elements in your answer.

2. Based on your comfort level (or lack thereof) with particular questions, after you have reviewed all questions, decide approximately how much time you have for questions that are relatively easy for you to answer and, conversely, which questions will require more time to answer correctly and thoroughly. This is a very important step because it will help you organize your time and effort.

3. Think of each essay answer as a mini-essay in itself, and approach each answer with a shortened version of the process that you’ve been taught to use when writing full essays. If you are used to brainstorming or clustering when preparing to write an essay, go through the same, but greatly shortened, process for an essay answer. The time spent in some form of outlining will save time and effort as you answer the questions.

4. Given the time constraints of most essay exams, you can’t afford to write and re-write answers. From an instructor’s perspective, if a student’s answer contains a great deal of cross outs and perhaps whole paragraph deletions, the instructor will probably conclude that the student is not well prepared. It is critical, therefore, to outline the answer before you begin writing and to follow the outline as you write. Marginal notes of an outline or brainstorming process will probably impress the instructor.

5. The “rhetorical mode” for an answer may be determined by your instructor. For example, you may be asked to analyze, define, compare/contrast, evaluate, illustrate, or synthesize the subject of the question, and you need to focus on answering the question with an analysis, a definition and so on in order to respond to the question appropriately.

6. Just as you do when you draft an essay, try to begin the answer with one or two sentences that answer the question directly and succinctly. In other words, think of the first two sentences as a thesis statement of an essay, and after you’ve stated the answer’s “thesis,” support that thesis with specific examples in the body of the answer.

7. Lastly, one of the most important steps you can take is to proofread your answers and make any necessary corrections neatly and legibly.

Misplaced Modifier

Misplaced Words

Many single-word modifiers are often misplaced; these include only, almost, just, even, merely, hardly, and nearly, for example.
Consider how the meaning of the following sentence changes, depending on where you place the word only:
Only Susie gave $20 at the fundraiser. (No one else but Susie gave $20.)
Susie only gave $20 at the fundraiser. (The only thing Susie did was give $20.)
Susie gave only $20 at the fundraiser. (Susie didn’t give any more than $20.)
Susie gave $20 at the only fundraiser. (Susie gave $20 at the only available fundraiser.)
Susie gave $20 at the fundraiser only. (Susie didn’t give $20 anywhere else.)
One trick to help you avoid misplacing these types of modifiers is to place the modifier next to (or near) the word/words it modifies. For the above sentence, if you want only to modify $20, then use the third example.

Misplaced Phrases/Clauses

Phrases and clauses are also regularly misplaced in writing.
My husband asked me if we might consider having another baby during our friends’ baby shower. (implies that the husband wants to have a baby during the shower)
I found a new scratching post for my cat, which was on clearance at the pet store. (implies that the cat was on clearance)
To correct these sentences, place the modifying phrase/clause closer to the word/words it modifies:
During our friends’ baby shower, my husband asked me if we might consider having another baby.
I found a new scratching post, which was on clearance at the pet store, for my cat.

Dangling Modifiers

A pet peeve of mine, the dangling modifier is usually a phrase or an elliptical clause (a dependent clause in which some words have intentionally been left out), often at the beginning of a sentence, that either doesn’t modify anything specific in the sentence or modifies the wrong word or part of the sentence.
Consider my introductory sentence:
As a freelance editor and proofreader, the misplaced or dangling modifier is a common writing error I see.
Of course, you can probably figure out what I was trying to communicate, but the dangling modifier is distracting and creates ambiguity; it illogically implies that the modifier is actually a freelance editor and proofreader!
So how can I fix the sentence?
As a freelance editor and proofreader, I notice that many writers struggle with misplaced and dangling modifiers.
Now, the introductory phrase (As a freelance editor and proofreader) correctly and logically modifies the pronoun I.
Remember the trick to place the modifier as close as possible to whatever it needs to modify, and you’ll avoid the majority of errors associated with modifier placement.

All About Abbreviations

An abbreviation is defined as a shortened version of a word or phrase. But did you know that there are many different types of abbreviations? Here is a list of abbreviation types:
Acronym – This forms a word using the initial parts or first letters of a name. For example, ABBA, MADD, and OPEC are all acronyms that take the first letter from each word to form a new word. Lesser known acronyms include scuba and laser. The latter examples show that not all acronyms have to be capitalized.
Initialism – Also called alphabetism, this is a group of letters, each pronounced separately, used as an abbreviation for a name or expression. Examples include: CD, TV, and UK.
Truncation – This type of abbreviation consists only of the first part of a word. These are most often used when referring to proper titles such as months of the year or days of the week, e.g., Mon., Fri., Apr., Oct.
Clipped – Similar to truncation in that you are using a part of the word to form the abbreviation, but in this case you’re using either the middle or end. Common clipped abbreviations include phone (telephone) and fridge (refrigerator).
Aphesis – In this case, you have dropped the unstressed vowel at the beginning of the word. These are often unintentional and casually spoken versions of the words. Perhaps the best example is ’cause instead of because.
Portmanteau – The blending of two or more words will give you a portmanteau. Some of my personal favorites include liger (lion and tiger), spork (spoon and fork), skort (shorts and skirt), and brinner (breakfast and dinner).
Some things to consider when using abbreviations:
  • Anyone can make up an abbreviation and many are non-standard. They should, therefore, be left out of formal writing.
  • If the full word would be capitalized (e.g., Sunday or January), make sure to capitalize the abbreviation (e.g., Sun. or Jan.).

Inhibit Vs Prohibit

Greg Landretti asks:
How about “inhibit” versus “prohibit”?
The first definition of inhibit in the OED gives “prohibit” as a synonym:
inhibit: trans. To forbid, prohibit, interdict (a person)
Several of the illustrations show inhibit being used where a modern writer would probably use prohibit. Here’s one:
By expresse words he was inhibited to beare armes without his own frontiers.
prohibit: trans. To forbid (an action, event, commodity, etc.) by a command, statute, law, or other authority
Perhaps owing to the influence of the psychology term inhibition, current usage usually associates inhibit with internal control and prohibit with external control.
inhibition: Psychol. A voluntary or involuntary restraint or check that prevents the direct expression of an instinctive impulse; also colloq., in looser use, an inner hindrance to conduct or activity.
Scientists fear that libel ruling will inhibit debate.
Most dogs need to learn to control or inhibit their behavior.
B.C. Government Says it Will Prohibit Mining in the Flathead.
New Hampshire Bill HB 1301 will prohibit no-fault divorce for parents with minor children.
The ability to inhibit one’s desires and impulses is an essential and desirable social skill. In some contexts, however, the word inhibited conveys a negative state, while uninhibited is seen as positive.
I find myself wishing I were not so inhibited.
The people from South Africa are known for the wonderful, uninhibited way in which they express their joy and happiness in life.
It was not until the twentieth century that freedom of the press came to be understood as guaranteeing an “uninhibited, robust and wide-open” public discourse.

tips menulis: Is "into" after "invade" really necessary?

My ears pricked up when I heard the local weatherman say that rain was expected to “invade into the River Valley.”
Why, I wondered, hadn’t he said that rain was expected to “invade the River Valley? The verb invade includes the sense of “into.”
invade: transitive verb. to enter in a hostile manner, or with armed force; to make an inroad or hostile incursion into.
The word derives from Latin invadere “go into, fall upon”
As a transitive verb, invade takes a direct object:
[There was a] French plan to invade Britain in the 18th century
Stink bugs expected to invade W. Va. homes this fall
Invade may be used intransitively:
If they [aliens] invaded I think that they would pacify every part of the planet …
What’ll we do when they invade?
The OED lists a construction that uses on, upon, or into after invade, but doesn’t illustrate the use more recently than 1814.
The construction to invade upon someone’s privacy has the familiar ring of custom, but the construction “invade into” sounds like careless writing.
Here are some examples of the “invade into” construction in which the sentences would be made stronger by dropping the “into.”
Brazilian pepper constantly trying to invade into Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
[Should] media invade into celebrities private life or not?
Why can’t Canada sometime try to invade into the USA?
You will learn basic techniques on how to invade into others’ dreams
When computers started to invade into the field of training,
This use of the unnecessary “into” seems to be especially common in medical writing:
individual malignant cells can invade into the stroma
Per cell, more mites invade into shorter and narrower cells
Tumors arising from adjacent organs can also invade into the bladder
the bacterial cells that adhere to and invade into cancer cells. …
cancer occurs when a tumor has the potential to invade into a different tissue
In each of these examples, the word intrude would seem to be a better choice, and one that works comfortably with “into.”
I suppose that a writer might see some stylistic reason for adding the “into” after invade, but in most cases, invade is all you need.


Tips menulis Novel: What's yout Novel's Log Line

The term log line (also spelled log-line and logline) is usually associated with movies, but the wise novelist will learn how to write one.

In the context of writing (as opposed to measuring a ship’s rate of speed), a log line is the succinct summary of a story. According to the Wikipedia article,
The log line first came into use and was recognized as a separate form during the old studio days of Hollywood. The studios had script vaults in which they stored screenplays. Readers wrote a concise one line summary of what the script was about either on the cover of the script, on the spine of the script, or both. The log line on the spine of the script allowed people to read the log lines of scripts that were stacked without having to unstack them.
Some of the examples of log lines given on various sites are “movie tags” rather than true log lines. The difference is that a movie tag is an advertising hook used to intrigue a viewer, while a log line is a selling tool intended to persuade an agent or producer to read a manuscript.

Here are two movie tags I found offered as “good examples of log lines”:
To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman. – The Silence of the Lambs
On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody. – Taxi Driver
An effective log line will contain these three essential elements:
the main character
what the main character wants
what must be overcome for the character to succeed
In other words, an effective log line will include protagonist, goal, and antagonistic force

These log lines from the Internet Movie Data Base meet these criteria better than the examples of the same movies given above:
A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims. – The Silence of the Lambs
A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as nighttime taxi driver in a city whose perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge to violently lash out, attempting to save a teenage prostitute in the process. -Taxi Driver
But even these log lines are less than effective as selling tools.

Both state the protagonist. The one for The Silence of the Lambs also states the protagonist’s goal, but it fails to include the antagonistic force: the killer’s hypnotic influence on her mind. The one for Taxi Driver states neither the protagonist’s goal nor the antagonistic force.

The most important element of any story is the protagonist’s goal. Once the main character has a goal, the story ensues from the obstacles that come between the protagonist and that goal.

Screenwriters are advised to write the log line before writing the script. That’s probably good advice for the novelist as well.

If you need a log line to serve as a starting point for a novel, or just want a little amusement, check out Brian Stokes’s Random Log-line Generator.

Word Count and Book Length

A novelist of my acquaintance insists that the only way to estimate the number of words in a book is to multiply the number of pages by 250.

That was the formula in the good old days when Courier was the only typeface and typewriters were King.

Now we have computers and word processing software. It’s no longer necessary to estimate according to the 250-words-per-page formula. All we have to do is use the WP tool that shows Word Count.

Publishers want to know the overall length of your book. An approximate word count (round numbers) based on what your WP tells you enables them to estimate costs and other factors involved in printing a book.

Novels for adult readers fall between 80,000 and 120,000 words. A novel of 50,000 would be the absolute minimum for some genres and, unless you are Ken Follett or some other established author, you should view 100,000 as the maximum. (Yes, exceptions for a first novel can be found, but writers who depend upon being The Exception are handicapping themselves unnecessarily.)

Every genre has its own length preferences. Novels intended for the adult market will be longer than those targeted at children and young adults. A young adult novel will run between 20,000 and 40,000 words. In terms of adult mainstream fiction, that length would be considered a novella.

TIP: Don’t compose your novel with skinny margins, single-spacing and some off-the-wall font and then make formatting changes when you’re ready to market the completed manuscript.

Draft your novel in standard format from the start:

12-point Times Roman or 12-point Courier.
Margins set to 1-inch all round
Indented paragraphs

NOTE: Don’t put extra spacing between paragraphs unless your intention is to indicate a shift of viewpoint or passage of time.

When you are ready to approach an agent or a publisher, study their guidelines carefully and submit your work exactly according to their preferences.


Emblezzlement, Peculation, and Connotation

In a previous DWT post, Michael argues that there’s no such thing as a true synonym because a word’s connotation always colors its denotation.
Commenting on the article, a reader refuted Michael’s argument with the words peculation and embezzlement:
I have found one [an exception], and i dont know why it exists. Peculation; definition is “embezzlement” in other words peculation means embezzle embezzlement etc..so thus embezzlement and peculation are of identical meanings. Which makes no sense to me.
Technically, the words do mean the same thing: “taking money that belongs to someone else.” However, there is a useful distinction that many writers observe.
Embezzlement is used for the sneaky crime of a private citizen, while peculation applies to the act of misappropriation of money and contracts by persons in high places. Embezzlement is a crime against an employer; peculation is a betrayal of the public trust.
Ex-Macon teller pleads guilty in embezzlement
2 ex-Fort Peck employees guilty of embezzlement
every one of [the government] ministers has helped in tile work and is guilty of peculation on a gigantic scale…
The second governorship of Clive was marked by … the enforcement of stringent regulations against the besetting sin of peculation.
Although the connotations of many words are the same for large numbers of readers, personal associations can color the way a listener or reader reacts to a given word. For example, for most people the word mother probably carries positive connotations of warmth and nurturing. For the child of an abusive or mentally-ill woman, however, the feelings stirred by the word mother might be negative. Apart from such personal associations, words acquire connotations for us as we encounter them in our reading.
Vocabulary acquired from wide reading brings connotation along with denotation.
denotation: The meaning or signification of a term.
connotation: That which is implied in a word in addition to its essential or primary meaning.
A failing of present day education is the practice of teaching vocabulary chiefly by means of word lists or “vocabulary books.” Vocabulary lists should be used for review; children can best acquire a lasting vocabulary by reading books like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities. A sense of the connotation of words is developed by reading the words in a variety of contexts.