Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Finished Writing, Now What?

Okay, so you've put a cap on your writing project. So, what's next?

First, shove it aside for a while. Some folks say two weeks, but I've found that it varies from author to author. Main thing is, you need some time away so you can get perspective and not be attached to all your wordly darlings you've laid on the page.

But, don't stop writing during this period. Uh uh, nope. That's death for us writers. Keep at something--journal, magazine article, blog--but make sure you return to your manuscript for editing.

Ah, yes, editing. It can be fun or torture. If you (meaning me, actually) just need some mindless editing, there's always using the Find feature of your word processor to check for certain problems, like two spaces at the end of sentences, or use the Match Case feature to make certain that 'mom' is 'Mom'.

There are a couple of free online editing tools I've used, but like any other tool, their purpose is to help, not to dictate. is effective and easy to use. Copy and paste some of your text (I just put mine in a few paragraphs at a time--don't want to overwhelm the beastie.), click on the Edit button, and let it do its stuff. It will give you some statistics on number of adverbs, weak words, prepositions, and color-code them in your text for you to decide what, if anything, you want to do with them. It also lists words of Greek or Latin origin, and which words you got from Shakespeare.

There's another one called ProWritingAid, at There's a free version and a premium version. I'll get more into this one tomorrow.

Of the two, I prefer editMinion, mainly due to its simplicity, and it's great at hunting down passive verbs. Just remember that just because some of your words are flagged as weak, or adverbs, or prepositions, you're still the author. They're your words, and you get to decide if a word should be there or not. These are just tools.

I'll delve a little more into ProWritingAid tomorrow. Also, check out my other posts on editing:

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It's Ostentatiously Wacky!

You folks have had to put up with my rantings about words I can’t stand – hoodie, selfie, melty, to name just a few. But, there are also words I like. Some I even love. And, as you might expect, a lot of them are silly words. Funny words. Some of them have not been used for a long time, but should be. Here’s a random sampling. Sprinkle them into your vocabulary whenever you like. They’ll make you feel good.

Wacky. This is one of those…wacky…words (couldn’t help myself) that sounds like what it describes. Just plain fun to say. Perfect when describing the characteristics of your favorite cartoon characters, as in, “You wacky wabbit…” Most effective when you’re speaking in your best Elmer Fudd voice.

Grok. This could be the name of a caveman. Let’s pause a moment here while we straighten up something that’s always concerned me. Why are cavemen (here’s another thing – why are they always cavemen? What about cavewomen and cavekids? And cavepets?) always named Grok or Grog or Ugg? Perhaps there were some cavepeople named Joe or Bob or Betty Sue and spoke with proper English accents. It could happen. Okay, so, anyway, before my research team got me all sidetracked here, grok is a term from a great book by a great author--"Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein. It’s sort of the galactic version of “I dig”, but goes beyond that. When you grok you have a complete and total understanding of what someone is saying or feeling. You grok?

Ostentatious. I’ve just always liked this word, the sound of it and the size of it. It’s a big word, and it sounds like what it describes, meaning showy, conspicuously exaggerated. Sort of like the phrase I just used, “conspicuously exaggerated.” I don’t use it too often because I think I would sound ostentatious if I said ostentatious. But, I still like it. Try saying it a couple of times. Don’t you feel downright ostentatious when you say it?

I “suwannee”. Not many people know of this word. My grandma used it a lot.  Means something along the lines of "Well, I declare". I've always been partial to that expression.  Makes me think of my grandma.

Consarn. A mild expletive, as in “Well, consarn it!” In the same family of words as “dagnabbit”. I’m not exactly sure what a “consarn” is, or what you’re doing when you “consarn” something. Then again, I don’t know how to "dagnab" anything, either. They're just fun words, usually heard from residents of the cartoon world.

And, finally, there's supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which is a word and the name of a song from Mary Poppins (1964). To quote Wikipedia, it's a word to say "...when you have nothing to say".  Well, I suwannee!

For the truly adventurous, check out my post on Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary if you have an appetite for obscure words:

And this one:

Keep writing, friends.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Oh My God, I've Ruined Poe!

Ever wonder (on one of your better writing days) if you write like a famous author, either dead or alive? Sometimes I say I write like Dr. Seuss, but then, he's dead...

At any rate, you can see if your pennings ring of Edward Bulwer-Lytton ("It was a dark and stormy night.") or H. P. Lovecraft or Mary Shelley or James Thurber. There's a fun little web site called I Write Like where you copy and paste your text, and it does all kinds of fancy computerized comparisons, then matches your musings with an author. Here's the link:

When I punched in a paragraph from one of my recent posts it said I write like H. G. Wells. Now, keep in mind, that depending on what passage you paste in, you may not always get matched with the same author. I tried a few other paragraphs from my posts at random, and I got three H. P. Lovecrafts and one Cory Doctorow.

As always, don't take the results as gospel--there's danger in doing that. This is just for fun.

Oh, and this particular post got matched to H. P. Lovecraft. Well, I have been reading a fair amount of the old boy recently. Been wondering why I keep seeing hideous alien geometries everywhere.

Keep writing, friends.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

He or She Said What?

I'm finally at the last (I hope) phase of editing The Beast, otherwise known as my novel. This is where I'm sweeping through, reading it from beginning to end, reading it aloud when I can, which makes for some curious, entertained, or annoyed looks from people at coffee shops. And this has been an education so far. I think it's the first time I've read it start-to-finish.

Always before I worked on specific sections, revising, doing damage control. Now I'm reading it through for the first time, and without being so concerned about major reparations now, I can enjoy it. And I see it differently. I can see patterns, check on the flow of my work, consistency. Now with a deeper understanding of my characters, I can fix or delete or move a sentence when I know it's something one of my people wouldn't say. Stuff pops out at me now that I never saw before, and it's easier to make corrections.

Repeat sentences I spot quickly now, and the Thesaurus is my best friend as I find that I've used the same word three (or more) times in the same paragraph. Sentence style and structure hits me like a hammer, and I can see when I have way too many of 'he said', or 'she said'. I've learned that if it's two people talking, and only those two, and it's clear who's saying what, I don't always have to include 'said so-and-so'. It's obvious.

Anyway, that's where I am now, and I'm moving forward like a slow-motion tidal wave, eventually reaching my goal.

For anyone who hasn't read their work all the way through, I highly recommend it. It's an education.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Did Anyone Really Expect Me to Find a Punctus Percontativus?

The rarely seen punctus percontativus

And I didn't expect to find one, anyway. At least not on these modern keyboards. Pity.
Rhetorically speaking (or asking?), the punctus percontativus just isn't anywhere to be found nowadays. And it should be. Originating in the 1500s and 1600s, it's a backwards question mark, used for rhetorical questions. Wouldn't that be just the perfect thing to put at the end of, oh, I don't know...this sentence?

Interesting note--Google Images calls the punctus percontativus an irony mark. I like that. Could have a new Batman villain--The Ironicler. Or maybe The Rhetoricler.

Similar to Mr. Punctus is the current-day snark mark. Yep, there really is one. As writers, we've always loved irony, sarcasm, and outright snarkiness. Over the decades, many of us have invented, warped, and morphed standard punctuation marks, but the one that's sorta prevalent today is a period followed by a tilde (~), so it would look like this: .~ I could use it in an exchange such as this:

I'm so glad I invested in this coastal property.~ It's so lovely during hurricane season.

See what I mean? Perfect for sarcasm.

I'm glad I wrote this piece on weird punctuation marks.~ Spellcheck just loved it.

Keep writing, friends. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Whaddaya Mean it's Not in the Dictionary?

I read something once by one of those rootin’-tootin’ word critics once, and they were talking about someone using the word “Yay!” in a children’s book, that the correct word is “Hooray!” Hellooo… they’re both in the dictionary. And even if “Yay!” had not been in the dictionary, leave it alone, please. It has as much right to exist as “Hooray!”

Okay, enough preaching, more fun. I love taking words and twisting them around. Parts of speech, for example. I kicked around this riff the other day, and I’m back at it (stifle groans, please), thinking about all those things they tried teaching us back in English classes. About critters like adverbs. Those are wanna-be verbs. They’re advertising verbs, that’s why they’re called adverbs. And they do stuff to verbs whether the verbs want them to or not. Here’s an example:

Let’s say there’s a squirrel. It’s just doing squirrel stuff, minding its own business, then a dog comes along. So, the squirrel, having dealt with dogs before, decides to climb the tree to get away from the dog. Okay, that’s all fine. Now if we want the squirrel to get away from the dog really fast and have some breathing room, we’ll have the squirrel quickly climb the tree. Or rapidly climb the tree. Fine. But what if a different adverb gets in the way. Say, an adverb like slowly. Well, we now have the squirrel slowly climb the tree. And if the dog has a fast adverb, well, it’s just not gonna end well for the squirrel.

See what I mean? Adverbs are dangerous. So be careful. How careful? REALLY careful.

Tomorrow’s lesson: reverbs. Those are similar to adverbs but they make verbs go backwards.

Keep writing, friends.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Facebook Effect

All you writers know what I'm talking about. I like you. I don't like you. As writers we know that when it comes to words, it ain't that easy. There are all manner of gray shades, and purple shades, plaid shades, and so on.

Actually, this effect started long before Facebook arrived. It's just that Facebook really pushes it. Like. Don't like. Unlike.

This whole thing started way back with our (or someone's) desire to mechanize everything, to put things in little boxes, all tidy, with labels, so everything's easy to deal with. Emotions, for example. I'm sad. I'm glad. What? Can't I be somewhere between those two?

This line of thinking got started when Wendy and I were having some really good thin-crust pizza, an Argentinian steak pizza, at Saul Good's. We were talking about those ridiculous tests we have to take called health assessments, so we can maintain a certain type of health insurance. And what it comes down to, we decided, is that they're bogus, with the black-and-white questions. Here are a couple of examples, paraphrased:

How many drinks do you have per day? Per month?

How many days this month did you feel sad?

Have you ever smoked cigarettes?

How many days did you feel tired this month?

Everything quantified. All sorted, nice and easy. You're this or you're that. You're black. You're white. You're disabled. You're unproductive. You're old. You're a team player.


Doesn't work that way, my friends. You can't put emotions, lives, attitudes, or people in neat little plastic containers. That's what we learn, hopefully, with writing. That's what we as writers take to the rest of the world.

That's not simply a blue sky. It's a sky like that one from when you were six years old, on that early spring afternoon, rushing home from school to watch Dark Shadows, when the not cool/not warm air made you take off your jacket as you ran, and it smelled like birds and grass and baseball and things about to happen.

Now, let's see them put that sentence in a box.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fly, Eddie, Fly!

And for whom? These are important questions. And have those reasons changed?

What makes me ask those questions of all of us is I saw a great writing movie over the weekend. Well, okay, it's not really a writing movie, but it applies to writing--Eddie the Eagle.

Now you're asking, "What does a movie about a goofy failure of an Olympian have to do with writing."

Nothing. Or everything.

Michael "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards came and went in the Olympics, but he was there. He did it. Here was this Coke-bottle-lensed, awkward, kid in a leg brace who wanted nothing more than to be in the Olympics. Not win. Just participate.

Well, he gets the leg brace off, and starts training, any way he can. Long story short, he becomes a team of one, the only athlete from England since 1929 to compete in ski jumping. He doesn't have a snowball's chance of winning, as the ski jumpers from other countries have had professional training and years of experience. And he knows that. But all he wants do is compete. That's it.

What Eddie has is guts. And enthusiasm. He manages to get a former ski jumping champion, Bronson Peary, to reluctantly coach him. At one point after Eddie has busted himself countless times, Bronson asks him, "You're not going to give up, are you?" And Eddie's response--"No."

What he also brought to the Olympics was excitement--the little kid kind of excitement that most people don't allow themselves to feel. He successfully lands in the 70 meter, finishing last place, but he lands. And he starts hopping and bouncing and carrying on in front of the crowd. Many of the other athletes were embarrassed by his antics. Not professional. But Eddie was excited, and the crowd loved him for it.

So, that's what we need to think about when we write. What do we want out of it? Do we want the Gold Medal? Or do we just want to compete?

Keep writing, friends.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sure, That's Horrible, but Mine's Horribler

What's the worst sentence you've ever written? How about the worst paragraph? Is it the one you just wrote before you started reading this post? Somewhere else in your current work? A previous work? C'mon, folks, this is cards-on-the-table time.

We all do 'em, or at least we think we do. But are they really that awful? Sometimes when I've reviewed my work, the sentence that I thought was so Medusa-like turns out not to be so bad. But while revising, another screamer will pop up that needs to be buried in a landfill.

Now, what happens if you try, really try, to write a lunch-losing sentence? The worst of the worst. Well, if you think you're bad writer enough, here's your chance to find out. There are honest-to-Gaia contests where you can get your bad writing self out there and see if you have the wrong stuff. So, pull out your tired, your trite, your muddled clich├ęs, and check these out.

Oh, the illiteracy!

For sheer audacity, there's The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, named after the father of bad openers, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. Just try to beat "It was a dark and stormy night." Here's their site:

And, sadly, the only other contests of this ilk I could find have closed shop. Back in 1998, the journal "Philosophy and Literature" held their 4th annual Bad Writing Contest, but, alas, no longer. Here's a link to what little I found:

For many years, there was an International Imitation Hemingway Competition, but it too, has been edited out of existence:

The only active one I'm aware of is the Bulwer-Lytton, which I entered two or three years ago. I tried, really, really hard, to write something stinkingly bad, but I just wasn't good enough...or bad enough. Maybe one of my sentences in this here post would be a candidate?

I'll leave you with this. I'm reading a book called "Wretched Writing", by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras. They've compiled some of the worst writing from a plethora of sources, including...gasp!...famous authors. Here's an example:

"They were both roughly the same age, in their very early fifties, though a hundred years earlier they would have appeared much younger." D. F. Jones, Colossus (1966)

Keep writing, friends, and badly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

It All Depends on Who's Talking...and Writing

We don't talk the same way we write. Or, at least, we don't talk the way they tried to teach us to write in school. By the same token, when we write we need to think about how we speak. Or at least how our characters speak.

Real people use incomplete sentences. Right? And so do real writers. We use run-on sentences, too, like this one, as an example. So keep these things in mind when editing your work.

One part of editing I've delved into with my rough draft is which words or phrases to eliminate. And what I've found by searching on the 'net is that no two sources are the same. Here are the top three words from three sites that are supposed to be axed, along with a short descriptions of their reasons why:

  • Really and very--These are useless modifiers. You should be able to find stronger verbs or adjectives for whatever you’re trying to enhance.
  • That--If a sentence still makes sense after removing “that,” delete it. For example, “This is the most amazing blog post that I’ve ever read.” can be, “This is the most amazing blog post I’ve ever read.”
  • Just--I have a hard time removing “just,” especially in dialogue. But for the most part, you don’t need it, and too many can make your dialogue or prose repetitive.

  • Just--The word "just" is a filler word that weakens your writing. Removing it rarely affects meaning, but rather, the deletion tightens a sentence.
  • Really--Using the word "really" is an example of writing the way you talk. It's a verbal emphasis that doesn't translate perfectly into text. In conversation, people use the word frequently, but in written content it's unnecessary.
  • Very--Everything that applies to "really" applies to "very."

  • Really--"Avoiding this word is a really great idea." Reason: A really great idea is the same as a great idea.
  • You--"Sometimes, you feel like writing is too hard." Reason: I never feel this way, so this statement is not true. The writer probably means "I" or "some writers," e.g., "Sometimes, I feel like writing is too hard."
  • Feel--"I feel the government should stop people from writing poorly." Reason: Which emotion is being "felt"? What is the writer touching and, therefore, feeling? Usually, the writer means "believe" or "think." "Feel" is also used by authors to describe a character's emotions, as in "He felt despondent." Instead, the writer should show the emotions through the character's words and actions.
All helpful tips, but that's all they are--tips. No absolutes in writing. Really. If your character's speech pattern is to sprinkle in 'really', then by all means use it. Just put it in there. Really. You'll be very glad you did. Maybe very very glad. And don't go through slicing out every instance of a targeted word just because someone says that you should. Unless it's absolutely essential. Or essential. Or kinda sorta important. Read it out loud, see how it sounds.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Rules for writing are as plentiferous as books on writing. They have their merit, but one thing Wendy and I have learned as we've gained more experience is this:

Books and rules should be treated as suggestions, nothing more.

For years we filled our shelves with writing books, hoping and wishing that one of them would be that magic bullet that would Cinderella us so that we could fire out perfectly polished bestsellers. We've since thinned out the herd, as we know now that our ability to crank out a winner is determined by us.

Same for rules. That being said, the above list for editing is helpful in that it offers some places to check when making those final passes. Remember, though, that there are no hard and fast rules. For myself, I have one basic rule: If it works, use it. Begin a sentence with and (And I do, a lot.); use incomplete sentences; make up words; and don't be afraid of the occasional etc.; etc.

Of the rules from the list, I'll offer a couple of observations:

For tip # 1, yes, some long sentences should be cut, but it's also a good idea to vary sentence length--don't have all sentences the same length.

Tip # 21, don't avoid  -ing words entirely. Check out my post,

#22, yeah, I have to watch my comma usage--unless I, want, to, sound like, William Shatner.

Tip # 14 is one I agree with. Make those verbs stronger. Verbs punch, fly, run, vanish.

And finally, double check everything. Of all the rules, that's the most potent.

As always, please comment. I'd love to hear from my readers out there.

Keep writing, friends.

Friday, March 4, 2016

If There are Silent Letters, are There Silent Words?

Why do we say ‘in other words’? I can almost understand it when] talking, because
we’ve perhaps said something all politically correct, when we realize no one knows
what the hell we’re talking about, so we say it more directly. But do we ever need to use
the expression ‘in other words’ when writing? If we find we’ve said something all inflated and bombastic (I love that word), we just go back and edit. That's why we do that...editing.
Or, in other words…

Emailing a friend of mind this morning and we brought up the word ‘queue’. One of
the most common definitions for ‘queue’ is to line up. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem
with its meaning. My problem is with all those extra letters in the word. Did someone
stutter when typing it? Maybe they just wanted to write it as ‘que’, then their hand
spasmed and they typed an extra ‘u’ and an ‘e’. But why even have ‘u’ and ‘e’ at all,
unless they had extras lying around? What’s wrong with the word ‘queue’ just being plain old ‘q’? I mean, we pronounce the letter 'q' as 'kyoo', which is how we pronounce 'queue'. We use other single letters as whole words. 'A', for example, as in 'a cat' or 'a bat'. And 'I', as in 'I wrote this mess'. So, why can't we say, "Everyone q up?" Another question is, "Why does the blog writer use single quotes when he should probably use double? I don't have a good answer for that.

Then we got into tonight and tonite. It was never “The Tonite Show”. I have to admit,
though, looking at it now, we save a letter by writing ‘tonite’. I’ve never really
understood the whole silent letter thing, anyway. For ‘tonight’, the ‘gh’ is silent
(Shhh…), so we replace it with a different silent letter, ‘e’. I’m guessing it’s a sort of
power transference thing where certain letters give up their power for the greater
good of a word. Take the word ‘fit’, for example. You can throw a fit, and I think
at one time you might have fit someone, but you take the power of ‘gh’ combo,
toss them in, and you get ‘fight’. And a ‘gh’ would be good in a fight, as ‘gh’ begins
the word ‘ghost’, and ghosts are scary, so…in other words…

I’ve messed with your heads (and mine too) enough for now.

Keep writing, friends.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Diagramatically Speaking

I hit a spot today where my words cut loose. They were running every which way, like kittens. Now I’m turning them loose on you folks. It’s not my fault. Someone left the door open.

Hey, anyone out there remember diagramming sentences? I barely remember going up to the board (chalkboard, that is), writing a sentence, then drawing those lines underneath and labeling the words. Let’s see what I remember… okay, you start off with a straight line that the sentence sits on. And you start drawing off all these tree branches for all the sentence pieces/parts. Now, verbs and nouns, I get that. Verbs do things. Like ‘eat’ and ‘sit’ and ‘discombobulate’. Then you got your nouns, which are things, such as ‘paper’ or ‘calipers’. Verbs do stuff to nouns. Which can be gross sometimes.

What gets confusing is sometimes nouns get weird and do verb stuff. Like ‘paper’. You can write on paper, but you can paper a wall. We in the writerly profession call those schizoid words. They can’t make up their minds what they want to be. And sometimes they’ll even change right smack dab in the middle of a sentence. Here, watch this. I’m going to write on some paper right after I paper the wall. See what I mean? Confusing.

But, we haven’t gone out in left field yet. There are other words that modify other words. And I’m not sure whether or not the words that are being modified necessarily want to be modified. All sounds kinda rude to me. Well, anyway, they’re called adjucates. Yup. So you start off with a nice, simple word like ‘toy’. It’s minding its own business when all of a sudden here comes this adjucate, and now you’ve got a ‘broken toy’. That’s just messed up. But that's the way those adjucates work.

That's all the time we have tonight, folks. We'll pick up again soon with Diagramming Sentences for Fun and Profit.

Keep writing, friends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Happy Word Play Day!

Okay, ya got me. There really isn't such a day, at least that I know of. I'm guessing Hallmark doesn't have a card for it, as yet. But, besides that, there really should be a Word Play Day. For us as writers, as creatives, word play is fun. So, let's have a bit of fun!

New words. I'd read somewhere (or maybe I imagined it) that a language, in order to thrive, needs a little stirring of the ol' word pot from time to time. Bring to simmer for 15 minutes...toss in a few extra letters... We need to make new ones, bend, stretch, distort existing ones, even if we don't like the results.

There are some words, some created by advertisers, that really need to go away, though. You've heard me harp on some of these before. Words like 'melty' and 'pre-owned'. Sometimes they take a perfectly good word like 'epic' and Doc Frankenstein it until we're ready to rally the villagers. Please, no more 'epic' movies or movies of 'epic proportions'. Unless it's epic-alicious. Or an epic-palooza. Okay, I'll stop now.

Keep writing, friends...and making up words.