Dhalgren Review


Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that is both influential and rarely read. It is a long book, full of fascinating characters and interesting events. The people are complicated, as is the plot. The book is set in the fictional midwestern town of Bellona, a place where the laws of nature and the norms of behavior are both broken on a regular basis. The rest of the world seems to know Bellona exists, and the strangeness of the place, but seem to do nothing about it. There is a central mystery to the place that drives the plot forward, yet this MacGuffin is never explained. This mystery is mirrored by the central character, a man who has forgotten his name, and so is called the Kid. The closest to an explanation we ever get is near the end, when the Kid remembers part of his name, but not his family name. Likewise, at the end of the book, it appears that the outside world is bombing Bellona, and a number of the characters escape the same way they came in. As the Kid is leaving, he meets a couple of characters heading into Bellona, an event which is similar to the opening events of the book. This sense of the book circling in on itself is seen in the way the opening line of the book (to wound the autumnal city) is a continuation of the closing line of the book (Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to). The book is like a Mobius strip, a mathematical concept called a torus, or like the image of a snake swallowing itself. It hints at the story being endlessly repeated, only with different characters each time, each taking the same journey. Kind of like life.

Dhalgren bears a family resemblance to Jewish Second Temple apocalyptic literature, in which a person takes a journey through another, higher reality, one where judgment and reward are tied to the end of days. The New Testament book of Revelation is similar to Dhalgren in that time is not linear, but elliptical. The same events happen over and over but are described in different ways. The kid’s journey through the town of Bellona is likewise filled with apocalyptic portents. The kid escapes destruction, just as a new set of travelers arrive to begin their own personal journey through Bellona. There is a sense that destruction is always imminent, one the kid barely escapes. And yet there is also the sense that each traveler’s journey is unique, and that as long as there is one more new traveler, Bellona will not reach its teleological end.

Having said all that, the book is full of violence and sex of the type that would have gotten the book banned in an earlier era.

View all my reviews

Memory Eternal

The beginning to the life of Blessed Andrei of Simbursk contains these words: “Time does not spare human remembrance.”[1] For most of us, few will remark our passing. After those who love us die, no one will remember who we were, how we lived our lives, or even our names. Human remembrance is fleeting.

The psalmist writes: “For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life. But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand.” (Ps 31:13-15a) The knowledge that our times are in the hand of God informs our understanding of life after death. The psalmist did not say time, as in a unit of time that comes to an end; he said times, which has an eschatological dimension.

Near the end of the funeral liturgy, the priest prays:

“May Christ our true God, Who rose from the dead, through the intercessions of His most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and of all the saints, commit the soul of His servant [name], that hath departed from us, to the tabernacles of the righteous, give him (her) rest in the bosom of Abraham, and number him (her) with the righteous, and have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of mankind.”

The deacon then prays:

“In a blessed falling asleep, grant, O Lord, eternal rest unto Thy departed servant [name], and make his (her) memory to be eternal.”

The response of the Church is to sing three times: “Memory Eternal.” This is the blessed hope of every believer, to be remembered by God and to live with Him and the saints in His kingdom, which had no end. This is why we Orthodox exclaim “Memory Eternal” when informed of someone’s death. We know this life is fleeting, and human remembrance is fleeting, but that our times are in His hands.

We should note that while our lives are hid with Christ our God, we acknowledge the horror that is death. Humans were not made for a disincarnate existence. Therefore we mourn their death and our loss, even as we await the glorious resurrection of the body. This is why we Orthodox honor our dead, going so far as to give them a last kiss, for we know that their mortal bodies will be resurrected, they will put on incorruption, and that in their flesh they will see God.


Archpriest Elexei Skala. (2018). Blessed Andrei of Simbirsk, Fool-for-Christ and Wonderworker. The Orthodox Word, 54(4), 157-185.

[1] (Archpriest Elexei Skala, 2018, p. 158)

Let them have Dominion

Norm Carlson fly fishing
Norman Carlson fly fishing

My father was a trout fisherman. An avid fly fisherman. A great fly fisherman. He fished with the same two flies every time: a Royal Coachman Bucktail as the leader fly, and a Gray Hackle as a dropper.  

He caught fish everywhere. We would be up in the mountains and we would come across someone who would have abandoned a fishing hole, stating: “There are no fish in there.” My dad would promptly catch several fish there, causing consternation when the fisherman walked back through the area. I once asked him how he caught so many fish. He told me that it was because we (humans) were given dominion over the earth. I didn’t understand. I still don’t.

On the other hand, I recently noticed that when I go sit on my patio, I don’t always hear a lot of birds. But after I begin listening for them, the birds start chirping. Loudly. So loudly they drowned out the city noise. Which is odd, because this happens both during the day and during the dusk. Even as the night descends, as long as I am focusing on the birds, they sing.

To be honest, I don’t know what this means. This didn’t happen for me before I became Orthodox. On the other hand, my father was a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist, yet he seemed to be able to affect the natural order in a way I could not.

Movies and Scriptural Interpretation

In fiction, a monster is never just a monster, and an alien is never just an alien. The monster or the alien exist on the literal level, of course. But the monster or the alien exist as a metaphor for something else. Take the movie District 9 which took place in South Africa. The movie typologically represents apartheid South Africa, with the aliens known to the humans as ‘prawns’ restricted to concentration camps known as ‘districts.’

Scripture is a lot like that. It exists at many levels. The literal level is the lowest level. This happened, then that happened, then another thing happened. But some of the things that happen are metaphors for something else. Many of the miracles ascribed to Moses are metaphors. Joshua leading the people of Israel into the promised land is both a literal event and a metaphor.

Some of the stories in the Old Testament make no sense on the literal level. For example, Joshua’s capture of Jericho. It makes no sense that the Israelites would parade around Jericho for six days, then on the seventh day parade around, blow their horns, and the walls fall down. It literally makes no sense; it has to be a metaphor.

Biblical literalists try to get around this by claiming the literal meaning is the only meaning, and then manufacturing something called the ‘figurative literal.’ This means that when the literal meaning makes no sense, the literal meaning is the figurative sense. Biblical literalists will often discuss how an OT event is an analogy or type of its NT counterpart. Biblical literalists will often describe the literal meaning of the text, and then describe its ‘application,’ by which is meant the moral of the story. This is literally nonsense.

You cannot say meaning exists on only the literal level and then conflate the figurative and moral levels of meaning into the literal. By doing so you alter the definition of literal to include the multiple levels of meaning.

Prayers of St Silouan the Athonite

Saint Silouan the Athonite (circa 1930)
Saint Silouan the Athonite (c. 1930)

These prayers are excerpts from one of St Silouan’s writings, known as “Yearning for God.”[1]

Prayer of St Silouan the Athonite for Humility

O Lord, grant me Your spirit of humility
That I lose not Your grace again,
And weep for it as Adam wept for paradise and for God.

O Lord, grant me to love You alone. You created me,
You enlightened me through holy baptism,
You forgive my sins and allow me to partake of Your most pure body and Blood.
Enable me at all times to dwell in You.
O Lord, grant unto us the repentance of Adam, and Your holy humility.

O merciful Lord, Enlighten Your people that they may know You;
That they may know how You love us.

Prayer of St Silouan the Athonite for the Holy Spirit

O merciful Lord, bestow Your grace on all the peoples of the earth, that they may know You;
For without Your Holy Spirit man cannot know You and conceive of Your love.

O Lord, send down on us Your Holy Spirit,
For knowledge of You and all that relates unto You comes solely through the Holy Spirit,
Whom in the beginning You gave unto Adam,
And after him to the holy prophets,
And then to Christian people.

O Lord, let all Your peoples discern Your love,
And the sweetness of the Holy Spirit,
That men may forget the sorrows of this world,
And forsake all that is evil,
And cling unto You in love, and live in peace,
Doing Your will to Your glory.

O Lord, vouchsafe unto us the gift of the Holy Spirit,
That we may perceive Your glory,
And live on earth in peace and love.
And let there be neither malice, nor wars or enemies,
But may love alone reign,
And there will be no need of armies, or prisons,
And life will be easy for everyone on earth.

I pray You, O merciful Lord,
For all the peoples of the earth,
That they may come to know You
By the Holy Spirit.

Prayer of St Silouan the Athonite for our enemies.

O merciful Lord, by Your Holy Spirit teach us
To love our enemies, and pray for them with tears.

O Lord, send down Your Holy Spirit on earth
That all nations may know You, and learn Your love.

O Lord, as You Yourself prayed for Your enemies,
So teach us, too, by Your Holy Spirit, to love our enemies.

O Lord, all peoples are the work of Your hands.
Turn them from enmity and malice to repentance,
That all may know Your love.

Or Lord, You commanded us to love our enemies,
But it is hard for us sinners, if Your grace be not with us.

O Lord, pour down Your grace upon the earth.
Let all the nations of the earth come to know Your love;
To know that You love us with a mother’s love,
And more than a mother’s love,
For even a mother may be forgetful of her children,
But You never forget,
Because Your love for Your creation is boundless,
And love cannot forget.

O merciful Lord, by the riches of Your mercy, save all peoples.

Thanksgiving Prayer of St Silouan the Athonite

What shall I render unto You, O Lord?

You, O merciful One, raised my soul from sin,
And gave me to know Your mercy towards me,
And my heart fell captive to You,
And reaches unceasingly toward You, my Light.

What shall I render unto You, O Lord?

You raised my soul to love You and to love my neighbor,
And You gave me tears to pray for the whole world.

Prayer of St Silouan the Athonite for Cleansing and Mercy

Come and take up Your abode, and cleanse me of my sins.
From the heights of Your glory You see how my soul yearns after You.
Forsake not Your servant.
Hear me as I cry unto You like the Prophet David:
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness.”


Archimandrite Sophrony. (1991). St Silouan the Athonite. (R. Edmonds, Trans.) Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

  1. (Archimandrite Sophrony, 1991, p. 269ff)


Poverty, Individual Charity, and Societal Action

Vladimir Solovyev
Vladimir Solovyev

Men have imagined that the acknowledgement of the divinity of Christ relieves them of the obligation of taking His words seriously. They have twisted certain texts of the Gospel so as to get out of them the meaning they want, while they have conspired to pass over in silence other texts which do not lend themselves to such treatment. The precept “render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is constantly quoted to sanction an order of things which gives Cæsar all and God nothing. The saying “My Kingdom is not of this world” is always being used to justify and confirm the paganism of our social and political life, as though Christian society were destined to belong to this world and not to the Kingdom of Christ. On the other hand, the saying “All power is given Me in Heaven and Earth” is never quoted. Men are ready to accept Christ as sacrificing Priest and atoning Victim; but they do not want Christ the King. His royal dignity has been ousted by every kind of pagan despotism, and Christian peoples have taken up the cry of the Jewish rabble: “We have no king but Cæsar!” Thus history has witnessed, and we are still witnessing, the curious phenomenon of a society which professes Christianity as its religion but remains pagan not merely in its life but in the very basis of that life.

Economic slavery, even more than slavery properly so called, has found its champions in the Christian world. Society and the State, they maintain, are in no way bound to take general and regular measures against pauperism; voluntary almsgiving is enough; did not Christ say that there would always be the poor on Earth? Yes, there will always be the poor; there will always be the sick, but does that prove the uselessness of health services? Poverty in itself is no more an evil than sickness; the evil consists in remaining indifferent to the sufferings of one’s neighbor.

This desire to limit the social action of Christianity to individual charity, this attempt to deprive the Christian moral code of its binding character and its positive legal sanction is a modern version of that ancient Gnostic antithesis (the system of Marcion, in particular) so often anathematized by the Church. That all human relationships should be governed by charity and brotherly love is undoubtedly the express will of God and the end of His creation; but in historic reality, as in the Lord’s Prayer, the fulfilment of the divine will on Earth is only realized after the hallowing of God’s Name and the coming of His Kingdom. The Name of God is Truth; His Kingdom is Justice. If follows that the knowledge of the truth and the practice of justice are necessary conditions for the triumph of evangelical charity in human society. (Solovyev, 1948, pp. 8-9)

Vladimir Solovyev


Solovyev, V. (1948). Russia and the Universal Church. (H. Rees, Trans.) London: The Centenary Press.

Reference Managers

When writing a non-fiction academic work, one of the more difficult things is managing your references. Word 2007 (and greater) does a good job with its active references, making it easy to manage your sources, add references to individual papers, and create bibliographies on the fly. The only problem (such as it is) has to do with its flexibility. Fortunately, there are add-ins available that add additional functionality and flexibility.

The ability to import existing Word citations is an important feature for me. I don’t want to have to re-enter hundreds of citations manually simply to gain access to the features and flexibility offered by a third-party add-in. It is a simple enough problem to solve, as all the data is available in XML files and openly available XML schemas. It is a relatively straightforward task to transform the existing data into the application’s format.


One I’ve tried is EndNote, which seems to be a full-featured and flexible addition. Endnote is pricey — $250 for the application. I was about 300 pages into a book, and didn’t want to have to re-enter all my existing citations; Endnote comes with one quite useful feature — it will import your existing Word 2007 (and greater) citations. At the time I used the trial version, I couldn’t find this feature, so I never bought it. The free online version is quite powerful for academic researchers and has a plugin for Word (and Internet Explorer.) I could not get the online program to upload my Word document’s citations to EndNote, even after turning off my firewall. The trial version of the EndNote application worked well, and even purported to import all the citations from my Word document, as well as importing all the citations from my Word Master Source file. This was not, however, a seamless process; I had to do a lot of editing, and there were missing fields for some categories.


One that is both powerful and free is Mendeley. It is quite useful for academic work — you can drag in your files, or set up a watched folder. It will extract the metadata for you, making the task of citing much easier. My problem was that it wouldn’t import existing Word citations. This is a deal breaker for me.


Refworks is a powerful and flexible way to manage your citations. It is an online program, meaning it doesn’t install anything on your computer. This is valuable if you are using computers in libraries or at work where you are not allowed to install software. Unfortunately, Refworks requires the user to manually tag their bibliography for import into Refworks, making this one a dealbreaker.

Zotero is a free plugin. Unfortunately, it seems a bit buggy, and a number of Word features (like Track Changes) cause problems. I didn’t bother installing this to see how it worked — a quick run-through of the documentation was enough.


Papers (from Mekentosj — www.papersapp.com) is also a full-featured program. It does not, however, do the one thing I need it to do, which is to import my existing Word citations.


I suppose if I was starting from scratch, I’d go with Manderley. It comes with the features I need in a reference manager, with the exception of not being able to import citations from Word. Even the most expensive reference manager, EndNote, couldn’t import the Word citations properly. It’s not like it is a technically difficult problem. The XML files are all on the computer; the schemas are all online, and data transformation is a relatively straightforward procedure. I have to believe the reference manager software providers are simply uninterested in the problem.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_reference_management_software

Writing a Non-Fiction Book

The Pains of Composition by Leonid Osipovish Pasternak
The Pains of Composition
Leonid Osipovish Pasternak


Don’t let anyone kid you — writing any book is hard work, but writing non-fiction can be harder. (Although not working in an iron foundry hard, so perhaps difficult would be a better word.) Most books, courses, and workshops on writing are geared towards fiction. I am unable to write fiction, and when I attend writer’s workshops I feel like an orphan. The Creative Writing types seem to look down on non-fiction writers, as though it is a lesser, more formulaic type of writing, as though making a topic interesting for the reader doesn’t require skill and creativity.

Being a non-fiction writer can be quite rewarding. Not in a financial sense, although that is always part of the plan. But there is real satisfaction in exploring a topic, finding connections between seemingly disparate facts, and learning something new. The creative juices get flowing when the writer finds a new angle on the topic and puts a new spin on the presentation of the information.

But first, where to begin? With a question that requires an answer. Sometimes you can formulate the question quite precisely, in which case an Internet query can provide the answer. But sometimes you are curious about a topic, and you don’t know enough to ask the right question. That is where the research begins. You piece things together, following the trail of breadcrumbs from place to place. A search of the Internet can turn up a range of opinions and documents on various topics, so you’ll want to explore alternate points of view. Avoid blog posts which are nothing more than personal opinion. Instead, look for someone with scholarly pretensions, someone who provides sourced quotes, someone who at least mentions alternative points of view and someone who cites their sources. Then, follow those sources. If you are using a journal article or a book, always check the footnotes, as they can lead you to interesting sources and provide fascinating detail. Primary (or original) source material is best, but is not always available, especially if it is in a foreign language or locked behind a paywall. In that case, you may have to use secondary source material, so try to use the best and most generally accepted source material available.

I usually write several short papers to keep track of my research and collect my thoughts. Sometimes the writing begins with a passion and the pages seemingly write themselves. But most of the time writing is not about inspiration, but about pushing through the drudgery hoping for the next burst of inspiration. Sometimes the words will flow, but most of my time is spent wrestling the text into shape. After some time I get a sense of where the research is heading, and sometimes is going in an unexpected direction — which is a good thing. This tells me my thinking is no longer bound by my preconceived notions. When I am willing to examine and possibly even accept alternate points of view, I am intellectually invigorated. When a new interpretation of the facts provides a fuller explanation, and when I can accept that with an open mind, I’m am altering my mental framework, something necessary to get a new angle on the subject.

If you chose to follow this process, eventually you will have done enough research to get a handle on the topic and begin refining the research question. At this point you likely have done enough work to produce an outline and should begin plugging your research under the appropriate headings. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have an idea of where the holes are in your research, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the work remaining.

I have found I can do forty pages without too much trouble, but getting over that can be a problem. For my first book, I ended up dividing the book into multiple parts and worked on each of them individually. This worked for a while until I began having some overlap between the writing. I found I had begun going over the same topics again, addressing them in a different context. That is when I began to make some hard decisions when I really began to wrestle with the text.

Any number of book reviews will complain about a book being repetitious. This can be true, but I’ve also noticed that books can suffer by avoiding a previously mentioned topic. Just because a topic has been mentioned in one context doesn’t mean the topic isn’t germane in a new context. In my opinion, readers don’t want to have to flip back several chapters to figure out what you are talking about. To me, a degree of repetition is respectful of the reader. On the other hand, simple repetition is a sign of a sloppy mind. When I find I’m just repeating myself to no good purpose, one of the passages has to go.

One of the hardest things about writing is eliminating your own writing. It’s a Sophie’s Choice, which is why writers call it “killing your children”. It’s always a judgment call, and a writer is not always the best judge of their own work. This is where an editor is helpful. Give your text to someone and listen to their feedback. Don’t argue with them, or you won’t get honest criticism. If they are your intended audience and they don’t understand something, you need to simplify and clarify your writing. If the subject has its own jargon, you might need to explain what the words mean. Sometimes this can be done inline, and sometimes in a footnote. Although a glossary is often necessary, be respectful of your reader and define your terms as you use them. (Someone complained about all the big words in my first book and suggested the addition of a glossary. I’m working on that for the next edition.)

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Less is more. Avoid adverbs as much as possible. Don’t begin or end sentences with prepositions. All such maxims are good advice and should be kept in mind. But they don’t always apply. I like complex sentences, full of parenthetical detail and such. It’s the way I talk, and the way I think. I will try to edit these into simple, terse sentences, but sometimes it isn’t possible without doing damage to the sense of the text, without losing it’s meaning, and without destroying the rhythm. Good prose writing has a structure, a rhythm, a beat. Sometimes a big word is better than a short one at expressing your point, and sometimes it just fits the structure of the sentence. Other times it is just pretentious. Use your judgment, but follow the advice of your readers and editors as much as possible.

Another source of drudgery is the formatting of your book. So many decisions to make.

  • Which Style Manual to use? Some specialized fields have their own style manual, which makes the choice easier. I personally use the Chicago Manual of Style; even with its flaws, it remains one of the most useful and comprehensive style manuals on the market. (If you are self-publishing, the “Parts of a Book” section is worth the price of the book. You’re welcome.)
  • Footnotes vs. endnotes? And if you use endnotes, do you put them at the end of each chapter? Each section? Or at the end of the book? How do other books in your subject area handle these?
  • What font should you use? Do your research on this, and take your time. Don’t use a font created for the web (like Verdana), because it won’t look as good in print. For an ebook, you probably want to use a sans-serif font. For print, use a serif font. Use different but related fonts for your body and headings.
  • The more academic your book is, the more you will need an index. Even though modern word processors will automate much of the processes, it is still a long and laborious process.
  • If your book is in a specialized area of research, you will need a glossary.
  • You need to decide on the size of your printed page. Take a look at other books similar to yours, and choose a similar paper size. Many books use 6″ x 9″, and some self-publishers recommend this size. I found that my page count exploded once I switched my manuscript from the standard 8.5″ x 11″ format, so you might want to change your page layout early in the process.

All of this seems unconnected to the creative process but has everything to do with making your writing useful to the reader. Whether you do it yourself, pay someone to do it, or if your publisher does it, it still needs to be done. Call me a control freak, but I prefer to do it myself.

So how long should your book be? The ideal book length (from the standpoint of a publisher) is 288 pages. The reason is that all the pages can be printed in one shot with no wasted paper. 288 pages is less costly for printing, binding, packaging, and shipping. The longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce, which is a factor for both the traditional publishing house and a self-published book. And the more expensive the book is to produce, the more the end customer has to pay. From a word count perspective, the writer should aim for 80,000-89,999 words. If your book is shorter than this, you may not have done enough research; if longer than this, you may need some ruthless editing. If you are well over this word count, some suggest you think about dividing your book across multiple volumes. Also, different types of writing have different expectations for the length of a book. Adapt accordingly.

With my first book, I kept writing until I got to over 500 pages (at 6″ by 9″), at which point I went back and ruthlessly cut out over 100 pages. Which was a good thing, because the index and the bibliography added many additional pages back into the book. The published product wound up at 452 pages. I’m not happy about the length, but it is as short as I knew how to make it. I originally tried to stop once I’d reached the 288-page mark, but there were still holes in the research. A shorter book would not have answered the research question I’d given myself. Having written the first book, I find my second book is more likely to come in near the ideal length.

So when is your book done? This is a good question, and somewhat related to the length of your book. I found that once I’d filled in my outline, connected all the dots, and made everything flow well from one chapter to the next, I was still nowhere near being finished, and that the writing and editing process seemed endless. There was always one more source to track down, one more quote to add, one more idea to explore. But eventually, the process started to slow down. Once I realized I was spending more time polishing the prose than writing, I began to suspect was nearly finished.

Once you’ve reached this point, put your book away. Avoid it, don’t look at it, think about something else for a while. Then, when you come back to it, you will have a fresh perspective, and you will be better able to find the flaws in your writing. Now put it away again, and so on. After a few cycles, you will find fewer and fewer things to change, which is an indication you are nearly finished. For myself, I remember the day I looked at a well-written passage and realized I hadn’t supplied the citation. I spent hours searching for the quote, only to discover I had written it myself. When I was able to stop being hyper-critical and finely appreciate what I had written — that is when I knew I was done.

Now go forth and do likewise.

Microsoft Word Irritations

Charlie Brown in the pitcher's mound, yelling "Aaugh" in frustration.

The version of Microsoft Office provided at the workplace tends to be one or perhaps two generations behind. In this case we are approaching the release of Office 2016; I’m using Office 2013 at home while I’m stuck with Office 2010 at work. I can’t say for sure that all these things haven’t been fixed in 2013 because my writing at home tends to be much different than the document formats I use at work. However, I know that some of these are issues both with Word 2010 and Word 2013. Since software managers want to implement new features rather than fix existing features, these aren’t the type of issues that get fixed. From what I hear, Office 2016 has a new (old) look, plus new collaboration features. None of the reviews I’ve seen suggest they are doing much to improve existing functionality.

Headers and Footers

  1. When working with headers and footers, you can use “Link to Previous” to copy the header from one section to another. To modify the header or footer for that section (perhaps because you have changed the page orientation or margins), you unclick “Link to Previous”. When you do this, your cursor loses focus; it doesn’t stay where it was but moves to the beginning of the header or footer in use.


  1. There is seemingly no way to set the default table properties (such as Cell margins, header background color, etc.). You can set them for a particular document template, but when opening a document created by someone else you have to manually go through and change the table properties. Attaching a document template to an existing document will update the document styles for the table, but not the table properties.
  2. There is seemingly no way to apply the same table formats to multiple tables in a document. Suppose I have numerous tables of the same type in a document, and I want to make the table margins and column widths the same. I can’t do this all at once, but have to do them individually. (I suspect you could do it with macros, but my employer has disabled macros for security reasons.)
  3. When changing table properties on the Table Properties Modal, you can’t change properties on multiple tabs before submitting the changes. Switching a tab on the Table Properties Modal cancels out any changes you had made on the previous tab. You must make all your changes on one tab and Click OK; this closes the Table Properties Modal. You must then reopen the Table Properties Modal and move to the next tab. Or if you are on a Tab, make changes, and then click Options, your changes are cancelled and only the changes on the Options screen are applied.
  4. When changing row properties on the Row tab of the Table Properties Modal, there are two checkboxes. The first is “Allow row to break across pages.” The second is “Repeat as header row at the top of each page.”
    1. The first option is usually applied or unapplied to the entire table; usually you would select the entire table first, then navigate to the Row tab and check or uncheck the option.
    2. The second option is usually applied to the first row of a table. The problem is that you can only do one or the other on a single visit, but not both.
    3. If you need to deselect rows from breaking and designate the first row as the header, you have to make two visits to the Table Properties Modal. Meanwhile, there are edge cases where more than one row is used for the header, or where some rows may be allowed to break across pages while others are not.
    4. The solution is to implement a third checkbox with an option to make the first row repeated as the header row at the top of each page. This way you could select the entire table, deselect the ability to allow the row to break across pages (which makes tables difficult to read) and select the option to repeat the first row as the header without having to make two trips. (Yes, I know about the option on the Table Tools Layout ribbon to Repeat Header Rows.That doesn’t resolve the problem, as it still takes multiple clicks to accomplish what should be a simple task.)
  5. Tables are more difficult to work with than they need to be. As a consequence, I often create the table in Excel and then copy the contents over into a Word Table. This is less than ideal.
    1. What is needed is some of the spreadsheet functionality being added to the table to make it easier to create and edit. For example, suppose I have a Default Sort column with the values Ascending, Descending, andNone. If I begin typing Asc in a new cell, it should understand that I want to fill in Ascending and work the way a spreadsheet does.
    2. Similarly, if I am filling in a column or row with a series, the table should handle that the same way the spreadsheet does. Similarly, dragging text (like N/A) between cells should be as simple as grabbing the handle over a cell or group of cells.
    3. What would be nice is the ability to create a table and work it as a table, then tell it to behave like a spreadsheet and work it that way, then tell it to convert back to a table. That way I could use both table and spreadsheet functionality as appropriate.


  1. When using Insert Citation, there is no way to search or filter the citations. This functionality exists on Manage Sources and allows searching by Title, Author, or Tag. If you are using Word to write a professional or academic document, this missing functionality detracts from the user experience.

Tracked Changes

  1. Every time I save a document with tracked changes, Word warns me the document contains tracked changes and asks me if I want to continue. Every time, with no option to turn it off. Of course, I want to save the document with tracked changes. That is the point of tracked changes — making changes to an existing document and sending the document out for peer review.
  2. The same happens when printing a document with tracked changes, by the way. Instead if just asking if I really intended to print a document with tracked changes, give me a dialogue with some options: to print the document without tracked changes, to print the document with the tracked changes, or to print just the tracked changes. Or to Cancel altogether.

Cut and Paste

  1. When you Copy and Paste you generally end up with an extra paragraph mark which you then must delete.

Cropping Pictures

  1. When cropping a picture, the handles are always the same shade of blue, often blending into the background and making it hard to grab them. The handle color should always be in sharp contrast to the picture.


  1. In the document metadata, we have a field called “Tags”. In Quick Parts, this same data is called “Keywords”.

Margins and Page Layout

  1. When adding a section and switching between portrait and landscape (or vice versa), the custom margins must be reapplied to the new section. For example, if you are in portrait orientation and have margins of .75” left and .5”for all the rest, adding a new section in landscape orientation ends up with .75” at the top and .5” for all the rest. You have to reapply the custom margins to the new section.


How to Edit Your Own Book

Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick Two.
Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick Two.

Editing your own book is a long and difficult process. I find it to be the second most arduous piece of the process, but definitely the most painful one. There are many reasons why you might want to edit your own work. First, publishers appreciate a well-written book. If your book is hard to read it reduces the potential size of the audience. If your book uses poor spelling, grammar, and sentence construction, it will be more difficult to evaluate and more time-consuming to correct. This increases the publisher’s costs and reduces their potential profits.

Suppose you choose to publish your own book. Instead of the publisher bearing the cost of editing your book, you will have to pay the cost upfront. The cost can be prohibitive. There are sites where you can hire freelance editors, and pricing varies. Some charge $3.95 per page (in early 2015); this price seems about average. Most copy editors charge by the word, and prices vary based on the type of editing you need. Basic proofreading runs around $0.019 cents per word. Line editing costs around $0.025 cents per word. Developmental editing costs around $0.032 cents per word.

Let’s talk about the types of editing for a moment. Proofreading is about “grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice and sentence structure.”[1] Line editing is about consistency and syntax. Developmental editing is about content and structure. Some people use the term copy editing in conjunction with proofreading, others in conjunction with line editing. When hiring a copy editor, make sure you know which definition they are using so you understand the pricing.

Good editing takes time. Time is money. A good editor has spent more time at their craft and, therefore, costs more. Also, good editors make more than one pass through the material. The second pass finds errors missed on the first pass or errors introduced in the corrections. The third pass ensures nothing was missed. If the third pass finds errors, a fourth pass is necessary.[2] If you hire an inexpensive editor, you will likely get someone who is inexperienced. If you hire someone with a rapid turnaround, you will likely only get one pass through the material. If you find pricing that is out substantially cheaper than the norm, or if the turnaround is quicker than average, you are not receiving a quality service.

Let’s quantify the cost of hiring a freelance editor. The trim size is only 200 – 250 words per page. Let’s say 225. If your book is 100,000 words, that comes to 444 pages. Hiring an editor at $3.95 per page comes to $1755. Let’s look at the freelance editors pricing by the word. Proofreading comes to $1900; Line editing comes to $2400; developmental editing comes to $3200.

On the other hand, you could use a service like CreateSpace; they offer a single round of editing for $0.016 per word, or $1600 for your manuscript. That’s just one round; you’ll need to pay for multiple rounds. Lulu.com charges $0.037 per word for line editing, $0.044 per word for content editing, and $0.081 per word for developmental editing. With Lulu, editing your hypothetical manuscript would cost between $3,700 and $8,100.

I write because I have to. I don’t write to get rich.  I did not set out to edit my own books, but I cannot afford to have them professionally edited. After self-publishing my first book, a reviewer I trusted told me the book was weakly edited.  I was well into writing my second book, and I had to learn some new tricks, and fast. Fortunately, technology is rapidly improving, and there are products on the market that can help.

As a professional writer, you cannot rely on Microsoft Word. Its spell-checker has a limited vocabulary. Its grammar checker is useful but rudimentary. You need something more.

Grammarly.com offers an interesting product. I have it installed as a browser extension, and it is constantly finding issues that I wasn’t even aware of. They also have an online service that you can either type in directly or copy text into. They have a subscription service that will do more than simple proof-reading. When I tried to use it on my book, the size of the file it accepted was too limiting. I wanted something more powerful, but also something that did not require a subscription.

StyleWriter 4, offered by Editor Software, is a powerful editing program that comes in multiple editions. The Starter edition does proofreading; the Standard edition adds checks for jargon and readability, plus adds style customization features. The Professional edition adds checks for how lively your writing is, plus adds the editor’s list. The editor’s list allows you to look as lists of issues such as spelling, word choice, etc. The professional edition also allows you to choose the type of manuscript you are writing and the type of audience. For example, you can write fiction for the general public, or you can write an Academic paper for an audience of specialists.

For various reasons, I use both products. I copy a few paragraphs at a time into Grammarly.com, correct any issues, and copy them back into my document. I then highlight the material in Microsoft word, open StyleWriter, and let StyleWriter import it from the Clipboard. StyleWriter then highlights and grades the text, and allows me to fix any problems. I then copy the corrected text back into my document.

These programs have certain weaknesses. For example, they both prefer modern plain English. They ruthlessly critique text written in another era. For example, StyleWriter had fifteen suggestions for the Gettysburg address; the final sentence was graded as having a “Dreadful” style. For this reason, I only use these programs to edit my text; I do not copy quoted material into the program. I can’t change someone else’s words, so why bother? There are times when a sentence should not be in the modern plain English style; perhaps you are copying the style from a quoted section. Perhaps the material demands a different style of writing.

I do not claim this method will replace a good editor. Nothing can do that. It will, however, improve your manuscript. These programs will often tell you why the change is necessary; incorporating these suggestions will improve your writing. It will help you simplify your writing, making it easier for your reader to follow.


Klems, Brian. 2013. “10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You—But Should.” The Writer’s Dig. November 5. Accessed January 9, 2016. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-things-your-freelance-editor-might-not-tell-you-but-should.

Levine, Mark, and Lynda Lotman. n.d. “Mark Levine Interviews Lynda Lotman.” Book Editing Associates. Accessed January 9, 2016. http://www.book-editing.com/editing-articles/hire-book-editor.html.


[1] (Klems 2013)

[2] (Levine and Lotman n.d.)