Not literally. Maybe just brain frozen from looking at ancient (more than 100 years old) art – paintings, sculpture, buildings, food…

Yup, food. Some of it frozen in time in restaurants that are trying to present their menu in windows that need to be cleaned – as in removing dust and flies – and some of it in the still life paintings of the Masters.

However, since I’m on vacation, I thought that ExecEdits should offer a short succinct point of view on regional food offerings.

  1. Paris: yum. Bread, amazing, pizzas, delicious, wine, ooh la la. Don’t eat too near any of the monuments – the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, etc, – because you are paying a second entrance fee. Go a few streets behind the tourist scene and look for a café that appears to be serving locals and eat there. It’s definitely worth the extra steps. The price will be lower and the food will be better. The French love to eat and their food and wine are very important. They demand excellence and receive it. Otherwise… It’s the guillotine. Average cost for two – 40€.
  2. Provence: yummmmmm. Didn’t meet a meal or snack we didn’t enjoy. We were in Maussanne, St. Remy, Arles, Les Baux, Abbaye de Montmajour. Richard’s only complaint was that he had wanted a tuna salad and received two hunks of tuna in a sauce. The only meal that he didn’t finish. Even if you don’t stay in a Logis de France, try the food: the chef is sometimes the owner and serves amazing meals. Same average price depending on how much wine… We spent 60€ a couple of times but our meals were usually three courses.
  3. Florence: holy yummmmmm. Again about the monument thing but a couple of the restaurants we ate at near the Duomo were reasonable and served delicious food. We found a small restaurant a block away from our hotel and ate there every evening no later than 7:30. By 7:45, people were standing in line. If you ask for the kilo steak and potatoes, be prepared for stares from other patrons: that is one hunk of beef. We discovered a new pasta – pici – which is local to Tuscany, fatter and rounder than spaghetti but so delicious. Richard ordered his first Italian pizza and ate the whole thing, not a crumb remaining, with a blissful smile on his face the whole time. I also realized that I was over cooking my pastas and risottos. Be prepared for change. Average meal for two, yup, 40€.
  4. Siena: I had a great risotto with seafood and Richard had a good pici with funghi, but the jury is out on the rest.
  5. Bread: not all bread is created equal. So far, bread in Italy is a huge miss. That means we are really missing France for our bread rations.

To be continued.

Featured image: Lunch in Cassis. OMG! (Totally worthy of exclamation mark.)

Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing… and my responses

 1. Write

You can’t get anywhere unless you write. First basic principle of getting things done. You won’t write a poem or a story or a grocery list unless you pick up your computer, pen, whatever, and start writing.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

Who ever heard of a one-word story? That’s called a title. But, if you wait for the “right word” you may never find it. This is where I disagree with Mr. Gaiman. Just write. One word after another

3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

How many pieces of unfinished short stories do you have? I have tons; well, I used to. I made a goal this year of finishing three things and word-by-word, I’m working towards that. It doesn’t matter if you are working on a “shitty first draft” (thanks, Anne Lamott), just finish the damn thing.

4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

This is what you do with the SFD: put it aside. For a day, week, month. Finish writing something else in the meantime. Then take it out. Re-read it. Ask your most honest friends to read through it. Take their advice, which will most likely be to edit.

5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

This one is hard. Accepting advice. I’m in two writing groups right now and while I may not like their comments, they usually have a point about something not working. I don’t always accept their comments but they certainly make me think about what I’ve written, how it’s written, and, gee, sometimes they have a point.

My favourite creative writing prof and mentor, Alistair MacLeod, used to tell me “it sounds too “enny” or, he’d wave his hand over a specific line or word of the writing and say, “make better.” I got it. I had to go back and make it better. Something wasn’t working.

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

So, re-write. Make it better. I like to save my drafts just so I can see how I’ve progressed. And, I usually have. Perfection is elusive; just keep writing.

7. Laugh at your own jokes.

If you can’t laugh at your own jokes, maybe no one else will. If you don’t get it, no one else will. I’ve found that while I can laugh in my head, when I read it out loud, it doesn’t sound as funny. You might want to re-write that, too. If you have to explain the joke to your listener/reader or say “you had to be there,” it’s not working.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

What Mr. Gaiman said.

Original Gaiman post:

Web writing – add that to your c.v.

For the last several months, I’ve been working on re-writing web content for a large organization. Instead of writing corporate-speak, the writing is client-centric. In other words, writing for the audience.

Some of the basic premises and techniques used are:

  1. Ask questions and give answers – “Do you need something?” “You can find your something here, if you do this, this, and this.”
  2. Write in active not passive voice – “Create anchored links for content pages” not “Anchored links can be created for…”
  3. Keep paragraphs short and sentences simple, not complex.
  4. Use bullets or a numbered list.
  5. Choose a style of writing and stick with it. If your organization doesn’t have a style guide, perhaps this is something you can suggest and help develop.

In small organizations where all employees are the web content managers, a style guide will help the writing seem uniform, and not as if you have a thousand monkeys in the room while you hope that eventually you get at least one sentence that makes sense. You don’t have to reinvent the web, just search for “web content guidelines” and you’ll find sites such as Dalhousie University’s guide [] or, my personal favourite because it’s plain and fun, the New Zealand Government’s guide.

You can’t expect Shakespeare and you shouldn’t because your clientele doesn’t want to read Shakespeare; they want to purchase your goods or hire you for whatever it is you do.

Be clear. Be concise. Keep cleverness at a minimum (not everybody gets puns). Keep your pages clean with a minimum of photographs or graphs, which are memory hogs on a smart device or tablet. Make your information easy-to-find and easy-to-read: don’t ask potential clients to click down several levels before they reach what they’re looking for because they’ll leave after the third click.

And don’t forget about accessibility. Some of your clients – past, present, or future – may use text readers, may have vision impairments, etc. Don’t leave them outside your website trying to get in. The Ontario government has a guide on how to make your website more accessible. Besides if you are building a new site or refreshing your old, your site MUST conform to the WWW Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Some fixes are easy; others will take a bit of time, but it is worth it both in terms of accessibility for persons with disabilities and for your company’s reputation.

Sure, I know you all knew this before, but do you put it into practice?

Why I love editing

I know! Some people think I’m crazy and perhaps I am, but I truly love to edit. Perhaps my “fetish” came from my father. My dad was a great editor. His first job (I believe he was eight) was as a journalist who, upon listening in on conversations between his mother and her neighbours, became Halifax’s first writer for and publisher of tabloids. Alas, his days of yellow journalism ended quickly when his mother discovered the rag and shut down the young entrepreneur. Censorship was alive and well in the Pottie household in the 1920s.

My father went on to write and edit for the Chronicle-Herald, and CBC Radio and TV news. He wielded a mighty editor’s pen as regional news director and editor-in-charge throughout the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Always writing and editing, he retired from CBC in the late 1970s.

However, that wasn’t the end of his editing. He continued to read the newspaper and listen to the news, editing as he read, listened, or watched. He always advised the news provider of the mistakes that were made.

I published my first article in The Buzz in 1996 (I think). Proudly, I showed the article to my father, who then proceeded to edit the already-published piece. I was a little miffed. Next time, I was more careful before I showed him my work.

I’ve been a reader since before I can remember. That sounds weird but I don’t remember when it started. I read everything I could get my hands on, age appropriate or not. I read the Bible because I had to but there were some really interesting stories in there. Esther, for example. Visiting my older siblings in Montreal, I read their books: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cohen, Lennon, Lenin, the list goes on. I had a period of Harlequin romances and other of the genre, mostly because I was taken to the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and later those same places in history. Newspapers, magazines, bla bla bla.

What has bothered me throughout have been the mistakes. Small things, big things. Because the story stops: He leaned in to kis her [screech]. Get out the pen.

While doing graduate studies, I worked with students with disabilities. I was to help them write better. I loved the work because these students had trouble sorting out words, phrases, sentences, transitions, parallel structures, themes, etc. Once they got the hang of it – because they did – they were thrilled and relieved. They weren’t stupid, although they’d been told they were, in some circumstances. They just had a processing problem, a sorting problem. They couldn’t put on a hat and have it all figured out for them. They needed some hands-on, one-on-one assistance to show them the boxes, what went in the boxes, and then away they went.

Now I edit and proofread for other people (I suck at doing it for myself despite all the tricks I learned and taught). I’m in my element. I get to read new work, new research, and look for those small irregularities that bug me – timing, parallel structure, the thirteen year old who is murdered and is fifteen once the murderer is found, etc.

I thought that editors were mostly unsung – not that I’m looking for a parade – but I read an article by a writer today that was wonderful. Thanking editors. Praising editors. Worth their (our) weight in gold. Have a read.

Remember Ron Weasley’s Mother? BAM!

A bang, a screamer, a gasper, a slammer, or a startler, a shriek, a pling, a shout pole, and a dembanger. These words mean one thing “!”.

Remember Ron Weasley’s mother? And the “Screamer” she sent Ron when he flew the car to Hogwarts with Harry?

Now, that’s what I call an exclamation mark!

Exclamation points were originally called the “note of admiration.” They are now used to express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or any other strong emotion. Any exclamatory sentence can be followed properly by an exclamation mark, to add additional emphasis. After all, isn’t it a lot more exciting to say “I am excited!” than to say “I am excited.”

They are used commonly (sometimes too commonly) after interjections (words or phrases that are used to exclaim, command or protest). Interrogatories include words such as “oh, wow, and boy” For example, Wow! This grammar stuff is interesting! Boy! I wish I’d learned it before! Oh! That’s right, I did!

And multiple exclamation marks are just too easy: once you type / write one, why not keep going?!!!!!

I love exclamations. I love exclaiming! But, the problem really is that this little symbol of punctuation is overused! No!


Picture this: beautiful sunny day in Jamaica (I know!). You’re sitting by the pool or swimming in the turquoise waters, someone has just handed you something cold with an umbrella in it. Exclamation marks seem warranted, don’t they?

Or, you’ve just climbed a mountain and at the top, there’s a polar bear and a grizzly bear. Oops, forgot to tell you that you’re in Yukon. That’s a scenario that could require several exclamation marks, especially if the bears are hungry. But, really, does it?

  1. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.”

I laugh at my own jokes, especially when no one else is around to hear them but I try extremely hard not to use exclamation marks in writing, serious writing that is. Too many exclamation marks, like too many ellipses (…) are distracting and take away from the significance of the mark and the text.

People who write for marketing LOVE exclamation marks but they are unnecessary – totally – when the caption accompanies a stunning photograph or some well-written text. The picture and the words will convey the message, will tell the story, without screaming.

Why editing matters

Juliet's letter to the editor (c) Lee Ellen Pottie 2014

Juliet’s letter to the editor

In academia, whether as an undergrad, graduate, or professor, your writing and your research will distinguish you from a large pool of people. For students, good grammar and a polished text is the difference between an A paper and a B or C paper.

Unfortunately, grammar and good writing does not seem to be high on the list of important things in high school. Or, perhaps the student is not particularly interested in parsing. Parsing? Kind of a vegetable, shaped like a carrot, tasting like squash.

Graduate from high school, enter university, and all of a sudden, professors want papers, journals, opinion pieces, and, usually by the second semester, professors want a sign that the student’s knowledge of grammar is increasing. If it isn’t, he or she may suggest that the student visit the Writing Centre, if the university has one. Great idea!

“Publish or perish,” right? I’ve done editing for a number of professors, some of whom have a different first language than English. One professor, respected in his field, had a paper turned down by a journal. It wasn’t the topic or his research – it was his grammar and syntax. I had fun with that paper: first, I had to de-mystify what he was trying to say. Then, I had to look up the meaning of all the acronyms. Third, I went through the text with ‘track changes’ and made it sound, in English, as intelligent as it had been in French.

If a resumé or CV has an error in it and the HR person hiring catches it – highly likely – there’s a possible job gone. Many people have excellent research, business, marketing, or design skills, and job competition is fierce. Quality paper is not going to be the distinguishing mark between you and them; polished language and grammar is.



We had a slogan at another company – Dream big, start small. I’ve always loved that. Evokes all sorts of questions: what do you want to do? What are you good at? What is the best thing you could do? What did you want to be when you grew up? What do you want to be when you DO grow up?

I always wanted to be in the news business like my father. So romantic, it was then. I can see my dad now: perched on the edge of his desk, cigarette in one hand, scotch in the other, hat pulled down over one eye. Well, not exactly like that, but you get the picture.

cub reporter

What’s the plan for ExecEdits? Short term is to continue to promote the writing/editing side that is so satisfactory. We’ll add into the mix some social media promotion for a few small companies, and whatever else comes along such as small project management, teaching writing – professional and creative – communication skills, and other soft skills that help to professionalize a person/business.

In writing, the saying is “write what you know.” In business, the same thing applies: “do what you know.” What we know is language, words, grammar, writing, syntax, etc.; all of those words that most people have tried to forget since they left high school. We thrive on those words at ExecEdits.

We also believe that by presenting a clear, concise, error-free textual face to clients, a company’s stock will go up. Try it.