A Good Editor Is A Writer’s Best Friend
Dion M. Harris
Grammar, spelling, clarity and punctuation are what I edit for. Chronology, a sub-group of clarity, and style also play an essential role in my fix-it work.
In a writer’s quest to think it up, get it down and finish it up, sometimes these fundamental elements of writing can fall by the wayside. This is where I – and my red pen – step in. My job is to massage, stroke and trim clients’ original documents into work ready for consumption by the masses. My job is to make you look awesome. Get your point across. And ultimately, get you in to whatever venue you seek access to.
Good editing, like good writing, takes time, effort and practice. As a service offering, it also costs more than good, original writing. As your editor, I enter your document to fix all it’s flaws. Much like a hairstylist does to the over-processed hair of the humiliated client or a general contractor does for the mucked-up labor of the unschooled/unlicensed amateur who gave you that cut-rate deal: It costs more to come in and clean up someone else’s mess than it costs to do the job properly the first time.
Here are some questions to consider before you hire an editor:
1. How much time did you spend writing?
If you spent 10 total hours writing a five-page paper, understand that it will take an editor at least one-quarter to one-third that time to read and understand your work and your writing style, overcome your writing’s shortcomings, then find and insert text that makes what you’ve presented radically better.
2. What is your level of writing skill?
If you’re writing at a ninth- or tenth-grade level, clearly it’s going to take longer to whip your work into shape than it does a professional writer with an erratic tendency to drop possessives. Or a graduate-level writer who simply needs his text polished up with a few stylistic flourishes. An editor has to get inside your head and finish off your thoughts. If you give me an assortment of sentence fragments to work with, I have more work to do.
3. Is this a rush project?
Jumping to the head of the priorities line will cost you. Be prepared to pay an expedited service fee of 15 percent or more for the luxury. And remember the saying: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency for me.”
4. Is there a maximum point at which I should stop working and/or advise on hours?
When you hire me to do a job, my job is to complete the job fastidiously, as is my way. I’m not thinking about your pocketbook issues. I want you to be completely and totally enamored with my work. Please let me know before we sign a contract if money is an issue. I should have already given you an idea of how much time your project will take and how much it will cost. Otherwise, I risk not getting paid and losing a client. I am not in business to do either of those things. I want you to be overwhelmingly happy with the finished project, employ my services repeatedly and even make referrals.
©2016,Dion M. Harris/Be Right Books
A Prayer For Increase
Dion M. Harris
May you have more in the new calendar year.
More comfort, more joy, more profits.
More insights, more awareness, more teachable moments.
I wish you more love, more understanding, more hope and more dreams.
Greater opportunity. More creativity. Better relations. Radiant, good health.
Additional peace, added pleasure and fresh plans for a new dawn.
May you take more action.
May you be a blessing.
May you know profoundly how much you do matter.
Might you make a difference, placing your unique stamp on history.
I wish you adventure and exploration.
May you know good fortune and share it with others.
May you become better at what you love most.
I wish you all more living
about yourself, others and the world.
and to awe.
Will you inspire greatness
tell the truth.
Be your best.
I wish you more
than you’ve ever dreamed possible.
more than ever before.
©2016,Dion M. Harris/Be Right Books
WRITING IS WORK
Dion M. Harris
When was the last time you wrote a letter? Initiated formal business correspondence? How long has it really been since you received a handwritten piece of mail in your mailbox?
Any way you slice it, it’s common knowledge that writing is work. That’s why so few ever exercise – or heed – the urge. Instead, text messaging and telephone calling are the quick and easy methods an overwhelming majority now uses to keep in touch today.
This reality isn’t necessarily paying off for writers, though. Because as fewer people write, even fewer claim to have time for leisure reading. Pausing for the cause to read mail from your loved ones is one thing. Among those who pen articles, prose and the like for a living, however, it’s a tough business. Americans, in particular, are otherwise engaged doing everything else.
Knowledge and craft be damned.
I recently won a lawsuit against a client who used my services for more than a month, then ignored my invoice for five weeks. My professional rate had of course been established upfront, before any work had commenced. However, and to my horror, this business tried negotiating out of our deal by telling me what it thought my work was worth.
Good grief! This was the most offensive part of it all. Aside from the fact that my work was still posted at the business’ website the day its attorneys hauled me into court for a hearing…
Good writing is much more than stringing a series of words together. Good writing illuminates and informs. It has rhythm. It opens up a discussion, answers your most pertinent questions and doesn’t waste space making – or proving – its point. Good writing is fun to read. It demands time and concentration to create.
If you’re thinking about hiring a professional writer to sell your business, create valuable content for your website, edit work someone else made a mess of or execute a business plan to fund your next venture, do remember how integral explaining your idea and creating a visual picture for the banker, venture capitalist or consumer-reader is to reaching your goals.
Then pay the writer promptly and accordingly.©2015,Dion M. Harris/Be Right Books
Use ‘Its’ – Not ‘They’re’ – For Clarity, Correctness
Dion M. Harris
I learned quite a bit about English while studying French and Spanish. Chief among those lessons was using and conjugating the third-person singular and plural: he/she/it and they.
Lost somewhere inside the plugged in, sound-bite driven, instant communication years has been usage of the third person singular “it.” For the sake of – and in service to – a literate, comprehensible and crystal clear republic of citizens, please lend me your ears/eyes/mind.
“It” is a person, place or thing. It can be named or unnamed. Animate or inanimate. Previously mentioned or about to be mentioned. In common usage, “they” is frequently used when “it” is more grammatically correct.
For example, the Houston Chronicle editorial board, the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, the team, the company and the government are all “it”s. As in, “it made a decision,” “it acted courageously,” “it faltered this season” and “its stock is rising.” In the common parlance, on television, call-in radio and especially on social media, “they” is overwhelmingly and erroneously used in place of “it.” This is a personal pet peeve of mine.
Why? Because it sounds bad. It’s unclear. And it is confusing. But primarily, it’s a colloquial pet peeve because it is incredibly incorrect. It also makes the speaker look dumb.
“They” is a third-person plural pronoun. An editorial board, the Supreme Court, Congress, sports teams, companies and governments are all bodies of individuals acting on behalf of and in the interest of an entity. In other words, the people are the “they,” but the entity is the “it.”
I know it is easier to say “they” even though “it” is proper English. I understand that it may even feel right to say “they.” However, “it” is the correct word to use when referring to any group acting as a united front. A single entity. With one accord.
In the spirit of a new calendar and turning over a fresh leaf, I encourage everyone reading this web log to practice, practice, practice. For good writing and speaking: “It” is third-person singular; “they” is third-person plural. “Single” means “one;” “plural” means “many.”
Thank you, and happy communicating!
©2015,Dion M. Harris/Be Right BooksLone Star State of Mind Dion M. Harris
Vast. Surprisingly diverse. Hellaciously hot. Tons of shopping!
These are my initial thoughts, impressions and ruminations on Texas, where I recently set up house. While trying for a year to get to Oregon. Fantastically: Love interceded. And here I am, a Bayou born-and-raised, granola-eating mountain gal. Slightly off-kilter at the grueling commutes, but pleased as pie to be here and fitting in just fine.
I never imagined I’d ever live in Texas. Texas was always that place that took up a full day’s worth of driving to and from The Rockies. Texas was the home of cowboys, oil barons and three-strikes-you’re-out justice. A business writer, I also knew it as one of the handful of states in the Union without a state income tax.
Unlike many of my Crescent City brethren and sistren, though, Houston was never a place that I visited, shopped or evacuated to. It was just clean off of my radar. Until I met L, at a wedding, in February.
The term whirlwind might not do the courtship justice, but here I am today, mostly situated and writing in Texas: happy, loved and provided for. Attempting another foray into the corporate world after a long, entrepreneurial absence.
Opportunity exists in Houston. According to Wikipedia, 57 Fortune 500 companies were headquartered throughout the state in 2010. (Texas shared top honors only with California.)
With more than 2.2 million inhabitants, Houston is the largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest city in the nation. Houston is ground-zero for the oil and gas industry, confirmed personally by me last weekend with a jaw-dropping glance at the roster of airlines operating out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Many of the airlines are from the Middle East. Incidentally, Texas is the world’s second-largest oil producer. Second only to Saudi Arabia.
I see Houston, Texas, with new eyes. “Don’t Mess With Texas” has taken on a whole other resonance for this Creole queen.
Texas is not only open for business; Texas means business. It gets things done. Government works. People work and prosper. Companies are good corporate citizens. The quality of life is high here. The pace of life is fast. Corporate-based. Considered.
Houston is a booming metropolis. I’m playing catch-up.
©2014,Dion M. Harris/Be Right BooksStop! Reassess. Back Up! Dion M. Harris
Keep your hands to yourself.
And your arms and lips, too. Unless, of course, an invitation has been extended. Or permission obviously granted.
It sounds so strict, so buttoned-up and joyless to have to have this conversation, but it has finally sunk into my consciousness that men folk want to touch me. And think it’s okay to just grab me! And other women, too. This is not okay. It is not enjoyable and never encouraged. Furthermore, such boorish behavior is an insidious encroachment, clearly demonstrating a perpetrator’s flouting all basic boundary lines: Our bodies are our own.
Here in southeast Louisiana, we enjoy a culture of hugging and kissing, much like our French, Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean compatriots. But in my large, Creole family, we’ve always reserved such intimacies for family and close friends. Going around hugging and kissing strangers is unthinkable; having strangers hugging and kissing us is repugnant, no matter how well-intended the gesture.
We don’t know where you’ve been, who you’ve been with – or what you might have.
I’ve noticed this blurring of the lines between acceptable and unacceptable affections spreading in recent years. Fifty years ago, respectful – and respectable – men wouldn’t even expect to shake a strange woman’s gloved hand, for fear of offending her moral sensibilities – or sullying his good name. But today, after Free Love and always-accessible pornography, men, in general, have become much more grabby. And insistent. Usually under the guise of beneficence. This is the most offensive thing about these profligate assaults on personhood: they’re deployed to manipulate and deceive. These controlling, sometimes violent-fueled, behaviors must stop.
Our bodies are our own, and I am under no obligation to share my body, in any way, with you. Whoever you are.
Newcomers to New Orleans see these intrusive behaviors and think they are the norm. They’re not. They are quick and opportunistic public assaults on womanhood by men who choose not to practice restraint, that crowning hallmark of adulthood. If you can’t remember my name – or haven’t even known it for more than a year; have no close, historic relationships with my relatives; and we’ve never bonded emotionally under duress or pure elation, then you really have no business trying to trap me in a hug. It is a creepy and unwelcome turn-off. Especially for someone whose lifestyle and values are rooted in health, fitness and spirituality. So stop it! Stop it, now.
Women are under attack every day, all over the globe, thanks to the delusions of men. Rapes, sexual assaults, sexual harassment and domestic violence make the news several times each week. In the military, on city streets, in our parks, workplaces and homes, some men have decided that womanhood is cheap, easy, loose, assailable. A free-for-all carnival ride. They take just what they want; females are damned to suffer the aftermath.
Save your fake hugs. I want the real deal: that gratifying physical contact with another human being borne of an honest and reliable emotional/spiritual connection; with one who I am enveloping and also allowing to envelop me.
Trust is a currency that is slowly built up, but very easily destroyed. And like all good relationships and tools, trust must be maintained. One must never take it for granted. Predators prey on the weak, the vulnerable, the unawares. Once they’ve revealed themselves, they are not to be trusted. Neither is the libertine.
If I smile at you, laugh and talk with you or even go out on a date with you, it does not mean I want to have sex with you – or indulge in any type of physical intimacy. It means that I’m a friendly and polite human being, whose parents raised her well. You can be, too, by curbing your lust and remembering that touch is a personal privilege.
©2014,Dion M. Harris/Be Right BooksDriving Change
Dion M. Harris
When my daddy was laid off after 20 years of service to the shipyard as a welder, he got his groove back in the New Orleans taxicab industry, where he’d been a bit player since I was five. His part-time, side hustle was now a full-time enterprise. Daddy was a 41-year-old divorcé and single parent. In two years, he’d have to put a daughter through university.
By 1996, in less than 10 years, he was a self-made man, with certificates of public necessity and convenience (taxicab operating licenses, known as CPNCs), real estate and a newly-incorporated taxicab leasing business, its name an acronym of his and his daughters’ names, named for his deceased mother.
Today, such success in the local taxicab industry is less than assured. Even with the requisite hustle, sweat equity, street smarts and financial prudence required of successful entrepreneurs. In fact, it has become more and more difficult in recent years to earn an above-average living wage in the New Orleans taxicab industry – despite the record numbers of tourists and conventioneers who visit the city every year.
Strict new City Hall standards concerning seven-year-old maximum-age operating vehicles; extremely restricted inspection station hours; centralized credit card processing through a single vendor – with fees double what the independent workforce had previously negotiated on their own; pricey security and camera equipment mandates; accelerated competition from Airport Shuttle, gigantic tour buses and the nuisance pedicabs; harassment; and now-video-documented brutality by Taxicab Bureau inspectors – as its newest director, currently on administrative leave, stood by and watched in one now-infamous case involving a female tour guide in November – have many longtime drivers frustrated, disgusted and generally disgruntled.
I know many taxicab drivers, men and women, who’ve worked the streets of New Orleans anywhere from 10 to 40-plus years. It’s always been a way for a working-class fella – or a degreed professional who can’t find suitable work in her field – to earn a decent living, generally speaking, on her own terms. These mounting and multi-directional attacks from every conceivable direction necessitated local taxicab drivers finally create a union last summer. The purpose of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 234 is to give voice to the formerly voiceless “baddest and bravest workers in New Orleans,” in the words of national President Lee Saunders last month at a union meeting in Metairie.
Cab Drivers For Justice, as the union is alternately known, is harnessing the power of its 1.6 million AFSCME members to put “heat” on the institutions that have forgotten how to play fair with law-abiding citizens who actually work for a living. Quoting recently-deceased South African President and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, Saunders defined the philosophy of unions and labor/community organization: Fingers alone are unable to ward off attacks and blows. It is the fist – collective individuals, bound together – which has the power to defend and successfully fight back.
“When you join together and when you fight together, we can win,” Saunders said. He called for “activism, militancy, involvement and speaking out.” He instructed 300-odd union members on a clear autumn day to define their priorities, then turn them into demands on the powers that be.
Saunders surmised that Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s intent is to transform the New Orleans taxicab industry into the standard operating procedure which exists in New York and other U.S. cities: three-shift drivers beholden to taxicab conglomerates. New Orleans, conversely, is a federation of some 1,400 independent contractors.
“They want to hurt us because we stand in their way. If you work hard and you play by the rules, you can have a better life. Unions, and AFSCME, are all about pulling someone else up out of the hole,” Saunders said. “If they think you are voiceless, they will take advantage of you. But if they know you have power and community, they will listen.”
Delores Montgomery, newly-elected president of Local 234, reminded her predominantly-male membership that they were “born with two balls” – and challenged them to use them in the fight for their independence, respect and livelihoods.
©2013,Dion M. Harris/Be Right BooksWork Dion M. Harris
There is honor in work.
Work feeds the body, mind, soul and wallet. Is there anything more pleasing than enjoying our toys after a good day’s work? Honestly, I bet it is one reason we even bother getting out of bed in the morning: to afford our lifestyle.
Still, well into the second decade of the 21st Century, too many of us find ourselves stuck in mind-numbing jobs that we don’t enjoy. Working where we aren’t appreciated. Where our talents are under-compensated. Where we labor in poverty, merely going through the motions of earning a living.
I took notice last year when Wal-Mart workers walked out on Black Friday and again earlier this year when fast food workers went on strike for better pay. I listened with interest and in horror as low-wage workers talked about stagnant wages, erratic work schedules, retaliatory diminishment of scheduled work hours and living homeless while holding down full-time jobs. Oftentimes, two or three part-time jobs are chiseled together these days to make one full-time paycheck in the growing service sector ranks. This is corporate America’s dirty little secret, as profits mount and poverty spreads.
It’s not supposed to happen in the United States of America. In the land of the free and the home of the brave. Especially not in 2013.
Open your eyes.
Despite the Dow’s three 1,000-point milestones this year, The Great Recession hasn’t let up for many of us, especially in the African-American and Latino communities. For much of this year, economists and scholars have painted a rather bleak picture of economic progress for black people, in particular:
- continuing double-digit unemployment (13.8 percent vs. 7 percent for whites; 7.9 percent overall);
- growing rolls of those living below the poverty line (27.6 percent in 2011, the most recent data available – and two years into the so-called Recovery vs. a national average of 15 percent for all races.) You should know that in 2000, African-Americans enjoyed a record low poverty rate: 22.5 percent. Comparatively, in 1963, the year of the historic March on Washington, 42 percent of black Americans lived below the poverty line;
- a persistent 20:1 wealth gap, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and information released by the African American Economic Summit at Howard University in February.
Societies become much less stable when so many live in misery. I don’t have all the answers, but I am a very strong proponent of early-childhood education/socialization, educational choice, equal funding of school districts, rigorous national standards, arts instruction, recess, mandatory parental involvement, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. America cannot win when so many are being left behind. It’s foolish and wasteful not to utilize all that we have.
I encourage all unemployed and underemployed people to start a business. Any kind of business, instead of wasting time all day sending out résumés and scouring the want ads for work. Most of us will never get rich working for someone else, and we’re oftentimes miserable working the standard-issue job. Few large employers will ever hold our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in the esteem with which we do. We can no longer afford to expect them to.
©Dion M. Harris/Be Right BooksGrown: A Good Place To Be Dion M. Harris
You couldn’t pay me to be 25 again.
Acne, angst and naiveté are, blessedly, now a world away. What an adventure it’s been!
In the 19 years since I was a quarter-century old, I’ve cultivated patience; perfected my inner and outer self; broadened my worldview considerably; grown ever more resourceful; and sometimes marvel at my gritty resilience. When I was 25, I was smart, ambitious, idealistic and eager to please.
Now, I am calm. Able. Unflappable. Efficient. Teeming with insight.
Yet, for nearly four years I’ve been unsuccessful at securing gainful, steady employment. Both in and outside of my field. At 44, am I too experienced – or not experienced enough for the 21st Century workplace? Too persistent a journalist – or not persistent enough? Too entrepreneurial? The conundrums keep coming, but I’m just trying to do me: Always following my bliss. While paying the bills.
That said, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon in contemporary society: Americans are getting older and noticeably fatter – but not grayer. There seems to be a resigned, collective shame associated with the hoary head now – especially among women – when gray hair by its very nature tags one as hardy, tested, refined. Youth culture, on the other hand, celebrates the new, the unexplored, the coarse.
I always say: Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s better.
Have you noticed how very head-strong those gray hairs are? I commune with them daily, impressed and oddly protective.
I’ve always been mistaken for being younger than I really am. When I was 14, I once called a DJ who accused me of being a “small, black child.” When I was 27, lascivious old neighborhood men swore I was 19. At 37, I went through a spell where I kept attracting 27- to 29-year-old – and completely inappropriate – suitors.
With all of this in mind, I decided a long time ago – around the time I first liberated my hair – that there’d be no more dye jobs for me. Even when I went gray. I want the respect that comes with age. I also want folks to know that I’m grown, and that there’s much more to me than meets the eye.
So after surviving a catastrophic man-made disaster largely on my own; several automobile accidents that weren’t my fault; emotional abuse; sexual harassment; sexual assault; and now Recession-fueled poverty, I’ve been graced by many more silver-gray strands lately. And I love them all. I won’t be letting them go.
Sometimes, it seems, it’s easier to pretend to be who we’re not, than to fully be who we are. The rapidly-changing, often-confusing world around us keeps making increasingly intrusive demands upon us. We acquiesce; complying duplicitously.
I find Western culture’s deification of youth – and the new – misguided and immature. As Scripture and Steel Pulse remind us, “The race is not for the swift, but those who endure.” If you’re doing anything at all right, you will grow older. Accept this, and commit to growing better.
I’m still “high-school skinny,” yet fitter than I’ve ever been. My – finally!- acne-free skin glows caramel even, from within. But this sprightly, fresh crop of gray hairs I sport confirms exactly who I am: tough and completely at ease with me. And you.
©Dion M. Harris/Be Right BooksPost-Zimmerman: Manage Your Scariness Dion M. Harris
Once upon a time, when Americans still took pride in dressing up to go to work, do some shopping or even travel via plane, train or automobile, home-training for black folks consisted in large part of being taught how to present themselves in the best possible light, clean and pristine, at all times. In short, how to manage their image.
But times have changed.
After jurors unanimously acquitted George Zimmerman, the 29-year-old Neighborhood Watchman, of all charges, effectively letting him walk away with murdering Trayvon Martin, 17, as the youth walked home to his father’s townhouse, it’s clear to me that the best way for young men of color – especially young, black men – to wreck onerous stereotypes of who they are is for them all to now play a revolutionary hard defense: Clean yourselves up and go respectable. Don’t give Them a chance to put you in a box. Just by looking at you. After all, as was demonstrated in the recent three-week trial in Sanford, Fla., a little bit of imagination goes a long, long way when defending murderous behavior.
If The Other sees you and feels threatened – even if you’re minding your business and they’re following you – you might not live to set the record straight. So prepare ahead of time, and bring your best plan to the game.
Think for a moment. When The Other views you, do they actually see you – or who They want you to be? Who They think you are? However, the question to ask yourselves is: What am I presenting?
More than at any other time in history, perhaps, black men are seen as the boogeyman. And every day across America, young black and brown men kill other young, black and brown men. Hatred and fear kill too many who were made in God’s image. In light of this, I think your best revenge is to live long, healthy, productive lives despite all the obstacles in your path. Rather, in spite of them.
Too many black men, in particular, never make it to age 60. I know this because I read the obituary pages. In my own family, my beloved dad and, more recently, two cousins – on either side of the family, within six months – have died between 52 and 54. Social Security won’t pay out until you’re at least 65. So all the money that hard-working black men who’ve worked legitimate jobs for years and paid into the system, stays within The System.
I dare you to not play yourself or the people who love you and fall for the supremacists’ destructive plan. RESIST. That means 1., control yourself and your urges; 2., make a Plan A, B and C for success, which includes a diploma, a degree and self-sufficiency; 3., mind the company you keep; 4., find a personally suitable mate and marry her; 5., then make children. In this order. Make life a bit easier for yourself by developing discipline early.
Your ancestors who courageously endured captivity and the Klan, then fought deliberately and honorably for civil rights, long ago rolled over in their graves and weep with the knowledge that after all this time, black men are still game sport. Not just for The Other, but for black men, as well. Who hope to secure a few golden crumbs for themselves. This, while your oppressors sit back and laugh, safe in their gated world, getting richer still.
Presenting yourself like an overgrown child won’t help you get a slice of any legitimate action. And it doesn’t aid your case for employment or dates. I’m tired of seeing your bare, boxer shorted-ass on public streets when I leave my sanctuary: Buy pants that fit and a good belt! There’s nothing cute about exposing yourselves the way you’ve been doing over the past dozen years or more. If anything, it advertises a predilection and solicitousness for homosexual activity, just like in the jailhouse, where the “style” originated.
Neck tattoos, gold teeth and hair all over your head are scary. To people who look like you – and especially to those who don’t. They’re unnatural, crude, scream “Bad Judgment” and ‘I don’t care.’ And to the larger culture are just plain unattractive. Intolerable. These are a few of the “trendy” ways one signals oneself an undisciplined and unruly person, outside the margins of polite – read: useful – society. Is there any doubt why you continually receive the reception you get?
So as your big sister, your cousin, your auntie or your friendly neighbor, I say it’s time for you to fight back: Clean it up, cover it up, cut it off. Man up. Take your dignity back. The Other may think you’re up to no good, but being above reproach is a moment-by-moment choice we make.
Manage your inherent “scariness” so you can ride off into the sunset and live to successfully resist the profile another day. Do it for Trayvon.
©Dion M. Harris/Be Right Books