Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writing in Circles

I have recently come to discover the value of writer's circles. I've always loved finding a friend what will read what I've written and give me decent feedback (not what my roommates always say: "That's so good! I loved it!" regardless of the subject or content). There's something almost precious about a relationship of honest literary minds.

I think the best places to meet the kind of people you can make these relationships with are probably in English classes or at writing conventions. If these aren't available to you, there are a lot of writing groups online (I belong to one: Obscurity Knocks) in which you can post works and receive feedback, and one benefit of these groups is that you don't necessarily know that people who are reading your work, and then  you can be really honest.

Another good way to meet people is by starting a blog and reading other blogs. Since I've started this blog, I have discovered a lot of other writing blogs that I enjoy, specifically Creative Writing Corner and Writing Forward. If you engage in coversation with other writing bloggers, you'll fine a great group of people who are willing to read and comment on your work.

The benefits of having a writing circle, rather than reading and editing a whole project on your own are so numerous, it seems ridiculous to try writing without that circle. I'll just expound on a few of my favorite benefits:
  1. Having a different angle on your work. I was working on a screenplay last winter, and I got to a point where I couldn't decide whether to kill a certain character or not, so I called up one of my handy writer friends who had read a majority of the screenplay and asked him what he thought. He asked all the right questions: what would the other characters do without her? What could she add to the plot if she stayed alive? How would she die? and many other aspects I had not yet considered. I was then able to continue writing with the whole picture in mind.
  2. Discovering weaknesses that you didn't see yourself. I sent an excerpt of a novel to the same writer friend, and his feedback shocked me. The bad guy didn't really seem bad. This excerpt was supposed to be a scene where the villian's pure evil nature shrouded the reader in darkness. But it didn't do that for my friend (perhaps he is accustomed to evil?). He gave me suggestions, mainly pertaining to the rhetoric of the villian's dialogue and mannerisms, on how to make the villian feel more evil.
  3. Bouncing unstable ideas around. I've been considering a certain project for quite some time, but haven't been sure how to go about it. I've written a segment of what I imagine the project would be, and I've shared it with numerous people in an effort to see both how it is received and how I could expand it. Getting feedback on a budding project can sometimes be the life support that brings a project to fruition.
And let's not forget the benefit of fulfilling relationships and just plain having fun with people who share your interests. I encourage all writers to find others who are willing and have the ability to give useful feedback. If you have no one else, feel free to contact me!

Contemporary Media (and how to use it)

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about two corners of the rhetorical triangle: the rhetorical situation, and the rhetorical appeal. Today I would like to talk about the third corner: contemporary media.

There are four basic forms of media: traditional print, innovative print, traditional web site, and innovative web site. There are relatively self-explanatory, but I'll run through them quickly to answer any questions.

1. Traditional print: Words that appear on a page. Books. Newspapers. Newletters. Black and white words on paper. Simple enough.

2.  Innovative print: Words that work with pictures and style to make the page more interesting. This could mean different fonts, different print sizes, different colors, embossing, shadows, borders, images, and what-have-you. 

3. Traditional web site: The web site where you go and read from the page. You scroll through, and there aren't any videos, there's nothing to click, you can't add to the web site; it is just giving you information.

4. Innovative web site: A website that allows you to play with it: the information and design of the website is dependent upon what you put into it. These are websites where you can change the information or leave comments behind. Wikipedia, social networks and blogs are probably the most prevalent examples of innovative websites.

Now obviously, there are certain mediums that speak better to certain people. If you wanted to change how 80+-year-olds feel about the legal drinking age, it would probably be better to give them something to read than require them to join a web site where they are going to have to upload things, comment on other people's posts, input information, or change the user interface. However, if you were trying to get 14-year-olds to change their opinion about the legal drinking age, that is probably exactly what you'd want them to do: use an innovative web site. 

So deciding which media to use and when is something that all writers have to do. Recently, Stephen King published nearly an entire novel online only. There are actually many authors (not necessarily good ones) that publish almost exclusively online. There is a whole new era of text novels. And let's not overlook the use of Kindles and iPads. These are all combining different mediums together to publish many forms of writing. It's kind of exciting to be able to publish however we want, isn't it? 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The National Undergraduate Literature Conference

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the National Undergraduate Literature Conference at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. At this conference, undergrads present fiction, poetry, non-fiction and literary criticism in panels that deal with the same genre or similar subjects. There are also guest authors that come to address the students and revel in the literary richness of it all.

Two of the authors that came to visit this year were Lawson Fusao Inada and Ana Menendez. I very much enjoyed their writing, but they also gave interesting insights to the writing process.

Inada encouraged us to carry a notebook or anything to write down thoughts and inspiration whenever they come. He actually suggested carrying around an extra register in your checkbook because it is much less bulky and more convenient. I've been told to do this by several writing professors of other writers, but I've never quite adopted it. In high school I carried around a fat little notebook in which to write emo poetry, but since I've come to college I haven't been so great at it. And I know that I have lost so many half-formed poems and ideas for stories or resolutions to struggles I was having with characters or plots in stories that I'm working on. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the checkbook suggestion. Perhaps it was Inada's amiable nature. Perhaps it was being around so many great minds and so much literature. Perhaps it was a number of things. But this time, I really felt a need to follow the advice.

There are clearly huge advantages to carrying around an observation notebook:
  • Being able to captures ideas on the spot
  • Being able to write down bits of conversation as you hear them
  • Writing lines of a poem as they form
  • Compiling ideas to use at a future time
Menendez gave advice that is somewhat new to me: write to the pain. I'm pretty sure that my creative writing teacher in high school may have said something to the same effect, but I questioned her sanity and probably didn't take her seriously. But Menendez suggested that where it is painful is where there is the most meat, so to speak, to write from. Whether it is emotional pain, as in writing about a personally painful experience, or mental pain, as in a concept you can't quite articulate or research that doesn't quite come to a conclusion, that is probably where all the gold in your writing will be mined from. I believe that writing to the pain is more satisfying in the end as well.

Pain is just another form of passion and we all know that passionate writing is better in every aspect than bored writing. For example, my social psychology textbook is probably the most entertaining textbook I've ever read, and I'm certain that is because the authors engage their emotions and personalities in the text. I practically feel like I'm on a first name basis with them.

I hope to improve my writing by implementing these two techniques I learned at the feet of two masters. Or at least two published authors (I did highly enjoy their writing).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I am the Grammar Snob About Whom Your Mother Warned.

I know I've written quite a few blogs on grammar, but hey, I really do love it.

I was talking last night with a friend who is taking a grammar class this coming semester from the same teacher I took it from three years ago. He was rather excited to gain the skills to correct his roommates' grammar. I told him that class really only affected my knowledge of written grammar rather than spoken grammar. It was learning German that corrected my spoken grammar. German is, after all, the initial parent language of English, and our grammar is very similar.

In German, if you don't conjugate your verbs correctly, you may as well be speaking Norwegian ("cave man English", according to the aforementioned friend who happens to speak Norwegian). Verb conjugation is absolutely essential to being understood in German. In German there are clearly three parts to every verb. the verb for "have" is "haben" and the three participles are "haben, hatte, gehabt" while in English we have "have, had, had." The second and third participle are the same because the past and perfect tense are the same...? It's English--it doesn't have to make sense. But because they are the same, people get confused when it comes time to express something is present perfect ("have had") and especially past perfect ("had had") and even future perfect ("will have had"). Many native English speakers have no concept of the perfect tense and how to form it. That is why I frequently feel the need to step in them out.

Another huge consideration is preposition use. Germans don't use prepositions like we do. For example, they use "auf" which can be translated to "upon" for so many uses: "it depends" is "das haengt darauf" which is literally translated to "it hangs upon." I don't consider that to be intuitive for English speakers. But with that lurking in the back of my head, it is so much easier for me choose the correct preposition in English. I always stop to think "What does this preposition really mean?" before I put it in a sentence.

But for those of you lacking the German background, Melissa Donovan of Writing Forward gave some great tips in her latest blog post about incorporating good grammar into your daily life:
1. Stop Being Lazy – When you’re not sure if the way you’ve written a sentence is correct, take a couple of minutes to go look it up instead of either rewriting it or hoping for the best.
2. Invest in Writing Tools – These include reference books that deal with grammar and style. My personal favorite is The Chicago Manual of Style.
3. Make it a Chore – Some chores you do every day, while others can be tackled weekly or monthly. Set a schedule for regular grammar lessons and stick to it. They don’t have to be long. You can learn something valuable in five short minutes!
4. Talk About It – Turn your grammar questions into conversations. Ask others how they use language. Oddly, I find that even non-writers have interest in basic grammar questions. And if you can’t find anyone who wants to discuss good grammar, take your conversation online. Remember you should always use a credible resource, but discussing grammar related issues is an ideal way to learn the nuances, intricacies, and to gain broader understanding.
5. Put it to Practice – Every time you learn something new, incorporate it into your writing until it becomes second nature. When I learned that it wasn’t traditionally correct to end sentences with prepositions, I stopped completely until it was as natural as putting terminal punctuation marks inside of quotation marks.
6. Bonus! Don’t Be OCD – Well, you can be OCD if you want. I like to break the rules sometimes. Eventually, I returned to ending sentences with prepositions, but only when it was the best way to communicate an action or idea.
I've done many of these things without even realizing it (I think that comes from being an English major--I have a wider pool of people who readily engage in grammar discussions). As for the chore, might I suggest that simply reading and paying attention to words the writer uses and where they put them is sometimes enough to improve your own grammar. I am a strong believer in the idea that through reading can nearly all of life's questions be answered.

If you struggle with grammar, don't lose heart. It is a matter of practice and discipline, but it is completely worth it. The truth is, if you can use grammar correctly, you will sound much smarter than you probably actually are, and who doesn't want to sound smarter? I rest my case.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's Rhetorical

I've had a series of discussions with a friend lately, exploring why it is that we have to suppress our vocabularies to have conversations with certain people, or how certain speeches or books are so thrilling. And of course, it all comes back to a good command of rhetoric.

In rhetoric, there are six factors to consider, three rhetorical appeals, and three rhetorical situations:
  1. Logos: the logical appeal using facts and reasoning
  2. Ethos: the ethical appeal, using the strength of the speaker's character
  3. Pathos: the pathetic appeal, invoking emotion in the audience
  • Audience: who is reading or hearing this?
  • Occasion: where/when is this being written/said?
  • Purpose: why does this need to be written/said?
A good balance of these, with the correct medium (I'll talk about that later) creates a triangle of communication. Only when the triangle is balanced can the message be accurately communicated to the audience.
This is why we sometimes use a different vocabulary to talk to certain people. This is why sometimes, a speaker or a writer will stir you up and make you really believe what they are saying.

Below is an excellent example of rhetoric. This man's speech convinced me on an issue that I had been undecided on. That is what good rhetoric does!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Isn't it about...Time?

Because it's the end of the semester, all I do all day long is read and write. That's what I get for choosing to major in English. Don't misunderstand me, I love reading and writing. I am simply looking forward to the day when I'm not going to be told what I need to read and write.

However, being a slow reader, I find that it is nearly impossible to finish everything I need to do in one day.I just read a classmate's blog on time management and found it very interesting and helpful.

One of the suggestions he gave that I've never thought about before was:

Physically Order Projects
Sitting on my desk is a stack of folder dedicated to each project. After assessing priorities, I physically organize the files accordingly. This ensures that I being working on the project with the next highest priority, without having to consult a to-do list. I simply grab the next folder and begin working.
Benefit: Quickly move from project to project according to priorities.
 For me, I don't think I'd be working with a file folder, but rather a stack of books. Nonetheless, I find this to be a very good tip, considering how much time I waste moving around, gathering up my books that are strewn across four rooms in my apartment.

One suggestion that my classmate did not address that I have found most useful is this:

Treat your classes and homework like a job.

Why so much emphasis?

To treat your schooling like a job, you must get up at the same time every morning, start working at the same time, and end working at the same time. You must take into account what time your classes are at, and work accordingly, but generally, you should be working from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For example:
I have class from 9-10 a.m. and 11:30-12:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So I work on homework in that break between classes and then I go home or to the library and continue to work until 5 p.m. Within that time, I prioritize my assignments and allow myself an hour for eating.

However, on Tuesdays and Thursday, I have class from 9:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. with only one hour of breaks. During that hour, I eat and relax, or sometimes do more homework. But as you can guess, I don't get much else done on Tuesdays and Thursdays than actually being in class. It sounds scary, but it's actually ok, because if I work consistently on every other day of the week, I don't need to get much done on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The benefit of this is that
  1. I get things accomplished because I don't allow for distractions.
  2. I give myself the evening to use energy and have a social life.
This strategy has changed my undergraduate career and might be the single answer to how I get anything done. I hope you can implement an equally effective plan in your life to manage your time.

To grad school, or not to grad school?

Yesterday I was talking with my psychology professor, and he began asking me about my plans for after graduation (in four months!). He asked about grad school, and I told him I'd thought about it, but hadn't decided on anything, and would most definitely be taking a bit of a break between receiving a bachelor's degree and entering grad school.

This morning, I read a good blog post from the Creative Writing Corner (always a favorite) about the decision to go to grad school for an MFA. She said "it takes a big commitment to go for any kind of higher education."

What are the benefits of going to grad school in creative writing?
  1. You can teach at a university level.
  2. You will become a better writer.
  3. It's easier to be recognized.
Those three reasons alone I think are good enough to stir a desire to go to grad school. So why wouldn't a person choose to go?

I believe it is because of that big "C" word: commitment. A commitment of time, money, energy, and brain power seems quite overwhelming, at least to me. I'm barely making it through school right now, and the thought a tacking couple of years on to that sounds like suicide.

Grad school is most definitely a worthy pursuit. I imagine I will make that pursuit someday. First I have to make sure I will make it through my undergrad.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm not a woman to throw words to the wind...

I just read this most useful blog: Words and Writing Ideas by Melissa Donovan. She talks about a book she is reading, which encourages writers to go back to the roots of writing and bulk up their vocabulary.

Melissa gave a lot of good tips (that she got from the book) about collecting words. I'll just quickly go over the main points:

  • Listen for words in every day places: conversation, TV, reading, songs, and even from objects (Melissa gives the example of car parts).
  • Don't just think about words' meanings, but also consider their rhythm and sounds.
  • Carry a pen and notebook around. Write down words as soon as you hear them so you don't forget.
  • Also cut words out of magazines or newspapers. The colors and fonts can enhance the emotion or meaning of the words.
  • Use the words. Use them as soon as you can in conversation or writing. They will stick with you longer.
  • You can also use words to inspire new writing ideas. Pull out a few words and force yourself to write something that makes sense using all those words.
I love words. They are the building blocks of my life. My friends have always made fun of me for using long words in regular conversation...but that's the beauty of words. If I know the right words, I can precisely express my thoughts, so the meaning is clear and simple. It is a beautiful thing when the right word is chosen.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Because I watched the debate and voting on the health care bill last night, this blog post intrigued me this morning: "The yeas have it." It turns out that it had nothing to do with the bill (it was actually written nearly a week ago), but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

This blog was a follow-up to a post the week previous, in which our copyediting friend outlined the differences between "yeah," "yah," "yay," and "yea." The loss of this distinction has become a huge epidemic. I blame texting and instant messaging, where everyone just wants to use as few charaters as possible.

In the second post, she also adds "yea" (as opposed to nay), "yah/ja," and "yeh/ya." I want to comment particularly on the last two.

I grew up confused and frustrated by yah/yeh/ya. The first is a form of yes, the latter two a form of you. But I never knew which spelling to use in informal written messages. I often used "ya" for both, "Ya, I know," and "Don't ya know?" which was confusing to both me and my readers. After living in Germany for a year, I switched the affirmative "ya" to "ja." This still confuses some of my correspondents, but it works for me. And I finally generally abandoned the pronoun "ya," instead using "you" in every instance except "love ya!" in which I think it is clear which "ya" I am using, because the use of the affirmative "ya" would require a comma: "love, ya!"

I believe I am probably alone and old-fashioned in the idea that we should just abandon spellings that express the way we actually say something. When we write, we should always write yes or you. This is far too formal looking and sounding for most people. Is formality too great a cost to pay for the dissolvance of confusion? It isn't for me. Is it for you?

It's too cliche; I won't say it, no, no!

Our advisor on the Scroll recently told us of Randy Michaels, the CEO of Tribune Co. and his list of 119 banned words. Apparently, he decided that these words were too cliche and he was sick of hearing them on his radio station, so now they are no longer allowed to way these words and phrases.

One thing that quite baffles me is how a radio station is to do away with phrases like "after these commercials" and "when we come back." Even though they are used a lot, I don't find them to be cliche because they have a clear meaning that is specifically communicated by the phrase, rather than a lost meaning or image that no one really understands, even though they know what you are saying when you say "from the bottom of my heart."

But I do think that Robert Feder (author of the afore-linked article) has a good point when he wonders why doesn't this CEO have better things to do than come up with a list of words and phrases never to be used again. I've written a few blogs on how journalism and the media are changing and how the structure of newspaper and online news and magazines are being reorganized, and the job market is potentially shrinking or changing in respect to that.

In addition to its effect on media and journalism, this war on cliches is also prevalent in literary writing. I have had several professors dissolve into rants about the inefficiency and overuse of cliches. My beloved George Orwell wrote an article in Tribune in England ranting about cliches as well. Cliches are egregious in journalistic and creative writing.

And understandably. Here are some identifiers of a cliche:

1. You've heard it thousands of times. In some cultures there are certain expressions that get used over and over because everyone knows what you are trying to say when you don't know how to say it or you really don't have anything to say. One of my favorites from the culture I grew up in is "without a shadow of a doubt." I've always tried to picture doubt with a shadow here...but I'm not really getting anywhere with that.

2. No clear image or meaning. Just like "without a shadow of a doubt," most cliches don't really make sense if you think about what the words actually mean.
"Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" was the caption to this picture. I've actually never heard that one before, but it's still a cliche because immediately I picture a baby in a bucket of water being thrown out a window as though it were the contents of a chamberpot. Because it's been a few years since chamberpots were widely used, this image doesn't mean anything to me. I don't get it. What does "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" mean?

3. In combination of the other two, the result of the cliche is that you don't feel any more enlightened after having heard it than you did when you started the conversation (or started listening to the speech or what have you). You never really know what the speaker is on about, and even if they are overcome with emotion, you don't share in this emotion with them, because you're not really sure why/where the emotion is coming from. Cliches are completely inadequate when it comes to expressing anything inside a person's head. I would assume this is because a cliche isn't "your own words."

So was Randy Michaels justified in banning 119 words and phrases?

All I know is that I'd be interested in taking up the challenge of writing or speaking and communicating my ideas clearly with that kind of restriction. That is a purpose of formed poetry after all. It's a matter of being an engineer with words: figuring out what resources you have, using them to form something meaningful, and as your resources diminish, you have to restructure your original layout. And that is half the joy of writing anything.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Media Changes, Again

Yesterday in the newspaper staff we talked about a newsbrief from ABC about their plans to change the way they do journalism. Basically, they are going to require their employees to learn more skills, and be almost completely responsible for each story from conception to completion. The result will be the loss of 300-400 jobs while others learn the skills to replace those workers. To read the story yourself, click here.

I also just read a blog from OJR about online newspapers giving "citizen journalists" more opportunities journalists.

I find both of these news stories interesting. Journalism as a career has been both threatened and changing in the past years, and clearly, many companies are trying to adapt to the changes to prevent themselves from sinking.

The question for me is, is this going to help the media? I think it's a great idea to require journalists to gain more skills and to be able to manage their stories along any step in the process. But wouldn't it be better to have people specializing in each step to make sure quality is the highest, rather than one person taking care of everything and allowing weaknesses to develop? And it's also great to give regular people the opportunity to make the news...but one man's trash is another man's treasure. We will now have the opportunity to be exposed to badly researched and badly presented news stories from people who think they know what they are doing.

Where is the balance here? Where is the standard of quality?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oh Media, My Media

I just read a great blog post from the Online Journalism Review about NBC's Olympic coverage (Robert Niles is the only writer I tend to like on OJR, by the way). I found this really interesting because of some things the newspaper advisor has been telling us at the campus newspaper about trends and changes in journalism.

He's taken a lot of time to point out the changing media due to social networking sites, inventions like the iPad and Kindle, and citizen journalism (as if journalists were soldiers of some kind?). Essentially, news is being spread in so many ways these days that are beyond the control of the media.

We had a speaker, David Rathbun, come in to the newspaper and address us last week. You can read his blog here: He was a pretty entertaining and educated guy.

Point being, he gave us a few examples of companies making the wrong moves to deal with the changing media forefronts. Here are some suggestions he gave to make the right moves:
  • Enter the dialogue on social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter especially)
  • Act like a business, not like someone's friend (if a business acts like a friend on Facebook or Twitter, then starts trying to push deals on them, a trust barrier is violated)
  • Pay attention to what customers are saying online and respond to advice
  • Hire some people to follow the dialogue online and get in touch with the customers
I would be pleasantly surprised if I encountered some companies and media sources doing this online. I probably won't, though, because of my opinions on social networking sites, which you'll have to remind me to post about later.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Texting + Grammar = Malfunction

I was sitting in a Sunday School class a little while back, and a scribe was writing ideas on the board that were being shouted out by class members. He wrote the following:

"Commandments r important. Keep up safe."

A moment later, he read back through it and added an "a" and an "e" on the "r." But he did not change "up" into "us." How many of you even noticed this error?

I believe the reason he didn't catch it is because when you text using T9 Word, you type "87" and it types "up." Then the conscientious grammatician will scroll through until it says "us."

However, most people don't proofread their texts, so the recipients have to train themselves to know that when it says "up" and that doesn't make sense, they probably meant to say "us." The same goes for "in" and "go," as well as "he" and "if," and many other words.

I firmly believe that texting and instant messaging are decimating people's capacity to utilize their own language. I just wrote a rant on it here in my personal blog. One of my classmates also wrote about this subject on her blog: Editing for the Real World.

I have believed for a long time that some serious reform needs to happen with education, especially with English, because clearly people have very few ideas on how to correctly speak or write. Technology has the potential to help us or hinder us greatly.

Just for fun, I made a list of the dos and don'ts of texting.
The following are acceptable reasons to text:

  • Clarifying meeting time/circumstances with someone
  • Announcing a party/reminding of a party
  • A quick check in with someone, hopefully accompanied by the promise of a future phone call/letter/visit
  • Something reminded you of someone and you want to tell them before you forget
  • You're not sure if a person is available to talk and you want to find out
  • Asking a simple question that can be answered quickly
The following are unnacceptable reasons:
  • Asking a complex, thought provoking question that will lead to a deep conversation
  • Getting to know someone
  • Expressing love and devotion (unless it is commonly expressed in other ways as well, then a text of this nature can just be a pleasant surprise)
  • Figuring out details of a situation that are complicated and will require a lot of attention
  • Any text conversation that lasts several hours
  • Arguing
  • Asking someone out
  • Breaking up with someone
I'm not completely sure how to fix this problem, except on a individual basis. Later, I expect I will make another post with more suggestions, once I do some research. For now, let us all make a goal to use complete sentences, complete words, and punctuation in our messaging, as well as appropriate subject matter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Journalism is on FIRE

Our advisor for the Scroll staff is always telling us to find stories and get more news. Well, last night I finally did as he asked.

I was making myself dinner when I noticed flashing lights coming in through the window. Usually, I'm not a very curious person, which makes me a horrible journalist, but I'm starting to warm up to the trade, so I stepped outside and saw that there was a fire truck and four police cars in the parking lot of my apartment complex. So I immediately called my neighbor who also writes for the newspaper and we headed to the site with our notebooks and cameras in hand.

There had been an electrical fire in one of the apartments in my complex, ironically, the apartment of the editor-and-chief of the newspaper. We interviewed a few girls and snapped some pictures, and I went home and wrote the article.

I still don't know if I could be a journalist in real life, but I am beginning to enjoy pretending, and I am definitely learning.

Here are some things I've learned from my short journalist career so far, all of which helped me adequately cover this news story:

1. Get more than one live source, three is usually a good number.
I have a really bad habit of only interviewing one person, and my editor has to send my articles back to me all the time telling me to get more interviews. But when you get more interviews, you get more perspectives, your story is less biased, and you might find some interesting information that will change your angle.

2. Start with an angle in mind.
An angle is the perspective you want your story to come from (yes, that's redundant. It's journalism). For example, the angle I had in mind for the fire story was students need to be more careful in order to prevent fires in their apartments. But after interviewing people and understanding the situation, I changed my angle to apartment complex managers need to get on top of maintenance so that problems like bad wiring in a bathroom fan don't end in an explosion.

3. Get specifics.
Specific times, places, dates, and especially people. More details make a better story. Also get pictures of every kind.

I finally understand what our advisor has always been talking about. News happens all around us; we just have to have the right kind of eyes open to it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I am Beautiful.

I work as a figure model on campus for the art students. Most people my size would be terrified to pose nearly naked (not completely as this is a religious university), but I actually find it refreshing, invigorating, and fun.

Today one of the artists told me as she left: "You have so many great curves. I had fun drawing you. Your body is beautiful."

Personally, I absolutely love my curves, and so do the art students. Yes, I carry extra weight, but my body is just how I like it. Flexible, soft, radiant...I love it.

The faculty advisor for Scroll is always telling us to carry a camera around just in case we find a great image or a great story. There have been a few occasions already this semester in which someone on the newspaper or the university's news channel has captured a story just because they have been passing by and had a camera with them.

The point of this is that sometimes there is beauty or a story in something that is unexpected. Whether you are a journalist, professional or creative writer, if you open your eyes a little more you will find something you can write about, and it can be inspiring.

I think writers hear this a lot, but I think it takes a lot of practice to be inspired by any random passing object (unless you are in Europe). Creative Writing Corner often has blog posts of random pictures that could inspire stories. But often people watching or going to nature will do the trick (yes, I'm a Romantic).

Monday, February 8, 2010

What the Peking Acrobats Taught Me about Writing

This weekend I had the oppotunity to see the Peking Acrobats perform live. Besides stunning all of my senses, defying gravity, and contorting themselves beyond human limits, there was one thing about the performance that really sunk in deeply.

The acrobats never rushed. This may in part be for a suspense factor, but they were always very careful in performing their stunts. At one point, a man stacked about 10 chairs on top of each other on top of four wine bottles and then balanced on the top of them on one hand. While he was stacking them, he took a lot of time to make sure each chair was perfectly balanced before he climbed on top of it and added another chair. Without taking that time, attention, and care, he may have died in the act of balancing on one hand atop that stack of chairs.

As a writer, I will admit that my biggest weakness is just hurrying to get things done. Applying the impressions the Peking Acrobats gave me led to the following observations:

  1. Always proofread anything you write. This is by far my greatest weakness. I emailed a prospective internship the other day, and after I sent it, I read over it and discovered I had left the last letter off one word. That doesn't look so good for an editing internship.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Often the first word that comes to your head isn't actually going to convey precisely what you want to say. truly is a writer's best friend.
  3. Pay attention to punctuation. I've noticed in a lot of my correspondence with people that they leave out commas, colons, semicolons, and especially quotation marks, simply because they don't know how to use them, but often it makes a sentence or story incomprehensible. The reader will lose both meaning and interest.
  4. Give yourself enough time. If you are not working with a deadline, why turn in work that still needs work? If you are working with a deadline, start far in advance to make sure you can not only write, but proofread, revise, edit, research, and anything else you may need to do to your work. I know that's ironic coming from a college student. But college is all about dreaming and pretending to be better than you are, right?
The acrobats weren't willing to risk their lives on rushing their performance. Don't risk your writing (and credibility) on rushing to get your work done. Death isn't worth it!

For another blog about changing your bad writing habits, visit: The Creative Writing Corner

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hi, My Name is Laura. And I Daydream.

I just read a happy little blog on wasting time.

This blog asserts that not all passive activity is wasting time. In fact, for the creative mind, much passive activity, such as staring out the window, is actually productive. I completely agree.

The other day in class, I found myself staring out the window, which I actually hardly ever do. I was watching people walk from building to building and wondering what each was thinking or feeling, their relationship with the person they were talking to, where they were headed, and if they were excited to get there.

This kind of exercise is clearly productive for the creative writer. Ask any of us, and we will tell you that people watching is just about the best thing we can do for new ideas or whenever we are stuck.

This blog suggested three criterion for monitoring if time is being wasted or not:
Does this activity make me feel calmer, happier, or more inspired?
Does this activity help me come up with ideas?
Does this activity help me solve problems in my life?

I think this is applicable to any kind of writing or for any kind of job, really. Let us all remember to take a moment to collect our thoughts. It's healthy. It's productive. And it's fun. :)

Monday, February 1, 2010

I Correct Your Grammar Because I Love You.

I've experienced a strange phenomenon several times in my life: I tell people I'm majoring in English, and they tell me they are going to stop talking to me.


"I don't want you to correct my grammar."

Funny thing is, I will.

In a lot of contemporary literature, basic grammar conventions are broken, or flat out abandoned, like in McCarthy's The Road, where he uses absolutely no quotation marks. What people need to realize is that you have to know and understand the rules before you can break them.

I've often told my friends who natively speak a language other than English that you really can put the words in whatever order you want, and even make up words, and people will understand what you are trying to say. This is true. However, that is conversational. There are definite conventions in writing. An understanding of these conventions gives you tremendous freedom to express yourself. And everyone wants that.

I'm likely to tell you my grammar is perfect. You shouldn't believe it. There is the occasion, just like a full moon on Friday the 13th, when I'm not 100% certain about what I'm doing. One of those occasions was with capitalization of titles for works. I'm going to blame this on having to learn both MLA and APA documentation. Nonetheless, I found the most useful blog post on an even more useful blog about capitalization. Brilliant.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

That's what she said...

Journalism is...

After sending my first article to my editor, she sent it back with preliminary editing suggestions. "We only use 'said.'" Only use said? You mean to tell me I can't say explained, asked, or even stated? I can only use "said"?

This was a tiny little stab to my creative writing heart. But I made the changes, and yesterday the editor-in-chief rewarded me for having one of the most well-written articles in the paper this week.

Do I feel accomplished? Do I feel satisfied? I'll get back to you on that. I'm still adjusting to my limited verb allowance.

But you can read all of my articles from the Scroll here if you scroll down to the blog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What am I doing?

Here it is, my blog that's all about being a creative writer, but realizing I can't live off that and trying to figure out some other form of manipulating the English language that will make me happy and make me money, because as Orwell so deftly wrote: "Money writes books, money sells them."

I always knew that there was a very small chance I could make a living from writing books. Regardless, I chose to complete my undregraduate degree in creative writing, and as for money...I'd figure that out at some point.

Then I had an academic paper accepted to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference held annually at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. "People want to read academic papers? Is this profitable?" I thought. Maybe. That's when I started considering other writing options.

Shortly after that, I had the opportunity to edit a book for an author (Jay Jarvie) who was self-publishing. And I loved it. I've spent loads of time at college editing papers for my roommates and friends, and enjoyed it, but suddenly it occured to me that I could probably do that for a long time without getting bored. As a result of this editing experience, I am taking one extra semester of undergraduate studies in order to take some editing classes.

I've also been considering journalism for a long time. This stems mostly from my love of movies, and the inkling of becoming a movie critic. So this semester I am writing for my school's newspaper, The Scroll, in the sports section.
So this blog will be all about me figuring out just what the professional writing world can offer me, and how I hold on to my creative side while I adjust to the professional side. I'll explore editing and journalism and whatever else comes my way. This blog is for anyone else facing the same dilemma of trying to fit into the professional world, when all they really want to do is invent a world of their own.

I'm trying on the professional writing world. Seeing if it fits. After all, I do enjoy wearing slacks.