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Understand your purpose…

One of the big things that we are often told as writers is “know your audience” and it’s true when you’re writing you need to know who you’re speaking to. Another thing we need to think about is why we’re writing. For that matter it’s a good idea to keep track of why we’re doing anything we’re doing as writers.

Case and point…

The post you’re reading right now (the one I’m writing at the moment…) should have been done already. It should have been in my computer and ready to be reviewed and then posted before lunch today. But then life happened…

Shortly after I got into my office today I had the side thought “Hey, let’s try one more time to see if we can get that computer to boot from the optical drive”…

Well, it did! And then I spent the rest of the morning messing with installing the OS, and getting it into the right position on my desk so that I could connect the network cable, and downloading software (actually that last one is still going on…).

Yes, I’m still installing software as I’m writing this… So, how am I doing that and writing this?

Simple… I’m writing this on my other computer (you know the one that was already set up and running that I should have been working on…).

I should have been done with this post hours ago, but I let myself get sidetracked by other things that I ‘should’ (read that as ‘other things that I want to do’…).

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting the other computer working is a good thing. It helps me get more stuff done and will be better for some of the video work I need to do. But, futzing around with it when I should be writing kind of put me behind schedule and means my whole day is off.

The schedule problem is fixable (I found a couple of work arounds during lunch), but what if it had been something worse? What if I missed the old income tax deadline because I was futzing? What if I was working on an educational piece and skewed more into entertainment territory. What if I was intending to write something entertaining and skewed off into arcane detail that might be educational but nobody really cares about?

When you forget your purpose, why you’re doing what you’re doing, it can easily land you in trouble.

Micro and macro levels…

And while we’re at it you have to remember your purpose on a couple of levels. In the case of my pc I knew exactly why I was doing some of that futzing. I wanted the %#@$##$# program to work the way I’m used to! Unfortunately I was losing sight of the bigger purpose of being a writer/publisher who provides interesting and informative content to my readers.

In the heat of the moment working on my other PC I got wrapped up in the minutia of what I was doing and forgot to think about why I was doing it. If I had remembered that I might have moved on to other programs instead of fighting with the one that was being troublesome. Or better yet I might have quit mucking around and got some writing done!

It honestly works both ways. You have to keep your eye on the big picture, on why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you also have to keep your eye on the details of what you’re doing at the moment.

Ever gotten an email, text, whatever that made reference to an attachment or link and then found that there was no attachment or link to use? Yeah, that person should have paid more attention to the details…

Forgetting the ‘minor’ details for the ‘greater’ purpose can be just as bad as getting lost in the minutia. We really have to remember what our purposes are and keep an eye on both levels if we really want to get anywhere.

This isn’t just a ‘writing thing’

It really isn’t dear reader. Keeping an eye on our purpose is a life thing not just a writing thing.

As business persons we need to keep in mind that writing is a business and keep our purposes for the writing project, or whatever we’re doing, in mind.

As human beings need to keep an eye on why we’re doing any of this. If our real goals center around our family and being there for them, then why are we stuck in the office so much? If our real goal is to tell the story we’ve always wanted to tell, then why are we wasting our time downloading grocery apps?

I love writing.

I encourage others to be writers too.

But we really need to keep our focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing. We need to remember our objectives and purposes and make sure that what we are doing is supporting them.

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

Be willing to be wrong

From the moment we are born (and some will argue even before that…) we are always learning, adjusting, and adapting….

Well, we are doing those things as long as we don’t mess it up for ourselves.

How do we do that? We’re human, we tend to invent new ways as we go. But, there are some pretty standard options. One of the most common is being afraid of being wrong.

Nobody likes to be wrong

It’s a general fact dear reader. We don’t usually like to be wrong.

Occasionally we are pleasantly surprised and something turns out better than we hoped, but for the most part being wrong isn’t fun.

It’s a matter of perception and perspective. We are generally invested in being right. We have put time and energy into learning, thinking, and believing a certain way. And being wrong means a loss.

We have put in the time and energy to learn, think and do and it turns out we didn’t get what we wanted. We were wrong.

And sometimes it’s more than just a little effort at stake. There can be cherished beliefs, love, money and possibly lifestyle at stake. And naturally we don’t want to lose any of it.

In fact, our opposition to the possibility of being wrong often increases with the perceived stakes. That’s why we’re darned tenacious when we think being wrong means loosing something important.

The more important things seem the more we will fight to be right. And that’s good… If we’re right.

Unfortunately we aren’t always right. Sometimes we’ve goofed and now we’re fighting to cling to an idea or belief that is wrong. We just can’t succeed that way.

But sometimes you have to be wrong to be right…

If we perceive being wrong as a loss we fight tooth and nail to avoid it, or at least to avoid accepting it.

But, sometimes we need to recognize that we were wrong so that we can change things and accept something better.

Sometimes dear reader, we are wrong and we are going to remain wrong until we do something to correct the situation.

Correcting the situation may mean a number of things: unlearning, relearning, accepting, adapting, or even (and people hate this one…) repenting.

No, I’m not going all religious on you here dear reader. The word repent has religious meaning, but it also has practical meaning. In a practical sense repentance means rethinking and behaving differently than you have in the past. In practice it means you stop being wrong and start being right.

Repentance is sometimes an unpleasant process. Being wrong is sometimes an unpleasant condition, but if we are willing to accept that we were wrong in the past and that we can choose to act and correct the situation; then we can take the necessary steps to be right in the present and in the future.

If we are not afraid to be wrong we can actually take the steps necessary to move from being wrong to being right.

It’s not easy, but it’s important

As I’ve said, a lot of the problem is actually perception. If we are afraid of being wrong we will fight against it.

If we see ourselves as striving to become better, and learning to be right, then the moment of wrongness and our  correction to overcome being wrong are just another step in achieving and becoming greater than we have been.

In practice any time we actually want to do something or be something greater than we are we have to accept the possibility of having been wrong. Then, if we focus less on having been wrong and more on becoming right, we can move forward and achieve.

If we recognize that we were wrong we can ultimately become right.

It is a question of perception and understanding dear reader. And for any of us out here in life there are many ways and times that we might be wrong. But for all of us it is necessary that we be willing to recognize when we are wrong and overcome our wrongness. It is then that we can succeed in our desires.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

Be willing to learn and become right, even if it means being wrong for a little while…

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

Welcome back!

Back around the end of January I decided to hit the brakes on both of my blogs for a while so that I could get things reorganized a little. Between then and now I managed to finish a video on glass projects, only to have two more videos ideas step in and a third split into two scripts. I finished the first draft of a second novel in a series; the first novel in the series has been sliced, diced and recombined and is now on the way to the editing team who will turn it into Julien fries and then get it back to me… I started the month with one nonfiction project that I wanted out by the end of the year and another that I was trying to fit in to get to press next year; they have since invited a couple of friends to join the party. Yeah, it’s been a bit busy.

If you are doing something you love (and trust me, when it comes to writing if you don’t love it don’t do it) you will always have something to do. It is true that I got things done and somehow ended up with more work on my plate than I started with, but I also got something else out of this ‘break’. Happily I once again have a functional schedule and know where I’m going! And now dear reader, now that I once again know where I’m going, I’m back on the blogs.

This blog has always been about writing and that is how things are going to stay; it’s a blog about writing, the writing process, and some of my experiences as an author. I will be adding a few new things, but this one is going to stay on topic.

Over on the other side of the house at Words Mean Stuff we will be making some changes, but all for the best!

Sometimes there is great power in taking a break, or even just shifting your load. Sometimes the key to moving forward is to stop and consolidate, and that’s what I’ve done in the last few weeks.

Thanks for baring with me dear reader and see you next week

February 2018

As much as I love what I do… I occasionally find myself at that place where a project is behind, two more just got dumped into the time line, and naturally everything is an A1 priority. This usually happens when my wife is just adjusting to teaching a new class,  my doctor just proscribed antibiotics (without me even asking for them), and other family members are sending me emails containing exciting terms like “through and through puncture”….

So, I’m going to go see if I can find a couple of bigger cans (do they make a 110 gallon drum?) and try recanning a couple of these cans of worms (or at least get the projects under control). Hopefully I will be back with some good posts and good things to share in March. See you then dear reader!

Out of your comfort zone!

As writers we have favorite subjects to write on, and styles we prefer. It’s a good thing. We have (or should be developing) areas we know well and are good at. We have a general focus. But. Sometimes we are asked or compelled to step out of our comfort zone.

Sometimes this is a good thing.

Sometimes it isn’t.

It all depends on the situation and how we look at things…

The good

Sometimes we step out of our comfort zone because we have to. And in these cases we can find things we like and things that are very helpful to us. Sometimes we actually learn something.

Back in 2016 I published my first book Chainmail Bottle Carriers. In writing that book I found a few things I thought were better shown in a video than in the written style I was using. But… I had never written a video before much less made one.

I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the experience or expertise in the area. Well, as much as I hate to admit it I see new subscribers on my You Tube channel more frequently than I see sales of that particular book here in 2018…

In practice I think I’ve reached more people because of the videos. But I had to get out of my comfort Zone to do it.

The bad

Recently Thomas S. Monson the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints died and an obituary was printed in the New York Times…

I happen to disagree with a number of points in that obituary. But I support the author in writing from the author’s own genuine stance and perspective.

There are a number of people who have pressured the Times to retract the obituary and even to force the author to ‘write a better one’. The thing is, if you try to put someone out of their comfort zone in this way (or if you allow yourself to be put out of your comfort zone in this way) you are creating a number of problems.

  1. If the original piece of writing was genuine you are forcing someone to be dishonest about what they think, feel, and believe. No matter how passionate you might be, you can’t claim to be honest and force someone to “agree” with you dishonestly while maintaining any sort of integrity in yourself.
  2. You run the risk of having things blow back on you (or if you’re the writer you run the risk of having the situation happen to you again).

 

They say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and this is precisely why I don’t’ agree with those who want the Times to retract their obituary and write a ‘better one’. Quite simply I support the author’s right to state a genuine opinion because I don’t want someone coming back at me and trying to force me to change my stance and opinion. If you force someone to dishonestly change their opinion you open the door for someone else to do it to you.

 

The take home

Sometimes it is good to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, but you need to be careful about doing it. If you are ding new things and writing new things with good purpose good things can come from it. If you are saying and writing new things because you are forced to do so, that’s dishonest and not good for you or the person making you do it.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Check out the video I just posted, and see you next week.

Characters and space

Nope, we’re not actually going sci fi this week dear reader (maybe soon, but not this week). Actually, what I’m writing about has to do with your characters and the length of your story…

Between November’s NANOWRIMO adventure and now (where I’m engaging in editing and finishing Jamie’s Sacrifice) I’ve been thinking about the differences between long and short fiction. I’ve been thinking about how the length of story really does impact the things that you can, and should, do.

One area that really gets impacted is your characters. In longer fiction you have a lot more space to describe and develop characters. You have the opportunity to add more details (which might or might not be a good thing…). In shorter fiction you kind of need to get on with things and tell the story. You don’t have time to detail every detail of the heroine’s bedroom (unless that is the story…).

Need to know

Whether you’re doing a long or short story there is information about your character that the reader needs to know, and that’s the information to worry most about; both providing it and when to provide it.

In a long story you can take time to provide more information. And you can hide those key details that lead your reader to gasp “I should have seen that” among the other information you give them.  But you do need to play fair: give them the information and don’t just pump out filler.

In shorter fiction you may have to leave out those cool but extraneous details you’ve worked up. If you’re only doing a ten page story you don’t have the extra room to waste on the hero’s stamp collection, unless it’s actually relevant.

But what if I really want to give that detail (or, how do I control the information fire hose?)

Well… If you are going to do short stories and really want to use that bit of information which doesn’t quite fit into this story, why not write another story where the detail matters?

If you think about it the chapters of a long story are a sequence of short stories, just a sequence with one big plot running through it all. It is just as fair to do multiple short stories with a character that the reader can get to know over time. It worked for Conan the Barbarian and it can work for you.

While we’re at it, even in long fiction you might want to take some time in revealing information. Let your reader get to know the character through action and story not just “reading the character’s baseball card” somewhere on page three. In real life and real friendships our knowledge of our friends develops over time. You can do that in your fiction too.

Your secondary characters (and tertiary characters, and quaternary characters, and that guy over on the corner…)

Here’s another other big difference dear reader, in long fiction you have time to introduce more characters. But, you still need to think about how much information you’re giving. We really don’t need to know the life story of the ‘counter guy’ at the local fast food joint if he’s only going to be showing up in that one scene. Remember, your readers can only keep up with so many characters at one time. And having too much or too little information can impact your reader’s ability to keep track of who is who.

If you’re doing a short story stick to a couple of characters and write them well. In longer fiction you can add more, but remember it’s a story not a telephone directory! In any case you need to think about the descriptions and information you’re giving about your characters. We want to know who they are but we don’t need to be overwhelmed with extraneous drama.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’d tell you what we’re doing next week, but my characters haven’t told me yet…

Piecing it together…

One of the projects that is almost out the door is an instruction set I’m working on for how to make a chainmail belt.

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I have also been talking to people who are working (or want to work) on putting out some sewing and knitting patterns. I can promise you that as much thought and work needs to go into a pattern or instruction set as is needed for any other project (you know… If you want your instructions to be understandable instead of rage inducing…)

But there are differences between writing a pattern or instruction set and some of the other writing we talk about here…

Doing and writing

One of the things I’ve really noticed in the process or writing instructions is that it is a good idea to actually make or do whatever yours supposed to be writing about while you’re writing the instructions. This can be slow and awkward. You keep having to set one thing down to do the other. However, this is often one of the best ways to avoid forgetting those little details that crop up while you’re working. Doing and writing in a parallel mode helps you think more about what you’re actually doing, so that you can write your instructions correctly.

There are times you need to write things up later, but this really can lead to memory problems and missing details. If you absolutely can’t write while doing, you might think about video or audio recording, or some other form of in vivo documentation to help you.

A picture is worth a thousand words

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” photographers tell me this all the time. As one with a few hundred thousand words under his belt I can say that this is one of the situations that they’re actually right about. Pictures, graphs and charts can show information more clearly and concisely than a verbal description; but only if you’ve put some thought into your pictures, graphs and charts! If you want to see the full spectrum of good and bad visual information head over to You Tube and watch some ‘instructional’ videos after you finish reading this post…

Often it won’t be enough to “snap a few pics” that you can insert into your instructions.  You need to think about what you’re showing, and from what angle, and with what kind of lighting and contrast. You might even want to get into some picture editing software and add some labels and text…

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Your pictures really do need to be as thought out as the rest of your instructions. And even then you’re not done!

Play testing!

It is virtually always a good idea to have someone else read what you write before you call it done (trust me, some of us have learned the hard way…). When you’re writing instructions or a pattern, it might not be enough to just have someone read over what you wrote. For patterns and instructions you might just want someone to actually try to do what you’re writing about.

In this case you can’t do it all yourself! You already know how to do what you’re writing about and you may well miss errors and confusing points that will be obvious to someone else trying to follow your instructions.

I know someone out there want’s to skip this step, but… Nope, you need to let someone else try to follow your instructions and then give you feedback. (note: fear of feedback shouldn’t be an excuse that stops you. If you’re seriously afraid of what people will say, then either you or your instructions aren’t ready yet…)

Instructions are a teaching tool. They are worthy of genuine thought and effort (and, based on how many knitting patterns my wife buys, they are sometimes fairly profitable…). In fact if you want to do them right you should give them as much attention (or more) than you would give any other writing project.

You also have to understand how your instruction projects are unique.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Back to the long and the short of it!

Christmas post 2017

The Sunday after this post goes live is Christmas Eve, and of course the day following that is Christmas day. Not everyone who reads this is necessarily Christian and I am in no way demanding Non-Christians observe a Christian celebration, in truth I think that a lot of “Christians” forget what Christmas is really about…

Beneath it all, once you strip away the hype, and ornamentation, and fancy wrapping paper, Christmas is about someone (call him God incarnate, just a man, or just a really good idea…) who gave all to help those around him. Christmas is about someone who gave all to create a better world and make us better. That is the point, and that is something that needs more attention than it receives these days.

So, to everyone out there Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, male, female, any of the above, gay, straight, somewhere in between,  black, white, brown, or any other color in the crayon  box… The day is yours to do with what you will. But while you’re at it, why not try morning with those who morn, lifting the down trodden, and otherwise making the world around you a better place. That’s what the day is really about, and despite other differences we may have I stand with you in these things.

Merry Christmas to all ad see you next week!

The importance of time

One of the things that drives my wife crazy about my writing is time. Not that I spend time doing it (she gets that part…”). Sometimes it’s not even really about how much time I spend writing. Instead she gets frustrated with how regimented and monitored that time can be. I can honestly tell you how many pages I can typically write in an hour. I know how many pages I can transcribe in an hour. I can estimate how many hours it will take me to write a given thing and when it will be most efficient for me to put those hours in. I’ve spent a few years doing this and I’ve figured this stuff out. And sometimes my idea of what I need to do just doesn’t work for my wife…

The thing is, my wife has things that she wants to do too (and other people and things in the lives of us writers usually have the same kind of needs). And sometimes the amount of time, and the actual moment in time when things need to happen, conflicts with what we as writers want and need to do. And this really does lead to problems.

While there are those that will try to pass off a ‘system’ for writing as ‘the right system’ for everyone; I for one don’t really buy into any of it. In my estimation you have to learn the best way and time for you to write by your own experience and adjust for your own situation. A professional writer with no kids and a full time mom with three kids don’t have the same situation (and they may have wildly different writing styles, subject matter, and/or genres as well…). And don’t even get me started about my friend the funeral director (who is basically on call 24/7).

I won’t try to give you ‘the’ system dear reader; however, I will pass on a couple of things I have learned.

You have to actually put time into it…

Not a whole lot to say on this one. You have to actually devote time to writing if you want to write. If you don’t there will always be something in the way. You have to choose to write and make time to do so.

You have to learn about you…

You need to know a lot to figure out what kind of time you need to write, and how to use that time. Some of that knowledge can be found in books, blogs (like mine…), and other sources. But, some of that knowledge can only come from you, and you can only obtain it by experimentation. You can only obtain that kind of knowledge by actually trying different writing times and keeping track of how you spend your writing time. It really is a ‘learn for yourself’ situation, and in some ways it has to be. No two writers are alike, and neither are their situations.

You have to be reasonable with others in your life…

As much as we may want to climb into our hole in the ground, office, booth at our favorite restaurant, or whatever, and just write the world away; husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, etc. all do need some of our attention and time. None of us live in a vacuum and there are people to see, bills to pay, and things to do. Even (especially…) if we don’t want to, we need to be aware that we will spend time outside of our writing.

Some of that time can be handled and dealt with through planning (get out your calendar and plan a time to pay that light bill…).

Some of that time happens unexpectedly, and you really do need to put down your writing and deal with something else (if my wife is crying I might just want to find out why… If my desk is on fire who cares if I’m almost done with chapter four?).

Some of that time… Well sometimes you have to make a decision. Do you really want to go to that concert, play that golf game, or go see those in-laws? (It could happen…) If you do, then you have to figure out how to make that happen and still have time to write. Or you choose not to do one or the other, and suffer the consequences…

You have to communicate (and sometimes teach)…

I know this one isn’t always fun, but for the 100% of us in real life; sooner or later you need to talk to someone about writing and the time you need to write (note: I don’t mean “explain to” but actually have a conversation with). Often the person you’re needing to talk to is someone important in your life. These conversations can be challenging, some people have little experience in the writing world. Sometimes the people you’re talking with work differently than you do. Sometimes the people you’re talking to really haven’t thought about what you’re trying to do. In any case you need to communicate with them to help them understand, and to understand their side at least a little bit as well.

Communicating about writing isn’t always easy, but doing it is easier than not doing it. Communicating effectively can save a lot of ‘hurt feelers’ in the long run.

Time is an important part of writing dear reader. You need to learn about it: how to use it and how to communicate about it. If you don’t, then you’re headed for problems (if you do anything at all…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Chaos… Panic… Scented pine cones??? It must be the holidays!