Category Archives: Editing

C.D. Wright on Revision

Off playing with my uncle and aunt who are visiting from Mountain Home, Arkansas.

The other day I was watching video clips of poet C. D. Wright who passed away January 12. Coincidentally, she was born in Mountain Home. I found this video where she talks about revision and “the writing mind,” as I would call it.

From what I can find online, they still don’t know how C.D. died. She went to sleep that night and never woke up again. Tests could not determine a cause of death. She was 67 years old and in great shape. A very vital member of the poetry community.

Here’s an article about her death that quotes her brother. Family Mourns Death of Poet Born in Mountain Home

I love how she talks in this video about the way her own mind works regarding writing and revision. She talks about her mind idling after it takes in information. That she can’t respond immediately. I well know that feeling! How about you? 

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Filed under Editing, Poetry, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

You Wanted to Hear What That Flash Nonfiction Course Was Like?

Marie from 1WriteWay and I completed our Flash Essay on the Edge course. It was offered by Apiary Lit, which offers editorial services, as well as courses they call workshops.

The course instructor was talented writer and teacher Chelsea Biondolillo. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Rappahannock Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Shenandoah, and others. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is a 2014-15 O’Connor Fellow at Colgate University. You can check out Chelsea here or do a search for her pieces in online magazines. Her knowledge of the genre and generosity to share that knowledge with her students was outstanding.

I took the course because I hadn’t written for months, mainly because of my father’s illness and death. Knowing the way I operate, I figured that a course would force me to focus and get a little writing done.

As planned, Marie and I evaluated the course when we were finished. We are both posting a list of the pros and cons of the course, as we saw it. At the end of the list, I’ll give you my additional impressions. Check out Marie’s post because she will give her own impressions.

Course Textbook

PROs

  • The teacher prep was outstanding. She provided a wealth of readings, which were useful in showing me what flash nonfiction can look and sound like.
  • The course was only four weeks, so I found that to be very manageable. If it had been longer, I would have been too stressed during the summer and at this time in my life.
  • The instructor generally gave useful feedback, seemed qualified in the subject, and was very nice. She seemed to love her subject.
  • The instructor was accessible, responding within the same day if there was a question or concern.
  • Other than a problem I will list under CONs, the website was pretty easy to negotiate.
  • The online classroom had various forums that enabled you to share your work with the other students and have discussions.
  • The writing prompts were generally interesting, but I didn’t feel tied to them, which was good.
  • The course was not graded.  I could focus on what I wanted to turn in, not what I thought I had to turn in in order to get an A.
  • The course got me writing without adding stress to my life.
  • I got more writing done in this past month than I would have otherwise.
  • I feel that I know where to go with flash nonfiction now. It would be ideal to get more feedback down the road on attempts at Flash Nonfiction, but at least I feel much more comfortable with the genre from taking this course.
  • Above all, I had fun with the readings and the writing.

CONS

  • Although there were forums available, we had no real discussion of any of the readings. We were not strongly encouraged to interact with each other. We had maybe one discussion prompt during the whole course.
  • The readings and essay examples were available through either some kind of Adobe program that took a bit of time to figure out, or through hyperlinks that weren’t always easy to download.
  • We posted our written assignments privately to the instructor so I had no way of learning from what others had turned in or from reading instructor comments on the work of others. I didn’t care for this method as it diminished what I could learn from the course by a hefty percentage. I suppose this is the difference between the workshop method and a traditional style class.
  • We felt isolated in this class and had little interaction with anyone but each other and the instructor.  In the discussion forum, one other student interacted with us, and another made a couple of independent comments.  Other than that, it was a strangely quiet class.
  • Two platforms were used for the course:  an online classroom and a blog, so sometimes I had a little trouble negotiating the course. Sometimes I had to login in two places. This inconvenience turned out to be less of a problem than I first anticipated, but it could be streamlined.  The blog material could have been included on the classroom platform.
  • Since I don’t know how many people were in the course, I don’t know the instructor’s workload. My belief is that in a course that is short in length, the instructor should return assignments in short order. The lag time between turning in an assignment/beginning reading for a new lesson and getting the instructor’s feedback on my previous assignment was a little too long for my comfort.
  • The price at $199 was a little steep for four weeks and no discussion/no workshopping.

***

 I want to make clear that I am really glad I took the course. Apiary hired a qualified instructor and offered a solid, contemporary course. There was so much that was right about the course. But I think it needs a little tinkering to make it better in terms of both learning environment and the economy of the course.

The above list really hits the main points of what I liked and didn’t care for about the course. The oddest thing for me was working in such an isolated environment. I’ve been in many workshops, and this isn’t a workshop. In workshops, your work is presented to the teacher and classmates. Typically, you receive feedback from both the instructor and at least a fair number of peers. I learn this way from what several people have to say about a piece. And I learn a lot from reading the work of others and seeing what all, especially the instructor, have to say about a variety of writing.

That said, there are people who hate workshops, generally because they have had a bad experience with one. I also find it fun to diss them sometimes. But, overall, they are an effective way to improve one’s writing.

The class seemed eerily quiet, perhaps because it wasn’t a workshop. But if we had had discussions about our readings, that would have provided some connection between students.

One other student (besides Marie and me) did participate in the class as much as possible. The course had a feature that she and I both used. It was called the Work-Sharing Blog. We were allowed to post anything we wanted to and see if anybody would give us feedback. It was not encouraged by the instructor or the course setup, but this other student and I both took advantage of it. I was thrilled to get feedback from her and from Marie on a piece I’ve struggled with.

I’ve taken online writing courses from a variety of schools/companies. They all have their pros and cons. For what I wanted this summer, Apiary’s course satisfied me fairly well.

If you are looking for an online writing course, my suggestion would be to decide how you want to learn and then ask questions. If you want a workshop, ask if all students will be sharing their work with the class and if the class will be providing peer feedback. Will there be guidelines for providing that feedback? The guidelines protect the writer from snarky or downright mean classmates. If you don’t want a workshop, ask those questions, too. Be aware that the majority of online writing courses are workshop-based.

Have fun! It’s so rewarding to get motivation, specialized readings, and writing feedback all in one place.

Once I get my thoughts together on the subject, I’ll post something about the genre of flash nonfiction, to give you an idea of what we were working on.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Creative Nonfiction, Editing, Essay, Flash Nonfiction, Inspiration, Literary Journals, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals, Writing prompt, Writing Tips and Habits

Assigning Stars to Books I’ve Read

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, AMERICAN READERS!!!

After I started transferring my memoir reviews over to Goodreads, I had to go through another critiquing process: assigning the number of stars to each book. What goes into that analysis is different from writing a review. A review focuses on all the ways the reader (the reviewer) reacts to and interacts with a book. I can love the experience of reading a book without thinking that overall the book deserves the highest score possible, 5 stars.

Also, there are books I want to give a 4.5, but I don’t know how to do that. Do you have to assign a 4 or a 5? No halves?

And what does a 5 mean? Does it always mean that I think the book is the most engaging story? Not necessarily because some books aren’t about the narrative. Does it mean that the book has the most literate, well-crafted sentences? Often times it does mean that. But not always. I am using 5 stars to mean a book that I can see myself reading again, should the occasion arise. And a book I can advise others to read, without qualification.

It kind of astonishes me how stingy some people are when they assign stars to books on Goodreads. I suspect those people have never written anything themselves ;).

Here are some unexpected stars in nature:

And here:

Speaking of book reviews, I plan on writing one for Julia Scheeres’ memoir Jesus Land in the near future.

This winter I will complete my tutorial in the Stanford program. In the tutorial I will be working with an instructor who will read my whole book draft (the memoir) and give me feedback for revision. Researching the Stanford instructors I realized that I so wanted to work with Julia Scheeres, especially after I read her Jesus Land.  Oh, what a book! Imagine my excitement when I got the email saying that my request had been approved and that I get to work with Ms. Scheeres this winter!

But I have to go work on my draft which needs another year’s worth of work before it’s ready. And I only have until the end of December. Good thing we’re not having our Thanksgiving dinner today. Pumpkin pie Saturday!

 

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Filed under Book Review, Creative Nonfiction, Editing, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing goals

Call Me Slacker

It was three days ago that I promised to “get cracking.” Is that expression only found in certain parts of the country?

Anyway, I promised to respond to blog comments, to read other blogs, and I guess implicitly I promised to keep posting.  Yikes. I’m 30 pages away from the end of the memoir I’m reading (so I have no memoir review yet). And I have read some blogs, but have by no means caught up. I’ve responded to very few comments on this blog.

After getting back from Michigan, I had a lot of business work to handle.  In addition, I had to revise my poetry book manuscript, Doll God. Then I am putting together a package of pages and book summary to finish my certificate in nonfiction through Stanford University. I have a poem being published online tomorrow and had to record an audio version. The list goes on and on.

I will keep working at catching up, but in the meantime I feel like such a slacker. And yet I’m really busy! I swear I am!

So that you didn’t read this for nothing, I can offer you some photos of the covered bridge outside Centreville, Michigan. My grandmother loved covered bridges. She collected paintings of them. I think they reminded her of growing up at the beginning of the 20th century in rural Michigan.  This particular covered bridge is special to me. My husband and I drove through it on our first date, which was a drive in the country. We were high school juniors.

Covered bridge plaque

Covered bridge

Covered bridge interior

I’m closing comments on this post to give me more time to catch up.  Thanks for stopping by! xo

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Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Doll God, Editing, Memoir, Nonfiction, WordPress, Writing, Writing goals

You Did It

I experimented with something new in my writing. I wrote a poem and a story in second person. Everywhere I wanted to say “I did” this, I wrote “you did.” It’s not a point of view that would work for every piece–and it has to be used sparingly–but it really got me out of my writing ruts (craters, according to the mean editor in my head).

EWE WITH WRITING  OR  WRITING WITH YOU

EWE WITH WRITING
OR
WRITING WITH YOU

In the story, writing about “you” instead of “I” gave me that needed distance between the me of today and the me of 1979. The two women are barely the same person.

Here’s a sample from the story:

Not that long ago, you’d partied in your college town with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got you alone in the kitchen, he’d blown rum breath in your face and fingered your long brown hair, the hair you straightened with giant rollers . . . .

Here it would be in 1st person:

Not that long ago, I’d partied back home with a friend and her boyfriend, an ugly drunk. When he got me alone in the kitchen, he’s blown rum breath in my face and fingered my hair, the hair I straightened with giant rollers . . . .

There’s nothing wrong (in my estimation haha) with the second one, but writing in the “I,” I need to show more introspection and accountability for myself. In the “you,” I don’t need to do so and that forces the reader to read more sharply and pay attention more closely. For a short piece like this (500 words total), that’s the reading effect I wanted. Notice that I also felt funny about saying “long brown” about my hair. Too many adjectives about the self. But in 2nd person I can get away with it.

In the poem, experimenting with 2nd person added a mysterious layer that lends depth and texture.

In both pieces, the reader is approached more intimately and encouraged to participate in the birth of the piece (writing + reading = birth).

If you feel that you’re in a rut with your writing, why don’t you give it a try? Either write a story or poem from scratch in the 2nd person point of view (POV) or take an existing draft and change it. But when you revise into the new POV, be sure to keep yourself loose enough to make other changes as you go. Once you change POV you are changing the story in more ways than you can imagine.

 

Write a story or poem in 2nd person point of view. Or revise a 1st person story or poem into 2nd person.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Editing, Essay, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Poetry, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

Getting a Little Help With My Grammar

I use Grammarly to check plagiarism online because I want to find out if somebody’s pilfered something from my head before I can use it.

Yes, sometimes I feel as if somebody gets the ideas out before I get a chance.

Seriously, though, if you’re wondering why I wrote that first sentence it’s because I got a nice present from Grammarly for linking to them. But the truth is that I like Grammarly and that’s the only reason I am writing this post. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think the product had value.

I used to teach college, and there were always those papers. “Those papers” came in different forms.

  • There were the well-written papers by people who can’t string two sentences together for a quiz.
  • There were the well-written papers that were definitely not written to fulfill the writing prompt.
  • There were the very awful papers with a big patch of grammatical writing smack in the middle of sentence fragments and misspellings.
  • There were the papers that sounded like a review on Amazon (and were).
  • There was the papers like the one I got from a white female about the experience of a black male from a previous generation (turned out to be Langston Hughes).

You get the idea. They were plagiarized papers.  You know, the ones where I spent a lot more time grading them than the students spent “writing” them.

I wish I’d had Grammarly to use for these papers.  So what do I like it for now that I am no longer teaching? It’s a quick fix that tells me if a piece of writing has grammar issues or if it accidentally cribs somebody without giving credit.  My daughter and I have been working on her acting and music website, and we used Grammarly to help smooth out the text.

I’m not an expert on grammar because my training in teaching English was in reading and analyzing literature and in writing fiction and poetry. And I’m not a grammar snob either, although I have some friends who are (they are the ones who make grammar jokes on Facebook).

My students used to ask me if there was something like “spell check” for grammar. There wasn’t anything that worked well.

But now there is Grammarly.

So I ran the above through Grammarly.  The results were 21 errors and a score of 56 out of 100!  Huh? For an ex-teacher of–wait for it–English?!

I proceeded to use Grammarly the way it is intended: as a little nag that makes you stop and look at a variety of possible errors.  The first few errors were related to the name Grammarly. Because it ends with an -ly it read the word as an adverb. That’s understandable. But it shows that you have to use Grammarly as a guide, not as a model.

Another error was that I began the third sentence with the conjunction “but.” This usage is not proper for formal writing, but hey, this is a blog post, and I like it to be more conversational. Don’t you? But I appreciate the reminder.

Grammarly didn’t like my first sentence because it is wordy. Thanks, Grammarly :).

Now look at the second item in my list.  It reads: “There were the well-written papers that were definitely not written to fulfill the writing prompt.” Grammarly advises me that I do not necessarily need the modifier “definitely.” I sure don’t. But I like it because it adds emphasis. Oops, I just started a sentence with a conjunction again. Actually, I am really glad it pointed out the “definitely” though because I am prone to overusing modifiers.

Overall, a lot of the errors Grammarly found were because I wrote the blog post in a conversational style, using informal grammar. But for more formal purposes, like my daughter’s website or professional writing, these prompts from Grammarly are invaluable.  Also, there are two explanations for each error–a long one and a short one!

WOW, LOOK AT THIS!

But wait. There are different formats to use for reviewing your writing! I was running my blog post through “General.” They also offer Business, Academic, Technical, Creative, and Casual.

I ran the above section of this post through Creative and got only 5 errors, and through Casual I received 4. Most of these were stop-and-consider notices, not true errors.

One caveat . . .

Up above, I wrote this sentence: “There was the papers like the one I got from a white female about the experience of a black male from a previous generation (turned out to be Langston Hughes).”

Do you notice the error? There was  should be There were.  But Grammarly didn’t catch it the first time or the second or the third. Then I isolated the sentence and tried it alone, and Grammarly told me I had zero errors.

Bottom line is this

I really like Grammarly. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. It performs some of the same functions as the WordPress proofreader, but is much more elaborate and specific.  It’s not meant to be used on its own to edit your writing. It’s meant to be your partner in the process. You need some knowledge of English grammar and punctuation to get the most out of the program.

And for some reason running text through the review is almost as addictive as Candy Crush.

Here’s a little image for my grammar snob friends:

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Filed under Editing, Nonfiction, Writing