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life writer

Do you write to live or live to write? It's a question I see pop up on writing websites and blogs from time to time. And it's a hard one to answer. If you say you write to live, that implies that money is your endgame, and I’m fairly certain that money doesn’t top the list of reasons why most writers write. For one thing, money in this business is often sporadic, unscheduled, and uncertain. To depend on money regularly is just plain risky.

Now, money certainly has a spot on the list of reasons why most writers write, but I suspect the majority of us do it mainly because we like it. I’d even go a step further and say that we need it. Writing makes us tick and gives us purpose. Without being able to write, we would not be fulfilled, and that would make life for us less than satisfactory.

So does that put most of us writers in the live-to-write category? Whether it does or not, living to write—like writing to live, with all its risk and uncertainty—has downsides too.

First of all, we writers need recognition. We can’t expend all that mental energy and not get rewarded for it. (Actually, we can and sometimes don’t but not usually by choice.) Rewards, whether in the form of money or praise, empower us and help validate us as writers. Second, the live-to-write mindset can make us stagnant. While writing to live might force us to write about topics we have no passion for or in styles that aren’t truly ours in order to appease clients, living to write can keep us from delving into new subject areas, learning different techniques, and experimenting with our own voice. Essentially, living to write can, if we let it, keep us from growing and developing as writers.

But whether we think we write to live or live to write, the best place to be is probably somewhere in between. If we write to live, we risk losing our true writing self as we try to meet the demands of readers and our financial goals. If we live to write, we might forego recognition for our work, the opportunities to reach wider audiences, and the chance to flourish at our craft.

If, on the other hand, we aim for a little of both—writing with passion on topics that appeal to us while being open to taking risks in areas that are new, and doing it for fulfillment, growth, recognition, and rewards—we might just win. We might find that happy medium that makes us full and complete, the writer we were meant to be.

Image by Ramunas Geciauskas

 

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preposition1

Prepositions are about as ordinary as words get. We use them all the time, in practically every sentence. They’re short words, averaging two to four letters long, that don’t draw much attention to themselves. In fact, they’re often barely noticed by readers. But to writers, prepositions matter. They link sentence parts together and help show the relationship between the parts. They give readers a better sense of time, place, and movement. And they add flow and readability to our work.

At the same time, though, prepositions can make us writers stumble, second guess ourselves, and scratch our heads over what to do with them. As small as they are, prepositions can raise big questions—questions that are far more common than you’d think:

Is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?

There seems to be an unwritten rule that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. It isn’t true. You can—and sometimes should—end a sentence with a preposition. The proper question is when is it okay to end a sentence with a preposition?

Grammarians and style guides will give you all kinds of advice. Some say only in informal writing; others believe you can do it in any writing. Still others say end a sentence with a preposition if there’s no other way around it. So who’s right? They all are. Basically, it boils down to you, the writer. If your sentence reads well, makes sense, and delivers the meaning you intended with a preposition at the end, leave well enough alone. Sometimes, rearranging a sentence to get the preposition off the end makes the sentence too awkward—and that can weaken the writing.

Of course, when you’re writing for a reader or audience that holds to strict grammar rules and you don’t want to stir up controversy, stick to the old-fashioned rule.

Should I capitalize prepositions in a title?

Now this question seems like it would have a straightforward yes or no answer—and if I had to give you one, I’d answer with a “yes.” But then I’d waver a bit, add “usually” and then “but not always.” Basically, the answer lies in the style guide you happen to be following. For me, it’s Chicago, and Chicago says to lowercase all prepositions . . . in most cases. The exception? When a preposition is part of an adjective or adverb phrase, like “Off Road” or “Back Up,” or a Latin expression, like “In Vitro.”

Not everyone follows Chicago, though. Some writers, for example, are directed to capitalize prepositions that have five or more letters in a title. Sometimes, it depends on the type of title—whether it be a book title, a journal title, or a subtitle—or the case (sentence or title case). Bottom line? When it comes to capitalizing titles with prepositions, follow guidelines not your gut.

Am I using the right preposition?

Which preposition to use can be particularly troublesome because people often interchange prepositions when they speak. Is it “steps for eating healthier” or “steps to eating healthier”? I’ve heard and seen both. How about “concerned with her manner” and “concerned by her manner”? Same thing. So how do you decide?

Figuring out which preposition to use might take some analyzing—and a peek inside your dictionary. Prepositions have general meanings that can help you determine if they’re fitting for a particular phrase. For example, “by” more commonly shows cause, while “with” shows the object of a feeling. “Concerned with her manner” makes better sense, then, than “concerned by her manner.”

Logic plays a part when choosing the proper preposition, too. Ask yourself, what makes the most sense? Which preposition conveys the meaning best? What would a reader understand? If you still can’t decide, take the easy road out and rewrite the phrase. “Steps for eating healthier,” for example, can be changed to “ways to eat healthy.”

Is this preposition necessary?

Clutter in writing is a common problem, and prepositions are a common culprit. Often, a preposition doesn’t need to be there. “Where did you find this at?” is one instance. Remove the “at,” and the sentence makes just as much sense, with one less word. Likewise, “she was honored by the dean of the school” could be written “She was honored by the school’s dean” or, better yet, “The school’s dean honored her.”

I’m not saying you should try to eliminate every preposition you can. Prepositions have a place and purpose in writing. But they are so familiar and simple to use that writers often overdo them. If you can remove a preposition or prepositional phrase without doing any damage to context and readability, then do. Your writing will be cleaner, clearer, and more concise.

Prepositions are tricky words for sure. But with a few questions answered, you can use them exactly how they were meant to be used—to help make sentences the best they can be.

Looking for more help with style and grammar issues? Download my e-book No Average Writer: How to Stand Out in the Writing Crowd and Write Your Best.

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