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Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Mon Oct 07, 2013 12:06 am

Well, I've had a weekend full of granddaughter fun, so I didn't have the time I needed to prepare the next lesson on sentence structures. So I'm going to throw it wide open this week, and encourage you to ask me a question in any of my several capacities:

1. I'm an EDITOR--what would you like to ask about professional editing?
2. I'm a WRITER--for several years, I wrote well-received Writing Challenge entries, and I've also blogged extensively. Questions about the art of writing?
3. I'm a READER--I've read extensively in several genres (mostly fiction, mostly secular, although not exclusively). Anything you'd like to know from a reader's point of view? Questions about literature?
4. I'm a retired ENGLISH TEACHER and amateur GRAMMARIST--plenty of answers for those pesky grammar questions.
5. I've spent many years as a CHALLENGE JUDGE--what would you like to know about that process?

6. It's not the usual scope of this column, but if you'd like to ask questions just to get to know ME better, you can do that, too. Here are some of my passions: granddaughters, travel, words and word play, puzzles and games, social media, peace and justice, retirement, disability awareness (I have many family members with various disabilities), depression awareness (see previous), a kinder and gentler Christianity.

7. Here's what I can't answer: anything about AGENTS or PUBLISHING--just not within the scope of my knowledge. And if it's a complicated GRAMMAR question, I may take a day or two to get back to you--I'll have to research it, and even then, I may be wrong.

Whatever you want to ask--I'll give it a shot. Next week--back to sentences!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby Colswann1 » Mon Oct 07, 2013 5:42 pm

Hi Jan - I suppose that we UK writers stuck out like a sore thumb when you were judging. I did try using American spellings for a short while but Deb advised, in a general comment, that it was best to keep using UK spelling if you came from the UK. My concern was that the judges could easily tell our writing because we were in a minority and was concerned, as a lot of emphasis was put on writer anonymity. Was that a concern when you were judging and how did you deal with it? :)
Colin Swann

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Mon Oct 07, 2013 5:55 pm

Colswann1 wrote:Hi Jan - I suppose that we UK writers stuck out like a sore thumb when you were judging. I did try using American spellings for a short while but Deb advised, in a general comment, that it was best to keep using UK spelling if you came from the UK. My concern was that the judges could easily tell our writing because we were in a minority and was concerned, as a lot of emphasis was put on writer anonymity. Was that a concern when you were judging and how did you deal with it? :)


It was never a concern with me. I think there are enough UK writers (from England, Australia, Canada, and other UK countries, I think) that UK spelling alone wouldn't have tipped me off as to whose entry I was reading. I don't remember ever thinking that an entry belonged to a specific person because of their UK spelling--can't speak for the other judges. It never came up in correspondence between the other judges and me, either.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby lish1936 » Mon Oct 07, 2013 5:57 pm

Jan,
I can't tell you how many ideas I often come up with that go no where. How do you turn an idea into a story? I know that it's part creativity/imagination, but is there a specific progressive process that one can use to move pass the idea?

I hope the question is not too general.


Lillian
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Mon Oct 07, 2013 6:57 pm

lish1936 wrote:Jan,
I can't tell you how many ideas I often come up with that go no where. How do you turn an idea into a story? I know that it's part creativity/imagination, but is there a specific progressive process that one can use to move pass the idea?

I hope the question is not too general.


Lillian


Lillian, this is a great question--but it probably doesn't have a simple answer. I'll give you a bit of a story that will eventually make its way toward what I hope is an answer for you.

When I was teaching high school, one of the things that I needed to be aware of was that my students all had different learning styles. The theory of Multiple Intelligences was a bit of a buzzword, especially in the decade or so before I retired: that theory states that every child has his or her own individual way of learning well. Some children are visual learners; they learn best when they see something demonstrated for them. Others are auditory learners who learn better when material is read to them or explained out loud. Still others are kinesthetic learners; they learn best by doing. And there are many other kinds of intelligence and learning styles--and combinations of them all. My challenge was to figure out my students' learning styles and to present the material in such a way that each student had the best chance of grasping it.

Similarly, I think each writer has his or her own style of "doing" the writing process. When my daughters were in school, they were both frustrated to no end by something called "The Writing Process" that was making its way through the curriculum. "The Writing Process" required students to plan out everything they wrote, to outline it or otherwise diagram it into some sort of graphic or visual aid before actually starting to write. They were both gifted students and good writers, but this was not their style of writing, and they hated it.

I'm sure you can see what I'm getting at. I could tell you (and I will) what writing process worked for me, but that might be something that's totally at odds with the best writing process for you. So the cop-out answer (for me) is "I can't answer that--you have to find what works for you."

Nevertheless, I'll give you a few suggestions; maybe one of them will resonate with you.

Here's what I did when I was writing for the challenge and when I was blogging: I just wrote. Even if I had no idea where the story was going--if I had something (a character, a setting, a conflict, even just an object), I went with it. For me, writing is a physical act as well as a mental exercise, and I just started putting words on paper, even if I had no idea where they were going to take me. Almost every time, after 100 words or so, a story started to form. And if I ended up going in an unanticipated direction and ditching those first few paragraphs, that was fine. Oh, and up until the last year or so, I wrote my stories on paper, with a pencil. Something about the physical act of actually writing stimulated my creativity.

Some people just can't write that way, though. They'd say, "How can I start writing when I don't know what to write?" Those are the people who would have loved "The Writing Process" that so upset my daughters in school. So I'd suggest something like that for them. Perhaps filling out a form like the one below will help to get the creativity flowing. And it wouldn't be necessary to fill out the entire form, but perhaps filling out some of it would be enough to break up the writers' block.

This is an adaptation of something I called a "story map" when I was teaching:

CHARACTERS:
(who is the protagonist? who is the antagonist?)

SETTING:
(time and place)

MAIN CONFLICT:
(man vs. man/nature/self/society/supernatural)

THEME:
(what's the take-away for the reader?)

EXPOSITION:
(what will happen in the earliest paragraphs to introduce the conflict?)

RISING ACTION:
(what will happen to develop the conflict?)

CLIMAX:
(what will be the turning point, the point of no return, the most important event that leads toward the resolution of the conflict?)

FALLING ACTION:
(what happens as a result of the climax?)

RESOLUTION:
(how is the conflict finally resolved?)

Notice that the key here is conflict--if you have an idea for a story and there is no conflict, there's really no story.

People who are systematic, organized writers might enjoy filling out a form such as this before they start to write; it might help the story to take form before the actual writing begins.

Finally, another kind of writer might do well with a sort of brainstorming. This is also a pencil-and-paper task. If your germ of an idea is a person, write something describing that person in the middle of a sheet of paper: perhaps "aging hippie" or "buck-toothed piccolo player". Circle that, then make a number of rays extending from the circle. Those rays become branches where you can write other words or phrases that come to mind: from the word aging you might write arthritis, gray hair, grandparent, and from hippie you might write 1960s, peace symbol, drugs. Any one of those words might send you off on a different branch--perhaps from 1960s you might write Beatles, JFK assassination, moon landing, and a story starts to form. You'll write about a person who was in grade school on the day of the JFK assassination, and who tries to explain that life-changing experience to her own granddaughter.

Of course, you might branch out several times, in several directions, before something starts to make sense.

I'd be interested to know if any other readers of this column have "writing process" stories that you could share with Lillian (and with me). What gets you past writers' block? What process do you go through when you start to write? Are there any things that you always do, or items or places or other things (music? a particular chair? time of day?) that always work for you?

Lillian, did I answer your question?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby lish1936 » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:28 pm

Jan wrote:Lillian, did I answer your question?


Absolutely!! I've already pasted your story map and placed in my file. Thanks, ad infinitum. :D

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby RedBaron » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:30 pm

Here's a softball for you :)

Which is correct?

The band disagree among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.

or

The band disagrees among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.
<><
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:36 pm

RedBaron wrote:Here's a softball for you :)

Which is correct?

The band disagree among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.

or

The band disagrees among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.


Neither.

"Band" is a collective noun, and is considered one thing. So you could write a sentence like this:

The band travels to Disney World every winter.

But one thing cannot disagree "among themselves," so it would be better to write the sentence like this:

The members of the band disagree among themselves about choices for the new uniforms.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby RedBaron » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:40 pm

Unfortunately, those were the only two choices given my daughter in her GUM lesson....

glorybee wrote:
RedBaron wrote:Here's a softball for you :)

Which is correct?

The band disagree among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.

or

The band disagrees among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.


Neither.

"Band" is a collective noun, and is considered one thing. So you could write a sentence like this:

The band travels to Disney World every winter.

But one thing cannot disagree "among themselves," so it would be better to write the sentence like this:

The members of the band disagree among themselves about choices for the new uniforms.
<><
Shari
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:45 pm

RedBaron wrote:Unfortunately, those were the only two choices given my daughter in her GUM lesson....

glorybee wrote:
RedBaron wrote:Here's a softball for you :)

Which is correct?

The band disagree among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.

or

The band disagrees among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.


Neither.

"Band" is a collective noun, and is considered one thing. So you could write a sentence like this:

The band travels to Disney World every winter.

But one thing cannot disagree "among themselves," so it would be better to write the sentence like this:

The members of the band disagree among themselves about choices for the new uniforms.


Hmmm. I don't know what a GUM lesson is, but is there anyone you can appeal to? No matter how I look at it, both choices are wrong, and I can't even decide which one I think they're going for. Both choices are awkward and ill-written.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby RedBaron » Mon Oct 07, 2013 7:49 pm

glorybee wrote:Hmmm. I don't know what a GUM lesson is, but is there anyone you can appeal to? No matter how I look at it, both choices are wrong, and I can't even decide which one I think they're going for. Both choices are awkward and ill-written.


Sorry, GUM is what they call Eileen's one English course. It stands for Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics. I've taken a screen shot and was going to send it to her teacher. I wanted to make sure I wasn't crazy/hadn't forgotten some odd rule lol. She chose this one as the better choice:

The band disagrees among themselves about the choices for the new uniforms.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Wed Oct 09, 2013 10:25 pm

Just bumping this post up a bit--doesn't anyone else have a question for me?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby Colswann1 » Thu Oct 10, 2013 5:59 am

Jan, I did some of your poetry lessons and was surprised at all the different types and names for numbers of verses and lines etc. I was wondering if you were allowed to do your own experimenting and creating outside the set boxes using rhyming, or would it just be called free verse because it doesn't fall in the set brackets of rhyming poetry acceptablity?

I did such a one for the Challenge, it had 5 verses starting out with the first verse having 4 lines and increasing each verse by one line i.e. first 4 lines, second 5 lines, third 6 lines and so one to fifth verse having 8 lines. A link to the one in question: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=43034

Can we do our own thing in rhyming poetry?
Colin Swann

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby glorybee » Thu Oct 10, 2013 8:46 am

Colswann1 wrote:Jan, I did some of your poetry lessons and was surprised at all the different types and names for numbers of verses and lines etc. I was wondering if you were allowed to do your own experimenting and creating outside the set boxes using rhyming, or would it just be called free verse because it doesn't fall in the set brackets of rhyming poetry acceptablity?

I did such a one for the Challenge, it had 5 verses starting out with the first verse having 4 lines and increasing each verse by one line i.e. first 4 lines, second 5 lines, third 6 lines and so one to fifth verse having 8 lines. A link to the one in question: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=43034

Can we do our own thing in rhyming poetry?


Colin, you can absolutely do your own thing in rhyming poetry. In my own opinion, I'd far rather see a rhyming poem with something new and unusual about it (such as yours with an increasing number of lines in each stanza) than a traditional poem with four lines in each.

I'm curious about this poem--it's obvious that you made a conscious decision to set aside conventions of capitalization and punctuation, and I don't have a problem with that in the least.

Did you also intentionally set aside meter? And if you did--why did you also choose to use end rhyme? Since you were flouting so many of the conventions of traditional poetry, why not just do an unrhymed free verse?

I'm truly just curious, not criticizing. Poetry is something that fascinates me, and I'm interested to understand the mind of the poet.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--ASK AN EDITOR/WRITER/Etc.

Postby Colswann1 » Thu Oct 10, 2013 9:48 am

glorybee wrote:Did you also intentionally set aside meter? And if you did--why did you also choose to use end rhyme? Since you were flouting so many of the conventions of traditional poetry, why not just do an unrhymed free verse?


Jan, I chose a free verse style because I thought it wouldn't have been accepted as a straight un-metered rhyme one as it was. I could have punctuated it like a metered rhyme one, and submitted it as such, but thought the better of it.

If I'm really honest, I think I thought it would be too difficult to perform in a straight metered format, so it was an easier alternative for me, and also I do like to be different and stretch the rules. :)
Colin Swann

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