Sunday, June 11, 2017

Shit This Editor Says....

“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.”
― Don Roff


I love writing. I love editing. I love helping people sound the absolute best they can in the written word. 

Writing takes a lot of guts to do. I give people that credit because it's not an easy thing to organize thoughts and then sit down to a keyboard and pour those out in an exact order that informs, invokes thought, and sometimes entertains.

I give people credit for trying to attempt something that seems to magically happen for some people, and for others, it's a constant struggle. I try not to be a complete asshat when I'm editing someone's work. I also don't complain when someone points out several flaws in my own writing. I appreciate what they are doing to help. Whether it's making me realize I wrote something in a tone which wouldn't be well received or pointing out when key things are missing in my work. 

In all the time I've written things, I've never gotten upset at someone editing my work unless somehow, in the editing of it, it makes me look really bad. It's only happened a couple of times that I can think of and most of those were situations were early in my career. 

Here are a few things I learned about writing & editing over the last 20 years. Some of them are pet peeves of mine, so feel free to comment as to why you think otherwise. It would make for a good discussion.

Tips For Writers:
  • Don't refer to the article in the article; it's not a term paper. I know I'm reading an article. The phrase "In this article.." shouldn't be in an article at all unless I'm actually referring to another article which has something I'm trying to make a point about.
  • Don't use the words "Introduction", "Summary", or "Conclusion" as sub-headers. Again, it's not a term paper. Be more creative than that or get someone to help you work up something clever instead.
  • Be careful of overusing adjectives, especially flowery ones. 
  • Watch for your crutch words and phrases. We have them when we are speaking; we certainly have them when we are writing. If you are starting every other sentence with "So", or "But", or "However", you might have some editing to do.
  • The more complex a topic, the more simple the wording/writing trying to explain the topic should be, if possible. Don't use large words if you can explain the same thing with a small one.
  • Outlines are actually useful. I use them for writing blog posts and articles. Organized thoughts and ideas are better than word vomit you have to edit and reorder later.
  • Sentences starting with "And" or "Because" are usually horrible sentences and need to be rewritten, unless it's someone being quoted or a character speaking. I rarely, if ever, find a good reason to start a sentence with either of these words.
  • Titles and Sub-titles or sub-headers should never, ever, be a question or an exclamation. There are rare occasions where this can work, but if everything is a question, it leaves me thinking you don't know what you are writing about. If you do use this device, limit it to once in an article, otherwise it loses it's meaning.
  • Never write a paragraph of questions. A reader reads an article to get answers to questions. They don't want more questions. Good rule is to have one question in a paragraph and then answer that question within that paragraph and/or additional paragraphs. 
    • The paragraph of questions has it's roots as an advertising gimmick. The more people say 'yes' in their heads, answering the questions, the more they are drawn in. If you are writing an ad, great you can use it, if not, don't abuse the reader. It's mean. 
  • Use bullet points. Readers are drawn to these, especially those that read on mobile devices. If you find yourself writing out a list in paragraph form, it's a good indication those could be turned into a bullet list.
  •  Love your white space. It's a design thing, but it's good for article writing too. Add images or graphics, where you can, to break up the text. If you have long paragraphs, find a way to make those more digestible chunks instead of a solid wall of text on a screen or page.

 Tips For Editors:
  • The Wil Wheaton Rule: Don't be a dick. Editing can be pretty ruthless at times. Work with the writer, not against them.
  • Make useful suggestions. I've seen comments from editors that basically cross a bunch of things out but never explain why or for what reason. People don't improve without feedback, give it to them. 
  • Point writers in a direction. I always make suggestions on how to improve or add to a section in an article if I think it's lacking. Saying it's lacking or confusing without stating why doesn't help the writer fix the problem. If there is a more general problem with the article, tell the writer. This does take time. Be patient with each other.
  • Be nice, but not too nice. Sometimes you have to say something is not good. Sometimes you have to tell a writer that what they've been working on isn't something worth publishing. That's a hard pill to swallow for anyone. It might be the topic, it might be their writing style, whatever it is, if they are willing to keep trying, keep pointing them in the right direction, but also let them know it's OK to not get it the first time around. No one does. I certainly don't. 
  • Have conversations with your writer during the editing process. Don't leave them in the dark. Communication is important. It's hard to do sometimes. Make the effort.

 That's it. That's my current sum total of things I try to do as an editor and a writer. Feel free to comment. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong and why. Or even better, tell me I'm right and why. Keep the conversation going.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Adventures Of A Tester: Brighton, England, UK (Part 3 of 3)

There was a brief stop-over in London to switch trains and then head farther south. What I didn’t know at the time is that there was a terrorist attack happening not very far from the tube station I was using to switch trains. I managed to get on my train and I was headed out of the city by the time the news reached people on the train and phones started ringing.

The news mostly sounded like someone had stabbed people. It wasn’t until I reached Brighton that I heard about the full extent of what happened, and after finding a WiFi spot, realizing people were looking for me wondering if I had been in London. It wasn’t until later I realized how lucky I had been to have not been too affected, nor have my travel delayed only by luck of having booked my second leg 30 minutes prior to the incident.

London and the rest of the UK carried on as if it was only a small interruption to a normal weekday of commuting. It was that difference that made me aware of how scared we are as a culture in America. The threat color/level would have been drilled into the airwaves and we would have had non-stop coverage of the event until something more grotesque came along.Train stations might have been locked down, extra security would have been in place. I saw no evidence of any of this. People refused to be scared out of their routines, but they were talking about it.

Transition To The Sea Side

If anyone thinks the hills in Scotland are hard to walk, they should visit Brighton. Those hills by the shore could give the higher elevations a run for their money. I felt like I was either walking up a hill or down another most of the time I was there.

And I was there to talk my face off. Mostly. I mean, what do you do at a conference? I usually end up hoarse by the end of it from all the talking I do. I love it. I feel like it gave me the much needed boost of ideas and community which has now become a must have for me at least once a year.

TestBash(es) are addictive. I have been to three now, and I have spoken at 2 of them and volunteered for one. It continues to be one of the best conference series I’ve ever attended. It’s sister conference, European Testing Conference, being the only other conference coming close in comparison, at least for me.

At Brighton, I spoke to the Thursday workshop day crowd in the afternoon presenter’s slot. I was sure people were going to pass out and I’d have five people left in the audience. I think in my head that’s how I kept myself from getting too freaked out about the full auditorium that suddenly sprung into view at 5p that day.

Talking with Vernon and Mark, it was a surreal moment for me. I don’t remember the transition of the nervous, unsure me to the speaker on the stage, but somehow it happened. I felt comfortable up there. I think it might have been that I was holding onto the mic like it was the most important thing in the world at that point, but that’s OK. By the end I felt like I had easily talked about all of my points, I missed a few things, but that always happens in a talk you’ve practiced. Some things don’t seem relevant as you are speaking. I haven’t seen the video yet but my hope is that it came off as well as I think it did.

Several people came up to me later and spoke about how they enjoyed the talk. People seemed to be engaged with the ideas of the presentation. One person mentioned that they planned on using some of the things from the talk at work the following week. Another turned their badge upside down to attract attention and have people ask him about his badge, which was an opening to creating a conversation. I had so many wonderful conversations throughout the conference and at the meetups and later at the open-space.

For those that didn’t get to attend the open-space, you missed a lot of really good discussions. I got to participate in my third podcast for the year called ScreenTesting by Neil and Dan. I had a wonderful conversation led by Mike Talks and Gem Hill on mental health. I came away from the open-space with a larger sense of community, knowing I could reach out and chat with any of the folks who were there and connect with them on topics and discussions. More online friends with faces, rather than just people with screen names or twitter handles, who I’ve chatted with so many times over the last year or so.

The only mishap through the whole trip was trying to get back to London to catch my flight on Sunday. All worked out in the end thanks to planning, patience and a cabbie that was willing to drive from downtown London Victoria out to my hotel near the airport. It was a small fortune, but I didn’t mind. It was my last night in the UK and riding out in a black cab seemed like the most touristy thing I could possibly do.

Not much has changed about London in 20 years. The underground smelled the same. The people were as welcoming as ever. Well, actually a lot on the surface has changed, including me. I had a sense of renewed passion for my craft and a closer connection to the community we've all help build. It was an experience I won't forget.

Special thanks to:
-Rosie Sherry, for inviting me to speak in Brighton.
-Vernon and Mark, who shepherded me through my first large speaking engagement.
-Gem and Mike, for being the awesome, open, and lovely people that they are.
-Claire Reckless & Heather Reid, for being a super supportive persons through all of my prep for my talk and helping me bunches with the Ministry of Testing writers group.
-Abby Bangser, for a large dose of support, friendship, and encouragement.
-The Ministry of Testing Writers Group - you all rock and I thank you for giving me tons of things to read and look forward to every day. I couldn’t me more happy with the progress we’ve made and I’m looking forward to all the progress we will continue to make through the rest of this year.

FYI - I’ll be at TestBash Philly this year one way or another. Let’s chat and Let’s Laugh. I am already looking forward to seeing so many familiar faces and all the new ones too.

Adventures Of A Tester: Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (Part 2 of 3)

If you’re not careful, Scotland can sneak up on you.

I was sitting on the train, writing some, and editing articles when I realized I was pretty dizzy and really tired. I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t late at all. It was mid-afternoon, the sun was out, the countryside was rich in color and it had just finished raining. My curiosity was peaked.
I have one of those sports monitors on my phone. It came with it actually. I decided it might be interesting to check my stress, pulse and oxygen levels. I checked my pulse first and found it was indeed at a resting state. Lower than my usual pulse actually. I felt relaxed and even posted about it to friends how incredibly relaxed I felt, until I decided to check my stress levels. The stress meter measures pulse, oxygen and stress factors based on what the sensor in my phone picks up. I realized pretty quickly, while I was less stressed than I normally was, my oxygen levels had dropped pretty significantly. It was to the point of nearly passing out. (Normal is 96-98% SpO2 and mine registered at 79%.) I took a couple of deep breaths and everything shot up to normal levels for me. So much for relaxing euphoria of lacking oxygen. But that’s how Scotland sneaks up on you. You don’t know you are there until it’s literally taking your breath away.

When the train stopped in Edinburgh, I found myself to be pretty tired and hopped in a cab. I was disoriented at best, and really tired from having traveled all day at worse. I was looking forward to the small room I had rented on the east side of the city within a 30 minute walk of Holyrood Palace (Or Palace of Holyroodhouse - the internet was unhelpful in determining which one was more correct).

That evening, I seemed to have enough energy to walk about a mile to meet up with a friend for dinner. Many awesome bits of conversations were had over a pub dinner and beers at the Queen's Arms. I went back to my room on a similar cloud of euphoria as earlier, but it was probably due good conversation and alcohol.

The next two days in Scotland were pretty touristy. I walked and shopped and checked out bookstores along with using any available WiFi spot I could grab to answer emails and post on social media. I visited the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens and The Britannia, the former royal yacht. All of that was pretty interesting, especially walking to the botanical gardens through older parts of the city.

At one point on the second day, I took a bus ride out to the suburbs. I only wanted to see the countryside without someone yakking in my ear about this feature or that person or whatever was there. Maybe I should be more interested in the history, but for me, I was interested in what I could notice, what I could enjoy seeing on my own. When the bus reached it’s end point, the driver hopped out for a smoke. I got out too. 

The driver informed me that this was the end of the line and he was going to turn around. I was OK with that I said. I wanted to ride the bus and see where it took me. His accent was Scots and not the British I had been hearing most of my trip. He had many of the easy manners and phrases that I couldn’t hope to repeat but made me laugh about one thing or another. He was surprised I wanted to ride the bus until the end of the line. I explained that I wasn’t much into tours, that I preferred to pay four quid to take my own tour. He told me it was a good idea. He continued smoking, and we talked about Texas, and then New Zealand where he vacationed the year before with his wife.

Scotland captured my imagination and I won’t soon forget it or the people I met while I was there. Three days was too short and it only made me want to go back and visit again. I boarded the train and headed to Brighton. My next adventure was the most exciting and scariest yet!