My Grammar Sucks

Yes, it’s true.  But if you’ve read any of my posts, you’re not surprised.  While I continue to struggle with the end of the novel, I’ve been working to shore up some of the weaknesses I’ve seen in my writing. Most of the early diagnosis (Dude, is that mole on your arm supposed to be purple? What about the throbbing?) is coming from my critique groups.  Grammer problems are consistently marked by several of the regulars in my group.

The thing about these regulars is that they’re of a different generation.  Boomers know more about grammar than us Xers, Yers, and Millennials, right? I have visions of kids with buzzcuts and pigtails being pounded with rote memorization in between duck-and-cover drills. That’s what the 50s and 60s were like.  Whereas our teachers were free and loose, experimenting with learning styles and ability levels.

Over that past year, I would take these grammar critiques and try and internalize them. These were things I needed to fix.  I corrected them in my manuscript and told myself I’d go back at some point and try and understand why this punctuation was wrong, but this other one was okay. It didn’t make sense, but it never made sense. Fix it and move on.

The farther I plunged into my manuscript the worse it got. Here’s some passive voice. Fix it. Here are more comma problems. Fix them. You need a semicolon here. Fix it.  I corrected and corrected and corrected, pushing off the learning until I had more time.

Now I am taking that time. You’re probably not surprised that some of the critiques I received were wrong and contradictory.  Many were spot on, but others…

Bored teachers and uninterested students dominate public education in the US. I can see that far too clearly as a parent. Unless the teacher is particularly passionate about grammar, the students aren’t going to learn the rules. I can’t believe it was any different for the Boomers than it is now.  The real difference is that they were forced to memorize the rules.  Memorization is different from learning.

I’m going to focus a couple of posts on what I’ve learned about grammar in the research I’ve been doing.  There have been several major discoveries for me. Most of the grammar rules are fairly simple and we all do them naturally.  Some are complicated and are going to be hard to wedge into my brain.  Now that I’m learning WHY I’m using the rules it’s becoming clear why the rules are necessary.  Broken sentences are easier to spot and correct. Confusing passages become clear with correction.

It may sound a bit stupid to be coming to this realization at my age, but from what I can tell from ages and abilities in my critique groups, I’m not the only one.

By the way, I’m allowing my normal poor grammar to shine through in all posts.  No editing here.  It may get better and the rules become more ingrained. But for now, I’m still fixing my mistakes in later drafts. No second draft for the blog. Letting the words flow.

Next time, we’ll talk super sexy. Punctuation!

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Still Deep Down the Well

It’s been a few weeks. I’m still down the well waiting for the water to rush in.

Although the novel is still in progress, I’ve wrapped up a draft for a short story. The initial reaction from the critique group is positive. I’ve got some editing to do but when that’s complete and I get another beta read in, I plan to send it out to several markets. Trouble is, it’s not speculative fiction and I have no idea where to send it. I’m so used to genre fiction that I’m not sure where it might find a home.

I want to give one more shout out to Mary Robinette Kowal.  Her birthday post from this year changed how I view short stories.  The process is simple and clear and help me turn the idea I’d been tossing around for a year into an actual story.

Since it’s not in my usual genre, if I can’t find a home for Dexter the dog, I’ll post his story here after a while.

Until next time. Good writing.

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The 3 Most Dreaded Questions for a Writer

How’s that title for clickbait?  I’m guessing, at least from what I’ve seen on the interwebs, that you’ll expect to see a concise, clear list of the three questions so you can decide if you want to read any further.  Or maybe one really compelling question with just the hint of an answer before you have to click on the Read More banner.  If you DO click on the Read More banner, each question will be a bright heading followed by a crapload of snark.  Because we’re writers. That’s what we do, right? With the snark. Like now.

Does most of the new content out there have to follow vanilla, SEO recommendations? Do our posts have to look like a 7th grade Scholastic News article? Gods, I’m totally off topic but I can’t help myself.  You might want to get to those 3 dreaded questions. If you do, <fake smile> read on!

Continue reading “The 3 Most Dreaded Questions for a Writer”

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Sunk Cost Fallacy

I’m almost finished with the first draft of my novel.  This first book has been an incredibly valuable learning experience throughout. I’d never trade it.  As part of the experience and in preparation for the next steps, I’ve been using some of my time to research the editing process.

Right now, I’m planning six different stages of editing to work through the entire process to get the manuscript ready for beta readers.  I imagine, based on what I’ve learned in writing the first draft, that I’ll learn volumes more about the pitfalls and joys of editing.

The big question I have yet to answer is, “Do I give the completed manuscript to beta readers?” I seem to be getting more and more feedback from critique groups and friends that I should start planning how to get the book released.

Continue reading “Sunk Cost Fallacy”

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Scene Mechanics

Part of the reason I’m writing this blog is to document my process from zero to published. A big part of that is learning the intimate mechanical details of writing. What follows is some technical nuts and bolts (with graphics!) to permanently fix the concepts in my mind. If you’re not interested lifting up the hood of the ’68 Firebird 400 that is my writing career and dig in the grease, consider yourself warned. Continue reading “Scene Mechanics”

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Light

For the one of you out there that may have been concerned after last weeks post, I’m doing a followup.  I wanted to talk about the proverbial flip-side of the coin of darkness because there is a flip side.  After a re-read of the darkness post, it could have sounded like I live in a world of perpetual rain and coal dust with the voice on my left shoulder represented by a wet goth kid and the voice on my right played by a dude from an eighties metal video wearing a straight jacket and Hannibal Lecter mask.  Not so.

The light side is there in force and I find it there far more often than I used to.  Just like with the darkness, the light is easily triggered by music.  I am, unabashedly, in love with pop music these days. The dripping wet goth kid on my left is horrified to see me write that. Luckily, his bangs are covering his eyes at the moment.   Say Hey and  Hey Ya!, though not very descriptive song titles, get me moving in that roll-down-the-window-and-catch-the-warm-breeze-on-hand way.  Sexy Back makes me wish I lived in a universe where the flopping of bread dough was an attractive form of dancing.

The goth kid took his headphones off for long enough to remind me that the dark/light coin that I’m talking about is a depression/mania cycle and still counts and mental illness even though I might be happy. I remind him that there are many, many people out there that suffer from a clinically diagnosed bipolar disorder, but I’m not one of them.  My highs are not high enough or long enough and are fairly easily controlled.  The same goes for the lows.  I do see the fuzzy edge of what bipolar may be like, but, thankfully, I’m caught in its grip.  The goth kid starts to argue so I play You Make My Dreams Come True and he turns his back to me.

I know that I’m just (finally) experiencing life. Really experiencing it. I’m able to acknowledge the darkness and the light for what they are. Accept them and all they have to offer. I don’t try and deny the goth’s existence just like I don’t deny that I like Justin Timberlake.  Self-awareness can be terrible and sad moments before it’s magical and uplifting-like switching playlists on Spotify.

Thanks to the surfing I did to find the video links to include today, I’m riding high at the moment.  Justin Timberlake is on my left shoulder and mulleted Daryl Hall on my right.  I hope you have a wonderful day. 

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Darkness

I was listening to the radio this morning after dropping the kids off at school.  I landed on a familiar song with an upbeat melody (Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz if you’re interested) to make the three-minute drive home less quite.  I was bopping along with the chorus and a verse caught me unprepared.  Not because it’s a deep song, but because the lyrics were not quite what I expected. The tone was darker.

I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. A song comes on that you’ve heard dozens of times before, but this time you really hear the lyrics and they’re not what you expected.

It got me thinking about how common that dark shadow seems to be with creative folks.  Continue reading “Darkness”

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Alchemy

I am an alchemist.

I am a writer.

I am a stay-at-home dad.

Every morning, I fill the kettle to about a finger above the MAX-Liquid line. While the water heats, I grab scissors and a tea bag, dangle it from its little cardboard tag, clip the string, and watch it drop an old french press.  The chai spice is in an old baby food jar that sits next to a stainless steel cylinder that holds spatulas, scrapers, and whisks.  Does the thing have a name? The cylinder I mean. It’s designed to hold kitchen utensils and I’m not sure what to call it. I used to use an old metal coffee can to hold the tools. I miss the coffee can and, to honor its memory, I never wash the cylinder thing.

When I was a younger man, traveling and on my own, I would sometimes call my mother or grandmother for a recipe.  Comfort food would take the sharp edges from the depression and loneliness. But the food I made on a hotplate or toaster oven in a rural Tennessee motel was never quite right.  I blamed it on the hotplate. 

Two pinches of the chai spice go into the french press.  The low rumble of the electric kettle fills the kitchen and I hope it won’t wake up my son. While the water heats, I line a black plastic pour-over cone with a coffee filter. The measuring scoop I keep with the coffee is exactly 0.75 grams. I dig the scoop deep into the grounds and dump the heaping mound in the filter. I dig in again for just a touch more, shake a few more grounds in the filter, and dump the rest back in the can.

When we had our own house, Mrs. Blackwelder and I that is, I pulled out some of the old recipes written on motel stationary and scraps of paper.  With a GE Monogram gas stove and shiny new measuring spoons, I was determined to add those old comforts to my new, settled life. After many attempts, they still didn’t taste like I remembered.

With Mrs. Blackwelder’s chai and my coffee finished, I open the refrigerator and rub my whiskery chin.  I shout in the approximate direction of the children. “Do you two want french toast this morning?” Bedroom muffled voices mumble back what sounds like an affirmation. I grab bread, an egg, and a mostly full half gallon of coconut milk. The coconut milk tastes like shit by itself, but it could make an amazing addition to french toast.  Plus I need to use it up because I don’t want to waste it. I whisk the egg and the milk together with a dash of cinnamon and grab the six stalest pieces of bread from the bag.

When the kids were little, we experimented with new recipes on the weekends. Their diapered bottoms bouncing on the counter while they helped by adding tiny fistfuls of flour and shaking spices out of jars. The new recipes were usually good, sometimes amazing and occasionally awful.  We used what was on hand. When we didn’t have cream of tartar we would shrug and say, “don’t know what it is so it must not be important.” The kids would clap their hands with little puffs of flour.

I shovel two pieces of french toast from the cast iron griddle and flip them into the air toward my son’s plate.  One lands dead center and the other skids on the island but doesn’t fall off onto the floor that needs to be mopped. Score! I taste my own french toast. The coconut milk didn’t make it amazing.  As the kids start their own morning ritual of getting ready for school, I sip my coffee and think about what I’m going to write this morning.

Our weekly meals these days usually contain foods that have risen out of our experiments. The kids routinely request chicken vegetable soup and whole wheat waffles. They joke about our failures–cucumber granita and coconut concrete.  They make meals on the weekends for Mrs. Blackwelder and me, sometimes measuring and sometimes not.

I looked up the word alchemy this morning.  I had images of bearded men, protoscientists, from the 15th Century trying to turn lead into gold.  Old dudes mixing bird poop and charcoal together and sometimes making gunpowder and sometimes just gray paste. I liked how the thought of making chai for my wife was like alchemy but I wanted to make sure I didn’t screw up the meaning.  The real definition gave me pause.

“The aim of alchemy was to purify, mature and perfect certain objects.”

I kiss Mrs. Blackwelder as she leaves for work. “Thank you for the chai.” She smiles. I tell the kids to remember to floss and my daughter says, “Thanks for the french toast. It was good.” I go back into the kitchen to make myself another cup of coffee and notice both kids had put their plates in the dishwasher without me asking.

I am an alchemist.

I am a writer.

I am a stay-at-home dad.

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Loss

I feel like a dope even using the title, loss. It signifies so much more than what’s happened to me.  I haven’t lost anyone. My family and friends are all alive and, if not in perfect health, they’re in a condition that matches their lifestyle choices.  The kids are both in the house at the moment. I haven’t forgotten them at school or on some wintery fishing dock. They haven’t shrugged on a motorcycle jacket and sped off on a Ducati 900SS. I haven’t lost my mind or my, albeit stunted, sense of humor for prolonged periods. I haven’t even lost my wallet or red pen.

I lost some data. About four days worth of writing. Continue reading “Loss”

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