Tag Archives: opinion

Checking the Details

“Use Grammarly to check for plagiarism because yo mama didn’t raise no cheater!”

My Mama didn’t raise a cheater, either, but it is so easy to clip and snip online, sometimes I lose track of exactly whose words my snippets came from.

In less than a minute, Grammarly’s grammar and plagiarism checker scans my text for plagiarism, grammatical mistakes, and spelling errors, offering solutions and in-depth explanations to help improve my writing.

Grammarly is one of the many online sites that offer help with our writing that would have seemed miraculous only a few short years ago.  In an instant you can find a site to tell you what women wore in 1919, what the most popular names were for girls born in 1935, or what kind of car was considered cool in 1952. Online sites can help you get your factual details straight and suggest better placement for all those commas that keep cropping up.

But what about those other details? The details that bring a scene to life for the reader.

About a hundred years ago (more or less) I used to try to write poetry. After writing and scrapping several wastebaskets full of crapola, I began to study the poems I liked and make lists of what they had in common. One thing stood out: Details.  Original details.

Specific details early in the piece give readers a place to stand, a reference point to experience the rest of the story. Although most people go through life without consciously noticing details, writers must observe the details.

swingsIncluding specific details will improve any kind of writing, not just poetry, but use details that advance the idea. Don’t use details just to use details. For instance, if I want to convey the loneliness of a school playground abandoned after a shooting, I might mention an empty swing  swaying in the breeze. I won’t mention exactly how many swings or what brand, because those details don’t describe the loneliness I want the reader to feel.

Mix your details carefully. Put them in some sort of order. Generally, unless for some kind of effect, the order will be how the eye sees them, such as along the street, from high to low. Don’t make the reader jump around.

It is essential to include details from more than one sense.

Include  details on hearing, texture, or smell.  Remember, the sense of smell is the most primitive,and often invokes the strongest emotion.

When you use details in your writing, you show not tell. You have no choice. Details let the reader experience and thus connect to the story.

V is for VOTE

the_golden_lane_001On Election Day in 1920, millions of American women exercised their right to vote for the first time. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy. Women who joined peaceful marches and protests were spit upon, assaulted, and jailed repeatedly.  But on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

One of the largest protests of the suffrage movement happened the day before Woodrow Wilson was to be inaugurated as President in 1913. Between 5,000 to 8,000 suffragists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House — and hundreds of thousands of onlookers. Organizers Alice Paul and Lucy Burns had secured a permit to march, however, many protesters were assaulted by those in the crowd who opposed the women’s right-to-vote campaign. Attacks ranged from spitting and throwing of objects to all-out physical assaults. While many women were injured, public outrage at the violence translated to wider support for the suffrage movement.

My friend, Margot McMillen, wrote about the Women of Missouri who fought for the right to vote in her book The Golden Lane.

It was June 14, 1916, a warm, sticky Wednesday morning. The Democratic Convention would soon meet in St. Louis. Inside the Jefferson Hotel, the men ate breakfast and met with their committees. Outside the hotel, thousands of women quietly took their places along both sides of Locust Street. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, each one in a dress that brushed the pavement, shading herself with a yellow parasol, wearing a yellow sash that said “Votes for Women.” The all-male delegations may not have had a comfortable walk down The Golden Lane, but they were moved to add women’s suffrage to the national platform. 

When I read about the brave women who won this basic right for me, I am even more determined to keep informed about the policy makers in our county, state, and national governments. I want to have a say in who sits on my grandchildren’s school board, and what decisions are made in the county courthouse.

Not too long ago, men told us we weren’t quite smart enough, or emotionally stable enough, to have any say at all in how men made and enforced the laws that bound our lives.

To all my women friends: we WON the right to VOTE. Use it!

 

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D is for Details

About a hundred years ago (more or less) I used to try to write poetry. After writing and scrapping several wastebaskets full of crapola, I began to study the poems I liked and make lists of what they had in common. One thing stood out: Details.  Original details.

Specific details early in the piece give readers a place to stand, a reference point to experience the rest of the story. Although most people go through life without consciously noticing details, writers must observe the details.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image1882776Including specific details will improve any kind of writing, not just poetry, but use details that advance the idea. Don’t use details just to use details. For instance, if I want to convey the loneliness of a school playground abandoned after a shooting, I might mention an empty swing  swaying in the breeze. I won’t mention exactly how many swings or what brand, because those details don’t describe the loneliness I want the reader to feel.

Mix your details carefully. Put them in some sort of order. Generally, unless for some kind of effect, the order will be how the eye sees them, such as along the street, from high to low. Don’t make the reader jump around.

It is essential to include details from more than one sense.

Include  details on hearing, texture, or smell.  Remember, the sense of smell is the most primitive, and often invokes the strongest emotion.

When you use details in your writing, you show not tell. You have no choice. Details let the reader experience and thus connect to the story.

Other A-Z Challenge Blogs

Arlee Bird – Tossing it Out

Damyanti Biswas – Amlokiblogs (WR)

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C is for Critique Group

Callaway Critique members

My Critique partners

This letter of the A-Z Challenge was easy. I wouldn’t be writing today if I didn’t belong to the Callaway Critique Group.

Most successful writers recommend a good critique group and the web is full of advice on how to form, find, or manage one.  There are debates on whether it is better to meet in person or online, whether meetings should be structured or laid back, and even instructions on how to interview “applicants.”  The general consensus seems to be that good critique groups don’t just happen – they must be planned.

I didn’t actually read any of this advice before we started the group. That’s a good thing, because it probably would have scared me off of the whole idea.   Our critique group sprang from a larger writer’s group that had been meeting once a month  for several years.    The large group was all about projects:  readings, anthologies, workshops for beginners, and  even a mentoring program for teen writers.

Some of us wanted to spend more time critiquing and getting critiques for our own writing.  It felt selfish at the time, but splitting away from the big group is the best thing I ever did for my writing.

Most expert say a critique group should be small, no more that five or six members. We have a core group of five.   We are all novelists, but genres and styles vary:  literary, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror.  (Yes, I know that’s more than five.) And if someone brings in a memoir or a bit of freelance copy-writing, nobody complains. We critique it.

We’ve been getting together for breakfast every other Saturday for about seven years.  We share manuscripts by email a few days before each meeting. We also have an online group that allows us to keep in touch at a moments notice.  Some days the emails fly back and forth, other days it’s quiet. But we always know the others are there if we need a query letter proof read right away, or quick sympathy and support after getting an impersonal rejection.

Bottom line, if you’re a new writer and don’t belong to a critique group, find one or form your own. It’s worth the effort.

 

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B is for Balance

Tightrope walkerDo you ever feel like your life is a balancing act and you are in constant danger of tipping too far in one direction and going over the edge?    Even though you don’t usually think about  about  the balancing act, it’s always there.

Balancing your time between “work” and “life” is such a popular concept it has developed into a hyphenated buzzword: work-life.  Those two words are both so broad they are almost meaningless.  What is work, after all?  And what is life?  Big questions. And no two people have exactly the same answers.  Before we can find balance we need to define what  those words means to each of us, personally.

Jack Welch, former GE CEO says that -“There’s no such thing as Work- Life Balance.  There are work- life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Everyday you decide  how to walk that line.   Every choice is really about time. How do you spend your time?

As children and young adults we believe we are immortal–we have all the time in the world.  Life consists of an endless supply of opportunities.  When I was a child, a teachers told  my class that in the year 2000 we would all be about fifty years old.  That seemed incomprehensibly old and infinitely far away.   Now that I am well on the other side of fifty, my perspective has changed a bit. Fifty is not old and time is not infinite.  We do not have all the time in the world.  I’m sure I’m not unique in this experience.  Most of us realize as we age our time is a limited resource and should be treasured and treated as such.

Sadly, when this basic truth becomes clear to us, many of our life balancing choices have already been made and lived.

The key to finding the balance that works for you is to decide what is truly important to you.  What fulfills you and makes you glad that you have experienced a day and look forward to another.  That should give you a clue as to how to budget the hours given to you.

Just remember, time is not money.  You can always make more money.  Once you have spent time, there is no way to get it back.  Be sure to make it count.

Other A-Z bloggers

 

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Retirement

Hammock.

Last week, on April 11, 2012, I retired.  At the lovely reception the library hosted on my last day, everyone  was asking what I planned to do with all my free time.  I told some folks about the hammock my husband had just hung for me.  

Others got a more serious answer. I retired because I have always wanted to write and have never felt there was enough time.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Not enough time” is the standard excuse given by every would-be writer in the world.   Those who really want to write find the time somewhere. They get up earlier, stay up later, write on lunch hours and in waiting rooms.   I have done those things. Sometimes.

One of my gifts was a mug that says “Retirement – when you stop making a living and start making a life.”  That’s WRONG. The absolute wrong way to look at retirement or at leaving your job to write.  FIRST you make a LIFE doing something that means more to you than “making a living”.  Without that Life to build on, your retirement and your writing is empty and uninspired.

I made a life. A good life full of family and work, joy and pain, love and anger.  Every day, every moment of my life is a seed of a story waiting to be told.

Now.

I have time.

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What’s your opinion of the occupy Wall Street movement?

You know things are messed up when Librarians start marching

I’m glad the Daily Post asked this question because the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been on my mind.  It seems to be getting bigger and there are variations all over the world.  It reminds me so much of the protests and marches of the late sixties.  Not all those memories are good.  None of us who were adults then will ever forget the horror of Kent State or the fear and confusion of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  It was a scary time, and in some ways, as this movement builds intensity, I can’t help worrying that more turbulent, frightening days are ahead.

We need to be ready. But no one should back away from this fight out of fear.

Yes, the sixties were scary.  The comfortable status-quo got a hard kick in the behind and everything changed. Would I be willing to go back to those quiet days when blacks rode in the back of the bus, a woman’s place was (only) in the home, and gay people were simply invisible?  No. I would not go back there. Changes needed to be made.  It was time for good people to protest to ask for those changes.  I think the time for protest is here again.

The librarian in the photo above says “things are messed up” and I  agree with her.  The politicians don’t seem to be able or willing to do anything at all to fix the heart breaking problems so many are facing. People my age have been hit hard. We’ve worked all our lives, contributing to our 401Ks, building equity in our homes, paying our Social Security taxes out of every paycheck.  We thought we could send our kids to school and have a respectable retirement. Now most of us are working past retirement age, our kids are unemployed, and congress keeps talking about the social security fund running out of money.

Shake the numbers any way you want and the answer is the same: Millionaires are getting richer fast, and their tax burden has been cut in half since World War II. The middle class is slowly sinking, despite working longer hours with greater productivity. And the army of the poor is flooded with new recruits, most of them with a long history of working in lousy, low-wage jobs.

I support the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I am part of the one percent.

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How do you stay true to yourself?

What does it mean to you to stay true to yourself? Which part of yourself do you think about? – dailypost.wordpress.com

This morning a patron showed me a quote she found and printed on the library’s public printer. In large block letters it proclaimed: Spend more time worrying about your character than about your reputation, after all, character is who you are. Reputation is just who other people think you are.  She said she was going to post it on her office wall where everyone who worked with her would be able to see it every day.

That quote, along with today’s writing prompt, started me thinking, but I’m not sure I’ll ever find one definitive answer.

Staying true to myself means doing what I know is right, even if no one will ever know. It means listening to my own conscience. It means living by Luke 6:31: And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

But that is not all it means. Being true to myself means trying every day to achieve my own dreams, to stretch myself to do more, to be more than just what is expected.  It means not giving up, not settling for “good enough.”

What’s More Important: Electricity or the Internet?

From the WordPress post-a-day challenge: As a specific topic to write about: How would you compare the importance of electricity with the invention of the internet? or the cell phone? Can this kind of comparison be made? If you had to lose one of these inventions, which would you keep? And why?

It must have been a young person who wrote that question.  A rather naive young person.   Look down behind your computer. Is there a cord down there? Is it plugged into the wall? Into an electrical outlet?  Without electricity there is no internet.  Period. Without the internet the world goes happily on, just as it has for thousands of years.

It is NOT possible to make a comparison. But, let’s suppose there was some magical way we could lose electricity and still have access to the internet. I would choose electricity without regret. Electricity not only powers the internet, it powers the pumps that bring us clean drinking water and a thousand other things we don’t even have to think about anymore.

I’m old enough to remember a rural home with limited electrical devices.  There was a drippy, messy block of ice to keep our food from spoiling (for a little while). We walked out the back door and down a path several times during the day and night and there was nothing automatic to wash away what we left in that little house behind the garden.  To wash up we primed the pump with a little pail of water left on the well top, turned the cistern handle til the big bucket was full, refilled the priming pail, carried the big bucket into the house, dipped out a tea kettle full, heated it on the wood stove, then poured it out in a wash basin.

No doubt the internet has changed the world in many ways. But it does not compare to the life changing power of electricity.

 

 

Do You Believe in the Death Penalty?

The title to this post is the writing prompt suggested by post-a-day.

I think I would have to say yes.

I know many of my closest friends would not agree with me, and  have strong feelings about what they call “legalized murder.”  But there is one fact I can’t forget. Some crimes are so heinous the only halfway appropriate punishment is the death of the perpetrator.  For instance, I believe anyone who rapes and murders a child should be put to death. Instantly.

The problem with our current system is that it is never instant. Never. Criminals are kept on death row for years. They are put through an agony of waiting and uncertainty. While they wait, the government (taxpayers – you and me) pay enormous amounts of money.   Maximum security cells cost from $60,000 to $75,000 per year.   Because of the additional cost of lengthy trials and appeals, a child murderer may cost the taxpayers two million dollars or more before he is put to death OR wins a final appeal and is given life without parole.

If he wins that final appeal the costs will continue until he dies of natural causes.   Forty or fifty years at $60,000 each.   Inmates serving life without parole have very little incentive to become model prisoners.  Sometimes they hurt other prisoners, guards, or themselves.

Some say the death penalty is not a deterrent because states where the death penalty is used the most do not have the lowest crime rates.  But  one thing is certain: the murderer who pays with his own life will never kill again.