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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Are You Talking When You Write?

“I often get asked the question, 'If you had to compare your writing to an author who would it be?' My answer is always the same; the author I compare myself to is me.

Every writer has a unique style relevant to only themselves. I am nothing like other authors; some aspects of my writing may have similarities to another, but in the end, each and every one of us is different.” ― Ashley Tia Long

Similar Reflective Perspective-Personal Voice

Ashley Tia Long’s quote epitomizes an individual secure in her voice. Starting her novel at age 8 and finally finishing it when she was a young adult demonstrate the care with which many authors hone their voice. I think it is a testament to voice as a quality within each writer that her editor did not have her change many of the passages that she originally wrote at age eight. What she was able to do though, was expanded and better phrase the concepts transforming them into writing as an adult.

She is also a reflective author utilizing many of the qualities that I find interesting such as rhetorical questions, alternative solutions and the inclusion of thoughts and feelings prompting the reader to think. Since I have only been writing online for about a year, my writing is undergoing transformations as well. So, what is becoming a natural way for me to write? Writing is now a reflection of the way I offer guidance and direction to my recovery clients.


When We Understand our Readers, Our Voice Comes Naturally

As a counselor, I spent years learning reflective listening. It is different from active listening in that we do not simply paraphrase a client’s statement, but reword it and add to it to convey our understanding and to move the dialogue forward.

I can just as easily substitute client for reader to accomplish my writing goals in a similar manner to my counseling goals. In the same reflective style that I use in counseling, I am learning to write in a similar voice – I read the words aloud and listen to them asking:

• Are there subtle and unstated thoughts and emotions under the information?
• Are those thoughts or emotions important to the piece?
• Will the readers understand the choice of language?
• Do I need to elaborate and add links for the concept?
• Are there nuances in the choice of words that might need clarification?

Why I Chose Reflective Writing: The Four R’s


Reflective writing allows me to merge Reporting, Relating, Reasoning and Reconstructing into a generous article. Reflective writing allows me to use my voice in my articles whether it is about addiction, organization, personal loss or writing. When I incorporate the four R’s to create a piece, I have the freedom to write more than just the facts. 

I write much like I have conversations with people. Reflective writing creates a dialogue with readers and they can read the thoughts, emotions and opinions through our distinctive voice; the language, tone, movement through the piece, and phrasing. So, how do you find your voice and incorporate it into your writing? Think about how you talk with people – what is your conversational style? My conversations tend to be reflective – I ask questions to gain insight into the person or the topic of conversation. Therefore, questions often show up in my writing.  I use them to:
 
• Develop dialogue and a relationship with my reader
• Create an opportunity for me to learn when readers answer my questions
• Elicit responses in comments, feedback or email
• Prompt my readers to think of an authentic answer for them
• Write a rhetorical question for an alternative perspective

Target Readers with Your Voice

What voice is appropriate for your readers? One of my passions is educating people about addiction and recovery; however, writing slang-laden articles for readers online is counterproductive. I write about addiction and recovery to educate, therefore, if I only write in street slang, it might reinforce the badass, hood, druggie culture that some readers fear and loathe. 

However, I may use those terms when conducting a group if those participating in the group would relate better to that jargon. Knowing our audiences – whether reader or group participant is critical.

It is vital to our success. Remember that our well-defined, recognizable voice is an integral part of the reason that people read our articles as opposed to someone else writing about the same subject. This identifiable choice of language, phrasing and tone mean that someone will probably start saying:

• “I know that writing,”
• “I like that writing style.”
• “I feel a connection to that writing.”
• “I will read that writer again.”

Those types of comments mean that your readers do not compare you to someone else, and in the world of words, that is oftentimes a good thing.

Challenge

Take 20 minutes and write down your target readers. Then break your readers up by the categories in which you write. Once you have your target readers by categories, reflect on the language, phrasing, tone and movement that are likely to attract readers and yet be authentic for you.

For myself, I will continue writing in a reflective way and honing my voice; this makes sense to me as a person and as a writer. My personal combination of language, phrasing, tone and mood make it my work. I hope someday that someone reads one of my articles and says, “Marilyn, I knew you wrote that, it is you.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

Verb types and how to identify them for stronger sentence structure


This was an article I originally posted on LinkedIn. It was well received so I thought I`d post it here on Two Drops of Ink. Enjoy. 

One of the mysteries, at least to me, about the great writers of the past and present is their innate ability to form strong, vibrant sentences. I`m often amazed at the way some writers can say so much with so few words. They are masters at concise communication. I think they were born with syntax and grammatical chips in their brains. I doubt that Mark Twain, E.E. Cummings, or James Patterson ever diagrammed a sentence to check for grammatical qualities; however, they were and are great writers.

Although I`m not a fan of Noam Chomsky in political terms, as a grammarian he is one of the most cited experts in modern history. His theories on Generative Grammar are quite interesting. Some readers may be familiar with his famous sentence, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." The sentence is grammatically correct, yet it is semantically incoherent: (Colorless green ideas (subj) + sleep (Vi) + furiously (adverb of manor).

The sentence has a noun phrase subject followed by an intransitive verb that is modified by an adverb of manor.

For those of us who were not born with the genius of writing, but rather had to learn, there is still hope. Never give up. Take some time to study a few simple rules about verbs and the different sentence patterns and you can become a stronger writer.

There are a number of grammatical theories and explanations of sentence structures but my personal favorite is Max Morenberg`s Doing Grammar (Oxford University Press, 2010).

If you`re having trouble with sentence structure, one of the keys to all sentences is the type of verb you use in the predicate. We will look at four main verb types for the purposes of this post. Knowing and recognizing sentence structures by their verb type will make you a stronger writer, editor, and reader. Grammar time!

The Intransitive verb: Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not need to point to a direct object. In fact, they can end a sentence. An example sentence would be as follows: The dog ran. In the example sentence the dog is the subject and ran is the intransitive verb. Some intransitives require an adverbial to make the sentence coherent: The dog acts mean. In this example acts is an intransitive verb; however, it requires an adverb to make the sentence coherent. You can`t say the dog acts and have a coherent sentence, yet, the verb acts is intransitive. In conclusion, intransitives can end a sentence or may be followed by an adverb or adverbial phrase.

The Transitive Verb: The transitive verbs will always point to a direct object in the sentence: Karen baked a cake. This is a very simple sentence but it shows a simple subject + verb + direct object sentence structure. The transitive verbs have three patterns: a simple direct object, a VG (verbs that gives) two place transitive, and a VC (verb of consideration) two place transitive structure.

VG: Janet gave tom a birthday card. In this sentence, birthday card is the direct object and Tom is the indirect object—what did Janet give? To whom did Janet give it?

VC: The verbs of consideration will always be a two place transitive with a direct object and an adverbial, noun phrase, or an infinitive phrase that acts as an object compliment: The Republicans considered the Democrats crooked.

The BE verbs (is, are, was, were, be, being, been): The “BE” verbs will always have a predicate noun, a predicate adjective, or a predicate adverb following them: John is funny. In this sentence, the subject John is described as funny—funny is a predicate adjective (also a subject compliment). This brings up the simple reminder that you can usually identify a verb by what follows to its right. Let me add another nugget for those of you that have a terrible time with passive voice sentences: a passive voice structure will have a form of the auxiliary verb “BE” and a past participle form of the main verb.

Example: The boy was followed home. I know our English teachers wanted to hit us over the head when we used a passive sentence structure; however, they are useful when the action that takes place is more important than the subject of the sentence. If you need to get rid of the passive voice and make the sentence active voice, just remove the auxiliary “BE” and use a singular verb: Someone followed the boy home. Do you notice how much more curiosity or drama is conveyed in the second sentence than in the first? In the first sentence, “The boy was followed home,” there isn`t much curiosity about the scene this sentence creates in the mind; however, in the second sentence the reader becomes curious as to the identity of or reason for someone following the boy home.

The Linking or Helping Verbs: Linking verbs are a small group of verbs that will always be followed by either a predicate noun or predicate adjective (one word or a phrase). One way to identify a linking verb is the “linking verb test.” My professor taught me this little nugget in advanced grammar class in college. If you can replace the main verb with a form of the verb “BE” or the word “seems” than you have a linking verb.

Example: The coffee tastes horrible---The coffee IS horrible---The coffee SEEMS horrible. The word “tastes” is a linking verb because it passes the linking verb test.

If you find that a sentence is awkward or doesn’t sound right, look at the main verb, identify what type of verb you’re using, and follow the rules of what should follow that verb to its right. This will make for clearer and smoother writing. Compound sentences that have sentence modifiers and relative clauses are simply larger structures that follow these same rules.


I wrote this in hope of sharing a few valuable nuggets with my fellow writers. God bless. SWB

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Can I Add? It's Already Been Written

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”  ~ Ana├»s Nin

Original content can prove difficult, after all; people have been writing for about 5000 years. However, that only lets us know that although someone already wrote about a topic, no one has written from your unique perspective. Writers choose subjects for a number of reasons:

•    We have an interest in the subject
•    We are curious about the topic
•    We want to research or learn more
•    We are emotionally attached

We read and write about something because there is still an attraction and curiosity about the subject; we still want to learn or teach more. 

I have always been curious.  If a subject or topic interested me, I wanted to learn more about it.  We are fortunate today that we can Google or Bing our way to enlightenment on any subject. In fact, we now can alert our phones to notify us if there are articles on topics we are curious about, without having to search ourselves. 

Flipboard, with over 34,000 subjects, is a gold mine for writers. These articles give writers an opportunity to learn more about a topic, but just as importantly, see which perspectives coincide with ours, or if a particular aspect of the subject is under-reported and perhaps we could write an article to fill the void for readers. When we read articles by others, we should pay attention to:
  • What are others writing about the topic? 
  • Are all perspectives adequately explored?  
  • Was the article well written? 
  • Did the article have good images, videos or other visuals? 
  • Do you think you could write a better article? 
Curious, Researching or Avoiding Writing? 

Studies on curiosity conclude that there is both good and bad curiosity.  Bad curiosity for a writer is spending too much time reading or researching and not enough time writing.  Another aspect is comparing.  While all of us would like to present our information in the best possible manner, comparing ourselves to other writers can create one of the main reasons for writer's block - perfectionism and the fear of inadequacy.


I get emails and comments from other writers asking how I find a fresh approach to the same topic.  Some days, I do get stuck, or think I've said it all.  When I feel stuck, I remember that writing is my job, then I look to my Muse Board for inspiration or just a reminder. One of my favorites; prominently displayed and done in 36-point calligraphy, might inspire you to write through the blocks.




When you think a subject has been written about well, look to see if there are other aspects of the subject that are overlooked or under developed. That may just be a niche or category that needs your writing.  Readers and writers are curious for several reasons.  A reader may need information more from necessity than curiosity; however, curiosity and need drive people to find information online. What are people curious about; what do they need to know, and what is a relevant topic for you to explore? People are curious about:
  • Other people 
  • Famous people 
  • Good food, good books, or good movies 
  • What is the market doing? 
  • Why does the economy suck? 
  • Why is the moon in Jupiter and how am I on the cusp? 
  • Why do we pollute the earth? 
  • Why does my faucet leak? 
  • What is love? 
  • What is my purpose?  
  • How can I write better? 
This list could be an entire article.  However, as a writer, you know what you are passionate about and that passion, interest and curiosity will come through to your readers, and they will start following your writing. 


Satisfying Curiosity:  The Health Benefits

When we are curious and researching for our articles, our brains are active.  The brain releases Dopamine and Serotonin during this type of  activity.  These brain chemicals then register as a pleasurable and satisfying feelings. In addition, curious individuals lived longer than those who were content with their current awareness and labeled themselves as non-curious in a study of older Americans.  

When we are curious about the topic, we view it differently.  We take the time to look for the who, why, when, where and how of the topic.  As writers, we can then capture the subject from multiple perspectives and add just the right element of new to any topic. 

Still Stuck?
 
Then think about what grabbed your attention today, or what you were curious about - politics, news, weather, fashion, children or writing better articles.  Any question that bubbles up in your brain will be interesting to someone else. These questions and topics are percolating in the readers mind right now; so give them the information  they want to read from your authentic and unique perspective. For a writer, moving from curious to writing the article, ask yourself the following:

  • Would even my friends put the article down as boring?
  • Is it a fresh and unique perspective on the subject?
  • Is it readable, enjoyable and informative?
  • Do I have enough enthusiasm about the subject to write a good article? 
You are a writer.  Therefore, pick your topic, research the subject, create a draft, revise it, edit and proof it.  Then publish it.  After all, we have so much more available today to showcase our writing than the chisel and stone.
 




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Voices from the Heart: A collection of short stories and poems - Kindle edition by William Power. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Amazon Kindle special countdown deal $.99: Voices from the Heart: A collection of short stories and poems - Kindle edition by William Power. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Alliteration: Attracting and Appealing to the Audience


“Writers write well-written words of wisdom, wit and wonder. Who knew it would be this wearisome waiting on wages?”  ~Marilyn Davis


Does it Articulate, Animate or Just Plan Annoy Your Audience?

Titles are the first chance you have to entice your audience to read. "Alliteration is a device that many writers employ to create a treasure trove of tried-and-true, bread-and-butter, bigger-and-better, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, do-or-die, footloose-and-fancy-free, larger-than-life, cream-of-the-crop titles."  Edwin Newman quoted by Jim Fisher in The Writer's Quote Book: 500 Authors on Creativity, Craft, and the Writing Life. Rutgers University Press, 2006)

Alliteration, when used sparingly  is one of the many effective ways to draw your readers to your article and give them an opportunity to read the rest of your content.  After all, it doesn't matter if you have a killer sentence at the end if no one reaches that point.


Some authors and writers have a general idea of what they want to write and use a working title before finalizing it when the article is finished.

Others create their article around a few well-chosen words because they know the title is good. Still, titles pose a challenge. Toby Fulwiler and Alan R. Hayakawa, writing in The Blair Handbook,  list the following as ways to hone in on your title.

•    Use one strong short phrase from your paper
•    Present a question that your paper answers
•    State the answer to the question or issue your paper will explore
•    Use a clear or catchy image from your paper
•    Use a famous quotation
•    Write a one-word title (or a two-word title, a three-word-title, and so on)
•    Begin your title with the word On
•    Begin your title with a gerund (-ing word)

Alliteration in the Body

No, I'm not going to reduce this to some 8th-grade locker room discussion or turn into a 30s sportscaster.  However, alliteration is rampant in each; Texas Tornados, Pittsburgh Penguins, or "the frenzied fans flocked to the player's locker room for authentic autographs." While these limited examples prove the point, let's talk about the body of the article, not sports.

Domey Malasarn, a writer of prose has said, “I have used it on occasion myself in places where I thought it was helpful. For example, if I had a sentence like ‘Alfred was furious.’ I might revise it to “Alfred was angry.” because to me it pairs the subject of the sentence with his emotion a little more powerfully.”

Remember that alliteration is as much about the feel of the words as it is the repetition of a specific letter.  JK Rowling uses alliteration in character names as well as anyone.  Who can forget?

·         Helga Hufflepuff
·         Rowena Ravenclaw
·         Godric Gryffindor
·         Salazar Slytherin

Think it's only for kids?  Hemingway, Capote and Fitzgerald used alliteration in passages:

·         "Women and kids were in the carts crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles."

·         "Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat."

·         "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Don't be Gawky, Glib or Gimmicky:  Rouse Your Readers

When used effectively, alliteration conveys images and emotional appeal for the reader.  When used as a gimmick, it distracts. Words produce sounds, and those sounds help your reader stay engaged.


So, while I'm waiting on wages, I'd welcome worthwhile comments, critiques and counsel. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Small Towns: Big Inspirations

“Living in a small town...is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you. People in large towns are like only-children.” ― Joyce Dennys, Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945


Irritated or Inspired? 

I got an email the other day from a friend who, after years of rejections for his novel, got an offer. We made plans to celebrate at our favorite coffee shop on the square. We do not do Starbucks for our serious writer moments.  Not that we are opposed to Starbucks, it’s just that our little Inman Perk with its plank floors and piano in the back of the shop feels, smells, and oozes creativity whether writing or art.   


My friend was running late, so rather than be irritated, I looked to see what was happening at the shop. 

On any given day, the Perk serves students researching a paper, reporters grabbing a quick cup before interviewing a city employee or Ulli Chamberlain, who started painting in earnest after retiring. 

I like her approach to art, inspiration and imagination.  Brandee A. Thomas interviewed Ulli, who believes that coloring books, with their pre-designed images, stifle creativity in children.  

“They destroy confidence to create by oneself.  We’re basically saying you’re too stupid to create something on your own”, said Chamberlain.  Now she is an advocate for personal inspiration and creativity. 

Hometown Creativity

Around 1952, I had my first spend-the-week with my Grandmother.  While we were picking tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, she told me that we had a big night ahead of us. When we got inside, she started making fried chicken and let me select the special tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad. I was so excited that I could help with this decision. After we fixed our meal, she let me help her pack the picnic basket.  

I couldn't imagine where we would go for a picnic as it was getting dark outside.  She just smiled and said, "Let's go have an adventure and watch Jack and the Beanstalk." If I had thought about it, I might have questioned her as there was no movie theater in Mellott, Indiana in 1952. 

However, we got the basket, some blankets and started walking down the main street.  As we neared an open field, I saw cousins, aunts and uncles, and what I thought must be the whole town, sitting on blankets gazing at sheets strung from trees - Mellott's answer to a movie theater. Finding the perfect spot wasn't a problem; Mellott only had a population of 197 in 2010.  


It isn't hard to socialize with that many people, either.  Just check your Facebook friends; I'm sure it is at least an equal number. However, people did more than socialize in that small town; they had conversations.  We asked about people's health, the crops and what was going on in their lives.  We also listened. 

Although my hometown of Gainesville, Georgia is 176% larger than Mellott, it still has that same feel on First Fridays.  From 6 PM to 10 PM, people sit on blankets, lawn chairs, drink tea and have conversations while waiting on the entertainment.   Certainly, there are those that focus intently on their phones playing mindless games of Match 3, but for the most part, people talk to one another. 

Conversations: Pick up a Thread and Go with It

The coffee shop is also a place where conversations take place.  We all mingle, move tables and chairs to create larger groups, share dictionaries, or sometimes just yell, “What’s a word for…” and wait for the various responses.  

A love of words is reinforced with all the dog-eared novels of another age stuck between the cushions of an old velvet sofa or the magazines with pages ripped out for later reading.  I'm often reminded of the Friends TV set without the canned laughter and drama. 

With a cup of coffee and time to kill before my friend arrived, I watched people writing, laughing and talking.   I took the opportunity to conduct one of my random Davis Polls.  People are not hesitant to share information in small towns, so thinking of my friend’s insecurities before publication, I asked, “Who is insecure in their writing?”

Susan, a student at Brenau University, looked relieved to stop writing and said, "I'm scared this paper will not get me the grade I need.  I like my subject and I've done in-depth research, but my professor is such a Grammar Nazi that I end up with a poorer grade for mistakes." 

Seven women sharing one laptop started laughing.  One decided to respond saying, “Creating a newsletter may not seem like real writing to some, but we take pride in creating informative pieces.”   

The reporter asked me if I was eyeing his job or just gathering material for myself.  Although I did not know him, we joined tables and started talking about how we are inspired to write. We decided that  inspiration comes from observation and perspective and a willingness to put those thoughts and feelings on paper. Beyond those, we have to find the courage to show it to someone or override our insecurities and publish it. 

Shrink the Size and Expand Your Inspiration 

I lived in Washington, DC for fifteen years; not a city known for its small town feel, yet there were shops, friendly markets and quaint retail establishments where people were willing to have conversations.  

I've used some of those recollections in articles and my memoir. It's not the size of the city, but a willingness to interact with people that gives us inspiration.   

You may get some curious looks if you start engaging people in conversations, or feel uncomfortable the first few times you try it, but you may just get the inspiration you need for your next article. 

So rather than being irritated that your friend is late, checking your emails, or playing a game, engage people in a conversation. Try it, there may just be something said that inspires your next stellar piece.