Good Grammar & Tired Brains Don’t Mix

If you want your writing to have decent grammar, it’s better to do it when you’re conscious (the brain, at least, should be awake). As obvious as that seems, when you’re trying to cram in writing with a full time job, family, friends, car repairs, etc., it’s not the easiest rule to stick to. There are plenty of writers who get their writing in after everyone else is in bed or before they themselves collapse for the night.

Like right now. When I’m writing this.

The only problem with that is that tired brains make more mistakes. Honestly, I make more than twice as many grammar errors when I’m tired or in a hurry (or, heaven forbid, both). And they’re the embarrassing types of mistakes – like typing the wrong “there” or using a possessive for a plural noun. I’m ok with some errors (I’m not the worst grammar Nazi out there). Too many, and I want to hide and apologize to the world for whatever I posted (like if I break the “Top 5 Grammar Rules Not to Break“).

It makes writing grammar articles moderately terrifying (Srsly, what’s more embarrassing than making the mistake you’re telling people not to make in the same article?). At the same time, it makes writing articles take twice as long. That’s because I can’t stand to publish them until I’ve read them a dozen or more times checking for errors (unfortunately, that’s not always an exaggeration).

A little ocd? Maybe. But it keeps the writing closer to the quality I want it to be.

Actually, that’s the general lesson I’d take away from this. I won’t tell you to stop writing in your sleep. For all I know, that’s the only real chance you have to write at all. If you do, however, be aware of the grammar (and continuity) issues it can cause. Be ready to edit more (preferably, when you’re awake) or to have someone do it for you. Don’t assume your tired brain has the same grammar skills it normally does.

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Writer’s Block Isn’t Real Except When We Want It to Be

If you look up “writer’s block,” you’ll probably get something like “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing” (at least, according to Google). Generally summarized, it’s the brain dead moment when you look at the screen and go, “Uhhhhhh….”

The only problem with that definition is that most published authors will tell you that it’s bull – or at least, saying that you can’t write because of that condition is bull. Yes, you’ll have brain-dead, uninspired moments from time to time. If you’re as human as the rest of us, you’ll probably have them regularly. But (and this is a big but) if you force yourself to write anyway, it’ll clear up. While you may not get as much done as you do when you’re on fire with inspiration, you can still do a lot of writing. A lot of good writing, at that.

The only time writer’s block becomes an actual block is when we use it as a handy excuse.

Some people probably won’t agree with me, but I think writer’s block is more of an attitude problem than an imagination problem. It’s a mix between the pouty artist/child (I only work when I’m inspired) and the extreme procrastinator issue (I’m ready to…Wow. That’s a lot to do. You know what, I’m a bit tired right now. I’ll do a better job tomorrow.). It could even be a feeling of terror that you can’t actually write what you’re trying to write, and if you try, you’ll know you can’t. Whatever the reason, that uninspired feeling is the perfect excuse not to push past those issues.

The thing is, you won’t always want to write. You’ll want to have written: however, writing can be &/*^$# hard work. Some days, you may not be in the mood for hard work. You may be tired. You may be grouchy. You may be stressed about something else. Heck, you may have had a vacation and don’t want to start again.

Those are the days when writer’s block pops up its hideous head. If you grab it with both hands (“Oh, no. I can’t write today. I have writer’s block!”), then you won’t write. You won’t get anything done. And the next day, it’ll be even easier to blame writer’s block again.

That’s what makes writer’s block so dangerous. The longer you put off writing, the harder it is to start again. The harder it is to do it, the more you’ll want to use writer’s block as an excuse (and the more you’ll have that “uhhh” feeling). Once you’re caught in that catch 22, you have to really want to write to break out of it. You’ll have to really want to make more progress on your piece.

And isn’t that the point of not using excuses in the first place?

Speaking of Inspiration, Watch This Forest Breathe

If I were out hiking and saw the ground breathing, I would 1. fall down and sh*t myself, 2. take a video on my phone (once I realized it wasn’t an earthquake/giant/the world wasn’t ending), and 3. run home as fast as I could to write a story based off of it.

Luckily, someone already did the first 2 steps for me (and you).

For a Fast-Paced Cut, Study TV Shows & Their Transitions

Like books, the story in a tv show needs to be cut down to skip non-vital scenes and to speed up the action. Even individual actions need to be cut down. Ever seen something recorded in real timeIt’s sooooo slow. We can’t stand to sit through it. We want shows to be fast-paced. At the same time, we want them to have good plots and characters.

Don’t ask for much, do we?

From a writing perspective, it’s a serious challenge. In an hour-long slot, about 40-45 minutes ending up being show, and in half an hour, the average is 22 (that’s about 22 pages of properly formatted script). That means that no story gets cut down quite like that of a tv show. They have to have just enough hints, red herrings, characterization, conflicts, resolutions and whatnot to make a good story without getting bogged down or ending abruptly (oops – we spent too much time there. Time for a deus ex machina!).

The very sparseness combined with the limited time-frame is what makes them such excellent teachers for getting down to the bare bones (at least, the good ones are). You can learn a lot from what they decide to leave in. What better excuse for watching tv? (You’re welcome.)

What Plot Points Can (Should) You Skip? How?

It’s a hard question. While anyone who’s written for any length of time knows that not all parts of the story are going to make it into the book, it can still be enough to give you a headache. What should I skip? What needs to stay?

Well, the obvious thing to skip is little details that don’t drive the plot. There are plenty of little moments in the story that have to happen realistically but aren’t always mentioned: eating, going to the bathroom, sleeping, traveling, etc. These activities happen over and over again, and they’re not generally interesting (some are even a bit taboo to talk about). In fact, some genres have made such a habit of glossing over things like using the bathroom that it’s become a bit of a joke (Elves don’t do that. Haven’t you read Tolkien?).

That doesn’t mean you should always skip them! There are times when they need to be in the story – either for realism or as a tool for introducing something else (“Don’t Forget the Everyday“). At other times, all those moments do is slow the story down, just like going into detail on some worldbuilding the reader doesn’t need to know (“What Does the Story Need to Be Told?“). As a matter of fact, most of the same rules apply: when the detail helps the plot, setting, or characterization (better yet, all of them), keep it. If not, cut it.

And that’s when transitions come into play (the how part). Transitions can skip time. They can change place. They can do both at the same time! They’re like a magic wand for authors. Think the clichéd narrator from old tv shows: “Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Little Timmy was playing by the well.”

In other words, if you want to jump over one of those events that don’t help the plot, use a transition.

So what if the characters had to walk for 14 days to get to the next exciting moment! Summarize it and move on. Instead of describing every moment of the 14 days (They walked. And walked some more. They said stuff but nothing important.), any self-respecting author’s going to use a transition (assuming the author wants people to keep reading).

“It took 14 days to reach the next town – 14 dreary days of walking and not much else.”

That’s more than enough for that event. Now, if something interesting/important happened in those 14 days, that would be a totally different situation; however, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t skip over them.

Writers can also skip over important plot points or scenes that give vital information. One of the easiest ways to do that is to use point of view. If the main character isn’t present during that scene, it’s not going to get revealed until that character finds out about it. Stories told in flashback can also be tricky with this: all they have to do is tell the story right up to a vital scene and then jump back to the present without finishing.

Or you can simply transition past it. I’m sure you’ve read books where a character walks into a dangerous situation and then segues to the character leaving that situation. Sometimes, the fact that the scene happened is more important than a word-for-word experience of how it happened. Plus, skipping over it can make for a speedy pace and keep the reader guessing.

I guess it all goes back to what the readers need to know to stay in the story and understand enough of what’s going on (but not all). If they don’t need it, cut it.

Simple, right?

We Interrupt This Program for a Quick Pout

January is almost over.

I’m going to repeat that. January is almost over! How is that possible? The new year started yesterday!

Right?

*headdesk* What happened to the rest of the month? Was there a time/place transition that I didn’t notice? Did we skip over stuff that wasn’t important for the plot?

And isn’t that a scary thought?

You know what, I’m not going to think about that right now. I’m going to make myself hot cocoa and build a couch fort. See you when I’m ready to adult again.

A Real Rhyme Challenge of a Writing Prompt

cartoon-718659_1920Ok, here’s the deal. Pick a type of rhymed verse (one with a set meter and rhyme scheme), and set up all the words for the ends of the lines – all the rhymes in the order that they have to be used. Then, write the rest of the poem without changing any of those words. That’s right. You have to adjust the lines without ever changing the rhymes.

And it has to make sense.

Yeah. That’ll stretch your brain. That’s good for you, right?

The Rhyming Dictionary: A Poet’s Prized Posession

I’m a little too happy with that alliteration.

But anyway, back to rhyming dictionaries. The magic wand of the poet – or maybe, the magic bullet (at least, that’s how it feels sometimes). I imagine most of you know what a rhyming dictionary is (if not, the name gives it away), and although not many people buy hardcopies anymore, there are several free online (and I imagine that most of you have used one).

I think the most popular/common one is rhymezone.

What many people don’t realize is that you can get different rhymes from different dictionaries, especially in the 2-syllable and 3-syllable word options. Pick a word, look it up in both rhymezone and rhymer, and you’ll get a little variation in word choice. It’s not always enough to be worth the effort – if you find a word you like with one search, there’s no need to look elsewhere. If you’re struggling for a word, it can’t hurt to try a different site.

Or a hard copy.

Like an unabridged dictionary compared to the one on your computer, an unabridged rhyming dictionary may have additional options. It can also work without the internet, which is nice. If you want one on the go, you can also check out rhyming dictionary apps. Rhymezone even has its own, or there are ones aimed at different writing styles (such as rap).

That’s the other reason to check out a couple options instead of always using the first one that turns up on your google search (or the only one you remember) – some of them have variations on the type of rhyme they count. They all do end rhyme, but some do beginning rhymes, some only do perfect rhymes, and some show words that sound similar but don’t quite rhyme (ones with slant rhyme and assonance, for example). If you look them over, you can pick the one that shows the types of rhymes you’re looking for.

Wow. That’s at least 3 different mediums of rhyming dictionary. How spoiled is that?

You Don’t Have to Know the Rules to Break Them

"If I wouldn't have spent so much time shooting spit wads at my English teacher, I'd know how to punctuate. Good thing I normally write poetry." Stanley Victor Paskavich

I feel very conflicted about this quote: part of me is genuinely horrified, and the other part is horribly amused.

But it helps. At least, it helps you break them well… But, seriously, if you want to break all the rules of grammar and punctuation, write poetry.