Category Archives: Write Better Nonfiction

Compliment vs. Complement vs. Supplement (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use compliment vs. complement vs. supplement with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

This week’s post is aimed at a problem (one of many) I see on social media quite a bit. In speech, compliment and complement could be swapped and many wouldn’t even bat an eye, but it’s different in writing. Meanwhile, complement and supplement can easily be mistaken as the same thing when there’s a slight difference between the two.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So in this post, let’s untangle compliment, complement, and supplement.

Compliment vs. Complement vs. Supplement

Compliment can be used as a noun or verb. As a noun, compliment is an expression of esteem, acclaim, or admiration. For instance, I could pay someone a compliment on their “beautiful new haircut” or “excellent usage of grammar.” As a verb, it just means to pay a compliment.

Complement is something that completes another thing or set of things. It’s used in math and phrasing. But people can be complementary to each other as well. The cliche of the “good cop/bad cop” routine in interrogations is an instance of two people complementing each other. Also, the institution of marriage is meant to signify the union of two people who complement each other in love and life.

Supplement seems a lot like complement in that it can help complete something, but it’s most commonly used to make an addition to something. A good example is if you do supplemental reading for a class. It doesn’t complete the reading for the class, but it does add context to the required reading.

Make sense?

Here are a few examples:

Correct: When I saw my neighbor at the store, I paid a compliment on his nice lawn.
Incorrect: When I saw my neighbor at the store, I paid a complement on his nice lawn.
Incorrect: When I saw my neighbor at the store, I paid a supplement on his nice lawn.

Correct: We have a full complement of strategies to combat anxiety.
Incorrect: We have a full compliment of strategies to combat anxiety.
Incorrect: We have a full supplement of strategies to combat anxiety.

Correct: Supplement your running with pushups and crunches to handle hills better.
Incorrect: Compliment your running with pushups and crunches to handle hills better.
Incorrect: Complement your running with pushups and crunches to handle hills better.

Correct (using all): The program supplement paid a high compliment to the way the two singers complement each other.

A good way to keep these straight is to remember that complement with an “e” completes things, supplement is something added to, and compliment with an “i” is just something nice to say.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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Remove That From Your Writing (Grammar Rules)

There are many common ways to write with more concision. For instance, if you remove that from your writing, you’ll still retain the same meaning with fewer characters. Learn more, including examples, here.

I’m better about it now, but one problem I’ve struggled with for years is using the word “that” a little too much. Or maybe a lot too much. As such, that is a word that I’m constantly removing from sentences. (I mean, “As such, that is a word I’m constantly removing from sentences.”)

(Click here for more grammar rules for writers.)

Often, the word “that” is a placeholder for nothing in particular. For me, it’s almost like a railing that I constantly use in my language. But more times than not, I find that if I remove all instances of that from my writing, it still makes sense (and saves space). For instance, remove the first instance of “that” in the previous sentence. Still makes sense, right?

Examples of Removing That From Your Writing

Example #1: You know that some people are afraid of clowns.
Better example: You know some people are afraid of clowns.

Example #2: Let her know that you love her and that she means the world to you.
Better example: Let her know you love her and she means the world to you.

We could run through so many more examples, but that would get repetitive after a while. And yes, there are times when using “that” makes sense. Just like using the word “it.” After all, the movie and song, That Thing You Do, wouldn’t have the same ring if it were titled: Thing You Do.

The main point of this post is to help others who suffer from the “that” affliction (as I do) by calling it out for what it is. So the next time you write something, search for the word “that” and remove it unless it’s absolutely necessary for the sentence to make sense. It’s small adjustments like these that can make all the difference.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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Larger vs. Bigger vs. Greater vs. Higher (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use larger vs. bigger vs. greater vs. higher with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Today we dive into one of those bigger grammar posts that originally seem so simple. After all, larger, bigger, greater, and higher seem (and actually are) synonymous in some cases. But then, there are other cases when only one of the four terms will do.

(Click here for more grammar rules for writers.)

Honestly, it’s these types of differences that then make me go back through the whole thing and question everything. When I say a person is larger, does that mean the same thing as saying the person is bigger? Or greater? Or higher? It gets confusing fast.

So let’s look at the difference between larger, bigger, greater, and higher, along with examples of correct usage!

Larger vs. Bigger vs. Greater vs. Higher

Larger tends to deal with size, both quantitatively and in physical dimensions. So you might refer to a larger man if you’re talking about a guy who’s six feet tall and 250 pounds, but you may also refer to a larger quantity of people at one public gathering over another.

Bigger is mostly synonymous with larger, but many consider larger the more formal word. Also, bigger can refer to someone or something that’s more popular and/or has more power or strength. The formal aspect may be why you’re more likely to hear the term “greater quantity” but not “bigger quantity.” However, it’s not unusual to hear about a bigger man in the same respect as referenced above.

One peculiar function of bigger is that popularity thing. Theoretically, a smaller person could be a bigger person in a room full of people, because that physically smaller person has a bigger personality than the rest. So you could refer to that physically smaller person as a bigger person and it would make sense, but it would not make sense to try to say the physically smaller person was a larger person (even though some people are “larger than life”).

Greater, on the other hand, is most commonly used in reference to numbers or enhanced skills. Someone may be a greater athlete than their peers. And that same athlete may have a greater number of awards than anyone else to prove it. That said, greater is not commonly used to refer to the superior size of a person. So if you referred to our large man from earlier, you would not refer to him as the greater man (unless it’s somehow tied to his personality or superior skills).

Higher may be used to refer to a person’s increased height, but it would be limited to that solely. It could also be used to refer to a more advanced number or degree of something. In other words, a person could have a higher number of awards or their test scores are higher the second time they take a test.

Make sense?

Let’s go through a few examples:

Correct: The farmer has a larger number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
Correct: The farmer has a bigger number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
Correct: The farmer has a greater number of tomatoes than the grocer does.
Correct: The farmer has a higher number of tomatoes than the grocer does.

(In this case, all are correct. But out of curiosity, which do you prefer? Share your opinion in the comments below.)

Correct: The larger guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
Correct: The bigger guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
Incorrect: The greater guy refused to hit the smaller guy.
Technically Could be Correct (but a little weird): The higher guy refused to hit the smaller guy.

(Note: “Taller” and “shorter” would be the more accurate terms for that last example.)

Correct: She has greater oratory skills than most.
Incorrect: She has larger oratory skills than most.
Incorrect: She has bigger oratory skills than most.
Incorrect: She has higher oratory skills than most.

Correct: He is a bigger deal than many realize.
Incorrect: He is a larger deal than many realize.
Incorrect: He is a greater deal than many realize.
Incorrect: He is a higher deal than many realize.

(By the way, change the pronoun for the examples above from “he” to “it,” and all four words are correct, but could offer up a variety of meanings.)

Correct: Everyone knows 17 is larger than 16.
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is bigger than 16.
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is greater than 16.
Correct: Everyone knows 17 is higher than 16.

When referring to numbers, you really can’t go astray when deciding between larger, bigger, greater, and higher. But it gets more complicated when figuring out when to describe physical size, degree of skills, and popularity.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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Creak vs. Creek (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use creak vs. creek with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Homophones (words that are pronounced the same but have different spellings and/or meanings) are fun, but they can also be a little confusing. This week, we’re going to take a look at creak and creek. You can splash around in one of them, while the other is a type of sound.

(Click here for more grammar rules for writers.)

So let’s look at the difference between creak and creek, along with examples of correct usage!

Creak vs. Creek

Creak can be a noun of verb, but in both cases it refers to a grating type of sound. So an old gate might creak when you open and close it. Or you may hear a creak when a door opens.

Creek is a noun referring to a narrow stream that is often a tributary to a river. 

(Note: Creek can also refer to a confederacy of North American indigenous people of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida between 16th and 19th centuries that spoke the Muskogean language as well as their descendants. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation based in Oklahoma is the largest federally recognized Muscogee tribe, though there are other Muscogee groups based in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and other parts of Oklahoma.)

Make sense?

Let’s go through a few examples:

Correct: You can try to be quiet, but the floor will creak with each and every step.
Incorrect: You can try to be quiet, but the floor will creek with each and every step.

Correct: I always know someone is here when I hear the creak of the back gate.
Incorrect: I always know someone is here when I hear the creek of the back gate.

Correct: The kids liked to search for crawdads in the creek.
Incorrect: The kids liked to search for crawdads in the creak.

For a quick trick to remember which one is which, I like to think of the word break. When something breaks, it usually makes a noise. Creak with an “-eak” refers to a noise, while creek with an “-eek” is a small stream of water.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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Canon vs. Cannon (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use canon vs. cannon with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

The difference between canon and cannon is irregularly slight. Both are nouns; both are pronounced the same; and both refrain from using an “s” at the end of the word. So it really does come down to whether the word has one “n” or two “n’s” in the middle.

(Click here for more grammar rules for writers.)

So let’s look at the difference between canon and cannon, along with examples of correct usage!

Canon vs. Cannon

Canon is a noun that most commonly refers to an accepted principle or rule that is followed or an authoritative list of books or texts. It can also refer to a particular contrapuntal musical composition or member of the clergy.

Cannon is, on the other hand, is a noun that refers to a giant gun that is usually, though not always, mounted on wheels. Also, the plural form of cannon is cannon. At one point, the cannon was a common weapon, though it’s now mostly used in ceremonies or as artifacts.

Make sense?

Let’s go through a few examples:

Correct: In the Stars Wars universe, there is some debate about whether books and comics are part of the Star Wars canon.
Incorrect: In the Stars Wars universe, there is some debate about whether books and comics are part of the Star Wars cannon.

Correct: As the soldiers approached the castle, we fired a cannon to discourage them.
Incorrect: As the soldiers approached the castle, we fired a canon to discourage them.

Correct: It’s accepted as canon that more than one cannon is still referred to as cannon.
Incorrect: It’s accepted as cannon that more than one canon is still referred to as canon.

So if you ever find yourself trying to remember how many n’s you need, just remember that it takes two n’s for the big gun cannon and one n for the little rule or collection of books.

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Jeff Gomez: From Podcast to Book Publication

In this post, Jeff Gomez shares how a podcast led to book publication of his new title Zeppelin Over Dayton: Guided By Voices Album by Album, what surprised him in the publication process, his best piece of advice for authors, and more.

Jeff Gomez has written numerous books about music and pop culture. A former resident of Manhattan, he now lives in Northern California with his family. 

Jeff Gomez

Learn more at dontcallhome.com.

In this post, Gomez shares how a podcast led to publication of his new title Zeppelin Over Dayton: Guided By Voices Album by Album, what surprised him in the publication process, his best piece of advice for authors, and more.

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Name: Jeff Gomez
Book title: Zeppelin Over Dayton: Guided By Voices Album By Album
Publisher: Jawbone Press
Release date: June 16, 2020
Genre: Music
Previous titles: Our Noise; Geniuses of Crack; Print is Dead; Losing Our Edge; Unfamous Men

Elevator pitch for the book: Zeppelin Over Dayton takes an in-depth look at the studio records by indie rock legends Guided By Voices: 32 years, 28 albums, 521 songs.

What prompted you to write this book?

Even though I’ve been a fan of the band since 1993, I was amazed how—in the past couple of years—the group seemed to get better and better: Their new records were amazing, and their live show (which often clocks in at more than three hours and features about 50 songs) was as loud and energetic as ever. That’s not the way things are supposed to be. 

Normally, as rock groups age, they rest on their laurels and become—on some level—a nostalgia act peddling the hits (think of The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, not to mention other ’90s acts like the Pixies or Weezer). This didn’t happen to Guided By Voices, and I wanted to find out how that happened.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication?

The book began as a podcast in late 2017. The plan was to, every two weeks, upload an episode of me talking about one of the band’s studio records. In each episode, I talked about who played on the album, what was happening in music at the time, and I also went through the record track by track and offered commentary on each song. 

(Find Gomez’s podcast episodes here.)

I wrote up “scripts” and then recorded myself reading the scripts. After doing this for a few episodes, I realized that what I was writing were really essays. Each essay was about 16 to 20 pages. After doing the math, I knew that—at the end of the podcast—all my essays would add up to a manuscript. I’d have a book on my hands! 

And, once I was indeed done with the podcast (I still release new episodes whenever the band puts out a new record, which they’ll do in August), I wrote a new introduction and afterward, and incorporated new information I’d come across. 

Looking back, it was a fun way to write a book; it felt like an old-fashioned serialization.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Something I hadn’t at all considered when I was writing the book was any sort of visual accompaniment. My editor at Jawbone, Tom Seabrook—after I turned in the final manuscript—asked me what I thought should be included in the images section. I had to admit I hadn’t given it any thought at all. 

Jawbone is renowned for producing high quality books about music, and images are a key part of that. But I didn’t think just reproducing record covers would have any benefit; all the hardcore fans already know what these LPs look like. But then I figured out a way to add value; I gathered a collection of memorabilia, original source material for the record sleeves, and showcased rare artifacts from the history of the band. 

Something that began as an afterthought turned out to be an integral part of the overall package. 

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Listening closely to music I’d been hearing for more than half my life provided many revelations; I discovered things—mainly in the lyrics—I’d never noticed before. It struck me that we often experience music, TV, books, and movies on a quick and instinctual level: We decide first whether or not we like or hate what we came in contact with, but we often don’t go a step further and critically analyze what we’ve just experienced (or why it is that we like it). 

This has always been the case but, in a digital world with unlimited content at everyone’s fingertips, I think it happens more often than ever; we binge a TV show and, without giving much thought to what we just watched, we binge another. 

So it was fun and illuminating to sit with a record and listen to it closely three or four times, really digging into the lyrics and the song structures. Giving it that kind of attention is something I’ll now endeavor to do with any piece of art I come into contact with.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope readers will not only get a deeper appreciation of this vital and important band (if not maybe just discover them in the first place), but I hope they’ll also see that—contrary to Fitzgerald’s often quoted maxim—there are indeed second acts in American lives. In fact, many artists—filmmakers, writers, musicians—create really great work late in life. 

(How I Stopped Sabotaging My Writing Goals: Confessions of a Late Bloomer.)

Steinbeck’s last novel was one of his best, British writer J.G. Ballard wrote good books until his death at age 78 and so even though, as a society, we worship youth, in the arts there’s no age limit on being creative or staying culturally relevant.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Write from your passion and not the marketplace; this book began because I liked a band. I never thought it would become a book but, once my podcast won an audience, I saw that it could work as something people would buy and put on a shelf. But that only happened because I was sharing something with the world that I cared about. 

This is in contrast to when I was in my twenties and thought I should be writing New Yorker-style fiction; I spent way too much energy trying to be Raymond Carver or John Cheever. Those just weren’t strengths I had (and, besides, those books already existed). Because I was wasting my time creating work I had no reason or ability to create, writing was a brutal chore. 

But today, when I write about subjects that interest me and which I have a real connection to, it’s fun and easy. 

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