Posts tagged: writing

May 30 2016

When Writing is Hard

I post here about words, about my addiction to words, about how to use words and punctuation to communicate. I try to educate my readers, to help them become better at communicating via the written word. And I talk sometimes about my personal projects, the writing I do for myself that someday will be released to the world.

When I was in school, I wrote all the time. If I wasn’t writing, I was reading. I used to write stories in Chemistry class in high school. I was adept at both hiding a book below my desktop and reading it in my lap during class and walking from one class to the next while reading. The story ideas came fast and furious. I always had characters to write about and stories to tell.

At some point in university, that began to change. I wrote my second novel in first year and then gradually I stopped writing. Reading was replaced with TV by third year.

I suppose “stopped” isn’t quite right. I still wrote stories and poems, and I continued to read books (both fiction and non-fiction, for fun). They just weren’t activities that I did every spare moment anymore. Other things began to take up my time, like the internet and TV and so on. But I did also begin journalling more, so maybe my creativity was being expended in my schooling (I was a composition major, after all) and in writing out all of my thoughts about my life.

I started reading and writing more often a few years ago (not ten years ago, but I think more than five years ago). I made a point of writing all year, not just during November. I started going to the library and to the book store more often and did my best to make the time for both activities. (You can’t be a writer if you are not also a reader, after all.) Doing things like this requires mindfulness and purpose, neither of which I am consistently great at. But I try.

Writing is still my joy. I love words. I love finding new ways to say what I need to say, the combination of words that will get the story right.

If I am honest, I will say that I have not written any fiction in over a week. I have many projects on the go and many more waiting in the wings, because the ideas keep coming. But actually making the writing happen is very hard.

I thought I would confess this now because I think authors do our readers a disservice if we pretend that it is easy to make words happen. Sometimes words are not coming because we are having trouble figuring out what we want to say or how to say it; sometimes words are not coming because we are not making the time to put them on the page. Life happens to everyone, usually at the most inopportune moments. And it is good that it does happen, because that is how we get the experiences we need in order to be able to write real stories, to speak Truth through our writing.

But it can be so frustrating when the words are rattling around inside, aching to get out, and it just isn’t happening.

I hope to let more of mine out soon.

May 23 2016

May 2016 :: Personal Projects

I’m still working on How to be GLAD (my dystopian Pollyanna); finding time to write when you have a toddler is difficult! Hopefully I will finish that up soon so that I can get back to Tumbling, as I want to get this next rewrite finished as soon as possible.

I’m also currently working on an edit of my “musicians’ mob” short story, which is the first in a series that I think people will quite enjoy. It’s farcical and should be quite funny even if you aren’t a musician!

I have begun to get some of my music up on a site for sale. You can find the first piece here. I’ll also be updating my Music Page (linked in the sidebar) with links to the pieces I have for sale, and I intend to continue placing church music for free download on this page as well.

I’ll be doing an editing workshop in Saskatoon on June 4. If you’re interested in attending, please register using this Google Form.

Mar 14 2016

Writing Tips :: Parentheses

Have you ever heard the phrase “parenthetical remarks”? That basically means that the remarks aren’t the meat of the message but could still be important. In writing, we can use parentheses to enclose an interjection, a clarification of some kind, a list, or even an entire sentence or group of sentences. Which you use when, and how you punctuate them, is what we’re going to cover today.

Like I often do, let’s look at each situation using examples. Examples make it easier to understand a concept and how to apply a technique.

First up: interjections. In dialogue we would use em-dashes (—) to set these apart but in prose it makes more sense to use parentheses.

Sally had on a pair of walking boots (they were last year’s fashion but still quite serviceable), grey woollen socks, and a pair of worn denim overalls.

Note that the punctuation that belongs after the word “boots” goes after the closing parenthesis. This is because everything inside the parentheses applies to the boots, and if we take all of that out our sentence is still a perfectly good sentence.

Next up: clarifications. Sometimes these are things like acronyms, and sometimes they are statements.

The staff are all required to obtain First Aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification as soon as possible (i.e., within three months of hire).

Here we get a note that “CPR” stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation as well as clarification that “as soon as possible” actually means “before the probation period is up.” This is important information but is not essential to the overall message of the sentence, so it is in parentheses.

Moving on to lists! Lists can seem tricky at first because they include commas or semicolons between the items, but if you remember the rule I gave for interjections you’ll do fine.

The shelves in the closet held a lot of board games (e.g., Sorry!, Clue, Candyland, Twister), but The Game of LIFE wasn’t there.

See? Easy! The punctuation that goes with “board games” goes on the outside of the parentheses, but you have commas between the names of the board games themselves.

Okay, one more. How do you use parentheses to enclose an entire sentence or group of sentences?

Someday Cathy will learn the truth. (She won’t like it when she does, but she will.)

Just like that! See how the parentheses enclose the entire sentence, including its closing period? That’s because it’s a separate sentence from the one it’s responding to. This is great for asides in prose, because you can give the most important information in a really straightforward manner and then make snarky comments in parentheses afterward. (Not that I ever do that. Really. Okay, maybe a little bit.)

And that is your crash course on using parentheses! I’m sure I missed something, but these rules should stand you in good stead for most of the times you might need to use them. Go forth and make parenthetical remarks!

Feb 08 2016

Writing Tips :: When to capitalize nouns

Okay, story time: When I was in grade eleven, we wrote a lot of personal essays for English class. One was supposed to be about something we believed in. I worked pretty hard on mine and wrote about Santa Claus. I capialized a lot of words that didn’t really need to be capitalized.

On the day we were supposed to get our papers back, the teacher said he was very sorry but partway through reading our essays he had to stop and take a long break because one of them was really hard to understand.

That essay was mine.

I still got a good grade, but he wrote on the back that “it is customary to provide an industrial-strength Tylenol with an essay such as this” (not a direct quote, but you get the gist). Sorry Mr Moore! I didn’t mean to give you a massive headache!

So there are rules for writing that are meant to help keep things clear. These rules have to do with punctuation, spelling, grammar, and capitalization (among other things). The rules for capitalization are pretty simple: you capitalize the first word of a sentence, and you capitalize proper nouns.

Proper nouns are actual names of people, places, or things. So you capitalize “France” (a country is a place), “French” (a language is a thing), and “Francois” (a name of a person). You don’t capitalize “city” (it is too general), “knife” (again, too general), or “girl” (too general). (You do, however, capitalize “That Girl” but only when you’re talking about the TV show, so again it’s a specific thing.)

Here’s an example with a word I often see capitalized incorrectly. I will provide examples to show you the correct uses of capitalization depending on the way the word is used.

  1. The doctor read the patient’s chart.
  2. Dr Solomon was an expert geologist.
  3. Doctor Who is correctly known as The Doctor because that is his name.

Here’s another rule you should observe — the one I totally ignored when I wrote that essay I opened with: do not use capitalization to provide emphasis. That’s what bold and italics (or even ALL CAPS) are for. Capitalizing a word that is not a proper noun gives it undue importance and will cause your reader to wonder just how and why it is that important. Save everyone the need for industrial-strength Tylenol and leave the extra capitals in your keyboard, where they belong.

Jan 11 2016

Writing Tips :: Conjugating Verbs

If you’ve taken French, you’ve conjugated verbs. You can do this in English too.

Let’s have a go at a common verb.

To Eat
I eat
you eat
he/she eats
we eat
you eat
they eat

It’s important to make sure you use the right form of a verb in your writing. If you say “I eats the cookie” you’re probably Cookie Monster. It’s important to note that the ‘s’ on the end of “he/she eats” doesn’t mean more than one person is eating.

To Be
I am
you are
he/she is
we are
you are
they are

How about a couple more?

To Go
I go
you go
he/she goes
we go
you go
they go

and

To Sing
I sing
you sing
he/she sings
we sing
you sing
they sing

It’s not too hard to make sure you got the verb conjugated correctly, but sometimes it can be confusing. If you’re not sure, ask around and double-check that your sentence is written clearly!

Dec 14 2015

Writing Tips :: Verbs and Tenses

When you’re writing it’s important to decide on a tense and then stick to it throughout your work. It’s really confusing for a reader if the text jumps from being in past tense to being in future tense and then back again.

The three basic tenses are past, present, and future.

Past Tense: He jumped on the dog.

Present Tense: He jumps on the dog.

Future Tense: He will jump on the dog.

There are a couple of other types of tense that you may need.

Perfect Tenses use the verb “to have”:

Past Perfect Tense: He had jumped on the dog.

Present Perfect Tense: He has jumped on the dog.

Future Perfect Tense: He will have jumped on the dog.

Progressive Tenses use the verb “to be” and conjugate the main verb with the -ing ending:

Past Progressive Tense: He was jumping on the dog.

Present Progressive Tense: He is jumping on the dog.

Future Progressive Tense: He will be jumping on the dog.

Perfect Progressive Tenses use both the verb “to be” and the verb “to have” and conjugate the main verb with the -ing ending:

Past Perfect Progressive Tense: He had been jumping on the dog.

Present Perfect Progressive Tense: He has been jumping on the dog.

Future Perfect Progressive Tense: He will have been jumping on the dog.

Most of the time you just need the basic first three tenses, but it’s good to know about these other ones, just in case. Can you think of times when you might need to use each of these tenses in a piece of writing?

Nov 30 2015

November 2015 :: Personal Projects

November has been full of trying to make my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, as usual. This year my novel was an update of Pollyanna, with a dystopian twist. I hadn’t actually read the original before, so this has been a really fun project to work on! The month isn’t finished yet, so I’m still writing; whether or not I make the 50k, the story won’t be finished yet as it looks like it will need to be around 80,000 words in the end.

Tomorrow, December 1, I’ll be switching gears briefly. I began working on a very special short story a couple of months ago, and as it’s to be a Christmas present I need to get it finished and see about illustrations and printing!

Once that’s squared away I’ll get back to Pollyanna (which I have tentatively titled How to Be GLAD) and try to just focus on that for the rest of December. January 1 will hopefully see a new plan and lots of writing every day!

How are your personal writing projects going? What’s your pet project right now?

Nov 23 2015

Workshop Summary :: November 2015

In honour of NaNoWriMo, we’ve been doing our best to #GetItOnThePage during November! We’ve been following our outline but focusing more on completing scenes than word count. There’s one week left to this month and we’re talking about how, when, and where you’re writing, all in an attempt to get your thinking about how to maximize your writing time!

In December we’ll be looking at character development, so be ready! You can follow along at my Twitter account all month long. As always, one post per day at 9.00 a.m. Saskatchewan time, but I check for replies every night, so if you have questions please ask and I will see them and reply as we go along!

Nov 09 2015

Writing Tips :: Redundancy

Redundancy is when you repeat yourself.

There are times when you need to repeat yourself. For example, you might be writing an essay, in which it is common practice to state your thesis in the introduction paragraph and then restate it in your conclusion.

I would argue, however, that you never need to repeat yourself in the same sentence.

What this means is that if your sentence begins with “Also,” “As well,” “In addition,” or a similar word or phrase, you really do not need to use a different one later in the same sentence. By which I mean, a sentence like “In addition, the guests ate chocolate covered strawberries as well.” Another example: “For example, students might need to bring a notebook, pen, and textbook to class every day, to name a few items.”

Notice how awkward these sentences are. That’s because there are redundant phrases. In the first one, you could remove either “In addition” or “as well” and your sentence will be clear and concise. In the second, remove “to name a few items”; if you want to talk about these things being just a few of the things they may need to bring, you should just rewrite the whole sentence: “A few items students may need to bring to class include a notebook, pen, and textbook.” What you do with that sentence really depends on the context — what the other sentences in the paragraph say. (Since I made it up whole cloth, I can’t really put it into context. Sorry.)

Keep an eye out for potential redundancy in your writing; eliminating it will keep things clear for the reader!

Oct 14 2015

Writing Tips :: Avoiding Jeopardy Sentences

You know how on Jeopardy! (the game show) you get a statement and then you have to provide the question the statement answers? So you might get “By writing post-dated cheques and mailing them, and by setting up bill payments using online banking” as your statement, and the question is “How does Mary keep her accounts from going into arrears?”

A Jeopardy sentence would be “By writing post-dated cheques and mailing them, and by setting up bill payments using online banking is how Mary keeps her accounts from going into arrears.”

The problem with structuring your sentences this way is that it distances the action from the subject, so that it’s harder to understand what the subject is actually doing. I’ve seen the first part of a Jeopardy sentence get so long that the author forgot to put the second part in, so it was just a list of things with nobody doing them (that started with the word “through”).

To avoid writing a Jeopardy sentence, do what you were told in school when you started answering long answer questions on tests: restate the question and then put the actual answer. Written this way, our example now reads “Mary keeps her accounts from going into arrears by writing post-dated cheques and mailing them, and by setting up bill payments using online banking.”

And if you absolutely must use a Jeopardy sentence, leave out the “is how”; a comma will do just fine to separate the clauses here: “By writing post-dated cheques and mailing them, and by setting up bill payments using online banking, Mary keeps her accounts from going into arrears.”

Clear writing is often just that simple, believe it or not!

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