Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wordy Shipmates

Wordy Shipmates is a collection of essays written by Sarah Vowell, but that's not what my title means today. First of all, today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day.

On this day of ARG! and Ha-har!, I ripped a sheet of my tear off calendar. Today's word of the day is obequitate, which means to ride about, such as on a horse. Yesterday's word was vagitus, the distressing cry of persons under surgical operations, and the days before's was swarble, to climb a straight tree on which there are no branches to help the ascent.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to swarble, me hearties, and to obequitate without falling off and later joining in the chorus of vagitus. Now can you use these three new words in a pirate voice? Har?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chill Out, Girlfriend

I think this is why clients want full anonymity.

Because when I find them, I kinda do this.

Most of the articles I write have full anonymity. That means I turn in my articles to a third party, and sometimes not even that third party knows where it's going. I've heard from friends that their articles have shown up in USA Today and they stumbled upon them like accident. (The idea that this could happen makes me repeat the above .gif.)

So when I stumble upon an article that has involved slaving away at word choices, it's nice to see that hard work rewarded. Here is one such reward: https://www.anjolee.com/blog/index.php/2013/09/fall-2013-fashion-chained-down/

I wrote an article today about Christmas lights and the client was so pleased that she said I must be an expert. After what seems like a long period of discouragement, it's nice to be applauded for something.

Now, back to my article on how to apply for reality TV shows...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Did you know that there is a wonderful prompt generator app called "Flash Fiction Prompter"? Not only is it convenient but it's free.

If you're stuck in your writing today, try these prompts to loosen up some good(ish) writing:

Character: Dare Devil
Setting: Submarine
Plot: A character gets food poisoning

If you're really feeling adventurous, incorporate this quote (not from the prompter):
"I never used the word hate."

Ready- set- GO. Get some writing done. Exercise!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Type-O's And Other Cereals

Ironically, a student of mine was giving online feedback to another student and said that she caught "a couple of Type-O's." It's not cereal, kid. It's "typos." It made me laugh, though, and it brought humor to an otherwise rough workweek.

Since then, here are just a few of the many words I've spelled wrong:


And if I were to say that none of these were spelled wrong on the white board in front of my students, I would be lieing lying. I'll admit: while typing out a response to that student's Blackboard post, I went onto Grammar Girl (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com) to check if I was using affect or effect, and to see if I was going to lay down or lie down. Yikes.

And then I had a conversation with my class today about the Inner Critic. You know who this is, I wager. Sometimes we call it Monkey Mind, sometimes we call it Editor Mode, and sometimes we give it a face like our mentor in grad school who is in disbelief that I haven't gotten over this past imperfect verb tense thing. If we're writing non-fiction, we're always wondering what that honestly-portrayed person will say. If we're writing fiction, we wonder what our mentors and students will say. If we're writing articles, we have to make sure we picture the right audience: be funny but not too funny, be friendly but not too friendly, don't use first person, don't ramble on, you wrote too much here, you wrote too little there, and no one cares about how The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is based on Hamlet

Or maybe that's just me. 

Just write the dang thing down. If you allow Inner Critic/Monkey Mind/Editor Mode/Grad School Mentor a say all the time while working to be funny but not too funny and friendly but not too friendly, you've got so many balls in the air that your attention is there instead of on your writing. Surprise of all surprises, I don't know how to spell every single word, and it's not something I'm going to focus on. Sure, it's embarrassing to stand in front of a classroom and have them all think I'm crazy for writing "bulletain" on the board, but whatever. We make mistakes. If you write in the morning, you eat Type-O's for breakfast: that's as predictable as too much caffine caffeine makes your hands shake. 

First drafts suck. Whatever. Give yourself permission. (Just fix these errors in revision.) 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where Are Your Priorities?

You're busy. I get it. I'm busy, too.

In fact, I've spent the last five years of my life busy. First it was balancing school and retail, and if it means I'm going to save $5k+ in tuition, sure, I'll take twice the average load of classes to be done earlier. Then it was balancing grad school and retail, which, trust me is harder, even if my credits were half of the previous semester. Then it was balancing grad school, retail, and teaching. (Are you starting to see a pattern?) Then it was balancing grad school and teaching, and last year it was balancing teaching, teaching, and teaching. Oh, and writing in there somewhere. Duh.

So when students tell me that I don't understand how busy they are, I try not to "HAH!" in their faces. Instead, I turn it around. Priorities, I tell them. Priorities are the only way things ever get done.

Don't get me wrong: I don't have it all together. But I can tell you from a five-year series of trial-and-error that the only way your writing gets done is if you prioritize.

Biggest writing misconception ever: I'm going to sit down at my writing desk for hours and from mere inspiration divine a brilliant manuscript of my own making. With days of this, of course my novel will be finished within the year, and my good luck and success can only be marked with a book deal. I'm so prolific that I can do this every day forever.


Biggest reality check ever: You need a comfortable space that won't distract you with what you've put in that space. You also need to write on a medium-to-full stomach and have plenty of water/coffee/tea available. If any one of these simple things is out of balance, you will do what most writers do and end up looking out the window or scanning Facebook. (Confession: where do you think this post is stemming from?)

Biggest help for the writing life: My first mentor in grad school gave all of us a daily schedule of her writing life. I can't find it right now (shut up) but what impressed me the most was that she started with an hour of reading (coffee in hand, of course), then an hour of her own writing, then an hour of revising what she had written in past days, and then dove into grading. Then she'd have lunch and do the same thing again. While her schedule may vary depending on the needs of the day, this was the overall schedule she stuck to. There was no marathon writing, but there was no procrastination, either. Sometimes we are so manic: we like to write when we're passionately inspired, but that all-consuming fire quickly burns and we're left with either no ideas or no inspiration.

Write even when you think the fire has burned out. Only then you'll find yourself to be a true writer. Push past it and you'll find a reward akin to working at a truly meaningful relationship.

So what, dear writer, am I encouraging you to do today? Pick a schedule, pick priorities, and pepper your day with a few small activities. If you don't have time to devote an hour per activity, devote 15 minutes per activity. Something daily is better than something manic.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

3 More Tips for The Starving Artist's Handbook

As much as we think it does, money doesn't show up overnight. Even when you write blogs about being a starving artist and you think somehow you've paid some metaphorical dues because you whined about the business world, there still isn't a magical email that shows up and says, "You are the most brilliant writer in the history of humankind and I would love it if you had a novel waiting to become a New York Times Bestseller..."

I mean, no one dreams of that.

So until that magical email arrives in your box (yeah, okay), here are some tips for being a Starving Artist:

1. Things take time. When the most you're making for an article is $10, you have to be very real with your expectations. You're not yet the writer who has a new car, just bought a new house, and works from home. I'm not saying this could never happen, but don't let your credit card think this is happening yet. Otherwise, you're going to underlining your starving artist title.

2. Don't feel like you're working for a company forever. Unless a company is giving you benefits, retirement, and a company car, don't feel obligated to be his or her slave -especially when he or she exhibits passive aggression. "I haven't heard from you in the last twenty minutes and I'm concerned that you're not responding to my emails immediately, even though I only pay you $7.14 a day for working 5 hours..." (Shouldn't I have a disclaimer right about now that any resemblance to actual events is coincidental?) Don't put up with that. Find a better writing job. 

3. Don't stop your creative writing. You are better than below-minimum-wage-writing. If you need to tell yourself that by embossing it on your bathroom mirror, do it. You didn't become a writer so that you could write articles about taxes or the Loch Ness monster, did you? NO! So don't let these articles about arbitration and how-to-clean-with-a-rag-mop define your life! If you want to be the Great American Novelist, be the best damn novelist you can be, even if you're not getting paid for that time investment now. I know it's tempting to write "this one article, because it'll go by super fast" but it won't, and the $7.50 you're making for it does not justify the lifeblood that has now been drained from the novel that's patiently waiting. 

Think of farmers: they wait patiently for produce and keep watering it every day, even at the risk of failure. 

Dream big, my friends, and don't take no for an answer. If you don't fight for your novel, who will?

Books I’ve Finished This Year:
-East of Eden by John Steinbeck
-Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
-Silk by Alessandro Barico
-Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores
-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
-Animal Farm by George Orwell
-The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
 -Grimm's Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm
-Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
-The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
-Old Man in the Sea by Hemingway
-On Paris by Hemingway
-The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison
-The Thin Man by Dashiel Hammett
-Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
-The Road by Carmac McCarthy
-More F in Exams/F for Effort by Richard Benson
-Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
-Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson
-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
-The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
-The Woman Who Wouldn't by Gene Wilder
-The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
-Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
-Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

Currently Reading:
-The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton