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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Writing: Are You Generous or Miserly?

 "It was said of old Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, that she never puts dots over I's to save ink.  ~Horatio Walpole

What is Generous Writing?

Generous writing is my term for pieces that give more than the quick information or just the facts; it is the creative aspect of non-fiction.  Writing today has to be more than simply a word count and quantity, it has to be the word and content quality as well. These articles include the story behind the words, and that takes time, energy, and effort on our part to create a meaningful, value added article.

Writing about Any Topic: Miserly or Generous?

Are you a miser like Scrooge in your writing? Most of us know the story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. The main character, Scrooge, with his Bah - Humbug attitude embodies selfishness, indifference, and miserly behaviors.

When you are writing, do you think the facts speak for themselves, and you met a word count? These attitudes might be miserly.

Scrooge’s transformation in the story helps him become generous and giving, and he learns to have an emotional connectedness to people in his life. These attitudes embody a generous writer, also.

For example, who is Horatio Walpole? Certainly his quote adds an element of truth via humor to this piece, so in the spirit of the article, I'll give the readers further information from a generous perspective.

1.    Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 1717 – 2 March 1797) was an English art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.

2.    He is now largely remembered for Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south-west London; reviving the Gothic style some decades before his Victorian successors and for his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto

3.    Walpole's numerous letters are similarly useful as a historical resource. In one, dating from 28 January 1754, he coined the word serendipity which he said was derived from a "silly fairy tale".

4.    The oft-quoted epigram, "This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel", is from a letter of Walpole's to Anne, Countess of Ossory, on 16 August 1776. The original, fuller version appeared in a letter to Sir Horace Mann on 31 December 1769: "I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel – a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept."

By providing links, if readers want to learn more, it is convenient for them to get added value information. 

Connecting to More Readers

We create a connectedness to the reader when we write generously. Start out by thinking about the topic, subject or idea from a reader’s standpoint as one criterion for your writing. How can this information be useful, entertaining, or of assistance to others?
  1. What might be helpful about the topic, subject or idea?
  2. Are there multiple aspects to the topic? 
  3. What perspective of the topic has universal appeal?
  4. Can you reflect on a particular aspect from your creative perspective?
  5. Why is this information important?
  6. What do you as the writer consider the most important aspect of the subject?
  7. Is this timely information?
  8. Are you writing a seasonal, redundant or evergreen article?
  9. Where is media to support or generously enhance this piece?

While you might be interested in the topic, learning how many others have written about your subject is critical. Therefore, determine:

      Who else is writing about this topic?
      Are there perspectives not written that appeal to you?
      What about this topic touches you enough to generously write about it?

Why Generous Writing Rewrites Them All

Many writers only view the poles of a subject – pro and con – positive and negative or right and wrong. Generously writing gives you room to explore the gray areas of the subject more completely and gives readers a sense of your professionalism and concern in your writing.

Journalism encourages writers to cover the five “W's” and one “H” word to create written columns.  This same advice works for articles as well.  Make sure you include:

Keep in mind that using these in a generous piece is not always obvious but informative. Answering these questions within the context of your article is the easiest and most reliable way to give your readers abundant information.

A great comment and compliment that I get is, "I didn't know that, what an interesting fact"  because I know that my readers were entertained, educated or enlightened.

Generous: It Is More than Your Opinion

Generous writers link information. Yes, you are a writer, and you will have an opinion. However, a generous article will offer the reader other information. Adding extra information demonstrates your consideration to the reader.

You will benefit from repeated views and attract followers if they know you add value through additional links, videos or quotes.

Readers Learn to Trust Your Writing

Readers begin to trust that you give them additional information in your articles, narrowing their searches for the extras.
  1. How do you include the additional information and still write it from your perspective?
  2. How can you include this other information without a copy paste of someone’s words?
  3. What did you as the writer learn from others about your chosen subject?
  4. How did this information influence your perspective and writing?
Then give readers links to other experts.  Learning to link, creating an information exchange within your article satisfies this.

Not Your Average Google Search

Although I liked the quote, I knew nothing about the writer, Horace Walpole. I like accurate sources; I like added information, so I use several searches for most of my information. I often find little known and interesting information on Google Scholar. The other nice thing about Scholar is creating alerts for topics that interest you.

Depending upon the approach and tone in your writing, using journals, scholarly insights, and obscure information may just make your articles more interesting and generous. Generous articles are also creative.  We can be creative using:
  • Metaphors
  • Stories
  • Analogies
  • Compelling Life Examples 
When you approach any article from your unique life experience, perspective or knowledge, it makes the subject exceptional and distinctive. These life observations, remarks and interpretations of your subject can add value and are a generous inclusion in your article.

Was I Generous or Miserly?

With this article, I have to consider which perspective I have written from – generous or miserly. I do not believe I was miserly with my information. 

Therefore, I believe that this qualifies for generous, and unlike the miserly Duchess of Marlborough, I care not for how much ink I used to write this.

Scrooge: Wikimedia Commons
Strawberry Hill Library: Wikipedia
Five W's and One H: Marilyn Davis using SmartArt
Google Scholar Example: screen shot

Writing with fountain pen and ink:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Words Wisely Chosen: But Are They Yours?

“A word is not the same with one writer as it is with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” Charles Péguy, Basic Verities, Prose, and Poetry

Are You Playing a Shell Game with your Readers?

Some writers play a kind of a Verbal Shell Game with their readers by publishing an article as original when the words and thoughts are not theirs, but copied from others. 

It is rather like an ad that shows a beautiful young woman, flawless skin, not a wrinkle in sight selling yet another “guaranteed to take 10 years off your face” product.  The product name has an asterisk next to it.  I have to endure multiple pitches before I reach the disclaimer stating, "Results Not Typical."

I have spent several minutes and countless heartbeats longing for that panacea for all the years of ill treatment of my face. Do not do that kind of thing to your readers.  They deserve your honest article.   
When You Cannot Deliver, Do Not Publish

There are just going to be days that every writer either is not inspired to write or has too much going on in their heads to write a quality article.  On those days, simply jot down the good ideas, sentences or titles that you can use another day.

Sites want Original Content, Not a Cut and Paste

I have read articles that I know are a composite or merging from several writers.  We all use language in ways that are particular to our writing style: specific words, sentences, and paragraphs sound like us. 

When you read an article that changes syntax or grammar, sentence structure, language, and style, it is legitimate to question whether the writer did not just lift some online information hoping to get something published that day.

Some writers get desperate and start reading about a subject they think they can write about, and before too long; they are copying and pasting.  Some justify this practice as “I just have it on my computer for inspiration” and then create a composite page. I refer to these as the mixed bag page.  No, you will not find that in the Urban Dictionary, it is just what I call something that reads false or fused together from several writers. While we all read and may reference other articles that validate or support our original work, cutting and pasting is theft.

Do not be concerned if you do not create a new page every day.  It is better to sleep on your article and write it tomorrow than to illegally borrow from another. You will gain a reputation for honest, factual, authentic and original pieces if you let your ideas gel for a day or so and then come back to write.

Patch Writing Is Also an Issue

Just what is patch writing? The Urban Dictionary defines it as:
·         Taking large portions of source material and cutting and pasting into another article
·         Multiple quotations from other's writings inserted to beef up an article
·         Copying research and white papers and then writing minimal original copy to create an article

It can be as simple as writing what The Bedford Handbook for Writers calls "paraphrasing the source's language too closely." (477).  It is every bit as dishonest as cutting and pasting without a link to the source or attribution or giving credit to another writer or site.

Outright Plagiarism

Plagiarism defeats your purpose in claiming to be a writer.  I have found multiple examples of my original materials on various sites by using Copyscape. This site also offers advice on what to do if you should find your original writing on another unauthorized site. Typically, I will check my articles about every two months, by simply choosing a sentence or two and then run it through Copyscape. 

When I have found my work elsewhere, I have written the administrator at some sites and referenced where the article originated, including the date of the first online entry.
In addition, you can file a notice of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement with search engines such as Google and other search engines to have the writing removed from their search results. Every writer needs to check his or her articles, blogs and pages periodically. 

Our ratings fluctuate with how often something shows up in searches.  If I think I am only writing for one site, and then my work shows up elsewhere; often times, poorly in a cut and paste manner, my reputation suffers.

If you want to be a writer – write, using your thoughts, ideas, words and phrases. Don't be afraid of writing using your authentic voice, words, tone and style.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Losing a Job is Not Like Misplacing Your Keys

Three years ago, I lost my job. That sounds like I was careless and misplaced it similar to keys. As if I could run around in frantic circles, or reflect on the last place I saw it, and then magically, I would find my job again. 

My job, after more than 20 years had ended. There, that is accurate. 

Jobs, unlike keys, are not hanging somewhere, just misplaced. When my job ended, this prompted me to look at other ways to advocate about recovery. I had opened and run a women’s recovery home and had learned to listen, and learned to write. I found that writing something served several purposes. 

One, to make sure that the writing reinforced what I was saying, as I could not remember if I had given the information to each woman verbally.

It is rather like teaching any subject; you have heard yourself say the same thing so many times, that you could forget if you said something important to this year’s students.

Writing, on the other hand, guaranteed that even if I missed telling someone, the women were exposed to the basic message was in their TIERS Personal Discovery Guides

The other self-serving motive was that I knew I could reference it should I need it for groups; or to avoid an argument if someone said, “You never told me that.”

Silent Telling: Diminishing the Shame and Defensiveness

Addiction carries so much shame and guilt that pointing out what needed to change verbally meant that many women heard this as simply an attack. They could not listen to or sometimes hear the similarities in my life and theirs if I told them. They could not hear the hope that I had for their changes and a new life because they got defensive. However, they could hear my message of recovery, redemption and renewal when they read.

When a woman no longer felt attacked, different or singled out, she could talk about her experiences, her dashed hopes and dreams, the demons in the night, within and without. I could learn by listening about her fear, her courage, her guilt; the things that she fervently wanted in life and what she was willing to face with bravery and dignity to accomplish a different life. I found a passage by  Holly Payne, The Sound of Blue: A Novel and had a poster made for my office.

“Where the rivers meet
you tell me of your black dreams.
Your memories make me uneasy.
But I listen because I know
my listening, like all other listening
allows you to heal.”

When I reflected on what I missed the most from the house closing, I remembered the listening. I was now writing; how could I incorporate the listening into that? Those two endeavors seemed almost contradictory; writing is conveying words, listening is hearing them spoken and sometimes, unspoken by others.

Muster the Courage and Show it to Someone

I took a gamble and showed my writings from the house to a friend, a published author of poetry. I was hesitant to show him as I suffer from poet envy.  He knew my fears of turning the writing over to someone to edit. However, editing is like believing you have a lovely tulip patch, full and rich with color, all standing erect and reflecting your care.

The editor knows that, just under the surface, there are hidden bulbs of wisdom.  They also know that the article needs pruning or may ask that certain passages are culled; others may need to be elaborated on to help the reader understand.   Then you have to spread the tulips and sentences out; giving each their prominent place in the garden or the article.

Readers can focus on a single passage or read the entire article; now exactly as you wanted it and thought it was before you gave it to someone to edit. I listened, I learned, and I ended up with what I wanted.

Listening to the Pain and the Promise

With the house closed, and my work edited, I reflected on how much I missed hearing about the pain of addiction and the promise of recovery. After twenty-one years of listening and talking; hearing and advising; surrounded most days by as many as seventeen women in various stages of recovery, my world became almost silent.

This same friend suggested that I write from my personal experience on sites like LinkedIn, joining groups about addiction. Testing the waters; seeing if I made sense to those in the field; listening to their responses to my words.

When I read the feedback, although positive, I knew that I was preaching to the choir as we say in the south. They too understood the untold misery of addiction and the rich rewards of recovery.
So could there be other avenues and opportunities to write about recovery?  Ezine Articles, Hub Pages, Wikinut and Sober World all seemed relatively safe formats to share the lessons and hear the responses from those either not influenced by addiction or for those wanting support for their recovery.

I took the advice of Neil Gaiman from The Graveyard Book, “Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”

Finding the Missing Key

Writing helped me find that  missing key; misplaced for a while when I thought it only had one door, the recovery house. 

When I changed my focus and perspective, I realized I had other opportunities. My good fortune was that the writing opened other doors, other vistas to spread the word of recovery and listen to the voices of those who were changing, growing and becoming their better selves in recovery.

Today, you have an opportunity to share your knowledge about your passions.  Just as I discovered doors opening on addiction and writing, you will also find yours. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Moving Beyond, "Write What You Know"

“Fear is felt by writers at every level. Anxiety accompanies the first word they put on paper and the last.” ― Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear

I Understood That Topic

Some subjects seem to write themselves. For more than twenty years, I have written about the panic, horrors, mistakes and self-hate in my addiction and the redemption and blessings of recovery.

I wrote of my fears, longings, and harm to others, as well as the joys and rewards of recovery. That writing came easily, without a thought as to whether I was writing something correctly.

It was not that I was dismissive of correct writing. However, I had lived my subject and as such, words for the experiences, methods, and outcomes flowed effortlessly when I put them to the page.

My clients and readers were appreciative and credited me with “knowing what it was like”, or “I can see you walked in my shoes.”

Many of my addiction articles are about the problem and a solution. I often write about changing aspects of personality or self-defeating behaviors. I then tend to add concrete solutions that if adopted, will demonstrate these changes.

Because of a particular article or my recovery curriculum, people sometimes assume then that I am this fearless, courageous person.

The reality is that I have many fears.

I have simply made a choice not to let my fears overcome my desire to expand, get better at and to share my opinions and experiences, not just about addiction and recovery, but about writing. 

New Topics

Over the last three weeks, I have written about ten articles on writing, all from my beginner’s viewpoint. I believe they have been helpful; however, this article is about overcoming my fear of writing perfectly and my newfound joy in writing about writing.

The path to inspiration starts
Beyond the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Just the Absolutely, Perfect, Spot-On, Right Word

There are moments when my fingers effortlessly move from one letter to the next, without thinking or editing or seemingly paying any attention to the black squiggly lines as I find the right words that make the page seem less barren and bleak.

Alternatively, as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

When I have those lightening moments, it makes the days of struggling to create exciting content about writing worthwhile.

There Is a Perfectly Good Word, and I Cannot Remember It

Some days the words do not flow; I struggle with joining them, or the words spread on the page and all I can do is change and fix the computer notices of incorrect writing. Those mistakes like:

• Long sentence
• Grammar
• Sentence fragment
• Split infinitives
• Verb-noun agreement
• Spelling mistakes

Although making fun of fishing for words, Jarod Kintz also makes a point, “Writers fish for the right words like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called. ” 

I Had to Stop Fishing and Write

I have a hard time picturing any of the great authors and writers sitting under the spreading chestnut tree with a dictionary, Thesaurus, or a rhyming dictionary, not to mention the extra quills and ink pots. I think that great writing is more than using a Thesaurus to make a point with the exact word.

It is using words in a way that give readers enough information that the combination of words move readers to realize “so-that-is-how-it-works”, or exclaim, “wow”, or that best of all experiences, the “aha moment”.

Simplicity in my choice of words does not mean I disrespect my readers and dumb it down. The goal is to work with readers, giving them unfussy, straightforward words and let the reader hear me speaking in their heads.
I Had to Stop Trying to Impress and Write

I still do not think that most great literature or writing uses obscure language, other than Thomas Pynchon and Ezra Pound. You know you are writing obscurely when it is necessary to have a dictionary to facilitate your work; The Ezra Pound Dictionary is the ultimate example.

I have a responsibility to present material in a way that makes reading easy, even for complex ideas.

I have yet, after forty-five years, to make it through Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Moreover, should any Pynchon readers care to comment, I have read the first 150 pages multiple times.

I have also driven through fog many times. While I know that there is an end to the density of that, I do not have faith or interest in seeing if I can come out of the Rainbow’s fog.

From a review: “Gravity's Rainbow is bone-crushingly dense, compulsively elaborate, silly, obscene, funny, tragic, pastoral, historical, philosophical, poetic, grindingly dull, inspired, horrific, cold, bloated, beached and blasted.”

There, I rest my case.

I Had to Collaborate and Connect with Readers

Writing and reading are a collaborative effort. One way to see if I have accomplished this symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship with readers is to read my work aloud before I publish it.

If I am stumbling over words, realize there should be a pause in the flow of words, or I have incorrectly connected two unrelated thoughts or clauses with a semi-colon, my readers will have the same problems.

Readers want a connection to the writer. Do they want to delve into my head? I am not sure; however, they do want something original from the mind of the writer that either resonates with them, prompts them to think, helps them with a problem or gives them a focal point for disagreement.

So How Was the Writing Today? 

I am enjoying the discipline and structure that writing about writing is giving me. It makes me think about all of the writers who have sat for endless hours stringing words together to entertain, educate or enlighten readers

I'm not as fearful of publishing this; it is encouraging, informative and entertaining.  So quoting Neil Gaiman, " “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” 

Another thing that is stressed is that we do not get good at writing without taking risks and writing.  Also stressed is that we get better by reading, so for now, I will read. 

I will analyze, scrutinize, and visualize what another wordsmith has written about, absorbing his or her words and learning. I may then realize that there is another stepping stone to inspire me to write fearlessly about more than what I know.