Finding a Balance

Posted on September 4, 2012. Filed under: Blogging, GeekSmash Articles, Improving your writing skills, Nerd Girl, Technology, Writing | Tags: , , , , , |

Update – My Review of Dr. Who Season 7 premiere: “The Aslyum of the Daleks.”

Some of you may know that I recently starting writing for the awesome website Geeksmash.com. It’s been a great experience so far, but I noticed that it’s led me to neglect some of my other writing, namely my blog. It’s not an issue of time but of content; I write about the same sort of things in my blog that I write about for Geeksmash. So, what is a blogger to do?

The answer is to find a balance. Write geeky articles for the site and write nerdy articles for myself. Sounds simple… right? Maybe… Well, regardless of whether or not it’s simple, my solution is to write a blog post each time I write an article for the site! That will be my balance.

I just got done writing my review of the Season 7 Dr. Who premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” which was AWESOME. Not only did my heart drop into the pit of my stomach during the episode’s second scene, but it stayed there until a very touching and tear-jerking scene toward the end. There have only been two other Dr. Who episodes that have made me cry, and this was the third. I know, I’m a sap, but I can’t help but fall for the love story between Amy and Rory. I’ll be sure to include a link to review once it’s posted.

To be honest, I struggled writing my review. It seems silly, since I’m a huge Whovian and a writer, so it should have been a breeze for me, right? Sometimes I let the pressure of writing something for a wide audience get the better of me. Every negative thought in existence probably passed through  my brain during my first attempt to write my review. Finally, I said hell with it, I’ll write whatever I write and if it’s not good enough, then so be it. Was it good enough? I think so.

I think all writers are infused with chronic doubt with regards to their work. There’s always the fear of rejection, though this fear usually manifests itself as the writer rejecting his or her own work before it can be rejected by the public. The motto of all writers should be “who cares,” but things aren’t that easy. For a writer, the words that go on the page don’t just arise as her fingers hit the keys; instead, they’ve been lurking, hiding within the writer’s subconscious for quite awhile. Putting them on the page means taking these well-hidden thoughts with which we’ve become familiar and exposing them for the entire world to see. Think of it this way: A painter has been working on a masterpiece and has grown to love the solitary relationship that exists between herself and her painting; once she’s finished, however, the solitary relationship will be no more. Soon, everything will be exposed, for the world to see… and to judge. Can you imagine how it must feel, not only to lose that working relationship but to put it on display for everyone to take part in?

Writing is like that, except these relationship exists within our minds. We grow accustom to our thoughts, ideas, stories and characters. Once we release them into the world, our relationship with them is gone. It’s like losing a trusty friend. And that is the reason why many writers suffer from anxiety when it comes to committing words to a page. It doesn’t matter if the thoughts are years or days old; they are still personal to the writer and revealing them makes one feel vulnerable.

The greatest writers have learned to overcome such exposure or have at least figured out a way to cope with it. My guess is that it’s the latter, fortunately for us readers. And such is the journey I find myself on now; learning to cope with the vulnerability that comes with bearing my innermost thoughts and feelings to the world via words. 🙂

If you’d like to read the articles that I’ve written for Geeksmash.com thus far, here are some links. If you like them, please show your support and click “like” on the page. Validation always makes writers feel better, no matter who they might be. Hell, it makes everyone feel better, am I right?

Comment and let me know what you think! If you have any ideas or news that you’d like to see written about in future posts, please comment and let me know!

Why I Fell In Love With Dr. Who: The Girl Who Waited and Finally Watched Dr. Who

NES Favorites: Top 10 Nintendo Games From The 80′s: Top 10 Nintendo Games That Stole My Heart(s) and Dominated My Console

Telepresence Robots from Double Robotics: Experience the World Without Leaving Your Home: Telepresence Robots, Courtesy of Double Robotics and Your iPad

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It’s bound to happen sooner or later…

Posted on April 7, 2012. Filed under: Blogging, Off-topic post, Words, Writing | Tags: , , |

I’m currently suffering through a rather dreadful episode of writer’s block. Since I’m unable to write anything without erasing it from the page moments later, I decided that I would try working it out by writing about it. Makes sense, no? So, I’m going to blog about the process involved and whatever progress I make while attempting to conquer Mt. Staring-At-A-Blank-Screen.

What have I done to challenge this writer’s block? The first thing I did was to Google the phrase, of course. One of the suggestions that popped-up was to grab the nearest book and write the first sentence of whatever paragraph on whatever page… you get the idea. The actual suggestion was that I “select a random book and open it to page 96” and then “use the first line of the second paragraph as the first line of a piece of micro-fiction.” I think I’ll start small by just writing down the quote.

Nope, the quote on that page won’t work; it doesn’t make sense out of context. Given the book I selected, I can probably find a good quote on writing…

Aha. I’ve found a paragraph that is all too apropos:

“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest house of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of the urge and a testimony to it.” – “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke.

"Letters to a Young Poet"

Must I write? Yes. Why? I’ll have to save that for another post, as I imagine the reply will be rather long and border on the poetic.

Must I write tonight? No. Will I write tonight? I’ll probably be able to get some writing done, though I still feel mentally sluggish.

Did blogging help me at all? I’m not completely sure yet, but I’ll report back tomorrow.

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Does Working as a Content Monkey Stifle Your Creativity?

Posted on November 29, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Improving your writing skills, Nerd Girl, Style, Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , |

For starters, some of you may be wondering what constitutes a “content monkey.” Its meaning is similar to that of a “code monkey,” if you are familiar with that term. As a freelance writer, the only way to make decent money is by churning out article after article. In this world, your words are used for content that your client posts somewhere on the web – or, if you’re lucky, a newspaper or magazine. Our job is to research and write about whatever topic your client has in mind; there is little to no creative process involved. If your days and nights of freelance writing consist of following a client’s instructions while composing text after text… you have probably morphed into a content monkey. I doubt that anyone who has ever wanted to become a writer aspires to write for others as their lifelong career; yet, this is how many of us get our start and pay our dues. The question now becomes can we, as writers, be satisfied by only writing for others?

content (?) monkey

The most important aspect to the writing process is creativity. How else can you come up with clever topics, witty yet poignant sentences and ultimately a piece of literature that captures the attention of others? However, just like a muscle needs to be worked out to stay in shape, so does the creative process of an author. One must practice. One must write ideas down on paper, only to crumple them up and start over. One must come up with new and innovative material. But, if all we do is write for others, how are we supposed to exercise our creativity? While one might assume that any kind of writing helps you to improve, I have to wonder if being a content monkey doesn’t interfere with our creative processes.

Unlike writing professional articles, which adhere to strict grammatical and style guidelines, writing creatively gives you the opportunity to throw out everything you ever learned and write how you want. Creative writers have to learn to dismiss these rules, writing from their heart instead of their heads — or, if you’d prefer, writing from their right brain as opposed to their left. Unfortunately, after sticking to a set of rules for so long, it’s hard to escape them. Even while I’m trying to do some creative writing, the rules are right there, appealing to the logic center of my brain and putting a halt in my creative process.

I’m not dismissing the perks of being a freelance writer. I think that every writer should strive to become a “renaissance” writer who is capable of producing any type of text required: news articles, short stories, instruction manuals, poetry, romantic copy, advertisements, website content or a novel, for example.

So, how does a writer stop from being cornered by writing manuals and grammar books? I don’t have a solid answer to that question; part of the reason I decided to write on this topic was to explore the idea more, while hoping for some thoughtful feedback from other writers. For me, I try to stay in touch with my creative side by writing blogs – although I still feel pressure to write professionally – and by coming up with ideas for stories. Don’t let this post mislead you; despite my concerns, I still love being a freelance writer. I wouldn’t change a thing… well, except maybe the pay, but that will increase with time (one can hope!)

In my next post, I am planning to talk about the life of the freelance writer in more detail, including ways to start your own freelance writing career and useful tools of the trade. 

Until then…

jt

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Introduction on How to Improve your Writing Swagger.

Posted on November 9, 2011. Filed under: Grammar, Improving your writing skills, Style, Words | Tags: , , , , , , |

(What? Two posts in twelve hours; she must be a workhorse. Nope, I’m just procrastinating.)

Some of my posts will deal with style, which in my opinion is just as important as grammar. You can know all the words and grammatical rules in the world, but without your own, unique voice, you’ll never become a great, unique and creative writer. Find your style and that’s where you’ll find your voice. It may not always be easy to hear, but it’s there, waiting to be let out into the world. All you can do is nurture it with practice and a little homework.

I like to think of developing your own style of writing as akin to showing off your swagger. Having swagger means that, not only are you confident, but you like showing it. So, why not throw some swagger into your writing? Confidence and a bit of a cocky attitude can actually help you to write more quickly, given that you are willing to go back and make revisions.

Today, and on any day I’m discussing style, I’ll be using the book, “Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing,” by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. The table of contents for this book is almost a checklist in and of itself; just check out these two pictures from the table of contents:

Introduction; Section One: REDUCE; Section Two: REARRANGE

Introduction; Section One: REDUCE; Section Two: REARRANGE

I got nothing for ya.

Section 2: REARRANGE continued; Section 3: REWORD.

I also just discovered, while finding a link for the book, that it is now one of Kindle’s FREE books. So, go download it! 😀 I downloaded it to my tablet, so I can read it anywhere. If technology these days isn’t awesome, then I don’t know what is. Ninja kittens?

For now, I’m going to talk briefly about Cheney’s introduction. Note that I use several quotes in this post, all from Cheney; I usually dislike direct quotes, but his writing must speak for itself, as you will hear it rather clearly and loud.

In his introduction, he shares with the reader the inspiration behind the book’s title,  quoting Hemingway from an interview with the Paris Review:

Paris Review: “How much rewriting do you do?”

Hemingway: “It depends. I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.”

Paris Review: “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway: “Getting the words right.”

I love that quote because it resonates very deeply with my inner-writer. I don’t know how many times I’ve rewritten a sentence because it just didn’t feel right; the words weren’t working the way I wanted them to work. And, what’s the point in writing if you can’t manipulate the words to clearly, creatively and uniquely form your story.

The author also discusses several other topics in his introduction. He provides a very lengthy definition of the word “revision,” stressing the point that proofreading isn’t simply looking for mistakes, but instead it involves reworking your earlier work. For Cheney, “revision expresses succinctly most of the activities involved in getting the damned words right: writing, rewriting, rereading, reviewing, rethinking, rearranging, repairing, restructuring, re-evaluating, editing, tightening, sharpening, smoothing, pruning, polishing, punching up, amending, emending, altering, eliminating, transposing, expanding, condensing, connecting, cohering, unifying, perfecting, transitioning…” In his view, every writer should follow the above process when writing. In the real world, I realize that this isn’t always possible, as some writing assignments have deadlines that are too soon for you to spend the time reworking your article. However, I strongly agree with his point-of-view. Revision is an important process, and trying to do it while writing will only slow your work down. In order to succeed as a writer, proofreading and revision can’t be viewed as “uncreative drudgery;” one has to enjoy the revision process as much as they enjoy writing. In Cheney’s eyes, revision and writing are both identical and inseparable. ((BTW: I provided a link for the word “emending,” as I was unaware of the definition. Think of it as another word of the day.))

A great point to keep in mind when writing is a rule followed by professional authors: the best way to write is to “write in haste; revise in leisure.” In other words, just sit down and start putting down words. Don’t go back to what you’ve previously written, since that can halt and infect your creative flow. Just write and write, and worry about revisions later; this way, your inner thoughts are able to flow from your brain to your fingertips, at a pace that can build up your “creative momentum.” Once you’ve got a momentum going. and the words are flowing, try not to stop writing unless you must. Or, unless it’s time for a break, as those are important as well.

Cheney’s book is built on the premise that one should always revise. He recommends doing it at the end of each chapter or get a start the next morning by reading and revising your work from the previous day. There is no doubt that a fresh set of eyes makes proofreading much easier. Take a step back and give your article/blog/etc time to be “forgotten;” this way, when you’re making revisions, it’s almost as it you’re reading another person’s work. Once your writing has become fresh(er) to you, chances are that you’ll “find at least something you can revise to make your piece more accurate, more concise, more helpful, more euphonious, more humorous, more serious, more in keeping with the times, more appropriate, more dramatic, more heart stopping, more memorable, more — or somehow better — than the words that had originally arrived… this book, then, deals with finding the more and the better.” Revising after the writing part of the task is over frees up the energy that was being used by your creative mind. Now that the work is written, you can go back and insert the proper punctuation, making your words and ideas as clear and accurate as possible. Cheney adds that the words should be “attractive,” too. I didn’t know that words had fashion sense, let alone poor fashion sense! 🙂

He also stresses the importance of keeping the reader in mind at all times; this may seem obvious, but it’s actually quite easy to forget once you’re elbow deep in words. By keeping your reader in mind, you can act as if you are writing directly for him/her. Be as clear as possible, lest your words get lost in the “abyss” in the gap between the author’s mind and the mind of your reader. Find some way to jump across that abyss to get to the side, joining the reader and evaluating their point-of-view. Once you’re on the reader’s side, there’s no reason you shouldn’t able to clearly and precisely convey your meaning. Take as objective of a stance as possible when revisiting your work; an editor isn’t going to be biased, so you sure hell as shouldn’t be!

I found that using a text-to-speech program works great as a revision tool. Hearing your paper read aloud (by another person besides yourself) makes any errors glaringly apparent, whether they involve homonyms or phrasing problems. Depending on the version, MS Word sometimes has an add-on for using text-to-speech. If you’d rather not deal with Microsoft, there is a free program called Free NaturalReader 9 that I can vouch for. I use this program and not only is it easy, but it will read any text you ask it to, not just text from MS Word. I included a link to CNET’s site in case anyone wants to download it — I recommend at least trying it out.

I suppose I should wrap this post up for now. It didn’t go quite the direction I had planned, but that’s alright; I just hope some of the information was useful. Next time I discuss style, I’ll be listing and thoroughly describing Cheney’s different methods for revision. Once I’m done with the book, it will be a breeze to type up a “proofreading checklist.” For tomorrow, I’ll be writing a post for my friend Danielle, the author of the blog “American Wordsmith” (along with several others). She’s brilliant and an outstanding writer. The post will address the pros and cons of various content mill sites,  e.g. Textbroker, Merchant Circle or WISEgeek, including the application process, how often they pay, etc. I may have mentioned that in my previous post; if so, my bad.

I’ve got several big projects that are due tonight, so now that I’ve warmed up my writing muscle, it’s time to get to work! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

❤ jt

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