Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Writing Tips: How to Use Your Bio to Turn People Off

Self-proclaimed bookworm.

Aspiring writer.

Writer and author.
Photo: usf.edu
These are just three of the phrases in people's Twitter, Facebook or even Amazon bios that drive me crazy.  I realize I'm a grammar nut and a bit of a purist, but it's not just that. These people are sabotaging their own success. I suppose I should be happy because it makes me look better in comparison, but it's hard to feel that way. Here's why they bother me:
  • Self-proclaimed basically means 'I'm not calling her this; she's calling herself this.' So if you write it about yourself, what am I supposed to think?
  • Aspiring means hoping. If you're an aspiring writer, then you're hoping to write. Well, stop aspiring and write already! 'Aspiring author,' is a different matter, but don't use it if you've got a book out.
  • Writer and author. Since you can't possibly be an author unless you're a writer, why specify both? I can just imagine how this person's book must read: "I drove to the restaurant and steered. My wife had already arrived a few minutes earlier, and she looked lovely in a blue sleeveless dress and matching pumps, and she had clothes on. The wait was very long, but when the food came it was well worth it and acceptable. The food in that place is always delicious and edible, and both my wife and I love to eat and swallow there." 

Another thing that can turn off potential readers is using one word when you mean to use another one. Proofreading is very important (don't just rely on spell-check), but sometimes it's a matter of confusion between similar words. Here are some commonly confused ones:

  • Loose is an archaic word meaning release. Use it if your fantasy character has been stricken by his conscience and decides to loose all his slaves. To lose means to be defeated in a competition or to be without something that you once had.
  • Could of is incorrect. You mean to say could have. Same goes for should have and would have. It's a verb phrase: 'have' is a helping verb and 'of' makes no sense there because it's a preposition.
  • Insure means make arrangements for payment if something goes wrong. Your car is probably insured. Troy Polamalu's hair is insured. Ensure means make sure. You should ensure that your meat is cooked before you eat it. In a lot of states you must ensure that your car is insured before you can register it.
Photo: usatoday.net
  • Site, as a noun, means place or spot. Of course, it can also be a website: a place on the web. As a verb, it means 'put in place' or 'provide a place for.' Cite is a verb and it means reference. The related noun is citation. Sight, as a noun, is the sense we use our eyes for. As a verb, it refers to using our eyes to line up objects in a straight line. And that leads us to its other meaning as a noun: a tool we use for sighting, often called a gunsight. An example: "The dainty architect was always a welcome sight to new hires, but to the rest of us, she was a nightmare. No job was ever good enough for her, and she seemed to spend her entire time on the job site doing nothing but complaining and citing obscure regulations."
  • A roll may be something to eat with dinner, the way the dice landed, a sleeping bag ready for carrying, or pretty much anything else that results from the act of rolling. A role, on the other hand, is a part to be played or a function to be carried out. If you tell me you've been 'roll-playing,' I'll think you've been playing marbles or croquet. 

And then there's the apostrophe-'s' issue. Which side of the 's' do you put the apostrophe on, or do you leave it off altogether? The answer depends on what you're trying to say. I'll get into that next time.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. My favorite: rein and reign (rain, not so much).

    Speaking of apostrophes, I'm an advocate of saying that the car belonging to James is James' car. It makes me a little crazy when I see James's car. It makes me even more crazy when I see that this has become, not only acceptable, but in fact stylistically preferred by some publishers.