Category Archives: Writing

Writing Groups

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I belong to a writer’s group.  We meet on Wednesdays in Cuenca, Ecuador from 12:00 to 3:00 at a local restaurant.  Most of us arrive early to eat lunch before we begin.  Now, I’ve belonged to quite a few groups, starting way back in my early college days…Groups where the individuals were so focused on showing how much they know about writing, groups where they are so ready not only to tell you how to write, but what you should write about.  Most of these groups were pretty useless to me, but I did pick up some valuable things from them.  The problem was I didn’t stay long,  the sessions were a grueling exercise of slash and burn critique, clashing egos, and, in the end, dispiriting.

This group works!  We bring material…no more than 1500 words, must bring copies, double spaced, readable font, which we pass out to everyone.  After the writer reads his/her selection we go around the table and comment.  Comments are the personal opinion of the speaker and for the most part stated as such.  Very few “must, should, can’t” statements. More “I would like more…I wonder…I don’t understand…statements.”

The hard part for me when I first joined was that the writer is not allowed to speak, no explanations…just sit there and listen.  That now is my favorite thing about the group, that and getting the copies back with everyone’s notes on them.  Not being able to respond, defend, explain, what I was doing forces me to listen and hear what the reader is reading in my work, not what I meant to write.  It’s good for me.  It works. I am writing more and I am writing better.

Try it, join a group, one that actually gets together in person, or online.  Find one that works for you.

Editing: Process, Form and Heart

by Esther Elizabeth Suson Editing is its own kind of high. As the supposed final voice on the manuscript, a bit of smugness might creep in. If the motion has become too mechanical, we stop reading in breathless anticipation of skillful wording and hard-hitting sentences. Instead, we live for that casual flick of the pen […]

via Editing: Discovering the Heart of the Writer — The Disinterested Interpreter

Word by Word by Kory Stamper…from Delancey Place

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The following is from Delancey Place…I’m always fascinatted by dictionaries and how they’re put together. Several years ago I was enthralled by Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Going to have to have this new one!

Today’s selection — from Word by Word by Kory Stamper. The smaller the word, the harder it is to define. The author, an editor of dictionaries, describes the difficulty involved in defining short words:

“We were working on revising the Collegiate [Dictionary] for its eleventh edition, and we had just finished the letter S. … I signed out the next batch in T and grabbed the galleys for that batch along with the boxes — two boxes! — of citations for the batch. While flipping through the galley pages, I realized that my batch­ — the entire thing — was just one word: ‘take.’ Hmm, I thought, that’s curious. Lexicography, like most professions, offers its devotees some benchmarks by which you can measure your sad little exis­tence, and one is the size of the words you are allowed to handle.

“Most people assume that long words or rare words are the hardest to define because they are often the hardest to spell, say, and remem­ber. The truth is, those are usually a snap. ‘Schadenfreude’ may be difficult to spell, but it’s a cinch to define, because all the uses of it are very, very semantically and syntactically clear. It’s always a noun, and it’s often glossed because even though it’s now an En­glish word, it’s one of those delectable German compounds we love to slurp into English

“Generally speaking, and as mentioned earlier, the smaller and more commonly used the word is, the more difficult it is to define. Words like ‘but,’ ‘as,’ and ‘for’ have plenty of uses that are syn­tactically similar but not identical. Verbs like ‘go’ and ‘do’ and ‘make’ (and, yes, ‘take’) don’t just have semantically oozy uses that require careful definition, but semantically drippy uses as well. ‘Let’s do dinner’ and ‘let’s do laundry’ are identical syntactically but feature very different semantic meanings of ‘do.’ And how do you describe what the word ‘how’ is doing in this sentence?

“It’s not just semantic fiddliness that causes lexicographical pain. Some words, like ‘the’ and ‘a,’ are so small that we barely think of them as words. Most of the publicly available databases that we use for citational spackling don’t even index some of these words, let alone let you search for them — for entirely practical reasons. A search for ‘the’ in our in-house citation database returns over one million hits, which sends the lexicographer into fits of audible swearing, then weeping.

“To keep the lexicographers from crying and disturbing the peo­ple around them, sometimes these small words are pulled from the regular batches and are given to more senior editors for handling. They require the balance of concision, grammatical prowess, speed, and fortitude usually found in wiser and more experienced editors.
I didn’t know any of that at the time, of course, because I was not a wise or more experienced editor. I was hapless and dumb, but dutifully so: grabbing a fistful of index cards from one of the two boxes, I began sorting the cards into piles by part of speech. This is the first job you must do as a lexicographer dealing with paper, because those citations aren’t sorted for you. I figured that ‘take’ wasn’t going to be too terrible in this respect: there’s just a verb and a noun to contend with. When those piles were two and a half inches high and began cascading onto my desk, I decided to dump the rest of the citations into my pencil drawer and stack my citations in the now-empty boxes.

“Sorting citations by their part of speech is usually simple. Most words entered in the dictionary only have one part of speech, and if they have more than one, the parts of speech are usually easy to distinguish between — the noun ‘blemish’ and the verb ‘blemish,’ for example, or the noun ‘courtesy’ and the adjective ‘courtesy.’ By the time you’ve hit T on a major dictionary overhaul like a new edition of the Collegiate, you can sort citations by part of speech in your sleep. For a normal-sized word like ‘blemish,’ it’s a matter of minutes.

“Five hours in, I had finished sorting the first box of citations for ‘take.'”

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
Author: Kory Stamper
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Copyright 2017 by Kory Stamper
Pages: 136-138

 

Naked and Afraid

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  Michelangelo

I am in the throes of editing my most recent novel.  I have taken my last stab at it myself and sent it out naked and afraid into the hands of other readers to be picked over and marked up.  It is a terrible time.  The copies will come back to me with heart-breaking slashes, corrections, ideas and warnings…but as painful as some of those will be that is precisely what I want, what is best for me and for my novel.  My writing group gives me the input along the way and for me that is a great boon, but this sending my baby out whole to be judged in the harsh light of “Here it is, it’s done,” is  nerve wracking.  These critiques I prefer to get whole, not a running commentary in bits and  pieces over the days.  Drop the whole ten ton package on me at once; I will accept the sudden crushing weight and slowly…days, weeks…will begin to sort through it all.  I will launch happily into the punctuation corrections, because I suck at it.  I will look hard at the grammar, because sometimes they’re right.  The toughest parts are the suggestions on story line, character, dialogue, plot movement…my darling quips torn to shreds, that perfect scene devasted, etc.  Hard to swallow, hard to bear…but in the end I do swallow it, not whole by any means.  Some comments and suggestions are easily discarded…not my story, not what I’m doing.  It’s the ones that hit home…that “Oh, my god, they’re right.  How do I fix it?”  Those are the real prizes received from this stage.  Those are the jewels that I receive from this scariest part of my process.

I love my final edit readers, love and fear them.  So bring it on!

 

Editing!

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I am into the final editing of my second book in the Numerius Meridius Pulcher series, Numerius Meridius Pulcher and the Case of the Syrian Slaves and Slippery Slopes.

I really do hate editing!  Punctuation I hate most!  All those commas, semi-colons…and I use a lot of them in the Numerius stories…a style choice. Much easier with the New Orleans series, shorter sentences, shorter chapters.  Could I write the same way for the Numerius Series?  Certainly, but then it wouldn’t be Numerius.  So I muddle on.