Write and Change the World

A replay of a post from 2015. Amidst all the unpredictability today, a few things are entirely within our control, and one of them is kindness. ❤
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JeffersonMost of us have days filled with small acts of kindness. We smile, kiss hurt elbows, throw tennis balls for our dogs. We pay for a coworker’s coffee and leave a big tip. We call a friend in need, chauffeur teenagers, cook a favorite meal, or pick up ice cream on the way home. These small invisible acts often go unacknowledged, but they travel around in overlapping circles, keep our lives balanced and relationships healthy. We see the results in strengthened bonds, deeper commitment, and abiding love.

87230b4a08df4def07bae73905d9319bBut what about those times when we don’t see the ripples? When we toss acts of kindness and compassion into a seemingly bottomless well of suffering and despair? When we perceive no reward for our efforts? When we don’t know if we’re making any lasting difference in our world at all? Some strangers we’ll meet face to face, but most we’ll never know. The poignant tales of their lives will play out in other neighborhoods, other cities, and other lands, unseen and unheard.

download (1)In our political landscape, acts of kindness and compassion are often labeled as weak, a waste of time and money, conciliatory, poor investments, and unpatriotic. In a culture that values money over lives, the manipulations are intense.

Yet, I would argue that when we ordinary folk commit small everyday deeds of kindness and compassion, the ripples are there even though invisible to our eyes and silent to our ears. Those random acts are cups of water that we pour down that deep, collective well. They blend and build, until over time, the bottomless well holds a limitless reservoir from which a garden grows. I have faith that no act of kindness or compassion is wasted, ever.

gandalf quoteI’m not really surprised that Gandalf sits up there with some of the greats when it comes to quotes regarding kindness. Does it matter that he’s a fictional character? Not really. Through Gandalf, Tolkien’s wisdom reached millions. Such is the power of the written word. Books can and do have the power to change the world…

 

Why to avoid “ing” words in fiction

A few weeks ago, I had a blog-conversation with Jacqui Murray of Worddreams about editing out “ing” words. I’ve heard many times that these words should be avoided when writing fiction but never understood why. While some writing no-nos stab me in the eye every time I read them (such as filter words), “ing” words never really bothered me.

So, a little research later, here’s the scoop:

“Ing” words do three things:

They express ongoing action when combined with auxiliary (helping) verbs:
She was washing her hands.
The snow will be piling up all night.

They act as nouns:
Vacuuming kept the dog hair to a minimum.
Walking helps me stay healthy.

They act as adjectives:
The falling apple bonked her on the head.
A failing grade won’t get me into college.

Opportunity #1

Present, future, and past progressive verb combinations

When combined with little “helping” verbs such as am, are, is, was, were, been, have, has, had, “ing” words express ongoing action.

He is working every day.
He was painting on weekends.
He will be gardening after work.
He has been looking out the window since he came home.

Now, all of these sentences are grammatically correct, but they all have extra weak little unnecessary words.

Avoid weak helping verbs and write tighter.

For example:

He is working every day.
He works every day

He was painting on weekends.
He painted on weekends.

He will be gardening after work.
He will garden after work

He has been looking out the window since he came home.
He has looked out the window since he came home.

Caution: Sometimes the progressive action is necessary. Note the difference in meaning below:

He was shooting his gun when the sheriff killed him.
He shot his gun when the sheriff killed him.

Of course instead of “was shooting” you could try something like this:

He peppered the bar with bullets until the sheriff’s aim zeroed in and blasted a hole in his chest.

Which brings me to the next opportunity…

Opportunity #2

Replace weak “ing word” and helping-verb combinations with more powerful verbs.

While searching your manuscript for your “ing” words, look for opportunities to replace common “ing” words with more descriptive verbs in the simple past tense.

For example:

He was looking at the lawn for an hour.
He inspected the lawn for an hour.

She was turning over the burger with one hand and making a salad with the other.
She flipped the burger with one hand and tossed a salad with the other.

The ogre was giving the princess a long-winded explanation.
The ogre bored the princess with a long-winded explanation

Common “Ing” Mistake #1

Simultaneous versus sequential action

Did you know that participial phrases indicate simultaneous action? Not sequential action. This is a very common mistake, and another reason to look closely at those “ing” phrases!

Participial phrases aren’t actually verbs. They’re something called verbals, and they can act like adjectives. Verbals aren’t the action verbs of the sentence, instead they tell us something about the action. What the heck does that mean? Well, read on, and I’ll try to explain.

Here are some examples of incorrectly used participial phrases. Note that the structure implies that the actions are happening simultaneously, even though that would be impossible:

Peeling off his pajamas, he turned on the water and stepped into the shower.
Sprinting down to the lake, he dove in and swam to the other side.
The gymnast landed the dismount, dancing with her fists in the air.
The cat jumped to the window sill and curled into a ball, sleeping in the sunshine.

Yeah, those are wrong. I’m not kidding. Clearly, the actions need to be sequential, but that’s not what the sentences indicate.

Here are examples of those sentences with sequential action:

He peeled off his pajamas, turned on the water, and stepped into the shower.
He sprinted down to the lake, dove in, and swam to the other side.
The gymnast landed the dismount and danced with her fists in the air.
The cat jumped to the window sill, curled into a ball, and slept in the sunshine.

Can participial phrases be used to indicate simultaneous action? Sure. Here are some cases where it’s done correctly:

Peeling off his pajamas, he tangled his feet and fell on the bed.
Sprinting down to the lake, he waved to his sister and her friend.
The gymnast landed the dismount, her feet snapping to the mat.
The cat jumped to the windowsill, knocking over the vase.

Common “Ing” Mistake #2

Dangling participle phrases

We’ve all enjoyed reading these literary bloopers, and many of them can be tied back to those “ing”-phrases.

A dangling participle phrase functions as an adjective and unintentionally modifies the wrong noun (or a missing noun) in a sentence. They’re often found at the beginning of a sentence.

When the modifier or participle is not attached to the correct subject, it “dangles.”

Incorrect: After finishing my homework, the teacher gave me an excellent grade.
Correct: After I finished my homework, the teacher gave me an excellent grade.
Correct: The teacher gave me an excellent grade after I finished my homework.

Here’s another one:

Incorrect: While snacking on trail mix, a rainbow brightened the horizon.
Correct: While we snacked on trail mix, a rainbow brightened the horizon.
Correct: A rainbow brightened the horizon while we snacked on trail mix.

I hope this was helpful. In summary, “ing words” are useful and they help us vary our sentences and paragraphs. But, they require vigilance!

 

Winter’s Creative Gift

image: pixabay

pixabay free images/ Anja Osenberg

The holidays come to a hectic close and my favorite time of year ambles in. Here in Oregon, if you gaze out the window at the January weather, you’ll find a misty, drippy, icy, foggy-soggy mess, at least through May. That gives me five whole months of lighter obligations and a complete lack of guilt for not “enjoying the weather.” In a climate boasting only four months of sunshine, the Vitamin D police are checking every household for us slackers.

For quite a few creative sorts, our pursuits get back-burnered by other more pressing responsibilities – jobs, violin lessons, soccer practice, staining the deck, grocery shopping, sorting socks…it’s amazing that anything in the world ever gets painted, composed, sculpted, or tapped out on the keyboard.

We, who aren’t independently wealthy or already famous, squeeze precious moments for inspiration from the cracks of our crowded lives. We hide in our cubbyholes, our converted attics, our bedrooms and garages. (Oh, I’ve written in the bathroom too). We rise before dawn with a steamy cup of coffee, kiss our lovers goodnight and stay up with the stars. A weekend alone isn’t a time for melancholy wishes; it’s a little taste of heaven with a neglected muse.

Creative time is sacred time, hours marked with inky conviction on the calendar that can’t be erased. As artists, we need to cultivate a belief in the importance of what we do, even when other duties jostle for our attention. We need to believe in the intrinsic value of our art, even when no paycheck arrives in the mail. We need to honor our creative calling and spirit of inspiration, even when the doubters tell us how nice it is we have a hobby to fill our free time!

In Oregon, the winter weather comes bearing the creative gift of unassigned hours. No matter where you live, dedicate a few empty squares of your calendar to nourish your creative soul and save the dates as you would for your child’s wedding. Be resolved.

Guest Post: Hannah Blatter – Dreams of a writer/illustrator

Hannah Blatter is beginning her journey as an author of children’s books. I was enamored with her personal story and hope it warms your heart too. Over to Hannah:

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Hannah Blatter

In early 2019, I was diagnosed with panic disorder. It took me 10 years to make that step to seek help and receive an official diagnosis. When this happened, I felt like I was inferior, as a mother, as a wife, as a human being. I had these moments, hours, weeks, when I didn’t think I would ever reach my goals. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Like other people can handle this, but I can’t.

My son was 6 years old at the time, and I did not want to feel like I failed him. I didn’t want him to have high hopes and dreams and not go after them if he ever had a mental or physical illness. I never wanted him to feel like he was not good enough no matter what diagnoses he carried.

“In Colorado, you can ride a dinosaur with a saddle”

 

“You could also raft the Zambezi river with a paddle”

I have always had a background in art, working with design and illustrations. I wanted to give my son something, to show him that if there is something he wants to do, it’s possible. I had this idea stirring in my head from working with young children in my job.

When you ask them what they want to do when they grow up, they always say “a firefighter, doctor, mermaid!” and so on. Well, it’s wonderful that they have headway on their careers, however, what about what they want to see? Where do they want to go? There is so much in this world, why not open up their little minds to how much more there is.

I want my son to get the message that if you want to write a book or direct a movie, you can find resources to help you do that. If you want to drive on the longest bridge on earth, there are things you can do to make it happen. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to be scared to do these things. It’s okay to say you’re scared to do these things. And most importantly, it’s okay to ask for help.

“You can go sing on Broadway and learn how to dance”

 

“Or, you can feel like royalty when you stay at a castle in France.”

We all have our limitations, mentally, emotionally, physically. We have limitations in our knowledge, in our relationships, and in our environments. If we all gave in to our limitations, nobody would ever get anything done. It’s okay to accept these things and ask for help to work with them and around them.

So I am asking, graciously, for help to gain access to tools that will give me the ability to show my son that these things I say to him are true. I want to walk into a bookstore with him and see our book. I can say “Look, I get scared, I get upset. I am different. But, I can still do this, and so can you.”

“You could just watch the stars from a Cappadocia hot air balloon”

***

A question from Hannah for any children’s authors and illustrators:

What was the most difficult roadblock you overcame in publishing your first children’s book?
I’d love to hear your tips or advice.
Thank you!

Connect with Hannah on Instagram: @blatterhannah

And Merry Christmas!

pixabay

 

A visit from the bossy muse, a free book, and a couple of awards

The muse’s latest look (pixabay compilation)

Way too early in the morning, my muse drops down beside me on my couch and tosses her hat onto the coffee table. The howler monkey that’s been riding her shoulder for a year leaps onto my kitchen counter, curls back its rubbery lips, and flashes a yellow-toothed grin. The muse hands me a latte. “Nice progress on the draft… finally.”

“Thanks.” I’m still leering at the monkey but manage to sip my latte. Yum. “So, why the visit?  You know I’m under NaNo pressure.” I somehow forget to mention that yesterday I logged zero words.

She arches an eyebrow but for once shrugs off her annoyance. “I’m running a promotion for a couple of days. Catling’s Bane is free today and Wednesday. Your sales blah blah blah…” I’m not listening. The howler’s opened my refrigerator and taken a bite from a head of lettuce. He’s going for the orange juice.

I bolt up. “Hey! Out of there!” The beast roars at me, a sound capable of bursting eardrums. He grabs a tuna sandwich I made for my husband’s lunch, darts across the cabin’s single room, and climbs halfway up the stairs. Suspended from the banister, he gobbles and spills bits of sandwich on the furniture below. UGH. I sink back onto the couch and glower, afraid any further intervention will make it worse.

“What else,” I ask, wanting to get this over with as quickly as I can.

She smiles at me. My muse never smiles. “Two of your books were semi-finalists in the 2019 Kindle Book Awards.”

“What?” I’ve now forgotten all about the howler and the globs of tuna sprinkling my floor. I’d also forgotten that I submitted books. “Both of them?”

Sunweilder and Soul Swallowers.” She tips back her latte, stands, and snaps her fingers at the monkey. Not two seconds later, the creature swings from the banister onto her shoulder. My muse heads for the door, her familiar bossy ill-humor sliding onto her face. “Get to work.”

“I plan on it. After I clean up this mess.” As she walks out the door and into the forest, I call after her, “Hey, if I finish my first draft, can we lose the monkey?”

She glances back and slips me an evil smile.

***

I guess the muse’s visit could have gone a lot worse.

Click on the cover if you’re interested in a free kindle of Catling’s Bane:

 

And here are those semi-finalists:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Ninny Rhino Celebration

Pixabay compilation

Back at the beginning of March, I kicked off a Mini-WriMo, which fondly become known as a Ninny Rhino. Everyone was invited to join in. We each were free to establish their own writing-related goals.

I had high hopes, but life got in the way. So after a week of not reaching my number, I lowered my goal by half. That’s how this works. Gentle goals and being kind to ourselves – a nudge to write without getting impaled.

If you responded to the slightest nudge, wrote one word more than you would have otherwise, organized your writing space, read an ignored article on marketing, sat for an extra hour of editing, etc., YOU WON the Ninny Rhino badge! (You’re free to download the above badge).

To celebrate, please share your accomplishment in the comments as well as a link to one of your favorite posts (any post and open to all writers and poets).  I encourage everyone who comments to visit a few other Ninny Rhino enthusiasts.

And if you want to do it again (or for the first time)… there’s always May. 🙂

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

Crutch Words – the Word Police

wikimedia commons: keystone cops

The Word Police are back at it, rapping on my door and handing out citations. I plea-bargained my way out of jail by agreeing to publically share some of my past transgressions. The hope is that other wayward writers will take heed and avoid my mistakes. Crutch Words is the first in a series of writing tips from the coppers.

What are Crutch words?

Crutch words are words that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence. They’re hollow words that we automatically insert and frequently don’t notice. We want our writing to be tight and sharp. Too many crutch words will slow down the pace and dull the impact.

An interesting thing about crutch words is that we often have favorites. You may never use some words from the list below and use others more than you want to admit!

As a condition of my parole, I provided examples of these sneaky words. And I remind you that it would be impossible to remove every one. Sometimes you need them (in which case they aren’t crutches at all). Simply be aware of yours and edit when appropriate.

Here’s a list of some common crutch words:

that, then, next, just, actually, really, still, yet, only, so, even, began, started, going to…

Below are some examples of these sneaky words used in sentences. Notice how they nothing to the meaning.

She missed all the targets he’d lined up for her.
She missed all the targets that he’d lined up for her.

He grabbed the towel hanging over the rail.
He grabbed the towel that hung over the rail.

Mary knelt in the garden, yanked on her gloves, and spent the day weeding.
Mary knelt in the garden, yanked on her gloves, and then spent the day weeding.

Burt finished his breakfast. He delivered the packages and stopped at the market.
Burt finished his breakfast. Next, he delivered the packages and stopped at the market.

I’m trying to push the boat from the dock.
I’m just trying to push the boat from the dock.

If he intended to use the knife, he’d need to sharpen it.
If he actually/really/still intended to use the knife, he’d need to sharpen it.

He didn’t know whether he’d attend the wedding.
He didn’t know yet whether he’d attend the wedding.

If she could read the sign, she’d know which way to turn.
If only she could read the sign, she’d know which way to turn.

Teenagers rarely wake up early.
Teenagers so rarely wake up early.

He tried to climb the tree, but couldn’t reach the first limb.
He tried to climb the tree, but couldn’t even reach the first limb.

I chatted with Betty as we walked down the path. The lake sparkled in the distance.
I chatted with Betty as we began/started to walk down the path. The lake sparkled in the distance.

This will be the best day to hunt for shells.
This is going to be the best day to hunt for shells.

Next from the Word Police: Vague Words.

Happy Writing!