“Interview with Dr. Bob Rich: Writer, Mudsmith, Psychologist, and Editor” by Joan Y. Edwards
Today I’m honored to have Dr. Bob Rich as a guest on my blog. He is a writer, mudsmith, psychologist, and has an editing service. He lives in Australia. After reading my blog post, “Errors That Might Escape Spell Check,” he told me he has collected thousands of English words that writers confuse. His website is http://bobswriting.com/
Doesn’t that get your curiosity up? Here we go. I’m going to ask 13 questions.
1. You write books about many subjects. Which three books have sold the most copies? What was your challenge when you wrote them?
My first published book, The Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house has sold hundreds of thousands of copies through 4 editions. It is still considered “The Australian owner-builder’s bible.”
How I wrote it: I started in 1972 as the most impractical fellow on earth. By 1980, when I started to build my house, I had lots of practical skills, but knew very little about building. So, I got a succession of laboring jobs in the building trades. After a few weeks at, say, being a bricklayer’s laborer, I wrote some how-to articles about it in, a marvelous magazine. Then I applied the skill in my house, and changed a job to teach me the next lot of skills I needed. After awhile, I thought to suggest to the publisher of the magazine that we write a building book together. He had copyright of lots of suitable articles, and had already published 8 books. After I posted the letter, I checked my post office box. There was a letter from him — making the same suggestion! So we did it, and the book has turned out really well.
My second book published, and the second highest seller, is Woodworking for Idiots Like Me. It sold maybe 60,000 books between 1994 and 1999. I have reissued it as an e-book, and it won the nonfiction category of the EPIC contest in 2007. It is a collection of short stories that makes most people laugh, but each story leads to an instructional section on some aspect of woodcraft.
Third highest seller is Anger and Anxiety: Be in charge of your emotions and control phobias. This little book has led a great many people out of despair and self-hate.
However, I much prefer writing fiction to nonfiction. Eight of my 14 books are fiction, the latest being Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s role in the Universe?
2. What triggered a desire to make a collection of words that writers confuse?
My fingers often have trouble keeping up with my brain, and so I can make finger stumbles. Being obsessive (a good characteristic for an editor), I instantly notice them… well, most of the time. Actually, I notice other people’s typos a lot more readily than my own.
Computers have a spell checker, but those things don’t pick up confusions like their-there or quiet-quite. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to team up with some programming genius and produce an automatic tool that does so?
Also, I have a twisted sense of humor. I just LOVE it when a serious publication states, “The value of early identification, diagnosis and intervention… cannot be underestimated.” I do have this theory that the writer meant “overestimated,” but then maybe SHE has the twisted sense of humor. So, I was collecting such malapropisms in the way others collect jokes.
3. Are you considering publishing your lists of commonly misused English words in a book? I think it would be helpful, if you published a book that listed sentences with the words used correctly and incorrectly. You mentioned that you had thousands of words for the letter “S.” Perhaps each letter could have 10 samples.
Well, I am still waiting for the programming genius to come along. Trouble is, the program would need to have a human-like understanding of syntax, grammar, all the fine points of language. I don’t think endless lists are fun to read (unless perhaps if you are a computer that has a human-like understanding of language).
Here are commonly misused words from my list. Most of these are homophones like “salary” and “celery.” Finger stumbles like “sash” and “smash.” Meaning-related ones like “saved” and “freed.” Anagrams like “said” and “dais.” People often confuse different grammatical forms, for example “sarcasm” and “sarcastic.”
4. saved/freed. Or raising/upbringing; ravish/devastate; tenuous/tentative.
5. sarcasm/sarcastic. Other examples are things like California/Californian; teacher/teaches.
6. cause/’cause. illustrate another source, like its/it’s.
7. bill/Bill. I am sure William wouldn’t mind being paid, but… And Ken may be smart, but the word is different from ken.
8. a bout/about; recur/re occur; preconception/pre conception. A space can make all the difference.
9. pin/p=in; artichoke/art[choke. Sometimes a symbol gets in through a finger stumble, and divides a word into two legal ones.
10. knots under/knot sunder. This is a different space problem from 8. “The knots under the parcel became undone” makes sense. Move the s from one word to the other, and you have a problem.
4. When “editing for content,” you look closely at plot, characterization, description, language, readability, organization, and dialogue. Can you usually tell with the first 1,000 words which of these will probably need the most help in the whole novel?
I get a very good feel for the technical competence of a writer within a couple of paragraphs. This includes characterization, the use of point of view (POV), the use of elements of writing like description, dialogue and action. However, the more subtle aspects like plot, continuity and the maintenance of tension sometimes seem all right at first, but prove to be poorly done further in the book. To counter this, for many beginning writers, the first few chapters are the worst, then the book improves.
It is actually a good idea to start writing in the middle, and introduce it later!
5. When editing a manuscript and you get to a point where the writer starts repeating certain errors, do you keep noting it for them?
That depends what I am being paid for. I often suggest to my client that we stop, I get paid for the work I’ve done, and the client applies the lessons to the whole manuscript, then sends me a new sample for a probably lower quote. But then, I am the world’s worst businessman.
6. What does an editor do when they do a “line edit?”
No, it is nothing like line dancing.
This means focusing entirely on picking up mechanical mistakes: spelling, punctuation, syntax, incorrect word usage, repetitious or awkward language. Trouble is, because I am obsessive, I can’t stop myself from also commenting on other stuff, even if I don’t actually get paid for it. Told you I am a terrible businessman.
7. I found that even I confuse certain homonyms. I put it’s when it should have been its. I know the right ones. However, when I was reading my manuscript, I missed it. Other people who critiqued my manuscript didn’t catch the error, either. Do you have any hints that might help writers catch these and similar errors?
It’s always easy to miss your own mistakes. Edit swaps or a professional editor help.
In the 1930s, a big publisher intended to produce the error-free book. They went over and over and over it… and the publisher’s name was misspelled on the title page!
It helps to put a document away and allow it to get cold. It also helps to read without meaning, just focusing on language. One way of doing this is to read from the end forward. I actually did that for galley proofs for my first few books. Now I don’t need to.
8. Who has been the most influential in encouraging you in your writing?
Oh, it didn’t happen like that. I’ve described how I started writing nonfiction. I started writing fiction because I didn’t want to cheat on my wife.
I was out of money, and out of a job. A friend suggested I should train as a nurse. But I live far from the relevant places, so that meant staying in a nurse’s home attached to a teaching hospital, and that was full of gorgeous 18-year-old girls. I had a choice: make a fool of myself running after them, or doing something creative and challenging with my free time. So, I started writing short stories.
I now have my own style, but early on, I enjoyed studying the writings of Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien, Dick Francis, Hemingway, Conrad…
9. What are three things that help increase your creativity?
For me personally, I need to rein it in (funny how many people write “reign”). I tend to get TOO creative for my own good.
Everybody has oodles of creativity. You don’t need to increase it, but to unshackle it. The trouble is that modern society suppresses it. Creative children are more trouble to keep in line. Creative students ask questions, do things differently. Creative citizens go against herd actions, protest, see things differently, refuse to be brainwashed into being good little consumers and wage slaves.
The best way to unshackle your creativity is to throw your TV away.
10. How has living in beautiful Moora Moora, Australia inspired and helped you in your writing and your other jobs?
It has been wonderful to live in a place of beauty and power, but I like to think that wherever I am, I can draw inspiration from my experiences. I gained as much as a writer from being a nurse as from living at Moora Moora. Every experience is potential fodder to a writer.
11. What has been your proudest moment as a writer? As a psychologist? As a mudsmith?
For a long time now, I haven’t done much of being proud. I’m not bashful about achievements, but put them in their proper context, which is, “So what.” We are not on this planet to make money, gain honors, win power, status or fame. Those are all tokens in a Monopoly game. The aim of the game is to give us opportunities to grow, to become better people.
Here is another way of explaining what I mean. In New York, there is a school for gifted children. Three days a week, they go to an ordinary school, three days to the special school. At the latter, they deal with the same syllabus, but at a much deeper level, and using wonderful resources not available to others. Why do they spend half their time in an ordinary school? So they can learn to fit in with people not blessed by stellar IQs. They are taught that their high intelligence is luck, and doesn’t entitle them to arrogance. They learn to be tolerant of others, and are encouraged to make friends, fit in, be kind without even seeming to be.
12. Do you find yourself using your psychology knowledge in building your characters?
Well, there is only one of me. I do all of what I do, and they all reflect me. My writing has enhanced psychology, and my psychology has enhanced my writing. The main requirement for both creative writing and psychotherapy is empathy, so yes, they feed off each other.
13. If there was a question you wish I’d asked you, what would it be? Please answer this question, too.
Question 13? OK, I am not surreptitious (that’s one of my confusions!)
WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS?
First, I am a professional grandfather. Four young people are genetically related to me, but I have hundreds of “grandkids,” all over the planet. The picture I sent you shows Ella with me. She is no genetic relation. I exchange regular emails with an 18-year-old in Saudi Arabia, a 17-year-old in Canada and a 19-year-old mother of two in Britain. There are many others. It gives me great pleasure that contact with me helps them to improve their lives that had been full of misery.
Second, at least since 1972, I’ve been a strong environmentalist. This planet only has two kinds of people: Greenies and Suicides. For many generations, humans have stolen from their descendants. We are those descendants, and ALL the trouble you see — irrational wars of hate, resource wars, climate change, resource depletion, the pollution that’s killing us, and many other problems — are the consequence of a culture based on greed. If we want to survive, we need to change to a culture based on compassion and simplicity. Above all, do no harm. Live simply, so you may simply live.
Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Bob Rich. This interview was fun and inspiring for me. I know it will be for my readers, too.
Thank you for reading my interview with Dr. Bob Rich.
Here are three of Dr. Bob’s more recent books.
Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s role in the Universe? Is a novella and three short stories. We are definitely NOT the crown of creation. The novella, Liberator, stars the perfect mammals, whose planet has been invaded by monsters from space. Guess who the monsters are?
Sleeper, Awake is an award-winning report from my visit to the future. Of course, no one would believe I can do that, so I presented it as fiction.
Cancer: A personal challenge is for everyone, because we are living on cancer planet. It is for those who want to reduce their chances of getting cancer, for those who love someone with cancer, and for those battling with this monster.
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2012 Joan Y. Edwards