Month: July 2014

Dash or Hyphen?

There seems to be confusion between the function and definition of a hyphen (-) and a dash (–), and many people I find, especially while speaking, use them interchangeably. And yet while there are some cases of overlap, these two punctuation marks have different purposes in writing that should be better understood. So which should you use: the dash or hyphen?

The Hyphen

In most cases, when I hear people talk about adding “dashes” in writing, they actually want hyphens. The hyphen is a small bar (shorter than even a minus sign) that has several different uses in writing.

*NOTE* A hyphen never has spaces between it. Do not use it like this: jump – start

Usage 1: Hyphens can break single words into parts or join separate words into single words. The most common use of a hyphen is to create hyphenated compound words (a word made up of two or more words), especially when a compound word comes before a noun.

Examples of compound words: Sister-in-law; one-half; over-the-counter

Examples of compound words preceding nouns: Long-distance call; high-speed chase

Why? We use hyphens in this way to prevent confusion. A hyphenated compound word is often clearer and easier to read.

But wait! Not all compound words should be hyphenated. When these open compound words (named such because of the space between the two words) come after a noun, you do not add a hyphen.

Examples of open compound words: The neighborhood was middle class; the teacher is part time; the call is long distance

Usage 2: Using hyphens with compound modifiers. This usage can sometimes overlap with Usage 1. A compound modifier is a compound word that modifies (i.e., more specifically explains) a noun.

Examples of compound modifiers: A full-throated roar; a light-yellow shirt.

Why: If you don’t use a hyphen in these situations, the reader can become confused. Is the roar full in the throat? Is the shirt light in weight?

But wait! There are now those who err on the side of never choosing a hyphen, arguing that meaning can be taken more from the context of the word.

Usage 3: Hyphens can also be used to split names. If someone decides to keep both the family name and also take on the name of the partner, this is a hyphen, not a dash. (Hence, the term “hyphenated names”). This can be used for first names as well.

Examples: Jean-Claude; Zeta-Jones; Pitt-Jolie; Anna-Beth

Why? Some view the hyphen as an indication of equity, and thus want to show an equal preference to both names by its use. It also can assist clarity.

But wait! Of course, there are others who have double last names (or first names) and don’t use hyphens. So again, you just want to make sure you know the person’s preference.

Examples: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Helena Bonham Carter

Usage 4: The hyphen can be used to create prefixes. A prefix is an addition prior to the root of a word.

Examples: Ex-President; pro-choice; re-press

Why? In a few cases, such as re-press, you use the hyphen to again establish clarity. You don’t want to confuse the definition of pressing something again with repression (i.e., to subdue with force). Other times, it’s because you want to use hyphens with proper nouns, or to split apart an unwieldy word.

But wait! This particular usage is one I take a side on. My advice would be to try to avoid hyphens with prefixes when you can get away with it. Many prefixed words (see what I did there?) can be written without a hyphen and I think it bumps the reader less. Often, words lose prefixes depending on the popularity of the period. Words like “prehistoric” or “coworker” or “coordinate” all (in my opinion) work just fine without a hyphen, and so – don’t use one!

The Dash

Okay, we’ve spent some time with the hyphen, so you may be asking yourself—what in the world is the dash? Well, I just used one! A dash has basically one major purpose: to separate a sentence when there’s an interruption or interjection, or an abrupt change in thought.

There are two types of dashes: an en-dash and em-dash. These are easy to remember because the en-dash is shorter, and the same length as the letter ‘n’, while the em-dash is longer, and the same length as the letter ‘m’.

The difference? Spacing and specific functions. When using an en-dash, a space should be placed on either side. When using an em-dash, no space should be used. Also, en-dashes are used to represent a span or range in numbers, dates, or time, or scores.

Examples: 2011-2014; when it was finally delivered—five months overdue—she had already bought a new one.

Why? Okay, I admit it. I love the em-dash. I think it looks cleaner than commas, and is more noticeable than an en-dash. I think it’s simple and elegant.

But wait! That said, you want to be careful not to overuse whatever your preferred choice of punctuation. Too many punctuation marks can bump a reader’s eye or make writing difficult to understand or a chore to read—and no one wants that.

5 Must-Have Apps for Writers

Being a writer in this technological age means that there are some pretty helpful tools floating around out there to help you out. My phone is pretty much always by my side, and I’ve filled it with apps that I can use wherever, whenever. This week, I look at 5 Must-Have Apps for Writers.

5. Scribd

With Amazon’s recent announcement that it’s stepping into the subscription ebook service world, I wanted to recommend Scribd, another (more affordable) service that has been around since 2007. For as low as $8.99 per month, you can access a large database of books for your reading pleasure. The premium subscriptions gives access to over 400,000 books – compatible with Android, iPhone, several reading devices, and via the web. If you’re an avid reader (and what writer isn’t?), this could be a more affordable option than buying individual books you want to read. I know my booklist is incredibly long.

4. iBook

This might seem like a no-brainer, especially for Apple users, but iBook is a great app to keep on your phone, iPad, etc. If you have your devices synched to the Cloud, you can download books across platform (though sadly it doesn’t remember what page you’re on). However, for the writer, this is a must-have app on your phone.

3. Evernote

If you’re like me, you might be an obsessive notetaker. Evernote is a must-have app that allows you to create notes, group them together, and access them easily and quickly on whatever device you install it on. This program does synch across platforms, so if you make a change on your computer, the next time you open the app on your phone, the changes are in synch. I use Evernote for project notes, weekly agendas – basically anything I don’t want to forget and want easily accessible. I used to use the Notes app on my iPhone until one sad day when I opened it up and all my notes had mysteriously disappeared. That’s when I switched permanently to Evernote as my sole note-keeping app.

2. Goodreads

If you’re not familiar with Goodreads, it’s basically a social book lover’s website. You can create your own to-read list, share it with others, recommend books, write reviews, see what others are reading, and read book-related articles and author interviews. The app is great for checking reviews quickly for books you might want to pick up – you can even scan a barcode to quickly find a book. It’s also great because you can add a book to your to-read list from your phone, so that you don’t forget a good recommendation.

1. Coffitivity

I honestly use this app every day. If you’re a writer looking for the perfect white noise, Coffitivity is for you. It simulates the sounds of a coffee shop (or university library) at just the right level so that you can work productively. I’m someone who gets distracted if there’s no noise around me when I work or too much talking. Coffitivity gives me the perfect balance, and you can even play music softly in the background too, if you’re more a music-listening writer. I use this at work in my open office environment because I find it blocks out nearby conversations much better than just playing music does. The app is easy-to-use and can be played in the background, even if you open another up.

Do you use any of these apps? Do you love them or have others you like more? Share your thoughts in the comments section! I’ll be doing another article with more apps soon!

Which Type of Writer Are You? City Writer, Country Writer.

Remember the tale of the city mouse and country mouse? Living in a crowded, busy neighborhood in Los Angeles, I often think about the two types of writers I’ve met over the years in such terms (though unlike Aesop, I do not judge one life to be better than the other necessarily). The City Writer thrives in a big, bustling world. She loves being in the know, and finds inspiration in the hustle, bustle, and noise of the populous. There are often times, especially when I was working freelance and could spend hours indoors at a stint, that I craved human interaction and immersion. I loved going to a coffee shop or even to a crowded walkway and surrounding myself with the rush of other people’s lives. Twitter partly fills that void for me, where I can feel connected to a whole universe of other people in an instant. It’s a social hit.

However, I know writers who can’t concentrate in the big city. This is who I call the Country Writer, who longs for a secluded retreat where the nearest neighbor is miles away. He craves a slower life – one where moments aren’t filled with so much detritus. His dating profile might read, “Enjoys solitary walks in the woods, fresh air, and the company of nature.”

The Country Writer doesn’t feel isolated, lonely, or left behind. Instead, he feels free and more connected to what he feels are the “important” aspects of life – or at least his writing. This is the writer who might ditch the city and a comfortable position in a corporation for the secluded life of a full-time writer or freelancer off the beaten path.

So which are you? The City Writer or the Country Writer? Or are you lucky enough to have both? Leave your thoughts in the comment section, or if I missed a type of writer, let me know! If you’re like me and are a City Writer who, once every couple months, imagines herself as a Country Writer, you’re in luck! There are writers’ retreats, workshops, and rentable cabins that are available to satisfy those daydreams. And for the Country Writer, there’s always Airbnb, friends, and Couchsurfing for a quick writing trip to the big city.

3 Visual Writing Prompts for the Summer

In the summer I love breaking into new projects and generating new ideas for stories, shorts, or novels. And you know what that means! Writing prompts! For 3 visual writing prompts for the summer, I turn again to Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts Tumblr blog. He posts some awesome creative writing prompts for those of us who love great visuals and great prompts. Here are three of my favorite recent prompts he’s posted. My challenge to you? Use all three this month!

What Happened To All of Them?


Manipulation Is At The Core



A Person In A Place With A Problem



What are your favorite writing prompts? Share them in the comments section, or please share a line or two of what you’ve written from these prompts!

Game of Clients Infographic

As a follow up to my “Clients from Hell” mention in a recent blog post, I wanted to share the following “Game of Clients” infographic from It’s a pretty entertaining Game of Thrones take on client requests, and I’ve run into several of the Houses before, such as House Time (oh how many fire items pop up), and House Committee (six project managers and everyone’s an expert… in everything!).

Which is your favorite house? You can share in the comments section.

Courtesy of: Infographic World

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