Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Jogging for the Busy Writer

Exercising the Vocabulary: Skill-Tweaking Strategies for Would-Be and Professional Writers

We all get bogged down writing stuff for profit that may or may not be something that's totally in our wheelhouses. Sometimes you just need to do something for yourself. I'd like to invite you writers out there to sign up with Blogspot. This website builder lets you easily build your own weblog. I have six going now. If you want to make a lot of money at blogging, go to Wordpress, but that's not what my Blogspot blogs are for. What I do with them is use them as a personal place for my creative non-commercial stuff and as a dumping place for things I post on forums or on Facebook that I think are particularly erudite and that I hate to just fire off and then forget that I wasted an hour working on that incredibly clever answer to someone's snarky question or comment

Sometimes others' posts and comments can kick you off into a nice essay. So, don't waste it. By creating a humor/philosophy blog, a political blog, a religious blog, a how-to blog (my most popular), a top 10 list blog and a poetry blog, I have a place to put all those bits and bobs I would otherwise waste on mere "comments". Plus, I have a Google Adsense account and have posted their ads on my weblogs. I make a couple of hundred dollars a year off my blogs and the more entries I post, the more money I make on ads. Just make sure to share your new posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus. You'd be surprised how many people will read your stuff that way and get to know you as an author. THEN when your book comes out, they're more likely to invest in a copy AND you've got a place to advertise your new book.

Much of the content I post, I make deliberately "evergreen" except in the political blog. If a post is tied to a subject, an issue or a solution to a problem, people will keep visiting it. One of my most popular blogs ever was one on how to unstick a sticky piano key. I was looking for instructions on how to do it myself and found that no one had ever written one. So I did it and photographed the steps and wrote it up. I've had more thank-you notes on that one blog than you can know. My build-it-yourself canoe rack for pickups is another one that's done well. People send me pictures of the ones they have built and I post them.

Ever so often I post a link to an old blog on Facebook to generate traffic. I've had a couple of my posts go viral without my name on them. One, a skit based on Abbot & Costello's "Who's on First" bit has Lou buying a computer from Bud. You can look it up on Youtube. Several folk have posted comedic versions of the skit "Lou Costello Buys a Computer" on Youtube. I had to really work to get my name credited as the writer. I retained the copyright but still give permission to any acting teacher that wants to use it for teaching kids comedic timing. It's pretty widely used.

Anyway, you'd be surprised where your work may wind up or who may see it. You may not make a lot of money, but who knows? A pet interest of yours, turned into a blog, just may take off like Michelle Malkin's political blog or Brett McKay's "The Art of Manliness".

The sidebar to the right has links to some of my more popular blogs on this and other blog sites I write and manage. There's no telling what bit of your recycling may catch fire on the Interweb, but if it's not put out there, you'll never know.

At the very least, when you pitch face forward into your keyboard, you won't just leave behind a long string of random letters on the screen and a lot of debt. Your kids, your grieving spouse and your inquisitive grandkids will be able to read all your old blogs and see what is in reality, a personal memoir of you that will hang there in cyberspace for who knows how long after you're gone? (so be careful what you write, that is if you don't want your tombstone pushed over by a lot of angry relatives).

- Tom

P.S. I originally wrote this for a writer's forum and then posted it here on my How-to blog. I guess that makes me a literary recycler.
P.P.S  My poetry weblog is the one where I practice my wordcraft. I highly recommend poetry as a writing exercise. Writing poetry is like jogging for the vocabulary. I have in mind a workbook I intend to do on using writing exercises in poetic forms as a way to hone your vocabulary and sentence structure skills to sharpen your communication. If you'd like to check out my poetry blog, here's the link.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Commas: An Enigma Wrapped Up In Phrases, Clauses and Parenthetical Expressions

This post is the direct result of a brief and furious discussion of the vicissitudes of proper punctuation on one of my writer's group. I fastened on the great comma conundrum: "Do you put a comma before the final "or", "and" or "but" in a series. As you probably noticed, I do not.

Commas are tough. I used APA style in grad school, AP style in my journalism work and Chicago Style in ghost-writing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the "no comma before and/or/but" habit.  I do not feel comfortable writing a series of nouns, verbs, adjectives and phrases with a final comma before the final "and" in the series. It just doesn't look right to write "ifs, ands, or buts." It makes more sense for the commas to replace an implied conjunction. If you have the conjunction, why do you need the comma? And yes. I know about the great "mac and cheese" paradox.

The rationale, in using a comma between all words in a series, is to simplify (i.e. dumb down) the rules of grammar. Unfortunately, for me, as a practicing poet, punctuation is too important a part of my poetic arsenal for me to give up perfectly good punctuational tricks because some people have weak verbal skills.
I don't dumb down mathematical symbols to make it simpler for me to do calculus. I just don't do calculus. I ask the same courtesy from the mathematical community.

Commas, especially, tell the reader where I want them to pause to take a breath.  In the last sentence, I didn't want the reader to pause at "where", although a case can be made for placing a comma there. Commas tend to separate ideas into more or less discreet linguistic packages. What I wanted to do, was connect "tell the reader" and "where I want them to pause" as a single thought in the reader's mind. In normal speech, I wouldn't pause there, as I just did after I wrote "In normal speech".  See what I mean.

Writing should reflect our speech patterns and punctuation helps do that.
For a while they were teaching us that that the comma before the "and" was unnecessary. It is, especially if you are a good writer and in firm control of your writing. 

As I said, there is the macaroni and cheese conundrum, against which, the dumbed down version of the commas-in-a-series rule was deployed to prevent.  If I said something like, "We're going to have potato salad, beans, macaroni and cheese," then, things get confusing, especially if you have never heard of mac and cheese and don't know that mac and cheese is a single dish.  Duh!

If I redistributed the words and wrote that, "We're going to have potato salad, beans, and macaroni and cheese it doesn't look much better, but the mathematical analyst with an ironclad rule might just be able to suss it out. I do use a comma, however, when connecting two clauses with unequal weight, as I did in the last sentence where "but the mathematical analyst" didn't feel like it had the same "weight"  as the main thesis of my sentence. But, I digress.

Instead of throwing a comma in to rigidly mark out the elements of a confusing "mac & cheese" series, the competent writer simply rearranges the list as necessary to make it easy for the reader to comprehend.
The writer, with full command of language, simply creates a multi-faceted menu like this: "pork and beans, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, peas and carrots, pot roast and apple pie". No confusion there except, of course, whether the period goes inside the quotation marks or outside.

The rigid mathematical grammarian always places the period inside the quotes. If I am using quotes to set off a word for "emphasis", then I put the comma outside the quotes; thoroughly infuriating my grammatical betters.

I won't even start on semi-colons, whose very name sounds like a digestive ailment.

The word processor is a gift from God to the professional writer.
It allows us to fix what we write, in any way that we like, without penalty.  There may have been some excuse in the old typewriter days, when you had to retype the whole page if you wanted to rearrange things in a list or move commas around. With the modern word processor, you have absolutely no excuse for not taking firm command of the written page.

The final comma—the one between the word "and" and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted in academic prose. As far as I'm concerned, academics are welcome to dumb down their grammar, if they wish, in the interest of not confusing each other. I have noticed that people with Ph.D.'s tend to be easily confused. I suppose that's why they need to have iron grammatical rules in order to submit more or less intelligible papers to "noted scientific journals". 

I find iron grammatical rules to impose a rather less than human quality to one's writing. Like the rule about complete sentences.

My personal rule of thumb is to insert the appropriate punctuation mark wherever it feels like one belongs. Especially, as a would-be fiction author, I think about what kind of cues the guy, who reads the audiobook version of my book, needs in order to make the narration sound real and not wooden.

I find that people, whose reading sounds wooden, hate nebulous grammar rules. I believe they need them because they don't understand how to emote when they are reading someone else's writing. Unfortunately, such folks don't make good audiobook readers in any case and in many cases make their own writing sound wooden when they read it.

So, in the end, I write as I wish, punctuate deliberately and leave the more egregious of my errors to my editor to fuss over. After all, what else does he get paid for?

Just sayin'.

Tom King
*Excerpt from © 2014 by Tom King

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Emergency Barbecue Sauce Bottle Bird Feeder

BBQ bottle bird feeder - mounted
Our dark-eyed juncos are building a second nest this year in our creeping Charlie planter out on the catwalk.  They look exhausted and we've been talking about putting out a feeder for the birds. I dug around in the recycling and came up with an old barbecue sauce bottle.

I scrubbed it our and cut it as shown below with an Exacto knife and a pair of scissors.  It makes an L-shaped feeder when turned on its side. The remaining side of the bottle makes a shallow bowl/perch at the bottom. 

To mount it, I drilled a hole in the cap and screwed it to the deck post.  Then screwed the bottle on tight, twisting it around till the bottle was turned in the position shown. The all you have to do is pour a little seed in the tray part. I also put leftover greens, bread crumbs and such. The feeder is right outside the kitchen window, so I am constantly reminded to add goodies for the birds.

That's all there is to it. When the birds find it, I'll get some pictures of the feeder in use.

Cut the bottle along the lines shown. Don't forget to pour out the
barbecue sauce first, of course.
© 2014 by Tom King