September 2011


You’ve probably heard the saying, “Always use spell check but never depend on it.” One of the main reasons for this is because spell check will never catch those times when you choose the wrong word over the correct one. I’m not talking about words that mean the same thing, but one just sounds better or offers a better connotation than another; I’m referring to choosing between two words that have totally different meanings–and choosing the wrong one.

Standing in line at my local grocery store the other day reminded me of just how prevalent the misuse of words is in our society. I was in the express lane, which was available for customers with “15 items or less.” (If you don’t see what’s incorrect about this phrase, please keep reading!)

The list of such words is rather exhaustive, and there’s no way I could ever compile a complete one. I have, however, assembled a list of words that often get used in the wrong manner in hopes that you’ll be more aware of these the next time you use them in your writing. And, remember that other piece of good advice: when in doubt, use a dictionary!

Advert–to refer to vs. Avert–to avoid

Affect–to influence (always a verb) vs. Effect–result (noun) or to accomplish (verb)

Altogether–entirely vs. All together–unity

Amiable–friendly or kind people vs. Amicable–something two parties have agreed upon

Amount–a bulk quantity vs. Number–individual items

Backward, forward, toward–American usage is without the “s”; British usage is with the “s.”

Beside–next to vs. Besides–in addition to

Born–referring to birth vs. Borne–past participle of bear

Comprise–to include or be made up of vs. Compose–to form the substance of something

Continual–occurring over a period of time with pauses vs. Continuous–occurring over a period of time with no interruptions or pauses

Counsel–advice vs. Council–group of advisors

Couple of–use together for adjective form, not “couple” by itself

Definite–exact vs. Definitive–conclusive

Discreet–careful to avoid mistakes vs. Discrete–separate or detached

Elicit–to bring out (always a verb) vs. Illicit–unlawful (always an adjective)

Enormity–evil vs. Enormousness–very large

Etc–refers to things vs. Et al–refers to people

Farther–physical distance vs. Further–extent

Fewer–individual items vs. Less–bulk quantities

Forego–to go before vs. Forgo–to do without

Hanged–form of execution vs. Hung–other forms of hanging (as in pictures)

Imply–to suggest (to give out) vs. Infer–to take a suggestion or hint (to take in)

Ingenious–intelligent or clever vs. Ingenuous–childlike simplicity and candidness

Loath–reluctant (adjective) vs. Loathe–to hate (verb)

Odious–hateful vs. Odorous–having to do with smell

Perpetuate–to prolong something vs. Perpetrate–to commit an act

Persuade–to influence actions vs. Convince–to influence thoughts or beliefs

Precede–to be in front of or go ahead of vs. Proceed–to move forward with an action

Stationary–immoveable vs. Stationery–writing papers

That–used as a restrictive relative pronoun to refer to a particular item vs. Which–a nonrestrictive relative pronoun to add information about an item (in this sense should followed by a comma).

Tortuous–having twists or bends vs. Torturous–inflicting pain in a cruel manner

What words would you like to add to this list? Which words cause you the most headaches in remembering how they’re used?

Happy Labor Day!

Perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m blogging on Labor Day, since it seems nowadays I need national holidays to get caught up on my work! Unfortunately, I tend to use vacation time (or what should be vacation time) quite a bit lately to make sure I stay ahead of writing and editing deadlines. But for me, a simply change of venue, especially if there’s a beach involved, is all the vacation I need! Enter the writing retreat.

Before I completely understood what writing retreats were, I likened them to writing conferences. But they are very different in a number of ways.

For one, at a conference, you usually don’t have much, if any, time to actually write. The workshop schedule keeps everyone quite busy, and often there are so many people that it’s hard to find a quiet space to get away and work. But a writing retreat is ALL about the writing. There may or may not be any workshops or actual teaching time, and each retreat is limited to a small number of people. And, the environment is conducive to alone time–just you, your imagination, and your pad and pen (or iPad!).

The writing retreat is much more like a vacation than a conference could ever hope to be. You will seldom find a retreat in the middle of a big city (I haven’t actually heard of any), but rather tucked away in the mountains, overlooking a coast, or in a quaint, historic town (think bed-and-breakfast properties). The idea is to submerge the writer in tranquility and a natural environment that stirs the imagination and calms the soul. Unlike a frenzied conference, the feel is serene and slower paced.

Another difference is the cast of characters you’ll discover at a retreat versus a conference. Conferences are full of agents, editors, publishers, and speakers who can teach you everything from proper grammar to platforms. Retreats usually have none of these, but instead have writing coaches, mentors, and facilitators to guide group exercises and discussions.

Writing retreats range from a weekend to two weeks or more. Some are only for individuals, while others are open to hosting writing groups. (Retreats make a great getaway for critique groups, by the way!) Some retreats are self-guided, meaning they basically just provide a bedroom and a house (or lodge) for you to work in, and you’re on your own; others have scheduled events and meeting times for group  work, mentoring, or on-your-own writing each day. Finally, retreats may be general–open to any genre or niche, while others are specialized due to the coaching and mentoring available. For instance, so far I’ve discovered retreats that focus on: dissertations, poetry, screen plays, fiction, business writing, and those for women only.

So, think of a writing retreat as being able to take a vacation but not feel guilty about having extra work pile up when you get home! Retreats are perfect if you need a quiet getaway for a few days, if you’re stuck on your book and need professional help to jump start it, or if you need to be with other writers who can help you brainstorm ideas.

And, if you have the money and an adventurous spirit, you may want to travel outside the U.S. to help boost your creativity. There are plenty of retreats in France, England, Italy, and more exotic spots like Bali. Whatever setting you need to get you in the “write” frame of mind, there’s probably a writing retreat available!

If you’re looking for guided instruction during your retreat, one place to check out is the Elizabeth Ayres Writing Center:  www.creativewritingcenter.com.

If you need to get into character for your next historical fiction book, look into this retreat at a historic farmhouse overlooking the James River in Virginia: www.porcheswritingretreat.com.

For a list of various retreats by region (U.S. only), try: www.retreatsforwriters.com.

By the way, if you still want to find a conference, be sure to take a look at my Writers’ Resources page for an updated list of writers’ conferences through the end of 2011.