Monday, February 29, 2016

Here We See the Writer in Its Natural Habitat...

Here we see the writer at work. A breakdown of the writing process. Rewind the tape, please:

Arrive home, ready to write.
I’m thirsty, so get water first.
Nope, that’s not what I wanted. Get flavored water. Yes, that’s better.
Cat wants to go outside. Open door. Cat doesn’t want to go outside.
I want something hot to drink. Put tea kettle on.
Cat wants to eat. Other cat wakes up to sounds of other cat eating. Feed other cat.
Now I’m hungry, but I don’t want a full meal. Get low-fat snacks. Hot water’s ready.
Gather snacks, flavored water, and tea. Head downstairs. Turn computer on.
Cat wants to go outside.
Cat doesn’t want to go outside.
Now I have to go to the bathroom.
Those weren’t the snacks I wanted. Go upstairs to get other snacks.

Want coffee instead of tea.
Fix coffee.
Cat wants to eat.
Feed cat.
Cat doesn't want to eat.
Come back downstairs. Forgot napkin.
Nails need trimming. Can’t type with long nails. Hunt for nail clipper. Trim nails.
Need handkerchief. Find handkerchief.
Need writing music. Find appropriate music.
Start writing.
Time for bed.

Keep writing, friends.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

To Spell or Not to Spell

Is it Spell Check or spell check? Or perhaps it’s Spell check. Or Spellcheck. Or
SpellCheck or spell-check. Seems the spellcheckers themselves can’t even agree.
Which brings up the question…How do we trust web sites or applications that can’t
standardize the process they perform?

All the variants of spell-check I listed came from a quick search out on the ‘Net.
Of course, spell check came about from the phrase (originating many moons ago when
the only spell-checks consisted of our eyeballs, our noggins, and a dictionary – not
an online dictionary, either) “…you need to check your spelling…”, or words similar.
But let’s take it back a little further, as I so often do.

It has its origins in Old English, meaning “…to talk, announce…”, and by itself is a verb.
Which brings up the question, why don’t we say “spelling-check”? The word
“spelling” is a noun, and it seems we would want to check the spelling after
we’ve laid our words down. Or perhaps spell-check is correct, as it happens
mostly while we’re in the process of spelling. Maybe we need a ‘spell-check’
while we’re laying words down and a ‘spelling-check’ after the fact.

Then there’s the problem we could run into if we’re sending a letter to either
Aaron Spelling or Tori Spelling, because Aaron Spelling left the land of the living a few
years back and can no longer spell anything. Would a letter sent to him go to the
Dead Letter file?

I’ve abused you folks enough for one session. More nonsense another time.

Keep speling, and keep righting, friends.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Now You See it, Now You...

White space. I first learned about it in a black-and-white photography class I took umpteen years ago. That was a revelation for me, the idea that a photograph doesn't have to be slammed full of stuff. Same goes for writing, film, music, or just about any of the arts.

In writing, we don't have to fluff the page as though we're writing a book report for our 8th grade English class. A lot of times it's the stuff that's left unsaid that resonates like a hammer dropped on a concrete floor.

Although this is a writing blog, I'm thinking about a movie I recently saw called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a fantastic vampire film. Shot in black-and-white, this film uses the contrast like a master, but one of the most striking things is the sparse dialog. What is said is only what must be said. And it works.

For another example, look at Alfred Hitchcock's movies--Psycho in particular. We never see the knife pierce her skin. Our minds do that for us.

And remember that hammer I dropped in the second paragraph? Someone took it but left a blood stain....

Keep writing, friends.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I Me Mine

The young girl's fangs grew as I watched from the shadows. I was certain she never saw least not until she looked directly into the darkness where I stood.

That's an example of first-person point-of-view writing. Something that can be powerful when we want to be in the head of the person all the stuff is happening to. In other words, the writer. Trick is to not have it sound like writing. Remember those what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation reports we had to do? Yeah, you don't want your words sounding like that:

I walked down to the drugstore. I bought some comic books... That's death by reading.

Just finished reading "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" by Jack Finney, a terrific example of the first-person form that works great for the feeling of paranoia in the story. Check out this sentence from his novel:

"Next morning when I got to my office, a patient was waiting, a quiet little woman in her forties who sat in the leather chair in front of my desk, hands folded in her lap over her purse, and told me she was perfectly sure her husband wasn't her husband at all."

So, now we're in our doctor's head, wondering, like he's wondering, why she thinks that. Mr. Finney really uses first-person POV to maximum advantage in his story to show our hero's state of mind.

Keep writing, friends.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I'm Writing Now, but I Wrote

Writing this post now, I'm thinking about some of the writerly advice regarding using -ing words too much. Like in that last sentence.

Some sources say to get rid of all -ing words. Pish posh, I say. Writing is not black or white. But don't get carried away. Unless you want to. Those words are there to be used.

I think of -ing words like this: they describe a process. A well-placed -ing word paints a picture of action in the reader's head. A past tense word like wrote is static. It's done. It happened. Like a snapshot. Even a present tense word like write is stuck in space. I write. But when I say, "I'm writing," I can see it happening.

Here's another example: Zipping down the highway after the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote slammed into the painted tunnel on the cliff wall.

He was doing well, zipping along, until he slammed into the cliff.

So, I will continue using -ing words, but I will use them...sparingly.

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

My Grammar is Not My Gramma

Let's Get Personal
 Quick Writer's Service Announcement (WSA). And apologies for having the photo turn up on its side. Still haven't mastered using photos from my smart-aleck phone yet.

This here grammar book, which is, by the way, a fantastic book on grammar, especially for those of us who took it in school like a spoonful of bad medicine, just taught me a thing or two about editing. And, as this is a live-fire blog, and I was in the act of editing mere moments ago, I thought it pertinent to write a brief post about. Oh, and don't write a paragraph like I just did--it's horrible.

Anyway, pronouns. Those words like I, he, or she, that take the place of Fred, Ralph, or Samantha. Fred, Ralph, and Samantha are the antecedents. What happens with pronouns, and what I'm guilty of, is the I, or he, or she, if they're too far away in the sentence from the person they represent, can sound like they're describing the wrong person. And I'm excited because I was editing my stuff and I saw where my pronouns were all confused, and I was able to fix it.

Yes, I know, I can still get a kick out of little things. But it seems an old dog can still learn a thing (or pronoun) or two.

Keep writing, friends. And watch those pronouns.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Writers R Us

Let's see, continuing with my recent rant about writing, how I've tried to quit before, couldn't, came back, so on and on...

Yep, I think writing, as with other forms of art, is something that chooses us. Much like our pets. Never ever thought I'd be a writer. Especially with some of the stuff they force-fed us, like diagramming sentences. Now, I know there are folks out there who love it, but for me that was writing death. All those adjugates, reverbs, gerbils, and compunctions. Once I learned that I could write without having to know where the heck I was going, I had fun.

'Course, that also got me into trouble. Shorter pieces I can get away with not having a road map. Once I got started on my novel I'm wrapping up, I had all these Lego blocks of writing scattered everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Fortunately, I have a wonderful wife who is also a wonderful editor. She tasked herself with taking all my scattered notebooks, files, discs, and scraps, and organizing them into a semi-coherent mass. Then I dove in and retro-fit an outline. Cussing a lot, however.

So, here I am. Still writing. Finishing up a novel. Writing in my writing-themed blog. And other projects planned after my novel is complete and out the door.

One foot in front of the other. With some grumbling and cussing occasionally.

It's what we do. And I love it.

New addition to my blog posts--I will leave you with a question to ponder.

What is the Oxford comma?

Answer in my next post.

Keep writing, friends.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Writing Trouble

Yep, that's what I said. Writing trouble. Out loud, too. We all know it, so why do it?

Age-old question. We do it for fame, fortune, to be heard. But, like any other form of art, it causes us trouble at times. We get stuck, don't like what we've written, or just can't get in the mood. But still we go back to it. Why?

One reason is that when we're cookin', it's a high. It feels good, to see your words come together, and make you laugh, cry, or rage. To see a point made that you just can't do, perhaps, verbally.

I look back over my writing life and I'm amazed that I chose writing in the first place. Or did it choose me, sort of like our animals choose us? Don't know. But here I started off, I wanted to be a physicist or astronomer. Something in the sciences or math. Sure as hell not writing. But I dabbled with journals every so often. Not consistently, though. Science and math still ruled me.

Then, after a good creative writing class in high school, and a fantastic English Composition class, the tap opened up. I started playing with words. I learned that I could put words down in whatever way I felt. Quite unlike most of my early English classes that bled the life out of language.

I've tried a few times to give up writing. Doesn't work. I'd always return to the scene of the crime. I found out that I write because it's what I do. It's not my day job at present, but I am a writer.

More later on the topic...

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Weeding the Garden

Well, that's how I think of it--the editing/revising process. And it takes time. After you've written something, you need to let it sit for a while, ferment. Then return to the scene of the crime with new eyes. Vicious eyes.

The chart I've included is one of the most concise, one of the most helpful charts I've seen in some time, as far as what the differences are between revising and editing. Sure, it may be oversimplified somewhat, but it still helps.

One way I think of it is that revising is a little grittier, and you need all your brain cells, so for me at least, I need to revise when I'm ready to be a bit more ruthless with my work. Editing I can do when I'm half asleep, or just not ready to dig deep. When I don't feel like doing anything else I can always check for grammar problems.

Almost forgot to mention: the above chart came from "The Writer's Circle" at

I'll leave you with this quote from Elmore Leonard--"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Keep writing, editing, and revising, friends.