Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dealing with frustration: The ups and downs of writing

I liken being a writer to being on a see-saw. One moment you’re at the top of the world and the next you’re crawling in the dirt. What do I mean by this? If an agent requests a partial read of my novel, I’m ecstatic. If I get a rejection letter, I’m crushed. If I get a great review, I’m over the moon. If I get a bad review, I’m back in the dirt, devastated.

Being a writer is a life of ups and downs. The trick with most people seems to be trying to find a way to manage the frustrations that come along with it. For me, when I get a rejection letter from an agent, I try to answer it with TWO new queries. If I get a bad review, well, I usually email all my tight writing friends and whine and they make me feel better. I’ve also found a boatload of sushi and some dark chocolate seems to help when things are very bleak.

But frustration doesn’t always come from reviews and query replies. It can also come from within ourselves. For me it’s the moment where I’m staring at the screen, 250+ pages into a book, at the climatic ending and I’m like a deer in the headlights. “OMG, WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN NEXT?” or “OMG, WHAT I WROTE IS SO BORING!” It’s those moments where you wonder, “what in the world am I going to do?” I usually close the novel at that point, feeling like I’m the worst writer in the world (man, we are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we?) But then, that’s when my “aha” moments happen. I tend to dwell on the book for awhile (maybe a day, a week). I think about it when I’m commuting, when I’m in the shower, when I’m about to fall asleep… and then WHAM! You get that moment when you suddenly see your story go on a tangent you never thought possible and you give yourself permission to go there.

So I asked some other writers what they do to deal with frustration.  Then I asked them about their own “aha” moments. First I spoke with author Gwen Choate who has been writing for 70 years (yes, I said 70) — she is my idol, 90 years “young” and just published her YA Novel, The Sack (although she’s been writing successfully since her 20s — I should have used her for my persistence blog last week). I also asked author Frank Tuttle, whose YA book All the Paths of Shadow consumed my 11 year-old Aspie son who was so compelled by the ideas in this book enough to make drawings for the novel and begged me to send them  to Frank (who by the way, graciously put them on his book’s FB page).

Question #1) Do you ever get frustrated?

Gwen Choate: All the time. For most of us, the writer’s life is a mix of joys and disappointments. The thing that is most helpful for me is my morning “quiet time,” when I journal and meditate. 
Frank Tuttle: Frustrated is my default ground state. Why am I not rich? Why am I not famous? Why am I not appearing on late night talk shows? As to how I handle this frustration, see also grain alcohol, consumption of. (Very funny, Frank.)

Question #2) Have you ever had an “aha” moment?

Gwen: Yes, often.  For example, if I’m blocked by a problem, I like to say before I go to sleep at night, “Please tell me what to do about this.” It’s amazing how often my subconscious comes through and I get an “Aha” the next morning. 
Frank: Yes. They usually involve the Mississippi Highway Patrol and radar-assisted speed traps. But you wanted writing related discussion, so I’ll say this: All good narratives can be boiled down to a simple formula. A character, in a setting, facing a problem. It’s really that simple. It’s not easy but it is simple.

Well said, Frank. I believe our own frustrations can also be boiled down to a simple formula. “Our book”, “other’s perceptions of our books”, and “our reactions.” Well, maybe it’s not that simple. But I believe as writers we need to realize there will be ups and downs, difficulties, good times and bad, but at the end of the day we do this because we love it. We must always remember that. Frustration is just a state of mind — one that we have control over, though at times we may not realize it.

Thank you to Gwen Choate and Frank Tuttle for their time. To learn more about them, please check them out online.

Frank Tuttle writes fantasy to escape his real life exploits as a jet-setting international superspy. Visit Frank’s webpage where you will find links to Frank’s blog, his books, and first-aid tips for exotic pet owners. You can also follow Frank on Twitter @frank_tuttle.

Gwen Choate’s YA novel, The Sack, was nominated by Texas Librarians for the Star of Texas Award as a best Middle School book. It is available on Amazon. She can also be reached on Twitter at

This post originally appeared on Elyse Salpeter’s blog.

Elyse Salpeter is a mom of twins, a wife, an author, a salesperson, a cook, an attempted gardener, a bootcamp fan and even a First-Dan Black Belt (though please don’t ask her if she can beat someone up – she hopes never to have to find out).

Her first book, Flying to the Light, was published by CWP but unfortunately that company they went out of business at the the release of book 2 in that series. Those books are now represented by a literary agent. Salpeter also self-published a dark fantasy novel, The World of Karov, about identical twins, one good and one very, very bad.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How to Make Money from your blog

The following is reblogged from Rahul Miglani's blog, My Magic jobs. In this post, Rahul reviews the various apps and add-ons that allow you to put paid advertising on your blog.

Google AdSense is the leading pay-per-click ad network. It is hard to get its approval or sometimes you get banned by breaking its terms. So here we bring a list of alternatives.

Adbrite is as much paying as AdSense, but they split revenue as 75/25 so you keep the most part. You don’t need to worry about getting banned as terms and conditions are quite relaxed. They easily approve your blog or website. The minimum payout is $100.

BuySellAds could be the best alternative.  It is not a pay-per-click network; here you sell your ad spots for a fixed price. You don’t need to worry about click or impressions. You need at least 50,000 hits per month to get your site approved.

Chitika is very much like AdSense. It shows the relevant ads to your search traffic. Its minimum payout is $10 only via paypal. Try it.

Bidvertiser: In Bidvertiser, advertisers can bid for your ad spots. Minimum payout is $10.

Clicksor is a leading ad network. It has lots of formats like popup, inlink, popunder, banners etc. The minimum payout is $50. Quit good for you.

Text Links

Infolinks are the leading in In-Text advertising system. It is also pay-per-click. It highlights your keywords, and when someone hovers on one, an ad will pop out. $50 is the minimum payout.

Kontera is one of the oldest in-text advertising networks. It works the same as infolinks.

TextLinkAds offers to sell text links on your blog. They split revenue 50/50. It is quit good for you to make some cash. No need of traffic but needs high PR.

Image Monetization

Luminate is quite different from others. It monetizes your images in blog posts.


SkimLinks and VigiLink are two more ad networks. These two will link your keywords with an affiliate product. You will make commission on each sale.

Important: These may be good AdSense alternatives, but one thing is common traffic. If you have traffic then you may find good number of advertisers for your blog. Without it, you can't monetize your blog. Even AdSense will not work without traffic. So first work with your blog's traffic, then think of monetization.

Rahul Miglani is the owner of MyMagicJobs. A Unix Freak, he writes tricks and tips for Unix OS and related commands. He writes poems, short stories based on real life and current affairs on his personal blog. He also interviews prominent bloggers on Blogger Interviews

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Triggers that shoot ideas: Unleashing the creative impulse

Creative writing techniques, part V

Photo: Hash Milhan / Creative Commons
Very often, writing comes from intuition, the burning desire to write even though you don't know what to say yet. The explosion that originates creativity is a mystery, an impulse that takes place outside the language at that moment when poems and tales are born. It also unleashes a powerful force: the creative impulse.

Before we write and even while writing, we explore memory and reality until we find what we want to say and how to say it. We are moved by an unnamed desire, the pure impulse that compels us. Behind every creative impulse there is a stimulus that acts as a trigger and, before it, there is a whole world to discover and to reveal to others.

The origin of the creative impulse is a mystery, both for a poet and a painter. Ideas can reach everywhere, unexpectedly, and the stimuli that lead us to them aren't always recognizable. However, it's necessary to notice that the stimulus that makes us write is less mysterious and more evident; it often happens when reality hits hard or when we go through a painful event, for example.

Maybe you are now wondering: What happens when life doesn't hit us hard? What if life doesn't give you any reason to look for relief and comfort in writing? Then, some people don't write; they don't need it. But some others mysteriously feel that creative impulse anyway. Where do they find the strength? What is the force that makes them get up in the middle of the night to write? They are receptive people who respond to incentives. They consider that looking for the impulse and paying attention to it to discover its secrets are parts of their job

To understand the impulse as part of the job is essential. Before turning to a blank page, everything is possible if we look out of the window, if we listen to the world outside and we look for things in it. The key is to listen to the impulse, to watch everything that makes it move.

We don't know the origins of the spark, but we know that its light is responsible for making us write hurriedly on a café serviette what the girl at the next table just said:  "I'm sick and tired of living in a pan!" It's responsible for making us stay awake in the middle of the night, scribbling a poem on the notebook we keep next to our bed. It's responsible for making us take a picture with our mobile phone of that young man who is sitting on a bench, whose hand has lost two fingers, and whom we decide to name Jeremiah. It's responsible for making us want to write a horror story after we have finished reading about another topic.

Tales, novels, and poems are born from a first impulse that, instead of disappearing like others, know how to root in our sensitivity until they possess our will and look for shape and sense.

Not everything we scribble on a serviette will become a successful story. It can be either hours or weeks until we see good words appear on the page. We can leave ideas in stand-by for months or years as drafts stacked and forgotten in a drawer.

That's the creative technique that I'm bringing to you today: the creation of a file of first impulses.

Starting today, you will write down every spark, everything that catches your attention. You are looking for an address on Google Maps and you notice the plan of the streets that run parallel, so close yet condemned to never meet. Write it down! Pay attention to sensorial incentives: sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing... A musician can see music in the sound of frying bacon, in the sound of an old typewriter. Those are sounds that trigger ideas.

Look! What do you see? Look at the shadow of your friend on the restaurant's wall while you talk. So similar to Peter Pan's naughty shadow. And go on like that! Never stop!

Copyright © 2013 Cinta García de la Rosa
This post originally appeared on Cinta's Corner.

Cinta García is a Spanish writer, blogger, reviewer, proofreader, editor, and translator who loves the written word. Her biggest dream was to become a published writer, since one of her passions is writing short stories. And she got that dream when she published The Funny Adventures of Little Nani, her debut collection of stories for children and kids at heart.  She recently published a short story for an adult audience, A Foreigner in London, on Smashwords. Enjoy her ramblings in her blog, Cinta's Corner, and her book reviews at I Can't Stop Reading.

Follow Cinta on Twitter: @CintaGarciaRosa

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Great writers on 10 rules for writing fiction

Photo: “8/26 Day Write-a-thon for 826 Valencia” by Flickr user Steve Rhodes
under Creative Commons 2.0 License
Back in February 2010, the Guardian asked a number of well-established writers to offer their 10 Rules of Writing in response to Elmore Leonard’s own. Those who responded include: Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, PD James, Michael Moorcock, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Sarah Waters and Elmore Leonard himself.

The results, which can be read make interesting and entertaining reading.

Here are some of my favourite extracts:

Elmore Leonard:

Never open a book with weather… The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people.

Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction…

Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. 

My most important rule: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Zadie Smith:

Try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

There is no "writer's lifestyle". All that matters is what you leave on the page.

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. 


Esther Freud:

Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too.

Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn't use any and I slipped up ­during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

Hilary Mantel:

Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.

Michael Moorcock:

For a good melodrama study the famous "Lester Dent master plot formula" which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.

(Wikipedia gives this as Michael Moorcock’s summary of the Lester Dent master plot formula: Split your six-thousand-word story up into four fifteen hundred word parts. Part one, hit your hero with a heap of trouble. Part two, double it. Part three, put him in so much trouble there's no way he could ever possibly get out of it...All your main characters have to be in the first third. All your main themes and everything else has to be established in the first third, developed in the second third, and resolved in the last third.) 

If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophising. This helps retain dramatic tension.

Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.

There is much more to savour in these lists. I recommend checking out the full article. Enjoy!

Seb Kirby

Seb Kirby is the author of the James Blake thriller series (Take No More, Regret No More and the soon-to-be-released Forgive No More) and the Raymond Bridges sci-fi thriller series (Double Bind). 

He says: "I was raised with books – my grandfather ran a mobile library in Birmingham and my parents inherited a random selection of the books. They weren't much interested in them; they were piled up in a box room, gathering dust. I would disappear in there and resurrect much used classics – Zane Gray's Riders of the Purple Sage, HG Wells' The Invisible Man, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and more obscure stuff that I don't now recall. I was hooked. I've been an avid reader ever since."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Permission to scream

This post was originally published on Lisa Jey Davis' Ms. Cheevious blog on May 10, 2013.
I’m on a bit of a rampage. Wait. Stop. Let me rewind a bit. I’ll set the scene for you:
A fabulous new freelancer (who is super cheap and comes highly recommended) is working to upload my Yoga routine book to other platforms besides iBooks and Amazon. No small task, mind you — dealing with and educating the freelancer, that is.
Simultaneously, I’ve got a couple of PR clients whom I pitch and arrange interviews for, as well as submit them for and take them to red carpet events. Why isn’t this listed first, since it pays the bills, you ask? Meh… I can do this one with my eyes closed. I love it, but it doesn’t cause a rampage unless someone does a client wrong. 
The reason I’m even talking about it is because I’m taking a big risk here by not pursuing more clients, even though one of my few has just gone on hiatus.  I made this decision because dammit all, I WILL finish my books, come HELL or high water… even if it means a) I give up my apartment and spend a chunk of my last remaining savings to b) put everything in storage, c) risk MC Nugget getting kicked out of his apartment for harboring a stow-away, and d) continuing to use my beloved VW Jetta as the great Costco storage vehicle.
I’m okay with being a starving artist, if it means I’ll finish my passion-projects. But shit. It does tend to send the stress barometer into hyperdrive.
But the icing on the cake came with a little tiny request I sent out weeks ago to some of my noteworthy friends (or if they aren’t noteworthy, they are beloved) for advanced reviews of my newest book (almost finished, but waiting on those reviews) Getting Over Your Ovaries – How to Make "The Change of Life" Your Bitch. 

While some of them did reviews (one of which is posted here) and amazed me with their sentiments (and for taking the time) – the others… well, you’d think I was asking them to slay their first born. The book is all of two chapters. Let’s just say, this is the thing that will drive me to drink this weekend.
I’d now like your permission to scream.
But before I do, and before I go, please know – this is not at all about you. It it most definitely about ME.
That is all.

Lisa Jey Davis is Editor in [Mis]Chief of the Ms. Cheevious blog and author of Ahhhhhh…Haaaaaa Moments with Ms. Cheevious, Getting Over Your Ovaries – How to Make “The Change of Life” Your Bitch and Ms. Cheevious In Hollywood. 

The tenth daughter — in a family of eleven children — she was born and raised in the rugged, small southwestern town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the base of the beautiful Sandia Mountains. Her mother was an Italian immigrant and her father, of Western European descent, was from Dallas, Texas. After graduation from high school, Lisa Jey (or L.J., as she became known by friends and colleagues) attended the University of New Mexico, majoring in (among other things) journalism and communications.
After her divorce, she made the daring choice, sans employment, to pack it up and move (with her then six-year-old son) from a quiet white-bread neighborhood in Orange County, California to Los Angeles. The goal? Pursue her dreams of working in television production. After months of relentless networking, constant prodding and begging, she finally landed a gig as a talent coordinator on the production crew of The Billboard Bash – a pre-show for the Billboard Music Awards in 2001. She now works as a PR agent in Hollywood.

Visit her Ms. Cheevious blog and website, and follow her on Twitter @MsCheevious.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ahnvee, coshon, and my Cajun life

The other day I found myself ahnveeing for something. The Cajun French word pronounced awn-vee means to long or hanker for something. I often have an ahnvee and just as often don’t know what I’m longing for.

As I sat quietly with my ahnvee, I started thinking about other words and phrases that I grew up saying. My family is Cajun French and Spanish, and in my younger years it was not unusual for the adults to speak French to each other. Whenever my grandmother and mother wanted to say things they did not want me and my brother to understand, they spoke in French. I only wish they had taught the language to me.

Of course, their way of speaking French had nothing to do with the way the French speak. One time when my mother and I were visiting the Oak Alley Plantation, a large group of women were vacationing from France arrived. My mother attempted to have a conversation with one of the women, but the words and pronunciations were too different for either to understand the other.

Though I’ve been gone from Louisiana for a few years, my roots are still there and I notice how quickly I slip back into the Cajun French words I grew up with. The older I get the more I realize we had our own unique way of talking.

When I was a child, everyone I knew passed the vacuum and we also passed a good time. We ate mynez (mayonnaise), put our drawz (underwear) on and petted the meenoo (cat). When something tasted good we’d say, “Mai cher (may sha) that was some good, yeh.” My godmother was my nan-nan and my godfather was my paran and I was my grandmother’s bebe (baby).

People who didn’t know what we knew were couillon (coo-yawn), which means stupid, when something was dirty it was cochon (coshawn) and we roder dayed (ro-da-dayed), which meant we ran the roads. We felt we could say anything about anyone as long as we prefaced our comment with, “Bless her heart.” Outsiders may not have understood us or our way of speaking but we all knew they were just ces’t bet (uneducated).

We also use the word “me” in many of our statements like, “I’m going to eat me some crayfish” or “I’m going to buy me some groceries.”

When I go to Louisiana to visit my momma, my family and I play Bouree (boo-ray) which is a Cajun card game, and we talk about the joie de vivre (joy in living) that is expressed in the laizze les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) attitude of the people in that area of Louisiana.

Growing up in a large extended Cajun family was fun. Though there was a lot of pain and suffering on the inside, there was usually revelry and some form of celebration going on around me. Most weekends our home was full of family. While the children were doing their thing we could hear the sounds of laughter and fun coming from the room with the adults. We celebrated with food, drink, family stories, jokes, and games.

Very hot summer days, so humid that my clothes stuck to my body were part of life. Cockroaches that were big enough to be pets, fried frog legs for dinner, boiled crabs, crayfish and shrimp, bowls of gumbo and plates of red beans and rice were all part of my world.

(Image: Flickr member aimeeorleans licensed under Creative Commons)
I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to have grown up, because the area, the people, and the way of life were all unique. There was a time when I was embarrassed about being Cajun because we were called coon-asses. But when I grew up I fell in love with my heritage. I’m just a little Cajun girl with a license plate that says KJUNQEN (Cajun Queen) and I wouldn’t trade my heritage for anything.

Mai Cher, the universe would not be the same without you.

Peace and love ♥ Brenda

Brenda Marroy

Besides being a writer, Brenda Marroy is a facilitator of women’s groups, and writes and leads weekend seminars and workshops on communications, developing and healing relationships, and practicing mindfulness.

She is a member of the Long Ridge Writers Group and the Virginia Writers Group and has recently finished her first non-fiction book, Alchemy 365-A daily guide to personal growth and transformation. She writes a weekly blog, Streams of Consciousness. Visit her Facebook page,

Her articles have appeared in Cornucopia, Crone, The Journey Magazine, and The Goddess Pages in the UK. She can be reached at

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Remembering Virginia and the Whales

In 2005, at just about this time of year, I went to Baja California with Virginia and another friend to visit the gray whales in Scammons Lagoon.  Last week, Virginia died.  I know she would agree that we spent one afternoon in Paradise with the whales.  Here is the way it happened.

I've made it once again to another place where I know there are whales.  But I've never been able to actually see one in the wild.  The day is beautiful - warm and sunny.  The large lagoon is quite pretty with it's fringe of white sand dunes.  As the boat skips over the waves with the sea air and the wind in my face, I can enjoy just this.  But I hope this will be my time to see a whale in the wild.

Can that be a whale?  Yes, I see a mass in the water spouting its air through its two blowholes.  One of the twelve passengers on our small boat shouts, "There's one."  Another whale is lifting its huge head out of the water spyhopping, like in the picture I put over the bathroom sink and looked at every day for a year.

I'm seeing whales -- for real -- in the wild!  They're huge and glide by silently, without even the tiniest splash.  I enjoy the way they are at one with the water.  How I wish I could take in 360 degrees with my eyes.  I hate to miss any chance to see them.  I'm taking pictures even though I know I'm too far away to get a decent shot.

Is that - yes, it's a baby swimming beside its mother.  A 1,500-pound baby gray whale is so adorable!  After the 5,000 mile migration from the Arctic to Baja California, Mexico, then delivering the big bundle of joy, how can the other produce 50 gallons of milk a day?  And she hasn't  eaten since she left the Arctic months ago.  Nature's adaptations defy logic.
I think - yes, that baby has just fallen or intentionally tumbled off mom's back.  The tail is so tiny and cute compared to mom's.  They said there were 1,500 gray whales in this lagoon at the last count only a week ago.  How wonderful to be hanging out on a sunny day in the company of these amazing creatures.

With the boat's motor off, the silence is lovely, punctuated only by excited shouts of "There's one."  But no, it's not really silent.  I've never heard such a sound in a sea before.  I can actually hear the whales breathing all around me.  I know it's the whales that are breathing, but I feel the water, the sea itself, is alive in a way I've never experienced before.
We begin to distinguish the footprints of the whales - flat areas on the sea where they've gone down.  I know that sometimes the whales will come very close to the boats.  I'd like that, but if it doesn't happen, I feel content being in their company inhabiting the same place on a warm, sunny day.

Ohhhh, my god!  There's one right next to our boat.  It seems to go on forever, like watching a freight train roll by.  But it's going by so slowly, so intentionally slowly.  I am trying to digest what I've seen when someone says, "It's still down there."  I can see the mottled barnacle-encrusted bulk, and distinct fins.  It's going under the boat.  I rush the short distance to the other side to watch it come up again and roll over ever so gently.  Someone from the boat puts out her hand and touches it as it glides by.

Now everyone wants the chance to touch it,  but this one stays tantalizingly out of reach.  "It's too close," exclaims a photographer who no longer needs a zoom lens.
Its eye!  I want to see her eye!  Now we know "it" is a "she."  She's much too big to be a baby; we don't see a baby around her.  She has come to play with us.  It's true.  She actually wants to be with us.  Why else does she follow our boat?

She can hold her tail still in the air!  I didn't know whales could do that.  It looks like a huge flower growing out of the sea.  With the backdrop of the blue sky, blue-green water and the white sand dunes, it's perfect.  Hope the photographer got it.  But I have it in my memory, just in case.  Her tail is very distinctive because there's a rather large half-moon bite out of it.  Wonder what tail tales she could tell us.

How beautiful!  She's a ballet dancer too.  What an exquisite slow motion unfolding of her tail as she dives beneath the surface.  Those are the same powerful flukes once used in self-defense when they were called "devil fish" in the sad days of whaling.  We are in the same Scammons Lagoon, named for the captain who turned the waters deadly red from the whales' blood.

What's she doing with her tail now?  She's swirling up the water.  She's actually splashing us - not enough to hurt us, just enough to hear us gaily laughing.  How honored I feel that she wants to play with us mere mortals after all the terrible things we have done to her kin and their home, the ocean.  One flip of her massive fluke could easily destroy our boat and us.  But the furthest emotion from my mind is fear.  I am thrilled, fascinated, reverent.

Now I must see her eye.  It's hard to find among the barnacles.  Even when her huge head comes out to spyhop so close to the boat, I still can't find the eye.  And then she passes by - and I see it.  She's not looking at me, but still I feel a jolt of pure joy go through me.  It is magical.  It is mystical.  It is the most incredible single moment of my life!

I relax.  I have seen a whale's eye.  But I continue to dash from side to side.  What's that?  Someone is handing me a box lunch.  I don't want to eat.  I want to play some more with the two whales who have befriended us.  Oh no!  The boatman has started the engine.  We're leaving this idyllic spot.  When I look back, our whale is holding her tail with the half-moon bite up in the air.  I'm sure she's saying goodbye, and I want to cry.  I bid her namaste; the boat picks up speed.

Suellen Zima

Suellen Zima, the Senior Hummingbird, is a writer and blogger based in southern California. She is the author of Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird, and Out of Step: A Diary to My Dead Son.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Keep your sentences ACTIVE!

A guide to sentences, part 2

STOP WHAT YOU’RE WRITING. Go back to the beginning, read it carefully and change every passive sentence into an active one. This is the easiest and quickest way to make your writing more engaging.

Why? Passive sentences are longer and less interesting than active sentences. Let’s take a first-grade example:

Passive: The lazy dog was jumped over by the quick brown fox.
Active: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The active sentence is shorter, takes less room, consumes less energy and paper but contains no less information.

Quick definition

For those who, like me, don’t want to count the number of years since junior-high grammar lessons, an active sentence is one where the subject of the sentence performs the verb. In the example above, the fox performs or does the action—it jumps. The dog in the example is the object of the verb.

In the passive version, the subject of the sentence is the dog, but it is still the recipient or the object of the action.

Make “active” your default setting. While there are examples where a passive sentence is more appropriate, such as when the “do-er” of the verb is unknown or irrelevant. Here’s one from a novel I read recently:

“The sergeant moved to the living room window, where the screen has already been removed.”
Passive voice also makes sense in most lab reports, where the focus should be on the objects of observation. We write “the contents of the beaker were decanted into test tubes,” instead of “I poured the contents of the beaker into test tubes.”

But most of the time, passive voice is not only unnecessary, it’s dull. It deadens interesting topics. Take these examples, which twist together active and passive clauses into horrifying tangles:

Some companies use high-pressure sales tactics to offer what is perceived to be a buoy to those who may feel they are drowning in debt.
2014 will be characterized by a cacophony of trends that will converge, explode and create outstanding opportunities for organizations and individuals ready to thrive in velocity.
Action is better because audiences respond to it. Action keeps us interested. Passive sentences are like passive anything: not very interesting. Don’t believe me? Which zoo animal gets more attention: the monkey swinging on the bars, or the lizard soaking up the sun?

What kinds of movies have the biggest audiences? Which had a bigger box office last year: On the Road or The Avengers? What was the difference: the intricacy of the screenplay? The sensitivity of the acting? The artistry of the directing?
Action works. Action puts bums in seats. Action sells.

Activate these

Here are some examples from the real world. I have changed some details just to protect myself from ire:
Rising household debt is of growing concern for many.
Who’s concerned? Economists? Mothers? Debtors? Loan sharks?
The idea of segments of the supply chain being developed elsewhere was also brought up.
Who brought it up?
Tenants are urged to be wary about companies that claim they can negotiate a better deal with landlords so that only a part of their rent will need to be paid.
Who’s urging?


Experts urge tenants to beware of companies that claim they can negotiate a better deal with landlords ...
 Suggested times for starting each content section are shown in Slide 1: Agenda.


Slide 1: Agenda suggests starting times for each content section.
By effectively controlling the supply chain, costs can be notably curtailed.


Controlling the supply chain effectively can curtail costs.

This one is easy to fix just by removing unnecessary words:
The Windows-based Superdyn software can be used for setting parameters, and control and monitoring of DDw-789 motors. 
The Windows-based Superdyn software can set parameters, and control and monitor DDw-789 motors.

From fiction:

If she didn’t get out, she was going to be mauled to death by the dog.
If she didn’t get out, the dog would maul her to death.

Their whereabouts are only known by the religious caste of the Flarconeans.
Only the Flarconeans’ religious caste knows their whereabouts.

Watch for it

Watch your writing for passive sentences. One giveaway: count your use of the word “by,” as in “the dog was jumped over by the fox.” When you proofread your work, watch for long phrases and dependent clauses. In general, try to make sure that the subject of every sentence is what’s performing the verb.

Scott Bury 

Scott Bury is an editor, author and journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. For more writing tips, as well as interview with independent writers and reviews of their books, visit his blog, Written Words. You can also connect with him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Avoid writing badly: make the sentence your unit of expression

Sentences, Part 1

What’s the difference between good writing and bad? To me, one sure sign of bad writing is bad grammar.
Grammar isn’t that hard. The first step is to understand that the sentence is your basic unit of expression.
Consider this example:
An analysis of survey results conducted by GHI concluded that different groups of consumers face different kinds of challenges, this includes unemployed and underemployed as well as low-income groups.
This example from fiction demonstrates the opposite problem:
The chattering of Will’s teeth, as loud as the cold north wind that blew down through mountains.
The problem in the first case is a comma splice: joining two separate sentences with a comma, rather than separating them with a period (or maybe a semi-colon).

The problem in the second example is an incomplete sentence. The verb is missing.

This is how a grammatically complete sentence would read:
The chattering of Will’s teeth was as loud as the cold north wind that blew down through mountains.
That’s not a particularly creative solution, but it’s correct.

Another example, with some light surgery to hide the actual source:
But back to the economy, all three projects expanded simultaneously and required capitalization, no wonder the organization’s bottom line was depleted.

The unit of expression

A word may be a unit of meaning, but a single word by itself does not usually express an idea.

Back when I was in grade school, after cleaning the sabre-tooth tigers’ litter boxes, we all learned that a sentence expressed a complete thought.
To do that, it needs two elements: a verb or predicate — action — and a subject, which is usually a noun or a pronoun.

The quick red fox jumps.
The action word, the verb, is “jumps.” “Fox,” of course, is the subject. The rest of the words describe the subject.

Sometimes, you don’t need the subject to be written out: “Duck!” The subject is “you, implied” — a concept that caused all sorts of confusion when I was in school (but was not as distressful as the hungry velociraptors in the back of the cave).

Noun and verb. Other words describe the subject or complete the action.

A wave of lust slammed into her body.
“Lust slammed” would be a grammatically complete sentence.

The subject can also be a phrase or a clause: a group of words that function together as a noun.

Resisting the temptation to crush her body against his and tear off her clothes took all his willpower.

The subject in that example did not end until after “clothes.” (“After clothes” is one of my favourite places.)

That’s all there is to it. To write clearly, write about something doing something.

Joining complete thoughts

To join two complete thoughts — sentences — you have to have the right kind of link. Usually, it’s not a period, but a word or a group of words. Instead of boring you with grammatical logic, I advise you read good writing until you develop a sense of what “sounds” right.

Here are some examples of what not to do, and corrections, again taken from real sources.

Run-on sentence

The run-on sentence happens when one complete idea follows another without any punctuation or joining phrases.
She got up and went into the bathroom and got a wet washrag and came back and laid it across her mother’s forehead.
The succession of clauses joined by “and,” while grammatically correct, is tedious. There’s also too much detail. You don’t need to describe every single action: your reader can figure it out.
She wet a rag in the bathroom and laid it across her mother’s forehead.

Comma splice

She took his hand again, “how are we going to keep them safe?” She whispered.
Again, there are more than one problem here:
She took his hand again. “How are we going to keep them safe?” she whispered.
“If we move quickly we could be off in front of the soldiers, we’ve got fast horses and money.”
“If we move quickly we could get ahead of the soldiers — we’ve got fast horses and money.”
Does grammar matter?
As long as the underlying meaning comes across, does it matter that you follow every little rule?

Yes. First, correct grammar is a sign of professionalism. Whether you’re writing fiction, advertising or technical reports, if you don’t come across as professional, no one will take your document seriously. If the audience doesn’t believe you, why bother writing?

Second, grammar ensures clarity:
For hospitals seeking increased profitability in the operating room (OR) it is essential to streamline the movement of materials from suppliers to the hands of doctors efficiently acquiring and moving supplies critical to OR procedures are measurable ways to reduce costs, increase revenue capture, optimize labour and improve process management.
What’s efficient: doctors’ hands, or moving supplies?

When the subject is medical care, I think clarity is pretty darn important.

Scott Bury
Scott Bury is an author, editor and journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. His blog, Written Words, publishes writing tips and guidance, reviews of independent books and interviews with their authors, samples of his fiction and opinions on the state of the communications industry. 

Follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations

Porn...yes, I'm talking porn.
Every adult has seen some form of it - whether it be a movie (bow-chicka-bow-wow), read it (super hot paperbacks) or you see photos in magazines and on the internet. We are all exposed. I'm not just talking about the obvious porn, but photos of overly-half naked men and women posted everywhere in our everyday life. Advertisements are full of them (Calvin Klein ads were famous for it).

You see these images. Now look at your mate. Are you hoping, secretly, they look like that? Are you looking for that special someone with rippling abs? Can you discern fantasy from real life?

You say, of course I can. But can you? How many times do we fantasize about that unrealistic body you wish your special someone had? How many times have I heard that a spouse no longer loves their spouse because they've gained weight?

I'll pick on men first. They're easiest - sorry guys. From the time your hormones kick in you are looking for big boobs, a firm ass, or long legs. Oh, don't forget the long blonde hair. Where does this come from? I could blame it on men's magazines and XXX movies, but its everywhere - TV, movies, billboards. You're bombarded with it. You have to know, we can't compete with that. There are so few women that meet the fantasy, and can keep it. If you find her, she has to grow old at some point. Wrinkles set in, she gains some weight, the boobs are no longer perky and neither is the ass. Your eyes start to wander. Forgetting with these changes comes maturity, she knows you and your quirks, and she still loves you.

K gals, we're just as bad. We long for that guy with bulging biceps, rippling abs, who can pick us up with ease and carry us off to bed. Its in our magazines, movies, TV and books we read. Men have the same issues we do...they age. The arms aren't as muscular as they once were, the abs turn to a round gut, their hair thins. You eyes wander. This guy has been there through children, illness, and family drama - you sure you want to trade him in?
Let's say you're single and 45 years old or older. You look on the dating websites. What do you see? Exactly what you had. There is only so much botox, lifting and enlarging you can do. You can add plugs, lift weights and lose a few pounds. What do you have? Someone over 45...

Moral of the story? Enjoy our differences from what society tells us is sexy. Individuality is priceless. Growing old gracefully, accepting of body changes, can be sexy. Be confident in who you are. You are beautiful and sexy no matter what age or size. You are handsome and hunky no matter what age or size. The mind is a very sexy organ. Use it more. A good conversation, an intelligent conversation, can be a turn on. Try it.