Tag Archives: writing process

Yet More Writer Misteaks

When I first started compiling and keeping a list of common writer mistakes, I really didn’t think it would/could go on for so long. But it seems like when I post something, one of you post a brilliant comment and I find even more stuff. So, I guess I’ll do these posts until I run out of goof-ups.

So, another thing that irks me is “yea” used in place of “yeah.” Rarely do I see it the other way around, but I’m sure it happens. “Yeah” is slang for yes. It’s the equivalent of Yep, yessir, yes ma’am, or, if you’re Japanese, hai! “Yea,” does NOT mean yes. It has a couple of meanings, but we probably would want to use it most to show excitement. As in “yea, I made the football team.” Translated to redneckian (of all geographic locations), it would read, “hot dang, I get ta bust some heads!” Some of the older ones among us probably think of it in Biblical terms: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Well, you know the rest (and if you don’t, shame on you!). It still doesn’t mean “yes.”

Anyone older than, oh, 30, knows that Facebook and smartphones will be the death of our language. It drives me bonkers when I see Brittany’s friends post “awe” on her pictures. The first time I ever saw it, I asked her what her friend was so in awe about. She explained to me that it was supposed to be a “that’s cute” reaction, meaning “aw.” I said, “oh.”

I set her straight pretty quick. But now when I see it, and I still see it a lot, I tease her and read it aloud as if it was pronounced “ah-we.” I understand the reaction, because Southern girls are always saying “awwwwwwwww” when they see “cute” things. I get it. It is still NOT spelled “awe.”

As I grade student papers and even do freelance editing, I’m continually amazed at how many writers ignore the little green and red squiggly lines so kindly provided by MS Word. Granted, we should not take the word of MS Word as the be-all, end-all of grammar or spelling. However, when you see them there, they’re probably there for a reason: something’s a little off. Don’t ignore them. Seriously, don’t “ignore” them. Yes, it is true. I know that some writers—when they don’t know—will simply press “ignore” in MS Word so that the lines will go away, but the problem does not. It’s like they’re trying to hide it. When you don’t know the spelling of a word, look it up. MS Word will generally offer you choices.

Don’t guess. We can tell.

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More misteaks by writers

Before you start leaving comments that I misspelled “mistakes” as the title of this blog…yes, I know I did. Thank you…read on.

So, many of you responded that you liked the mistakes part 1…so I present part 2 (who knows, there may be many parts to this idea!).

Continuing the possessive issues, we come next to there/their. These two words are probably mistaken more than either its/it’s or your/you’re. There is a pointer and their is possessive. It was their mistake to make (meaning the mistake belonged to them, of course). “Over there is their car,” means that the car that belongs to them is in that place. “There is a lot of hot air on this page,” means this page contains a lot of hot air. Many times this mistake is often just a mistake, a typo. However, be sure that you know the difference.

Use/used is a lot like suppose/supposed I mentioned in part 1. Most seem to use it correctly when calling something “not new,” as in, it is used. Likewise, most get it right when it is used instructionally as in “be sure to use the left blinker.” The problems seem to come up when a writer wants to put in the place of a historical action: “he used to live on the corner.” To say “he use to live on the corner,” is incorrect.

Since possessives often need the apostrophe, I figure I’ll bring a common incorrect usage of apostrophes. Many writers try to force apostrophes into dates. Thus the year in “the 1930s was a time of incredibly financial hardship,” does not need an apostrophe even though many, many writers try to include them there. The same is said for “ABCs,” it does not need an apostrophe.

Now, here’s a side note on the above. It used to be (as in “once was”) common practice to place an apostrophe in examples like above. Thus, 1920’s, ABC’s, 6’s, etc. However, time has changed the use so that so that we don’t do that unless the meaning would be unclear otherwise. Thus, my kids make “A’s and B’s,” not “As and Bs” is correct because the “As” would be confusing (it would look like the word “as”).

Okay, more next time.

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Common misteaks made by writers

I once wrote a newspaper editorial about making mistakes. I wrote it because I’d made a mistake in the newspaper a week or two before and I felt really bad about it. It was an honest mistake. However, the person affected by the mistake came into the newspaper office and really let me have it; said I shouldn’t make mistakes because I have a degree. Well, degree(s) or not, I still err like anyone else. I put it online for all to see, and if you want to read it, go here. It’s a little difficult to read and it was an attempt at humor (you can decide whether I was successful or not).

But that made me think about mistakes that I see often from writers. So, I thought I’d blog about that…maybe I’ll hit on something that even you weren’t aware of…editing this, I see it will take more than one…so consider this part 1.

One of the quickest ways to get tossed off an editor’s desk is first, format. Follow the directions for formatting. There is a general standard, but not all publishers are alike. Failing to follow their formatting guidelines proves you didn’t do your homework and that you don’t really care what they want. Thus, if you don’t care, why should they?

Next is work that is replete with errors. When submitting to a professional publication that you’d like them to pay you money for your work, yes, even one single solitary error will affect your submission. Proof, again and again.

So, what are some of the no-brainers of errors? Here are a few:

A lot of writers use “suppose” when they really need “supposed.” The first is in essence, thinking. “I suppose we could go there,” or “Do you suppose they arrived safely?” While the latter can be the past tense of the former (“We supposed they arrived safely.”), it is most often used to mean should have. “He was supposed to go today,” or, “You are supposed to stop at a red light.” I’ve seen many writers use the former in those situations. Thus, “He was suppose to go there,” is incorrect. As is “You are suppose to stop at a red light.” Both of these incorrect examples should use “supposed.”

Its/it’s often gives writers fits. The easiest way to remember the difference here is, the apostrophe takes the place of an “I” and means it is. Its is possessive. It’s (see, it is) one of those possessive exceptions in that it is possessive and yet doesn’t use an apostrophe. Thus “It’s a long time until Christmas,” is actually “It is a long time until Christmas.” Whereas “What will you do with its wheel,” is possessive. Meaning the wheel belongs to something (presumably a car…or maybe a bike…or wagon).

Another easy one that writers shouldn’t get wrong is your/you’re. As in the its/it’s case, the former (your) is possessive and the later (you’re) has an apostrophe in place of a missing letter—in this case, “a.” Thus, “This is your blog,” means the blogs belongs to me (possessive). While “You’re going to run over your word count” (see how I got them both in one sentence?) means “You are going to run over your word count,” and the “your” indicates that word count belongs to me.

And, as this has gotten long, I’ll write more mistakes later!

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Where do those wacky ideas come from?

Okay, in my attempt to blog a little more about writing, I reckon I’ll start at the beginning, which is where all writing starts, right? Even if not all stories start that way, the writing does. It all begins with an idea.

Truthfully, this is probably the single most asked question of writers. I’ve been attending writer’s conferences and speaking on assorted panels since the late 1980s, and I’ve heard “where do you get your ideas” more than any other question. The problem is, there is no easy answer for it. Sometimes when that question is asked, I think the askers assume the response will be “oh, I use the idea-chest I picked up at Wal-Mart for a buck ninety-nine. I just reached in and grabbed the first idea I came to.”

There is no idea-chest: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. But, because I’d be doing those genuinely interested in an answer a disservice if I left it at that, I’ll cover some of the possibilities.

First, ideas come from reading. Writers should read. A lot! They should read good stuff and they should read bad stuff (though more of the former, if possible). Writers can be inspired by good writing. When you read something done well, you’re inspired to go and also do well. I’m not meaning mimicry, but writing something that makes the reader feel like you felt when reading the good thing.

Believe it or not, writers can also be inspired by bad writing, and in more than one way. The first thought is that you can do better than what you’ve just read—and it was published! On a smaller level, you can easily see all of the mistakes and commit them to memory while vowing never to make those mistakes. Doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, but you will diligently work to not make those same mistakes.

Writers can get ideas from other entertainment: movies, cartoons, television, music, you name it. Something clicks and an idea is hatched. I’ve talked about writing to music before, but never really mentioned how I can get ideas from songs. Maybe sometime later I’ll go more in-depth. Often, though, we see a show and think how cool it would be if something different had happened…and thus is birthed a new idea.

For the most part, though, ideas come from simply living life! Everyday things: mowing the lawn, doing laundry, worrying about kids who’ve just gotten their driver’s license, listening to annoying folks on talk radio! There is so much material to be mined in our day to day existence that if you were to write it all, you’d be blogging several times a day, if not more. The problem comes in that we live our lives, but fail to write the ideas down as they occur. How many times have you been driving and an idea strike you? That evening, you can’t remember what it was.

The solution? Carry around a small notepad with you everywhere you go. Write down the ideas as they come to you. Before long, you’ll have too many ideas and not enough blog!

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Not feeling creative?

What do you do when you don’t feel creative? I’m not talking to those folks who don’t feel creative ever! I’m talking to those whose job requires them to be creative from 9-5…and then some. And I’m not talking about writer’s block. Regular visitors here know that I think writer’s block is just a way for a writer to be lazy…but I’ve already made that argument.

No, what I’m talking about are those days that you get up and stare and the computer and just don’t want to mess with your hero. You’ve got these ideas running around, but you don’t want to put them down and move them around like a puzzle. You don’t want to have that conversation with the antagonist that will give you insight into his motivation. Again, I’m not talking about the normal hesitations or anxieties writers feel when tackling tasks like that. I mean when your want to ain’t doing what it’s supposed to do.

I had a day like that recently. It coincided with laundry day and so I blamed it on the laundry all day. But then when I sat down that night to write in my journal, I just didn’t want to. I mean, I had stuff to add—Brittany and Brett supply an endless stream of journal material. I just didn’t want to do it.

It scared me a bit.

I got over it (I’m writing this, aren’t I?). But it did make me wonder what sort of strategies I should take to get the want-to back in gear. Often, I just shift to something else (writing wise, I mean). Sometimes I get up and do the dreaded house and yard work that I certainly don’t want to do. I find that doing some of the chores gets my mind going and prepped for writing. Mowing the lawn, as much as I dread it, is a good chunk of time when I can just let ideas cook without interruption. I don’t think writers cook their ideas much anymore—too big of a hurry to get it out there.

Another thing I do is read. Actually, reading is probably the number one strategy for me to get the want-go going again. The funny thing is, I find that I’m inspired by all kinds of writing. I’m inspired by the good stuff because I want to be able to replicate things that they’ve done. I find that even the bad stuff inspires me in a couple of different ways: 1) I think if it can get published, then my work can; 2)I want to be sure when I write it doesn’t come out that that!

Thoughts?

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Going paperless hurt

I am a big fan of technology and I’m generally very excited about the possibilities of what our ever-growing technology can bring us or do for us. Yes, even though I still don’t own a cellphone, I’m a fan of them (except for when the bozos who use them while driving—I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve had a near collision only to find the opposite driver busy talking on the phone—or texting. But, this is not the phone’s fault, but the idiot user—just the same way it isn’t a gun that kills people, but the idiot users). I don’t own a cellphone because I don’t want one, not because I don’t think they’re cool because I do! Heck, I remember the first ones that came out and looked like Captain Kirk’s communicator. That was cool! No, I don’t want one because I don’t generally want to feel attached to the feed at all times…I like to disconnect some.

But the ever increasing digital age brings with it some growing pains. For instance, my family in general has always tried to recycle as best we can. No, we’re not trailblazers nor are we leading the way, but we try to participate. Recycling digital, however, isn’t quite as easy. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ve heard someone say that the old monitors have to be taken “in” and not simply discarded. I know that’s not gonna happen—mine find their way to the trash can.

But I don’t mean this to be about being green. I wanted to talk about what it means for me as a writer. I always kept copies of my work printed. If I write a new draft of something, the old one gets recycled—either as the backside for something new in the printer or into the paper recycling. I mean, I have a copy of all my written work printed out, but I don’t have all the multiple drafts. I have a “first” draft, and then a “last” draft (which, of course, is the one that gets recycled whenever I revise).

The problem with composing digitally the way I do now is there is no progression. I click “save” and the new version replaces the old. I don’t have an old draft to refer to if I’ve accidently deleted a scene (this is why I started keeping a “first” draft of my work). Something that came up with my mentor Rachel Harper during my MFA was she wanted to see a copy of my plot. The problem I had was that I’d written out a rough plot for each chapter (like I’ve always done with comics)…HOWEVER, I composed on that digital file and as the chapters were completed, the “plot outline” part of it was deleted. So the file was essentially the complete text (or first draft) up to my current spot…followed by a plot outline. Because of this, I couldn’t supply her with a plot outline for the chapters already composed.

I blame this on the digital revolution, of course.

Thanks to Rachel’s encouragement, I’ve now shifted to creating different computer files for the different tasks; meaning I have now a file that reads “plot” or “outline” or some such and another file that reads “title” of the project.

Like all changes, some of them hurt…we just have to adapt and go with it.

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Plot to the end

Writers are bombarded with endless suggestions of how to improve their craft and what to do to make their work “successful” (successful is, of course, defined differently by different writers). I guess this blog is another of those. My response has always been though—take all the feedback and ideas you can get, pour them into a pot, stir them up, and take out of it something that is useful to you as a writer.

I’ve always been one who’s plotted a story from start to finish before sitting down to the nitty-gritty of writing. Part of that is the nature of comic books, the industry where I’ve gotten the over-whelming majority of my work. Comics are episodic by design and stories must be tailored and crafted to fit within a specified number of pages so that writers have to know what is happening and when it’s happening. It’s not limiting, as some might suggest, but it is what it is.

I’d often read about writers, though, who just begin typing without really knowing what the story is or where it is going. Obviously, I’m talking prose writers—comic writers don’t have that liberty. After having finished two novels, I wanted to give it a try just to … y’know…see?

I didn’t get to finish the one before I started on another (The Interns, listed at the side of this blog page, for those of you keeping score) and started it the same way. Actually, it was much easier for The Interns because I was only supposed to generate 20-ish pages for my Spalding MFA workshop—it didn’t matter what the story was or where it was going, right?

As is often the case for writers, the more I wrote on The Interns, the more I liked the character and the situation in which I’d placed him. It was fun watching him squirm. But I still didn’t know exactly where the story was going. Oh sure, I’d developed ideas because of the situations, but it seemed like endless possibilities and I’d started to really want the story to mean something.

So after 70 pages, and a nice talk from my writing mentor this semester, I knew I had to go back and figure out what the story was and where it was going. To put it simply, I had to go back and plot it out from start to finish. Okay, maybe not from the very beginning because I’d written a good deal of that. I did have to figure out the ending. Getting there was fun as I got to explore the myriad paths of possibilities.

But ultimately, I picked one…and that’s where we’re going.

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