BESTOWING THE GIFT OF WORDS – Marilyn Armstrong

And thus shall I bestow upon you the gift of gab, the talent of words, the ability to write with clarity and precision.

Congratulations. You are a writer. But — how do you know?

Because you write. Could you be a better writer? Probably. We can all be better writers. I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started blogging and I was a pretty good writer before that. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write because as soon as I could read, I could write.

Every style of writing has special ways of handling issues.

For children’s books, much is made of making sure kids never have to look at a word that’s too “hard” for them. With which I disagree because that’s how I got a vocabulary. You see a word you don’t know. You ask someone or look it up. Now, you know a new word.

Technical writing, when I started doing it, was a wholly different. With a few other people, we sort of invented it since it was a new field and the “rules” didn’t yet exist.

I learned to write tightly using almost no adjectives or adverbs unless those words were a specific definition of an item. It produced something that has served me very well — and extremely clean style of writing that makes it easy to adapt to other styles. Non-fiction, mostly.

The baseline for tech writing is making complicated information easy to understand for anyone with any kind of background, technical or not — and that includes old people, little kids and everyone in between. It also means I give really good directions.

Just remember: You are a working writing, even if no one ever sends you a check.

Maybe now you want to join a writing group or take a seminar. As you are already a writer, you are many steps ahead of where you were. Writing classes can be useful. You can focus on refining and organizing your work — and on finding how to get a publisher. Seminars won’t teach you to write, but they might teach you to market your product.

I never took courses, per se, but I needed to learn a lot about style and design. I read books. I also read other documents to see how they handled material.

I also needed to learn to design books. In big corporations, they hire designers to do that, but I didn’t work for people who had a budget. Instead, I did it all.

It turned out, designing was the MOST fun I ever had while getting paid.

As for whether or not blogging “is writing?” What a silly question. Writing is. Blogging is no different than writing short features for newspapers or magazines. All kinds of writing are writing. We give them different names, but it’s all the same creative process. How you apply your talents has a million applications.

Names don’t matter. Ignore the fools who feel like they need to put everything in a box. Keep doing what you’re doing!

You GO!

CONJURING MAGIC WORDS – TURNING LATIN TO SORT OF ENGLISH

I WOULD CONJURE MAGIC, BUT …
NO LATIN ALLOWED


I hadn’t thought about it. To be honest, my eyes have seen it. My brain has skimmed over it. Whoosh. Away it went with no thought given to its meaning. I do know what a couple of “Latin as part of English” shortcuts supposedly mean.

“Illegitimi non carborumdum” — which I believed (and lots of other people also believe) translates to: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” from the mock-Latin word, illegitimatus, or bastard, and carborundum, an ancient brand of abrasive stone. But apparently, it’s not “real” Latin. Who speaks “real Latin” anyway? Whatever Latin you speak, it ain’t the real deal. Whoever speaks Latin speaks a reconstruction of it based on what we know from old writings. No native speakers hanging around in this century.

But QED? From this morning’s Boston Globe’s Theresa Hanafin, comes this bright light for the day:


The Question of the Day from The Old Farmer’s Almanac is: What does the abbreviation “QED” stand for? It’s Latin — quod erat demonstrandum — and means “that which was to be demonstrated.” It’s often used at the end of math proofs or philosophical treatises where the writer reaches a conclusion. Sort of a “ta-da!” I always thought it stood for “Quick, eat the doughnuts,” which has been very helpful over the years.”


What does this have to do with anything?

Well, since I cannot find any conjurable magic (is that a word?), the closest I’ve got are those little Latin sayings we drop into our English language. When I was first working as a tech writer in the U.S., having been working in Israel as a tech writer for five or six years, I encountered an actual English-language editor. My editors in Israel had been a lovely French woman who had excellent English, but sometimes her editorial decisions were a bit … continental. I had a great Russian guy and some of his editorial decisions were … unique.

This was the first time I got to fight over my words in my native tongue with another New York native.

ARTWORK: Evil Squirrel’s Nest

She was fixated on never using a Latin expression if there was an equivalent English word for the same thing. Should she come upon “etcetera” she would always change it to “and so on.”

“We do not speak Latin in this department,” she would announce. To this day, when I’m editing anyone else’s work — Garry or one of the other writers on our “team” and I see an etcetera looming, I can hear her voice carrying over the television or audiobook:


WE DO NOT SPEAK LATIN IN THIS DEPARTMENT.


I am forced to change it to “and so on” and occasionally, to something more obscure like “moreover.” Can’t use “ad infinitum” either … a sad waste of clever language skills.


Ad infinitum is a Latin phrase meaning “to infinity” or “forevermore”. Description: In context, it usually means “continue forever, without limit” and this can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating repeating process, or a set of instructions to be repeated “forever,” among other uses.


It’s amazing how a single determined editor can fix something in your brain forever, even when you have long since passed a point where you need instructions.

Thus if you are doing any conjuring today, please do it without Latin. We don’t speak Latin here.

AN EXCELLENT WORDPRESS UPGRADE

Yesterday I decided to put a new header on my template. I do this regularly and there doesn’t need to be a special reason. I just feel like it. I used to put up a new one daily, but that got old after a while, so now it happens when the spirit moves me.

Notice that where that they are all shown as “purchased” now

In the beginning of January, I re-upped my “customization package” with WordPress. This package gives me more space for photographs (I need it!), my own domain, no advertisements  and recently, unbeknownst to me, access to all the templates. This was not true in the past, so I was delighted to discover it.

It didn’t change anything for me because I’m always looking for the same basic shape and format, mainly because the material I’ve created fits easily into that format. I don’t have to start reformatting the entire template. But you never know. I might decide I want to try something really different. Anything is possible.

New Header Image formatting

Little did I know that much more change was on the way. This time, when I went to change the Header Image, the design format for my template had changed. Big time.

All my previously embedded headers were gone.  What had been my header image (including my site information) had transformed into a logo which seemed etched in virtual stone and was part of the format of the theme.

New fonts!

I couldn’t find any way to remove it. If I put in another pictures in the header image area, my old image was glued in the middle of it — not what I was trying to accomplish. But I was sure there had to be a way to dislodge the old image and I stuck to messing around with it. I am nothing if not tenacious.

Finally, I tried a different (not very different) format, but it had the same problem. Next I returned to “Plane,” my previous format. Having move to different theme in the middle, then coming back, I hoped that might have dislodged the old header image.

It hadn’t. But I kept messing around with it until finally, hosanna, the old image went away. I’m not sure exactly what I did that was different. It seemed I was just repeating the same stuff, but this time, it worked.

Phew.

This was my  existing theme, called “Plane” and no, I have no idea why they name them what they name them. Even though it’s the same theme, it looks quite different.

On  my computer, it is wider. The pictures are wider too. Both important pluses for me where how a pictures displays on-screen is a big deal.

As far as typeface issues go, WordPress added some new fonts. Oh yay! Excellent! The site’s title now appears on top of the picture, so I don’t have to keep creating special headers and can use any picture and my site name with tagline will appear above (on top of) it.

Aside from that glitch where it didn’t want to say good-bye to the old image, this is an excellent set of improvements for those of us who with a customization package. It would have been a nice touch had someone mentioned to me that this was going to happen, however.


What is it with WordPress that they can’t bother to tell you anything before they do it? For a company deep in communications, they really don’t communicate well.

I’m happy with the changes. Very happy. I can only imagine what less computer savvy customers are making of the changes, though. I hope they’ve put some explanations online for us to read.

I don’t know what they did or why they did it, but it’s a major improvement and one for which I’ve hoped for a while. They’ve been removing pieces of the customization package for years. This is the first time they have ever expanded it and done it well. The wider stretch on the computer screen is a major improvement for photography. The text is also a slightly bigger and my eyes are saying “thank you.”

I like the new fonts, one of which I’m using for my headings and a different new typeface for writing.

Well done, WordPress. Next time, you think you might consider sending a notification? Please?

LEARNING TO WRITE NON-FICTION BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was taught how to write at an early age. In grammar school I was very anxious and would get paralyzed when I had to write anything. My mom sat me down and showed me how to structure any piece of writing. The classic, “Say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said.” In other words, introduction, development and conclusion.

Mom started me out by helping me write outlines for my writing. Once I had the basic ideas organized, I could expand on them on my own, with less anxiety. Mom would then edit my writing with me. That’s how I learned about style and sentence structure. Writing began to come easily to me.

By the time I was fifteen, I was helping Mom edit articles and books that my father, Abram Kardiner, was writing for psychiatric and anthropological publications. My dad was never a clear and concise writer. At this point, he was in his mid seventies and was even less focused and coherent than before.

Me at about 16

Dad tended to write in a confusing stream of consciousness. Ideas just tumbled out in random order. He often buried the lead sentences explaining his premise, deep in the fourth or fifth paragraphs. He often went off on tangents for pages and pages, losing the thread of his thesis along the way. He had brilliant and innovative ideas. But you had to hunt for them and they weren’t always presented in the best way.

Mom and I would take his material and break it down into a detailed and sequential outline for him. Dad resisted us at every turn. He somehow felt that we were trying to get him to ‘write down’ to a more mass audience when he was aiming his writing at high level academics in his fields. We argued that all writing has to be comprehensible, regardless of the audience. He would grudgingly go along with us.

Mom and Dad during Dad’s prime writing years

We would go over the outline with him meticulously. He would take it and go off to do a rewrite. He would stick to the outline for a few paragraphs, if we were lucky. But then he would end up off on another rambling polemic. We never succeeded in improving his writing and he didn’t publish much after this point.

Many years later, I had another opportunity to help someone hone their writing skills. This time with better results. My first husband, Larry, was a brilliant litigation attorney. Part of his job was producing coherent and above all else, persuasive written arguments on behalf of his clients.

Larry had the same problems organizing his thoughts as my dad had. His arguments meandered, got muddled and lost emphasis and clarity. He was all over the place. This became a serious issue at work. It took him forever to get his writing done and he was never satisfied with the end product.

Larry as a young associate at a NYC law firm

One day I was home sick from my own legal job. Larry was struggling with a pro bono criminal brief and was frustrated. I told him to leave his draft with me for the day so I could work on it. This was before computers. I spent the day literally cutting and pasting his brief into a whole new document. I added a few connective sentences here and there, but all the necessary material was already there.

Larry was very impressed with the document that I came up with for him. He was surprised to see how I had created a totally different result simply by rearranging and consolidating his material. A light bulb went off in his head. Unlike my father, he ‘got it’.

Larry and me in his early years practicing law

His writing improved. He was also smart enough to study the writing of two very good legal writers in his law firm. One of them had been a speechwriter for Bobby Kennedy in the 1960’s. The two men had very different styles and Larry forged his own style by adapting what he liked from both men.

Adam Walinsky – former RFK speechwriter and partner at Larry’s law firm

Larry became an excellent writer. One of the best in his law firm. In one major brief he wrote, he started each section with a relevant quote from Shakespeare. Brilliant! The judge in the case, who was a Harvard Law School graduate, was so blown away, he wrote Larry a letter. He told Larry that his was the best brief that the judge had ever read! Quite a compliment for Larry, and obliquely for me as his original writing tutor.

So I succeeded in teaching one person how to be a good writer. Or I at least set him on the path to becoming one. I was very proud of Larry and of my accomplishment. It meant a lot to me because of my struggles with my dad’s writing. I guess one out of two isn’t a bad record.

RERUNS AND REWRITES – BLOGGING WITH 6,000 ARCHIVED POSTS

I rerun and rewrite archived posts. I pretty much always do at least some editing for anything I post and in many of the older posts, I do enough rewriting to make it newer than older. I rewrite to make sure dates and any other “hard” information is correct … and I rewrite because there’s always something that needs fixing.

Garry by the dam

Garry was explaining that he feels he needs to always tell people it’s a rerun, even if it is also a nearly full rewrite. I asked him if the shows on TV come with a big “RERUN” plastered across the screen.

“No,” he said, “But I’m a better man than they are.” I bet if he were managing the blog, he’d change his mind fast enough.

I used to reblog things. Reblogs were obviously reruns, so I didn’t have to point it out. Now my reblog function essentially doesn’t work and I have to use “Press it” — a major hassle. It’s just as easy to copy it, rename it, edit it and let it fly. Most of the people reading me today never read these posts in the first place. If you are one of my old friends and realize you’ve read it before, feel free to stop.

I always improve the post during the rewrite anyway, so that old piece may have a bright new shine. I find all the klutzy sentences that bothered me in the past. I fix them. Sometimes, my third rewrite is a huge improvement on the original, reminding me how much I miss having a real, live editor.

There’s more to it than just rerunning things because I’m looking for “something to post.” I have almost 6,000 posts archived, many of which were seen just once, years ago. What a waste of material to never use any of them again.

I have a “random post” finder in the rightmost column of my “front page.” Test it out sometime, just for fun. I use it to see what will show up. Half of the pieces that pop to the top? I have absolutely no memory of having written them. If I can’t remember writing it, how many other people will remember it? Also, a lot of earlier posts never got much attention. Some of them got maybe two or three views and no comments and if they are reasonably good, they deserve better than that.

A lot of posts are thoughts for the moment. Some of them come out much better than expected — while others make me gag. Some posts just get neglected. Last week, I posted what I know is one of my better pieces of writing. Nobody read it.

And dogs!

Why not?

No idea. I do know it will come around again. I’m stubborn. If I think it’s good and I’ve put time into researching and writing it, I’ll run it until I feel it has gotten its due. Every good post deserves a reading.

There are pieces that have done brilliantly that I don’t think are all that good. A few of them have thousands of hits over the years while other pieces I know are far better don’t go anywhere. I’m sure that happens to all of us. There’s really no telling what is going to be a “hit” or a “miss.” There’s no formula that works all the time. Just when you think you’ve got it, it turns on its head and you realize you don’t have it. And probably never will.

There’s a powerful element of sheer chance in publishing. Not just for blogs, but for magazines, books, newspapers. A great book never makes the grade because the perfect publisher never saw it. The right readership never knew about it. It was published before its time … or just a bit too late. It’s still good work and it deserves it’s time in the sun.

So I republish my better pieces — even if no one ever pays any attention to them because I like them. I also republish other people’s pieces. Again. Because I like them and I think so will other people. I also republish posts that relate to specific holidays and historical events. I don’t see any point at all in writing the same thing again and again, though sometimes by the time I’m done with my latest rewrite, I must as well have started from scratch.

Finally, there’s something Tom pointed out which is that there is a reason why television shows are so frequently repeated. Not everyone saw that show. Most people don’t mind seeing it again, if they liked it the first time. That’s how you”make your point,” whatever it may be and accustom people to the concept, the story, whatever it is you are promoting.

None of this stops me from writing new stuff.

With two Scotties

I like writing. I’m always tucking ideas into drafts. Like this one. I gave it a title and a couple of lines to remind me what I wanted to say. I don’t know when I’ll post it because this is a busy time of year. So many photographs make Serendipity very visual and there is not so much space for other stuff I would write. This is not true all year round.

Summer tends to be slow as are the weeks following the holidays and right into early spring. Family holidays are generally terrible, though occasionally, I’ve been surprised.

And then, given our totally insane, whacked out government, I think I can be sure there will ALWAYS be something making me crazy enough to need a good rant. I’ve never lived with an insane government before, so pardon me while I continue to try to make sense of the mess.

WHY I FOLLOW THE DAILY PROMPT

I’ve been asked why I bother to write stuff based on WordPress’s daily prompt, especially since the quality of the prompts has been more than a bit lackluster in recent months and I’ve needed considerable self-restraint not to snarl, growl, or try to (virtually) bite the editor.

But I do them anyway and finally, I figured out why.

I am an incorrigibly anal-retentive writer/editor. If I give free rein to my natural inclinations, I will edit everything to death. Nothing will be good enough. I will write every sentence over and over until it’s as near perfect as I can make it. What it will not be is spontaneous.

Some of my best prose is written quickly, barely edited at all. Which means that after publication, I spend the following 12 hours finding and fixing typos — a different conversation.

But what the prompts do for me is give me leave to write quickly, off the cuff about a wide range of subjects that I would never otherwise choose. I post them immediately and don’t let myself get into a never-ending round of edits. Sometimes I get a bit fancy with illustrations, but I keep the writing simple and tight. Rarely does a response to a prompt exceed 500 words. Most are fewer than 350 words.

72-Peacham-Sunday_092

It’s hard for me to be spontaneous. About anything. I’m not sure if I was ever a free spirit, even as a kid. I’ve always lived in my head. Never been a party person. Never a “just do it” kind of gal. My two creative outlets, writing and photography, are the only areas where I can break free of my self-made restraints.

So I follow prompts. Occasionally, I use a prompt to publish something I was planning to post anyhow. The prompt, in those cases, provides a link so a few extra people might to read it.

I wish the daily prompts were more original, less repetitive. A “free write” exercise is not a prompt at all. It is the stuff of school assignments. Otherwise, WordPress prompts, even if they are obviously constructed using little effort and less thought, offer me an opportunity to write about something I would not ordinarily consider. Some of my best stuff has been in response to silly prompts. Some of my worst, too.

And that’s why I follow the prompts. (Phew. Finally answered that question. Took me long enough!)

WORDPRESS – A GIANT STEP BACKWARDS

WordPress’s new, “new format” is bad in so many ways. It’s a classic example of “stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.” They have replaced a format that works with one that is pretty and useless. There are dozens of sayings about this kind of thing from “all that glitters is not gold” to “pretty is as pretty does.”

They all mean the same thing. Looking good is not enough. An attractive cover does not a good book make. The new format:

  • No word count
  • No proofreading
  • Confusing scheduling
  • Bad default setting for “save” ; the default  is instant publication rather than draft, which will mean a lot of accidental postings
  • No “paste as plain text” (major problem — adds a lot of bugs and bad code)
  • Very slow loading, even slower saving
  • You cannot edit photographs in this format. Galleries have no “edit” link. Individual photos are missing the functions that allow you to set their position (left, center, right, none) and size
  • You cannot change or add a caption. Even if you set it up using the “classic” mode, you cannot edit it in the new one.

I have not tried creating a photographic post using the new, “new post” function because I never liked that format anyway and it’s so very much worse now. I have heard very negative things about how it handles photographs. I can confirm you can’t edit photos … I have heard you can’t download photos either, but haven’t checked it out personally.

Did I mention the “paste as plain text” option stopped working a week ago? Pasting anything you copied from another source is perilous to your post and produces a godawful mess you can’t clean up unless you can edit code.

You will get the new format if you use “New Post” from the top right on your dashboard or if you click “Edit” from your website. One of the worst features is that it takes minutes, not seconds, to load. It takes even longer to save. And be careful because you may think you’re saving, but unless you change the default settings, you are publishing. Gonna be a lot of accidents.

It has a lot of display bugs. The old one — been around awhile — where all your spacing disappears if you preview the post. Several new ones where coding does not delete when you remove the text to which it was attached. And “view post” and/or  “preview” not working at all.

wordpress-format

As of this writing, you can still get the old format via the dashboard menu (left column), but for how long? They just (a few minutes ago) added “Classic mode” in case you don’t like the new format. Maybe someone complained.

Anyone who cares about formatting won’t like the new post format. The loss of both the word count and proofreading is serious for writers.

Is it pretty? Maybe, but you have less space to work in.  Does anyone want less work space? How could that be an improvement for anyone?

Who is making decisions at WordPress? Based on what? It certainly isn’t based on what their customers want or need.

WordPress is continuing to try to make everything look nice without regard for functionality. An elegant GUI full of glitches and bugs. It’s a terrible trade-off and it will come back to bite all of us in our collective asses. It’s already doing it. WordPress does not remember how many popular blogging platforms have disappeared.

Will the rest of you please complain to customer service? I’ve done my part. You all have to jump in. If you complain, they might change it. If you don’t, I guarantee they will assume you like it.

Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourselves.

See Also:

Here’s an idea, Word Press — Beta Testing!