The ‘Myself’ Epidemic: When to Correctly use ‘myself’, ‘me’ and ‘I’

OK, well I’ll confess straight away that I’m a stickler for correct grammar.  But it is my job and getting it right is important when it comes to earning (most) of my money. If I don’t edit a book well … then who is going to give me work?

As I’ve written here before, language and spelling are forever changing. You can see this immediately you pick up an old book, written perhaps in the early to mid-20th century, and spellings (if not updated) are different; the use of some words is different or even obsolete.  Frankly, you notice it when you’re my age! Younger people use some words in a different way. But while different publishing houses have different house styles, which allows for a certain personal preference, there is a large core of correct grammar to which all will adhere.  Enter ‘myself’.

There seems to be a epidemic of people misusing ‘myself’ and, to be honest, as a book editor to whom these things matter, it drives me slightly crazy.  Even BBC radio and TV presenters use it incorrectly. I’m not talking about informal, chatty programmes, where a certain relaxation is not only OK but generally desired. No, I’m talking about the News and other serious programmes. There are regional differences, of course.  For example, I’m aware that in some parts of the country ‘myself’ is used differently to the way those of us living in London use it. But this tends to be in the spoken word.

I can quite understand that many people will not care, or will wonder why on earth I’m making a fuss about this. But if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you either hope to be or are a writer, or you have a keen interest in the written word. And knowing whether the written word is grammatically correct is important – even if you don’t always write that way.

A common misuse I hear is: ‘Myself and my mum’ or ‘My friend and myself’. No: ‘My mum and I‘ and ‘My friend and I‘.  Another example of misuse is, ‘The waiter gave my friend and myself cups of coffee’, which should be: ‘The waiter gave my friend and me cups of coffee‘.  And no, it wouldn’t be ‘… my friend and I’ either. To immediately see this is incorrect, try saying ‘the waiter gave I a cup of coffee’. It’s easier to see that’s wrong. Taking out the other person in the sentence often lets you see whether the sentence works or not. For example, if you say: ‘Myself and John went to the cinema’ and take out ‘John’, you’d have, ‘Myself went to the cinema’ – which you can immediately see is incorrect; nor would you say (if you were being grammatically correct), ‘John and me went to the cinema’ – trying testing it: ‘Me went to the cinema’. That doesn’t sound at all right. You’d say, ‘I went to the cinema‘ so it’s ‘John and I went to the cinema‘.

The use of ‘myself’ is correct when it’s used as a reflexive pronoun – when the person is both the subject and the object. ‘Myself’ reflects the subject: ‘I told myself‘, ‘I dressed myself‘. It can also be used for emphasis: ‘I made it myself‘ – but here you can see that just ‘I made it’ would be OK.

The same rules apply to ‘yourself’: ‘I look forward to seeing you‘ not ‘I look forward to seeing yourself’.

If you’re writing a novel, then you might use words like ‘myself’ in a grammatically incorrect way in speech, depending on the character. As a copy-editor, I have to make a decision about whether it’s appropriate – or simply the author not being grammatically correct. However, if you’re writing something important and formal – like a business letter, perhaps – I believe it’s always important to get the grammar right. Hopefully this little blog post will help!

Laurie Lee: A Rose for Winter

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I’ve recently been to Malaga and when I’m away, I like to take along a novel or travel book set wherever I’m heading. I actually bought Laurie Lee’s A Rose for Winter last year to take to Granada, and indeed read that chapter while there. Planning my reading for Malaga, I couldn’t find anything actually set in the city, but as Lee’s book is about Andalucia then I thought I should give it another airing and read more. In the end, I became captivated by his writing and read the whole thing (not actually very long at 112 pages), including the ‘Granada’ chapter again.

Lee (aged 37) and his wife Kati set off to Andalucia in the winter of 1951 and travelled around the area for 4 months. Lee had been there 15 years before, just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Thus the ‘new’ journey with Kati revisits some of the ‘old’ places and people from the earlier trip. He was a successful poet by now and making some money from it, but they still had to travel on a budget and walked most of the way, stayed in cheap hotels or lodgings, and Laurie made some extra money from busking with his violin. He was working on Cider with Rosie, his most famous and successful book, but it wasn’t published until 1959.

I think it is because Lee is a poet that his writing is so poetically wonderful. Laurie and Katie visit five places in the book, including Seville and Granada. It’s not a travel book in the sense of being a guide or giving historical background and discussing the major sights. Lee doesn’t even discuss the politics of the day much (and this is the age of Franco). It’s about a personal journey and the book shimmers with radiant life and truly transports you to Andalucia and gives you an insight into the land and its people. It opens: ‘A brilliant November morning with a sky of diamond blue above the bay and the red flowers of a long summer still glowing darkly on the rock‘ and the country they had come to seek ‘crouched before us in a great ring of lion-coloured mountains, raw, sleeping and savage.’

Lee writes of Granada that it is ‘perhaps the most beautiful and haunting of all Spanish cities; an African paradise set under the Sierras like a rose preserved in snow.’ Of Seville he writes: ‘Seville of sweet wines and bitter oranges … the city where, more than in any other, one may bite on the air and taste the multitudinous flavours of Spain … acid, sugary, intoxicating, sickening, but flavours which, above all in a synthetic world, are real as nowhere else.

Allowances have to be made for the book’s age and sometimes it seems dated. It has also been criticised for employing some ‘poetic’ licence, yet don’t the best travel books do this? If you want pure facts, read the guide book or history book; A Rose for Winter is about the experience and feeling of being in southern Spain in the 1950s and even in the 21st century it provides a wonderful backdrop to any visit to Andalucia and Lee’s writing is pure literary joy.

Language & Spelling – Ever Changing and Evolving

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I have to confess to being rather OTT about spelling. But then it is my job. It’s my job as an editor to check that all spellings throughout a book are both consistent and correct. Although ‘correct’ is not always clear because sometimes there are variations with how words are spelled. Well, there’s our first example: ‘spelled’ or ‘spelt’? Actually both are correct but as an editor it’s important to make sure the choice of either -ed or -t endings are consistent throughout a book rather than use a mix.

Publishing houses have their own ‘House Style’ and this is always sent to me, and while mostly the same, there are variations. For instance, one publisher I often work for likes to use -ize endings for words like realize, organize, etc., while most UK publishers prefer -ise endings, so realise and organise. But some words can’t interchange – always, for example, advise, advertise, exercise, etc.

Then there is the need to understand the difference between using a word as a verb or noun and this affects the spelling:

  • You give advice to someone; but you advise them to do something
  • A doctor practises medicine; but you visit their medical practice.

You can see that while we’ve only just started, things are already getting a little tricky. But throw into that the growing influence of US spellings and terms in UK as more and more we read books by US authors and watch US films. And thus spellings like ‘alright’ (always 2 words, ‘all right’, in UK) and words like ‘gotten’ (instead of UK ‘got’) start creeping into UK books. I often proofread American books and usually the US spellings are left unchanged; though – perhaps slightly weirdly – UK publishers usually like to change the punctuation to UK. Yes, that’s different too.

Of course, it may well be that only editors mind about these things. But it brings up the question of how much we allow our language to change. At the extreme end, I like to say to people who think none of it matters, that if we abandon all care of spellings then we’ll end up in a state where we can’t communicate properly. Of course change is inevitable – or we would still be writing and talking like Shakespeare or the Saxons. We also need new words as time goes by. It’s only in fairly recent years we’ve needed words like modem, wireless router, tablet – as in an iPad not a stone tablet from an ancient site or a painkiller – and even smartphone; some of the words added to the 2018 edition of The Oxford English Dictionary include co-parenting, e-address, e-publisher and hangry (being angry and hungry at the same time!). And words change use: when I was a child being ‘gay’ meant being happy  and carefree while now we usually think of it as a term for being homosexual (which, of course, can also mean being happy and carefree!).

Mostly the changes come slowly and we’re barely aware of them. So I’m often surprised if I have to work on a old book that is being reissued, written say in the 1950s or 1960s, to find the spelling and punctuation seem very old-fashioned. I find ‘hallo’ or ‘hullo’ instead of ‘hello’; there are usually a lot more commas breaking up sentences than we would use today. I realise that slowly, through many years working as a book editor, I’ve subtly altered the way I edit. I’m fortunate to work for top publishers and that keeps me on my toes and up to date!

On top of our evolving and ever-changing language we must add things like ‘textspeak’. When we first had texts the number of characters used in one text was limited so people invented ‘textspeak’ to keep a text to one instead of paying for two. This is now outdated but people still use ‘tonite’ and abbreviations like ‘ILY’ (I love you). I have to confess that some of these grate on me … tonite … grrrr! And if someone sent a text saying ILY it really wouldn’t have the same nice impact as the words! But I’m willing to admit that with my editorial background, and the fact that words and their correct use and spelling is my job, I’m probably more intolerant than most people.

However, when it comes to working I do have to take account of all these things and apart from using The Concise Oxford Dictionary to check spellings, my absolute ‘bible’, and used by all publishers, is the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors. When I edit a book, I have to provide a Spellings & Style list of my references and spellings used; whether I’ve used -ed or -t endings etc. So I think my family and friends are going to have to continue to live with me being rather OTT about spelling!

 

 

Manuscript to Book: A Short Guide to the Book Publishing Process

A lot of my freelance book publishing work is copy-editing and proofreading. People often ask me what the difference is and so I thought it might be useful to guide you through the basic steps of a book journeying from manuscript to a published book. Of course, nowadays, your ‘manuscript’ will most likely be a ‘typescript’ – not many authors write by hand still! And mostly it’s typed on a computer and so you may automatically think of sending it as an email attachment to a potential publisher or agent. But it’s always wise to check out the requirements of different publishers and some will want an actual paper submission sent through the post. I’m going to write more about ‘submissions’ another time but for now, I’ll outline the basic steps.

Manuscript (or Typescript)

You’ve finished your work and it’s all ready for you to now find a publisher. It’s often easier to find an agent to act for you, but more of how to submit your work another time. So let’s move on to the point when your book is accepted by a publisher. This basic copy forms of the foundation of what will become a book. First of all, it will be read by the editor who commissioned or bought it. ‘Commission’ means they approached you to write it; ‘bought’ means it was sent to them by you direct or an agent.

Structural Editing

It’s most often – though not always – the commissioning editor who will read the manuscript first to decide whether any major changes or improvements are needed. ‘Structural’ is just what it says: does the structure of your book, the storyline, or maybe in a non-fiction book the way the information is put together, work well. The editor will identify things like a particular character needing more or less work – an important character who perhaps needs more depth and to be more strongly described; but perhaps you’ve given too much time to a minor character who then detracts from the main storyline and characters. An editor will perhaps get you to expand certain parts of the story but maybe suggests cuts for parts that are too long and affect the flow of the story, losing the reader’s attention. Once all the book is in good shape and you and the editor are happy, it will be passed to a copy-editor.

Copy-Editing

The copy-editor is concerned with correct and consistent spellings and good grammar. They will also look at the flow of the book, whether it reads well and may make basic rewriting suggestions – perhaps switching the order of words, adding or taking away odd words or sentences, expanding or rewriting something that isn’t clear or makes easy sense. They will check for consistency, and this includes things like keeping a track of time: e.g. if a character is, say, 20 at the beginning of the book and the story moves on 10 years, their age should be given as 30. Likewise relationships between characters: that an ‘uncle’ is always an uncle and not sometimes a ‘great uncle’. The copy-editor will check for repetition – whether you’ve already said something or described or explained something. They make sure any ‘facts’ are correct – historical dates, spellings of real people or places.

Once books were copy-edited by hand: paper copy with the changes marked in pencil. But now I always copy-edit on-screen – the book is sent by email and I edit it with track changes and comments for my queries, and it’s returned by email. At the end of the copy-editing process, the book should be in good order to go to the printer. The author (and commissioning editor) will get the chance to check through any changes though and answer any queries the copy-editor has had before the book goes for printing.

Design

The copy-edited book will now go to the Production Department for design. This can be a fairly simple process for perhaps a novel – what font and font size to be used; the general layout of the page, whether a new chapter always begins on the right-hand page, and ultimately the cover design. For a more complex or non-fiction title, the design will require a lot more creative thought.

Typesetting and Printing

The next step is to typeset the book – arrange the words on the pages; decide on the layout of special things like quotes of verse, letters or other text that is often indented or in italics. The book needs to be ‘set’ in just the way it will appear in the finished book. This is sometimes done at the printers or by a separate typesetter. Once the book is typeset then the printer will print off ‘page proofs’ or email them to the publisher.

Proofreading

I still receive proofs as paper copy, i.e. printed out on paper. Occasionally a quick job or short job, particularly on an e-book (one to only be published that way) may come via email and I proofread on-screen, but by far the majority of my proofreading work comes via the post as a large parcel of paper! I then proofread it with a red pen, blue pen and pencil to hand. Red pen is to mark printer’s errors – things that haven’t been printed exactly as they are on the copy-edited typescript (I will always have a copy of that to check against); blue pen marks errors missed by the copy-editor (there are invariably a few, though rarely many); pencil is for any queries I might have – sense, an unusual word  or spelling. Once I’ve finished, I will parcel it up and return to the publisher. Usually the author will receive a set of proofs too so they can check as well; an important or ‘big’ commercial title by a bestselling author may be proofread by more than one professional.

The Finished Book

The next thing of course is for the printer to print the book – print the pages and bind the book, either as a hardback or paperback. But publication isn’t just about the arrival of finished books at the publishers, it’s about marketing and PR, it’s about distribution to bookshops, etc. And often now an author will be expected (and want) to be involved in the PR with book signings, talks, etc.

This is a basic guide but hopefully helpful to you. Do let me know if you have any questions!

Myth 1: Everyone has a good book in them

I can’t tell you the number of times people have wanted to talk to me about this – most often at parties after a few drinks! I’m not sure we do all dream of writing a book but I’m absolutely certain we don’t all have a good book in us!

After a short foray into writing a novel myself, I ended up feeling great admiration for those who do actually follow through and write a whole book. It’s not easily done. Just the time involved and effort of actually typing out those 100,000 words (the length of an average-sized novel) is a feat in itself, but combining it with a storyline, thought, structure and enough interest to engage a reader … well, that’s quite something.

Of course not all books are ‘good’ – not in the sense that there would be pretty general agreement that they were books of quality. But what makes a ‘good’ book? Well, I’m saving that thought for another time. Meanwhile, if you really believe you have a book in you then you probably have a yearning to write; maybe a passion for the written word. And everyone can try to write a good book. There are lots of classes and writing groups to join these days, but also perhaps keep a check on this blog for more tips, thoughts and advice on writing.