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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Hearing the Difference - IWSG February 2024

Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to this month’s co-hosts  Janet Alcorn, SE White, Victoria Marie Lees, and Cathrina Constantine.

Since I can’t say I’ve ever felt critical about an author’s webpage, I’m passing on this month’s question in favor of an update.

I wrote last month about the “Read Aloud” feature in word, and how it's helping me. It’s been such a success that after two passes through my most current project, I dared to ask a friend to beta read it. Before she left for a week sailing the Caribbean (insert envious sigh here), she’d plowed through most of it, calling me frequently to offer feedback. Other than multiple examples of missing end quotes and a couple of typos I didn't catch, her feedback has been positive and encouraging. Upon her return I’ll get her final analysis on the story.

As I suggested I would in last month's post, I’m now using “read aloud” to take a hard look at one of my earlier non-published books, which I haven’t edited with any seriousness since 2018. I love the story. Love it. But I crashed and burned querying and came to believe the book wasn’t ready, yet.

Conventional wisdom says leaving a project to rest for a while is a good thing. Perhaps leaving it to rest for a LONG while is better. I’m on my second “read aloud” edit and still believe in the novel. By listening to Word read to me, I’ve found places where I can tweak things to make them clearer, and where I've needed to cut to make the writing more concise. I always thought I was a better reader than listener. “Read aloud” has proved me wrong. But, the good news is that while I've found plenty that can use fixing, I’ve had more times in which I’ve found myself tickled, in a Holy Moly, I wrote this? kind of way. 

An author I love once said she didn't give up with her book because she refused to let something on which she worked so hard disappear into a drawer. I’ve got four somethings like that, two of which have yet to go through “read aloud” rigor.

Here’s hoping I’m not setting myself up for more crash and burn, but January was an optimistic month for me.

What has been your experience with the "read aloud" feature in word? What other editing tricks do you use?

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Voice of (New) Experience - IWSG January 2024

Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to this month’s co-hosts, Joylene Nowell Butler, Olga Godim, Diedre Knight, and Natalie AguirreTo read posts from other contributors, click here.

Happy New Year all!

Since I’ve had no experience with BookBub, I’m going to ignore this month’s question. Instead, I'll tell you about how my year ended with a good start.

Seems like I’ve been writing forever, never getting to where I want to be, but still plugging. A lot of it is my own fault in that I don’t push myself hard enough. But that aside, I’m aware I have a weakness with accuracy. No matter how I struggle to proofread—reading aloud, letting a manuscript rest, printing the piece out and using my red pen to mark it up, changing the font so things look different, I miss mistakes that make my work look amateurish. I overlook where “then” should be “than,” where “you are,” should become “you’re,” and where I say the same things three different ways when one would do. When proofing, my mind goes too fast. I know what I wanted to write and my brain assumes I wrote it. Even worse, I make typos while correcting the mistakes I discover.

I don’t know what took me so long. I’ve been aware of the “Read Aloud” feature in Word for years, but midway through December and half-way through an edit of my current manuscript, something made me start using it.

Holy Moly, what a difference a boring voice makes. With monotone computer woman droning at me, I catch mistakes because with her lack of inflection, she forces me to hear them. Whether it’s leaving out a comma (She doesn’t pause, so I stop and look.), catching where I’d changed a tense but left in “ing” instead of “ed,” hearing where a sentence is just plumb awkward, the list goes on and on. I go back and forth between being horrified at just how many mistakes there are, and grateful that finally, finally, I seem to have discovered the means with which to fix (most of) them.

It’s been a hallelujah, praise the Lord kind of few weeks for me—an early Christmas gift of confidence to think that maybe in this way, I can continue to improve my work. 

Once I get through my current manuscript, I’ll decide where it goes from there. While that’s happening, I have three other novels gathering dust in a proverbial drawer. I’m going to let computer voice have her way with them, too.

Do you use the "Read Aloud" feature in Word? What are your best tips for accurate proofreading?

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Inspiration from Whence it Comes. IWSG December 2023

Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex CavanaughThank you to December co-hosts C. Lee McKenzie, JQ Rose, Jennifer Lane, and Jacqui Murray  To read posts from other contributors, click here.

December question: Book reviews are for the readers. When you leave a book reviews do you review for the Reader or the Author? Is it about what you liked and enjoyed about your reading experience, or do you critique the author?

The fates have conspired against me in so many ways related to this month's IWSG, not the least of which included blogger taking artistic liberties with my layout. Earlier, a domain change caused Gmail to deliver three draft posts I emailed myself to my junk folder. Before I figured it out I thought I was going crazy. In the end, I decided this was the universe telling me my drafts didn’t add a lot of insight to the topic. It’s been a long time, but instead of answering this month’s question I’m posting a picture.

I’m not a fan of the cold but it offers its own gifts. Late afternoon at the reservoir is where I find them. Sometimes it’s a fiery show. Sometimes it’s a watercolor painting.  Almost always, the trip is worth it.

Wishing you the joy of light and the treasure of loved ones during the holidays.

Do you write online book reviews? How do you feel about them? Has blogger been naughty to you lately? Where do you see your best sunsets?

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

No "NaNovember" - IWSG November 2023


Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to November co-hosts: PJ Colando, Jean Davis, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diedre Knight. To read posts from other contributors, click here.

November question: November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

I love to scene storm. I get a kick out of writing a snippet around a required sentence or word. When I'm stuck for an idea I can compose a scene based on a photograph. Even when I stare at a blank page with no idea what to write I can usually come up with something readable. But writing fifty-thousand words toward a novel over the course of a (typically busy) month feels like an overwhelming challenge. Perhaps I’ve given it a passing thought but I’ve never seriously contemplated participating in NatNoWriMo.

For me, November isn’t about putting my head down and getting all the words out. November means hauling away the blanket of rust-colored pine needles coating the bottom of my driveway. It’s hickory nuts pinging off the garage roof, skittering down the slope and the pop-pop as cars hit the nuts that make it to the street. It’s about the turkeys who camp out at the edge of my yard, pecking at the smashed results. November means rare days when the afternoons air can still be warm. I return to a cold house after work and open up the windows to let the outside in before the sun sets early and the furnace kicks on. November means mornings when I gaze left as I drive down the street, hoping to see the reflection of burnished foliage on Lily Pond. When I’m lucky, I catch the rising sun burning off whisps of fog from around huge rock in the middle of the water. So many mornings I yearn to stop and take a picture. So many times in the past I have, but more often I don’t because I cut my five-minute commute too close.

November means pumpkins and candles and on weekends, the distant chatter of the announcers from the high school football field a mile away. It means ignoring the oak leaves drifting down because they won’t drop in earnest until after the first frost, and these days I have to school myself in patience. Back in the day, I dragged full tarps into the woods while my husband raked. Cleaning up our leaves was a grueling four-week, two-person operation. These days, I pay for a lawn crew to clean them up but they won't arrive until after all the leaves have dropped sometime well past Thanksgiving.

Ah yes, Thanksgiving. November used to mean methodically prepping for 20-30 people at our house for the holiday (another excuse not to do NaNo). We wrote chore lists for three weeks before, two weeks before and then daily “to-do’s” during turkey week. On T-Day those lists were timed to the hour. Now it means a simple food assignment to prepare ahead before driving to my brother’s and sister-in-law’s home, which happens to be the house where my brother and I grew up. Last year I went the night before and we all sat around their kitchen island prepping and talking. Other than the fact that being away from my home for a holiday Tim and I hosted for more than 30 years felt like an out-of-body experience, it was a lovely, joy-filled day. This year there will be newlyweds and also a new baby, and like last year, I expect after eating we’ll take a long walk around the town where we grew up. I’m looking forward to it.

So no, November has never meant NaNo for me and my guess is it never will. November means (ignoring leaves while) paying attention to the things I like about the season. This year, it brought an (early) bonus – which was this opportunity to write about them. 

See what I did there? I scene-stormed using the word “November.”

Monday, October 30, 2023

Of Wrong and Write

The sandstone courthouse stood high above the street, its doorway a yawning mouth framed by towering columns. Inside, steam heat blasted, radiators clanked and high heels clattered over worn black linoleum. As prospective jurors, we were herded into the courtroom where we gazed at the brown-tinged windows filtering light high overhead. Looking out we could only see sky. Bailiffs hollered names and numbers. We sat as directed on wooden benches while two opposing attorneys selected the jury.

It was a murder trial, I was elected a juror and without going into grisly details, it was the time I first learned the meaning of the word nuance.

For five days we listened to testimony while the suspect sat across from us, his face an expressionless profile, arms folded across his chest, legs shackled in silver chains. I couldn’t help thinking that a long time ago, this man was a baby who likely cooed and laughed. Now he stood accused of murder. Later, the prosecuting attorney provoked a similar sentiment when he circulated the high school picture of the seventeen-year-old victim. That photo replaced the horror pictures we had already seen with the vision of a lovely high school student, turning her into the girl next door, you know, the one your brother had a crush on.

After the closing statements, the jury sat around a dark stained table. A stocky white haired man slammed his hand down, convinced of guilt at the offset while the rest of us were determined to use all manner of fairness before reaching any conclusion. If we were to convict, there were three statutes under which the suspect could be found guilty. Two were obvious, one, more obscure and as we analyzed evidence we needed clarification on the third statute. Tearing a sheet of paper from a yellow legal pad, our foreman jotted, “Can we get a copy of the statute for Felony Murder?” and handed it to the bailiff to deliver to the judge. Shortly, the bailiff knocked on our door and instructed us to return to the courtroom.

Winding our way single file down a dimly lit hallway, we entered the courtroom, slid into squeaking wooden seats and gazed toward the bench. 

The judge spoke. “The jury has requested a copy of the statute of Felony Murder. This building has no copy machine therefore I cannot fulfill the request. The jury may return to the deliberation room.”

Nuance. Twelve members of the jury sat back at the rectangular table, flabbergasted that the antiquated courtroom didn’t house a copy machine, and due to the meticulous requirement of our legal system, that meant the judge could do nothing more than respond to our request the way it was written. As a group, we were irritated. We'd used the wrong word and we couldn’t move forward.

That experience, which occurred many years ago, reminds me of writing. The law leaves no room for leeway, and yes, perhaps writing offers more. But in the end, it’s in the details, the fine distinction, the exactness in which you form a sentence that leads the reader on, convinces them, and tantalizes. The wrong words shut a reader down just as one wrong word stopped the jury cold. “He walked down the hallway” provokes a yawn of boredom, whereas a sentence like, “Scuffing his feet, he ran his ruler across the beadboard paneling. We could hear him getting closer with each click,” makes the reader ask who “he” is and where is he going.

As a jury, we spent several more careful hours discussing the case. When that word copy derailed us, we moved to another part piece of testimony. We knew that the one word was an issue, but rather than waste time on it, we worked together to draw a clearer picture of other details related to the case, the same way when stuck, a writer moves on to a different part of the story.

When we were close to a verdict we returned to the word copy, sending a second note back to the judge: “Could you please read us the statute on Felony Murder?" Once again the bailiff knocked on the door and escorted us down the hallway. Again we took our assigned seats and waited expectantly for the judge. After reading our question out loud, the judge opened a thick, leather bound book and read the statute. The jury returned to the deliberation room. Within an hour, we had a verdict.

The right words will bring you home. When has a single word or scene stumped you?

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

My Inner Debate - IWSG October 2023


Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh. Thank you to the October co-hosts, Natalie Aguirre, Kim Lajevardi, Debs Carey, Gwen Gardner, Patricia Josephine, and Rebecca DouglassTo read posts from other contributors, click here. 

October question: The topic of AI writing has been heavily debated across the world. According to various sources, generative AI will assist writers, not replace them. What are your thoughts?

This month’s question reminds me of a conversation I had with a college professor last spring. He expressed profound disappointment that students use AI thinking they can bluff their way to good grades on their papers. He said he could usually tell when he read the final product. We talked about how, as AI takes a stronger hold in education and business, it will become harder and harder to discern the truth. 

Honestly, since then I haven’t delved deep enough into the topic but here is my naive and uneducated take. Imagine a piece of highway hotel room art. It fills a blank wall and brings color to a room. Maybe it hides a stain. It’s utilitarian. That said, it’s more than likely mass produced, whether by a machine or by someone creating the same piece over and over. The piece may be technically proficient. Some people may even like it. But it lacks depth and passion. It lacks emotion. It’s missing finesse.

Recently an author I follow used AI to create a sample story before critiquing it. The story was like the wall art. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. It even had an arc. But it was plodding and definitely without nuance. In my mind, a computer can't take the place of the intangibles inspired by our humanity (so far). Still, the exercise begs the question. Could a writer take a story originally created via AI and flesh it out, tweak it, give it subtlety and turn it into something that touches a reader? Could they use it as a jumping off point to create a masterful novel?

I don’t know enough to know, and it feels like cheating to me. That said, I'm talking about fiction here, which is all about entertainment. Maybe we're simply encountering the newest way to do a thing. It doesn't feel right to me, but I have to ask myself. If the end product triggers emotions and the reader feels fulfilled by the experience of reading, does it matter how the story is produced?

I confess. Writing this month's essay kind of felt like bluffing my way through a college paper without having done the reading (no AI involved). I am aware there are deeper issues related to the recently resolved writer's strike, labor questions, and the threat of AI eliminating jobs. I'm simply not well-read enough on the topic to address them. Keep that in mind and don't be too hard on me in your comments.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Happy Anniversary - IWSG September 2023

Welcome to IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh
Thank you to September’s co-hosts: J Lenni Dorner, Sonia DograPat Garcia , Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen. and Meka James. To find posts from other contributors, click here.

This month's topic: The IWSG celebrates 12 years today! When did you discover the IWSG, how do you connect, and how has it helped you? Feel free to elaborate on your connection with the IWSG as we celebrate another milestone.

After reading today’s optional question, I scrolled back over the years to the first IWSG post I wrote twelve years ago for that inaugural IWSG. That summer we’d been preparing for our only child to go to college and I felt like life was running away from me. Other than blogging and some freelance work, I’d given myself a break from writing for a couple of months. But now our girl was gone and I struggled to get back to my writing routine.  My topic was one most of us could write about today, the push-pull about how to prioritize writing time when the rest of our lives drive us in other directions—pretty much a universal theme.

I’m fairly incredulous when I think of how my life has changed since that first essay, but one thing that has remained consistent over the years has been a monthly reminder to write an IWSG post. No matter how I’m feeling about writing or life in general, I make myself sit down and pound out a piece. To my knowledge, I’ve never missed one. Twelve times twelve. A hundred and forty-four essays. I may not have achieved other writing goals, but at least I know have staying power.

But IWSG means more to me than sticking it out over the long haul. When I’ve been anxious, frustrated or uninspired, individuals in this group have provided thoughtful suggestions and challenges to get me moving again. At the lowest time of my life I wrote a post and the sincere comments I received helped me inch forward through my worst days ever. There is a kindness in this community for which I am always grateful. And while I’ve only participated in one anthology (The Insecure Writers Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond), I was tickled to see my name in print there. Even now I'm proud that my essay demonstrates a clear voice.

IWSG is all about community. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this time to extend my thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for founding and growing IWSG to the online writing resource that it is today. And to the administrators and all those who have co-hosted over the years, please know how much I appreciate your efforts.

As we all know, writing can be a lonely practice. For me, IWSG means once a month, I see beyond my keyboard, beyond my quiet house to all those folks putting their unique thoughts out to the IWSG world and find comfort in knowing I am one of many.

What has IWSG meant to you?