Monday, April 28, 2014

Making the Time to Write

I am pleased to welcome Nikolas Baron as a guest blogger today. Nick works for _Grammarly_, an automated proofreader and "personal grammar coach." I have not personally used this program yet, but I encourage you to go check it out. To learn more about Nick, read the Bio below the article.

Making the Time to Write
by Nikolas Baron 

The Inspiration

Recently I started reading Time to Write: Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing into Your Busy Life by Kelly L. Stone, a book I think all writers should pick up. Whether you’re already writing full-time or you desperately want to start, this book can help get you on the right track.

I’ve already learned that you have to have “the burning desire” to write to keep yourself motivated and driven toward your goals. But you also have to realize that you’ll never have the time you think you will. There will never be a span of a few months where all of your activities require less time than normal. There will never be a time where you can sit for days writing while you’re working full-time, trying to clean your house, and finally organize all those bills. You have to take a chance, cut out some TV time, and get to work.

The Reality

Making the time to write is hard. While you support your writing habit by working at a full-time job, or freelancing, or walking dogs, you must also get some work done. I’ve found that the life of a writer is consumed by all the ordinary tasks in addition to working extremely hard on improving and getting your writing done. I’m always on the lookout for tools, books, or advice that helps me write better, faster, or with more oomph.

In addition to the Stone book I mentioned above, I frequently like to use Grammarly to help me with my writing. Grammarly gives me the freedom to use it whenever and wherever I want, and it constantly looks for ways to improve my grammar, style, and word choice. I like that the proofreading tool can help me clean up my writing quickly and accurately. When I’m trying to push myself to spend more time writing, I sometimes have to take a step back and realize that writing is not necessarily putting pen to paper. Sometimes, it involves proofreading and editing.

The reality is that many online tools like Grammarly or books like Stone’s can help you save time in your day to allow you to have just a few extra precious minutes for writing. They can inspire you, motivate you, and remind you that writing is truly something you love and are willing to sacrifice for. Save time where you can and make sure that you always make time for one of your true loves, writing.

The Goal

One of the best suggestions I’ve been given is to make a schedule. Making a schedule not only commits your time to writing but allows other members of your home to see when you will be locked away in your writing pit. It also gives your brain a time to know that at 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, you’ll be writing. The familiarity and constantly keeping up with the schedule will put you in a habit that helps improve your writing while getting you to finally make time for it. You’ll find that it’s easier to start once you have an official time in place to meet every week with your computer, pen and paper, or typewriter.

The goal is to write more in general. You don’t have to be slaving away at ten pages a day as well as editing to feel successful. The goal is to make the time to fulfill your “burning desire” to write or read to help your writing or proofread. You don’t have to write every day but solidifying a time every week will force you to keep yourself honest and help you write more. If you want to be a successful writer, you have to be willing to take time out of your day, put down the mint chocolate chip, and write.

Nikolas Baron discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I, Me, Mine?

The title of this blog entry is the title of one of my favorite songs by George Harrison. It is also the title of Harrison's autobiography. The song refers to the ego in a Hindu context. However, that is not the subject of this blog entry. Deal with it.

My mini-rant today is about the incorrect use of the pronouns "I" and "me." By way of demonstration, consider these examples:

(1) Mary and I went to the store.
(2) The audience gave Mary and I a standing ovation.
(3) Mary and me went to the store.
(4) The audience gave Mary and me a standing ovation.

Do you know which of these sentences are correct and which are incorrect?

I think the dilemma comes for most people because they grew up being corrected when they used "me" where "I" would have been correct. For some reason, children want to say things like, "Will Mike and me be able to go to the movie?" or "Sally and me want cake for dessert." Immediately, the adult in their life scolds them: "Mike and I", "Sally and I."

So we grow up thinking that using "I" instead of "me" is correct, educated, and desirable. This leads to statements like (2), above: "The audience gave Mary and I a standing ovation." This is incorrect. The correct way to say this is shown in (4): "The audience gave Mary and me a standing ovation."

One trick that has always worked for me is when you have a construction such as "Mary and I/me" simply remove "Mary and." In example (2) the sentence now reads "The audience gave I a standing ovation." You wouldn't say or write that, would you (at least I hope not)? Do the same with (3) and you have "Me went to the store." Um, no. That doesn't sound right, and it isn't right.

That's because we seem to be better at using "I" as the subject of a sentence, and "me" as an object of a verb or object of a preposition. We get confused when dealing with "Mary and I" or "Mary and me."

The next time you start to say or write, "Everything is working out great for Mary and I..." think for a second. Would you say, "Everything is working out great for I"? No, you wouldn't, because "for" is a preposition, and "I" is the subjective form of the pronoun. Therefore, "me" -- the objective form -- would be the correct form to use. That same rule applies when you throw Mary into the mix.

And Happy Birthday to George Harrison, who would have been 71 years old today. You left us too soon. We miss you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Publishing Options: Pros and Cons

Recently a friend asked me if I could explain the "differences" between having a book published with a traditional publishing house and self-publishing that same book.

Having done both, I thought I would offer some very basic information that might be helpful to those who have no experience with either. I apologize if this seems over-simplified. Please feel free to leave comments!

Published by Sylvan Dell Publishing

(1) You have to get a publisher to accept your manuscript. This can take years.
(2) Before acceptance, a publisher may require you to make changes to your manuscript that you are reluctant to make.
(3) After publication, the publisher keeps a percentage of the money earn on your book.
(4) If you receive an advance against royalties and your book does not earn back that amount of money, a publisher might require you to pay that money back to them.

Published by Globe Pequot Press
(1) The publishing house distributes and markets your book to a much wider audience than you could do yourself. A big publisher might also pay your way to events and arrange paid appearances for you.
(2) When your manuscript is accepted, you typically get an advance against royalties (ranging from as little as $500 to as much as $10,000 for one book).
(3) Your book benefits from professional editing provided by the publishing house.
(4) If your book requires illustrations, the publisher hires an illustrator, choosing from a huge number of qualified artists.
(5) Once your book has earned back its advance, you continue to earn royalties (usually 10% and up, depending on how many copies the book sells).
(6) Being published by a traditional publisher gets your book into libraries, schools, and other places that do not accept self-published books. There is a certain "level of respect" that comes with being traditionally published. Your book has been vetted by professionals. A publisher has put money behind it. This matters to many consumers, especially schools and libraries.


Self-Published by Scotti Cohn and Christina Wald
(1) You pay to have the book published. This can be quite expensive, especially if you also elect to hire an illustrator, editor, or proofreader.
(2) If your book requires illustrations, you either have to do them yourself or get someone else to do them. This could be expensive, depending on what you decide to do.
(3) You market and distribute the book as best you can, at your own expense. If you decide to take your book to an event, you may have to pay vendor fees and, of course, cover your own expenses.
(4) You may have trouble getting your book into libraries, schools, and other places that do not accept self-published books. This reduces your reading base, which can impact sales.

(1) You can publish your book as soon as you are ready to publish it. No submission process.
(2) You have complete control over what goes into the book and how it is presented.
(3) You get to keep most (if not all) of the proceeds from sales.

I put this together pretty quickly, but I think I covered the most important aspects of the topic. However, I welcome any thoughts and comments from blog readers!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Sentence Fragment Thing

Okay, yes, I am ranting about sentence fragments AGAIN, just like I did back _in July_. Clearly the author of the self-published novel I am currently reading missed that blog post. What? You say he never saw it because he is one of the millions who never read this blog? Oh. I see.

But you are reading this right now, so while I've got you, I'm going to take another opportunity to air my point of view.

In July, I posted links to several sites where you could read about sentence fragments. Here they are:
As I mentioned in July, I believe sentence fragments can be effective tools in a piece of writing, for example, when the writer wants to emphasize or dramatize something. The sentence fragment acts like a "punch line" in a joke. The reader instinctively notices it because "it's not right" (not a complete sentence), and the message hits home.

Another reason a writer might deliberately use sentence fragments is to build tension.

All of this refers to narrative, not dialogue or character thoughts. We all speak and think in sentence fragments. I have no problem with that.

Let's get back to the narrative part of a piece. A sentence needs to have two things: a subject and a predicate. The subject is usually a noun (with or without modifers). The predicate needs to include a verb in its basic form: past, present, or future. The sentence also needs to express a complete thought.

The bottom line here is that a sentence fragment cannot stand alone. To the ear, it *sounds* like it is unfinished, like something more is needed to complete the statement. For example, here is a sentence fragment: birds flying south for the winter. This could be the title of a painting, no problem. However, it is not a sentence. To make it a sentence, you could write "Birds fly south for the winter" or "Birds are flying south for the winter" or "Birds were flying south for the winter" or "Birds flew south for the winter." You could also write "He saw birds flying south for the winter." But birds flying south for the winter cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is a sentence fragment.

I do not consider myself some kind of grammar "purist." I simply think authors should realize the effects their wording choices have on readers. There may come a time when sentence fragments are so commonly used in writing that nobody notices any longer. I don't think that time has arrived yet.