Something Weird to Consider

On the radio this morning they mentioned that Aug. 21 was the anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood.

I suddenly realized that both Alaska and Hawaii became states during my lifetime.  Wow.  You just always think of states as having been around forever.

‘Forever’ just got a whole lot shorter.


Say What?

I worked with someone once who did not have strong English/vocabulary skills.  Our boss would dictate memos about his client meetings, and she or I would transcribe the tape.  (Yes, ‘in the old days’ people dictated stuff onto tapes that got transcribed.  Imagine that.)  The problem was, our boss had an excellent vocabulary and used it when he spoke, but she couldn’t always recognize the word he was using.  When she heard a word unfamiliar to her, she would take her best guess at how it was spelled and let the computer ‘suggest’ possibilities.  But the computer was limited – it had no way of knowing the context or what word was wanted, so it just offered anything spelled similarly.  She would choose one at random, assuming it was correct.

When she would type up tapes for him, I always proofread them before they got filed, to hopefully correct any errors.  She would get so mad at me for laughing, but truly some of the word substitutions were hilarious.  Could you not laugh at “historical performance” being transformed into “hysterical performance”?

People are fond of relying on their computers to catch mistakes of spelling and grammar, and over the years the machines have become better at the job.  Even so, they don’t know what you mean to say, only what you seem to be saying.  Then they give you a ‘best guess’.  As the writer, it is your job to know you are using the correct words.  If you have any doubt whatsoever, look it up.  Does the definition given match what you meant?  If it doesn’t, then possibly you have a word that sounds or is spelled similarly, but not the word you mean.

Try variations of spellings until you find the one that matches.

You can also look at synonyms to sometimes find alternative words that more closely describe what you intend.  Just be careful, since not all synonyms are created equal.  They are ‘similar’ in meaning, but not necessarily identical.  You may need to check the meaning of the synonym before you use it, to be sure it expresses what you want.

Good luck, and may your next hysterical drama…er, historical drama be a bestseller.

Write What You Know, or Knew, or Find Out

You may have heard the writing advice ‘write what you know’, and you may have heard arguments for and against that idea.  But, perhaps, we need to look at the advice with a more inclusive eye.

Most writers are at least 18 years old before they fully start ‘working’ at writing.  They may have dabbled with it before then, but as they grew to adulthood, they began to realize that it was something that was a part of them, and that they wanted to be an active part of their lives.  That being the case, they have had 18 years (or more) of experiences in their lives.  Of course, not all are remembered, but many are.

This doesn’t mean just the experiences they personally had, but also the ones they witnessed.  Why is this important?  Those experiences can provide fodder for the writer’s story.  Some experiences can be plucked from our history ‘as is’ and presented as belonging to a character.  Some will require tweaking to make them fit into our story scenario.  Either way, they can provide nuance to a character, and make them a little more real.  This doesn’t mean write about yourself or pretend the character is you.  The character just happens to have an experience that you’ve had, making it easier to describe how the events play out and what the character feels before, during and after it happens.

Many people have been in a romantic relationship, and many have broken up with someone – or been broken up with by another person.  That helps give the writer perspective on the deep feelings and thoughts a person has at a time like that.  It wasn’t the same for every single couple who broke up, so it shouldn’t be the same every single time you write it in a story.

Similarly, we can get ideas for creative events to include in stories.  A writer can always use activities in their stories that every other writer also uses, but why?  If none of us are living exactly the same life as the billions of other people on this planet, then why should our characters?

Are you really into video games, but you also are an avid gardener?  Use that.  It can give your character more depth.

Did you once have a mouse die in the wall of your home, and the smell drove you nuts for over a week until the problem could be found and resolved?  Use that.

As a child, did you or your brother or sister decide to cut your own hair, to less than spectacular results?  How did the adults/your parents react?

Did you see someone fall asleep in class and witness the embarrassment when the teacher awoke them?

Did you try to fly home for Thanksgiving one year, but end up spending the entire holiday stuck in the airport without ever making it home?  Did you go on a long-planned trip to Disney World only to be sick the entire time and unable to enjoy it?  Did your weekend of planned sun and fun at the beach involve gray skies, high surf and a steady rain?

Don’t know much about 6-year-old kids?  Look around you and find some to observe (not in a creepy way – we don’t want to get you arrested).  How do they talk – how well has their vocabulary developed?  How do they move – what are they physically able/unable to do at that age?  How do they think/perceive – do they ask questions when told to do something, though you think the instructions were clear?  If you’re, say, at a park, and there are parents with those kids, talk to them and ask them questions.  Most parents enjoy talking about (or venting about) their kids.  Reading about 6-year-olds online as research can be useful, but even better is to actually see examples in person.  Many times research gives you generalities about things, not the specific details you might want.

Look at your past for stories or incidents that happened to you or someone else.  Then start looking around you at other people.  Notice physical traits (hairstyle, a limp, a mole on their cheek, their build), notice what they do and how they behave, study the way they move or talk, watch the choices they make.  There are people everywhere – on the street, in stores, in the car next to us on the road, on the train, at school, at work, sitting in the doctor’s waiting area, in elevators.  If the opportunity presents itself, maybe strike up a short conversation and learn a little more about them, or what you are seeing them do (maybe a teenage girl is sitting in the doctor’s waiting area and knitting – why?).

Depending on what you write, not all of it will be of use to you as source material, but you might find unexpected nuggets of gold if you keep sifting.  Just because you aren’t sitting at your computer/desk doesn’t mean you can’t work on your writing.

Just For Today

Just for today, let’s all try not to say anything mean, cruel, thoughtless or unkind.  Then, if we survive restraining our vitriol today, we can do it again tomorrow.  And the next day, and the next day, ad infinitum.

Who’s with me on this?

How To Be Inspired When Writing

  1. Try to go to bed
  2. Be incredibly busy with other stuff that must be done
  3. Need to go to school/work right now
  4. Be driving in your car so that you are unable to write anything down
  5. Decide to write on something other than your WIP (work in progress) [to get inspiration for your WIP]
  6. Plan to spend the entire day with family or friends
  7. Be trying to ‘sleep in’ on the weekend or a day off

See?  Easy.  Whenever it’s inconvenient, inspiration comes.