Archive for February, 2011

Good grief – watch the words you use

“Good grief.”

I heard someone use these words only a few days ago. They made me pause and consider them. Funny how those words had never before made me stop and think (well, not that I can remember). They were spoken as one of our many idioms, expressing surprise or irritation, the normal use and meaning of the expression.

What made me think, however, was the fact that this expression is something of an oxymoron, two words with contradictory meanings. When has grief ever been good? Although, I suppose in the sense that grieving leads to dealing with a loss and moving on with life it could be said to be good for you.

The point I am trying to make is that sometimes we use words in our writing which can convey the wrong ideas, communicating the wrong message to our readers. We need to be careful in the ways we use words and expressions, especially idioms and slang. Of course, the use of idioms and slang, used with discretion, can enhance our portrayal of certain characters in our stories. Overused they can become tedious. Always make every word count and make each word or phrase earn its place in your story.

Interestingly, a web search with the term “good grief” turns up about five million results. At the top of the search I did was an Australian group called “Good Grief“, an organisation dedicated to assisting people dealing with trauma, grief, loss and change.

My message today: choose your words carefully.

Good writing.

Why is my writing chair all wonky?

My office chair has suddenly gone all wonky.

If I lean only slightly to one way, it wants to go further. It’s quite disconcerting, especially when I am concentrating on my latest literary masterpiece. It has the effect of throwing me not only off balance slightly, but it also takes my focus off my writing. Not good.

My wife insisted I buy a really good “writing chair” for my office when I retired from teaching nearly seven years ago. (Is it really? How time flies when one is busy writing.) So I bought this great chair and it has endured nearly ten thousand hours of me sitting here grinding out literally one and half million words (yes – I do keep such records).

Poor thing. It probably needs to retire gracefully. Trouble is, I feel I am just getting under way with this writing thing. My best words are still coming. And I don’t want to go searching for a replacement.

I’ve turned the chair unceremoniously upside down a few times trying to work out how to fix it. Mmmm – seems there is nothing to adjust, tighten, loosen, fix or correct. Ah – there is a tension knob – a few twists of it seems to have improved it somewhat.

Why is my writing all wonky?

Sadly, this also happens with the words we write. A poem or a story or parts of a novel are all “wonky”. They need very close inspection to see if something is wrong. Only when the “wonky bit” is fixed will the story or poem work properly. Sometimes you can’t see it yourself, so it’s good to have another set of eyes to have a look at it. A critiqing group can also give good feedback.

Good writing.

Hand me a (poetic) pencil

I love pencils.

I always have a good supply of 2B pencils on my desk, and a back up supply in the drawer of my desk. I love the feel of a pencil in my hand as I write. This is especially so when writing poetry.

I almost always use a 2B pencil when composing poems. The sensuality of holding a pencil generates a creativity I rarely get using a pen or a keyboard. After the poem is crafted and has morphed through several drafts, a final copy is then typed up on my computer. Very little changes once I’ve typed it, perhaps only a little formatting and minimal changes to punctuation.

For most of other writing I now use the computer keyboard exclusively. This includes stories, novels, essays, articles and blog posts. I just do not have the time (or the patience) to compose in pencil or pen first. I may occasionally jot down notes or an outline in pen or pencil, but I’ve also done that on the computer. It’s a necessary part of being productive.

What do my readers use when writing?

I’d be interested in hearing your comments.

Good writing.

Colour me green

Warning: This post has nothing to do with writing.

We’ve gone green in our household.

Let me explain. Three days ago we had a series of solar panels installed on our roof. It’s something we talked about for many years, probably as much as 20 years ago. At the time I even did some serious research into the matter. Trouble was, I didn’t have the ready cash to install such a system. Besides that, in those days there were no government rebates available to offset the enormous cost.

Prices of solar panels have plummeted in recent years due to competition and their efficiency has vastly improved. Add to that the very generous Australian government rebates at present and the whole exercise becomes relatively affordable. Under present conditions the panels should pay for themselves in about 5 years. This is due in part to rapidly increasing electricity prices here in Australia, estimated to rise about 60% over the next few years; we’ve already had one big rise recently.

Talking about power costs, one of the motivating factors in getting the panels this time around was the power bill I received last November. It was about 20% higher than anything we’d had ever before. After the initial shock, the motivation to do something about it created its own momentum and we did our research and chose a good company in the forest of companies offering installation. We also changed providers because we discovered we were being ripped off big time.

The day after installation we kept checking the readout on the inverter to see how much energy it was generating. It was like having a new electronic toy to play with. Most of the time it was generating about 90% of capacity which is about as much as one can expect. It did briefly rise to 97% (3.2Kw of a potential 3.3Kw) but that was short lived when cloud came over the house. On our first day we exported a nice amount of energy back into the power grid so we are actually making a little money. Making money on it is not our intention; we just want to break even and save money. Avoiding rapidly rising energy costs is also a reason.

On the down side, yesterday was 100% cloud cover for half the day and today it’s been raining all day. You get that. I guess we’ll have to be content to only make hay while the sun… let me rephrase the old saying: we’ll only make a lot of energy when the sun shines.

Now back to writing.

Is patience really a virtue?

I am waiting, waiting, waiting.

I am trying to be very patient. If patience really is a virtue, I must be very virtuous indeed. You see, I’m waiting for the results of my Master of Arts Creative Writing thesis paper. Regular readers will know that over the last 18 months I’ve been writing a children’s novel set in Nepal during their recent civil war. I submitted the novel, along with a 10,000 word exegesis essay on the writing of the novel, about mid-December. We were told we might wait 6 to 8 weeks for the results. Two days ago the 9 week mark was reached, so I am trying not to get impatient. Two of my fellow students have heard their results but they submitted the week before me.

This experience has got me thinking about the patience that all writers need. Here are some of my thoughts:

Why writers need patience:

  1. Some writers need to patiently wait for writing ideas.
  2. Writers need patience when a story or novel is not going along as it should.
  3. Patience is needed when life gets in the way of writing schedules, especially if the writer has another job, or a family needing attention.
  4. You need patience when waiting to hear if a publisher is going to accept your story or novel.
  5. Once an acceptance is offered by a publisher, patience is needed when waiting to see the work in print.
  6. When a story or novel has been published, one needs patience waiting for a payment.
  7. Reading through reviews of one’s work can severely test a writer’s patience.

I’m sure most writers could add many more examples. What can you do while all the waiting is going on?

Waiting productively

  1. While waiting for a idea for a story, read, read, read and do other creative activities to stimulate the mind.
  2. While waiting to hear from a publisher, go on with other writing projects to maintain momentum with your writing.
  3. While waiting for your work to be published, be sending out more work to publishers. Keep your momentum going.
  4. Remember that waiting is inevitable and a part of the writing process. Use the waiting time productively.
  5. Don’t give up.

Good writing.