Tools: organization systems…

Welcome to 2019 dear reader! One of the new things we’re doing this year is we want to use an FMP Instagram account to feature pictures related to the stuff we’re doing, and some pictures meant to provoke stories and ideas in the minds of our viewers and readers.

I’ve thought about using some of my toy collection in the pictures. But, it’s hard to do when you don’t have a schedule, and even harder when your tools (my toys) look like this…

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So… one thing I’ve been working on is organizing.

It’s a little too common to hear people saying “I don’t have time to get organized”.

If they actually took the time it would pay off.

It takes an investment of time, and often money, to get organized. But, every time I compare organized work to unorganized work, I find I can get more done when I’m organized. That initial investment pays me back fairly quickly, and well.

In fact, some of the benefits can be quantified (as I’ll show below).

In the Instagram example there are two kinds of organization we need: physical, and planning/chronological

Physical organization

It’s costing me some money (about $9.00 per container), but I’ve found a solution for organizing the bits and pieces I’ll use for the pictures.

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This method is costing money, but makes things much easier to find.

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And this technique is flexible, I can alter and expand the organization as I go.

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By taking this time now I’m making myself more willing to make the scenes and do the pictures.

And when I make the pictures, I can do them faster and easier. Because I can find the stuff I spend less time searching for the stuff.

I can even improve my pictures because I can see options I might forget otherwise.

Planning and time organization

As much as I love my bins and boxes I’ll never get around to doing the pictures if I don’t decide to do them and decide when they will be finished and posted. I also need to keep my decisions in front of me while I work.

My favorite tools for this (at the moment) is my Google calendar and task list. I can see how much time I have to get things done, and when things are due. They also help me figure out what parts to do when.

The tools help, but you have to get into the habit of using them and doing the thinking.

When you do the thinking, and then incorporate your decisions and plans into your calendar and task list, you are committing yourself to action. Committing yourself to action improves your chances of completing the task. Remembering that commitment (which your calendar/task list helps you with…) strengthens that commitment, and your probability of success.

Does it really help?

Yes, it really does. In fact, you can put numbers on it!

I finish 90+ percent of the things I put on my calendar, and maybe 50 percent of the ones I don’t

I can also get my pictures done faster, and as they say… Time is money. If having my toys organized saves me two minutes per picture, and I only do one picture per week that is a savings of 104 minutes over the course of a year (about 1.67 hours…),

If you figure 1.67 hours at the $15.00 minimum wage folks are talking about these days, that organization saves you $25.05 per year. Since I value my time above minimum wage, I save more. And, these numbers are for one picture per week. Some posts will have four or five pictures (plus pics for the blogs, etc.). When I figure in the value of my time and the multiple pictures per week, I’m definitely saving the cost of my boxes this year….

Getting and staying organized takes an investment, but doing it allows you to spend more of your time and money doing what you want and need to do in the long run. Saving that wandering and flailing around is worth it. So… I supposed I should get back to getting things organized and ready for the months (and books!) ahead.

If you have an organization technique you want to share, or a question about organization, let me know in the comments. I love responding to comments. And of course… See you next post!

Story in fiction and nonfiction

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is that nonfiction should be written so that it tells a story.

But… story is a fiction thing!

Actually “story” can be a fiction thing, but it is also a way of organizing information. In a story you have a beginning, middle, and end. In non-fiction you have an introduction, the thinky stuff in the middle, and a conclusion. The parts are similar and are used for similar purposes.

Whether you are doing fiction or non-fiction you are using words and ideas to move a person from a beginning point to an end point.

In both cases your beginning is a starting point, you need to catch the reader’s attention, acclimate him or her to the way you’re going to talk to her/him and instill enough faith in the reader that the reader will actually stick with you through the stuff in the middle to get to that endpoint.

In a fiction story that end point is a conclusion with a payoff (that pay off may be emotional, just having been entertained by a good story, or a range of other things). In non-fiction that conclusion might be a payoff (say being satisfied that you now know something), but often it is a CALL TO ACTION! In non-fiction you often want your reader to do something (buy a car, stop smoking, vote for XYZ, or…)

The stuff in the middle, the stuff that gets you from the beginning to the end, includes a lot of necessary information. The kind of information might change depending on what sort of story you’re telling, but fiction and non-fiction can share a lot here.

A how story (how to build a deck, how the Allies won in World War 2, how a couple of short, fat guys from a rural backwater saved the world by chucking a ring into a volcano…) is showing and teaching how something  happens. In this sort of story you are following logical steps from a pile of (literal or fictional) parts to a completed act or product.

A why story (Why you should vote for my candidate, why we should apply Feminist theory to the war on terror, why Jimmy the vampire chose to go vegan) explains the reasons for a thing happening. You might not follow a straight line from beginning to end on this one. You still have a starting point, but you don’t have to start with a stack of unassembled pieces. You can begin close to the end and catch the reader up to where you are. And then, with the built up momentum, move the reader to doing or believing something you want done or believed.

Fiction stories have a protagonist, that would be the ‘hero’, the person the writer is expecting the reader to follow and root for. In fiction the protagonist could be male or female, or for that matter a dog, a duck, a chicken or an anthropomorphized hunk of plastic.

Non-fiction writing generally also has a protagonist. This time we probably don’t have a hunk of talking plastic as the ‘good guy’, but we could have any of those others I just mentioned. In fact, the protagonist might be the reader. How will XYZ (if your name is Bob you can call him Bob. If your name is Juanita call her Juanita. Or whatever…) assemble that shelving unit? It isn’t going to happen by itself.

Story is a way of conveying information. It is a way of helping the reader follow what you’re saying from point A to point B. It is a way to present things so that the reader will find value in what you’re saying/writing and, hopefully, be motivated to do or feel what you, the writer, intended.

Like everything else in the craft of writing, story is something you have to learn how to use. One of the best ways to do that is to read. You will need to read in your genre to see what has gone before, but you may also benefit from reading outside of your genre as well. A good mystery story or medical drama could teach you something about how to write your trouble shooting text. A classic story of desire and obsession might tell you what you need to know to sell pizzas. On the other hand biographies and world history do drive fiction (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings… If you look for it it’s there).

We as humans love story. So, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, if you want to succeed with your readers tell them a story!

And, I’ll see you next post.

Team Oxford Comma?

I know… It would sound weird to my younger self too, but the deeper I go into writing and editing I’m gaining an appreciation for the Oxford comma.

Once, as a youngster, I learned that that comma before an ‘and’ in lists really wasn’t necessary. It was optional and something the old guys did, so I didn’t use it. That approach works just fine if you only worry about eggs, bread and milk…

But, what if you get into lists that are longer? What if you want to put things that are actually interesting into your list?

If you want to talk about red flowers, jewels that shine like the moon, the smell of mature pecan trees, and the fine sand of a South Georgia beach, then that Oxford comma actually becomes more appropriate and important.

The Oxford comma, along with commas that went to less prestigious universities (and yes even that one that just got its GED…), are used to help parse sentences and add clarity. They help break things up in such a way that you can figure out what the %^&^&%^&%#$#@$#@%$#@$@$!!!! the author is saying. No, you probably don’t need it in simple sentences and lists with single word items, but if you want to add clauses to a sentence, or use conjunctions, or use parentheticals without the parentheses, then you probably want to ‘open up a pack of comas’.

The point of the thing is clarity in your writing, and big complicated sentences call for commas. And, that means big complicated lists need that Oxford comma. It really does make things clearer; except when it doesn’t…

Sometimes, when you’re making those big complicated lists, you want to create a list of things that already have commas in them. That is when you dig out another old and misunderstood friend of mine, the semicolon.

If you are making a list of items like: military uniforms, in a range of colors and camouflage patterns; fireworks, including bottle rockets and smoke bombs; lunch bags, preferably with cartoon characters printed on them; and all the other things you need for the new school year, you really need something to help break up and simplify that list. This time even the Oxford comma can’t save you (it is well educated, but it’s not a miracle worker…). This time you need to add another punctuation mark to help organize your list.

I know. I know. There are things a lot more fun than punctuation out there, and punctuation has all these fiddly little rules… But, when you’re a writer the point is to write in ways that help your reader get the point; to write in ways that help him or her to understand what the #%#%$#^#$^#^#!!! you’re saying.

And dear reader, that’s why we do it. That is why we spend so much time sweating the details of punctuation in our writing.

And that’s why I’m finding myself on team Oxford comma. Just like any of us, I would really like to be understood.

Thanks for reading today. Keep those sentences straight. And, I’ll see you next post!

Google docs voice input: useful but quirky

Recently my wife and I were talking with a friend who teaches in the area of special needs students and special education in mainstream classrooms. During that discussion I discovered Google docs has a voice to text feature. So naturally I had to try it. And while I can’t say I’m throwing away my keyboard for a microphone there are times that this feature could be worthwhile.

Why I like it

There are times, like doing video scripts, that I want to write things that sound more like someone speaking naturally. In these cases it is easier to say it than to type it. For some reason when I type or write long hand I get into a mode that is more rhetorical and “printed word/texty” than I want. When I talk into a mic it’s easier to avoid that.

Also, there are times when I want my hands free while I’m writing (like when I’m trying to write up a craft project and need my hands free to do making stuff). Google docs voice feature is a free tool that helps with this.

Actually when I tested it the voice to text feature worked surprisingly well. It was able to have a fairly good level of accuracy in translating what I was saying. It was actually able to translate phrases like four in one chainmail without stress.

Of course the feature did have quirks and it wasn’t entirely a solution to my problems.

What I’m not happy with

The core engine driving the feature seems to be the same one that converts phone calls to texts for google voice. If you have ever seen the ‘creative’ resolutions that happen with that google feature you can imagine what happens if you cough, mumble, or pause mid word. You may also run into problems with more unusual idioms, phrases or words.

You will definitely need to do your editing because the software also occasionally swaps words for other words. In my test case the voice to text feature kept using the word ‘cloths’ for the word ‘close’…

The system is also light on punctuation and formatting options so you may need to put those in later. I was able to get a period by saying the word period, or a comma by saying the word comma. But if I said the word semicolon I got the word semicolon and not a punctuation mark.

Similarly you get a new line by saying “new line” unfortunately if you want a blank line between paragraphs you have to add it in later or say “new line”… wait… and then say “new line” again. This does tend to slow things down a bit. So you may be better off just accepting the fact that you will have to do your formatting later.

I found myself wondering what would happen if I wanted the word ‘period’ instead of a punctuation mark. I experimented and my results were mixed. If I talked about a woman’s period I got the word period. If I said “periods” the software would write “periods”. But if I talked about a trial period, or the colonial period, or said that the program “was the best software period” I got a punctuation mark.

 

And… Things kind of went downhill from there…

After finding the program’s selectivity about the word period I found myself wondering what would happen with other words.

Naturally the first place my mind went was the old F-bomb…

When you use that particular word you get f***.

You will also end up with c*** and a variety of other similar items when you use words that might be offensive to women. But oddly enough the word ass is apparently ok.

At this point I was feeling a bit wierd swearing at my computer, but hey if you’re going to go you might as well go all the way…

Oddly enough while Google docs voice tool seems to want to “bleep you out” if you say something insulting about women; it seems to be just fine with racial epiphytes against blacks, Jews, Italians and others.

At this point I was both surprised and offended and decided to stop.

Summing up

There are times that the voice to text feature is really useful. And I will use it in those cases; however, the feature does not have a full range of punctuation and text formatting features (and you know how much I love those parentheses…). This part makes it even more important to take the time to reread and edit the things you write using this feature.

And of course watch out for those wrong word situations…

I also find it odd that the software actively filters things that might be insulting to women, but seems to be fine with users insulting blacks and Jews (as long as they’re male of course…).

It’s also a good idea to remember that Google docs are stored online and may be more easily observed or pirated than things you keep resident to your machine.

In the final analysis I would say that if you think the idea of talk to text could be worthwhile for you, then give the Google docs voice tool a try. But realize that it does have its quirks and will increase your editing load. You may want to move on and try other speech to text software but the google docs voice to text feature is a starting point.

I would also love an explanation of what they will and will not censor (it’s a free tool so they can make their own choices… I just find the choices that have been made interesting).

That’s it for this one. See you next week