To Tense, Or Not To Tense

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The feedback from my beta readers is trickling in. I’m excited to see what they think. Then my pesky bugaboo surfaced. Several readers thought that my switching tenses was jarring. Oh boy, I was afraid of that. Honestly, I don’t even know what they are talking about. I think I failed that part of grammar.

I could ignore the suggestion, but then I would forever have the nagging feeling that I didn’t do my absolute best. Time to do a deep dive into tenses. Wow! Sure are a lot of tenses. Way too much for me to absorb. Let’s narrow it down to the tenses I need for my memoir.

Memoirs are essentially essays, but a very long form of them. In essays, you would normally use past tense or present tense or both. Still too complicated for my poor brain. Time to simplify this so I can remember and recognize tense changes. I’ve come up with a few rules.

Rule 1

Never mix tenses in a sentence.

That’s all well and good, but how about an example?

Who said writing is easy?

Incorrect because the first verb is past, and the second is present.

Two ways of correcting this.

Who says writing is easy?

Who said writing was easy?

Both sentences now agree with their respective tense.

Seems simple enough. Hold on there before we continue. There is an exception to this rule. Sigh! Dialogue changes everything. Simply adding quotation marks makes the first incorrect sentence corret.

Who said “writing is easy?”

Thankfully, I don’t have many lines of dialogue, so I can pretty much ignore this exception.

Rule 2

Never mix tenses in a paragraph.

If the first sentence is present tense, then all the sentences in the paragraph need to be present tense. Same rule applies if the first sentence is past tense, all sentences must be past tense.

Let’s check and see if there is an exception. Double sigh. Of course there is. However it is used in very rare instances and only by a skilled writer that is deliberately going for a certain effect. This doesn’t apply to me, so I can safely ignore the exception.

Rule 3

You can change tense from paragraph to paragraph or section to section or chapter to chapter, but you MUST signal the reader. This let’s them know that you are changing tenses. Here’s an example with the signal in bold.

Riding the daily commuter train, I sat down on my usual seat by the window. Looking out at the fields rushing past with hints of colorful wildflowers is soothing.

Four months ago, the fields were covered in snow and looked pristine.

Thankfully no exceptions to this rule. Grammar rules are complex enough as it is. With this new found knowledge, I can go forth and tense-mix never more.

Hopefully.

Sleepless Night

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After asking for beta readers, I exported my story to a Word Document and gave it a quick cursory glance. Then I sent off the story by email to a few hardy souls that volunteered to look it over and give me feedback.

Last night, I kept waking up with the nightmare that when exporting the document, it completely messed it up by jumbling words, sentences and even whole paragraphs. I also had nightmares that it would be a complete dud.

I know, this is mostly due to my own anxiety and insecurities. I’ve been working on this story since last November. It has become my baby. Setting it loose into the scary world is frightening.

I know I’ve come a long way in getting over my writing fears, but sometimes the pesky fears raise their ugly heads once again. Instead of crippling me, I know that these fears will come and go. I acknowledge the fears and then let them go. Onward and upward. I’m still on track to get my memoir published.

Next challenge is to learn how to write a book blurb.

Enough is Enough

I have edited, re-edited and edited some more. I need to quit fiddling with my memoir. The editing software is great for pointing out where I went wrong, but it doesn’t help much in suggesting how to rewrite it. Okay, it does well in most problems, but in others, it is no help at all.

I’m going to let it sit and rest for a while. Sort of like letting a steak rest after cooking it. I’ll do a complete read of it this weekend and barring anything jumping out at me that looks wrong, I’ll get it ready for beta reading.

Meanwhile, I have an idea for a book cover. An original one no less. I’ll work on that for the rest of the week. I might even try to do two or three and then throw up a poll for what looks best. I did look into how much it would be to hire someone to design a book cover. Wow! The prices are clearly out of my reach.

My goal is to have it ready for publishing by the end of July. In order to do that, I have to do the following:

  • Beta read revisions
  • Book cover design
  • Book blurb
  • Back book cover design
  • Acknowledgements
  • Copyright page
  • Title page format
  • Final format for KDP.

A lot of work still to do. I could resume writing on my novel, but I find it hard to switch back and forth. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of author that cranks out work every year. Honestly, there are a few well known authors that do publish regularly that after a while it seems like the same book over and over, just the names and places have changed.

P.S. If you are an aspiring book cover designer and need practice, feel free to contact me.

First Thoughts

I’ve been working with ProWritingAid Premium for the past couple of days. So far, I’m thrilled with it. As I was able to apply a discount code of 25% off, my total cost for this year is $60. That works out to $5 a month.

Unlike some programs, ProWritingAid doesn’t have an app. It has free app extensions for a multitude of programs, including internet browsers. This gives you a quick and dirty grammar check while you are typing.

For the full effect, you open a web-based site and log in. They store your work in the cloud and you can write a story there and then export it to wherever you need it.

At first, I used the free version to check my memoir. It found about 100 areas for improvement. After I had corrected all of them, I then ran it again with the Premium version. It identified an additional 200 areas that had some type of problem.

It’s not perfect. There are some suggestions that I ignored, otherwise, my document wouldn’t make sense. Once you ignore the suggestion, it does not bring it back up. One feature I really like is when it identifies that you have started multiple sentences with the same word. I had one section where I deliberately started each sentence with “I’m” for dramatic effect. Pretty easy to tell the program to ignore that section.

The one feature that I’m looking forward to using is the pacing check. It identifies where your story will bog down. As I despise stories that bog down repeatedly, this will be a significant feature.

I’ve only scratched the surface of ProWritingAid, but I’m duly impressed. If you are like me and have limited editing experience, this is the way to improve your skills and your writing.

On Editing

Editing to me is tedious. I figure there has to be a better way to edit. Off I went into the rabbit hole of editing software and online sites. So many choices presented themselves. First, I looked at the free online editing sites. Most had a word limit which really restricts the editing process.

I stumbled across the Hemingway Editor. No word limit and easy-to-use interface. It is great for finding all those pesky passive voice usage. For grammar, it doesn’t check at all. Plus, it doesn’t look at tense changes in your document.

Then I looked at the paid editors. Grammarly looks impressive, but at $144 a year, that is pricey for my budget. ProWritingAid is cheaper at $79 a year and can integrate with quite a few apps. I’ve installed it on my browser and I find it’s a bit distracting while I type. Lines appearing and disappearing. I may see if I can disable the app while I’m typing and then turn it on afterword.

Takes a couple of clicks to disable it and then to re-enable it. That’s not a good option. I did sign up for an account and it seems to have calmed down. Either that, or I’ve magically become a better writer.

One way I’ve been testing all these sites is to copy and paste my memoir that I’m currently editing. Some found problems in an area that none of the others found. Quite a few had word limits, and I am unable to fully test them.

Both Grammarly and ProWritingAid have additional features when you purchase the paid version. I can see where that would help my writing.

Grammarly may be the best option. I’m leaning toward ProWritingAid because it is easier on the wallet. I’m going to sleep on it and make a decision tomorrow.

Of course, I’m sure that someone will suggest one that I didn’t look at today and I’ll be back down the rabbit hole again tomorrow.

Bad Words?

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Being relatively new at the revision and editing process. I have come to the conclusion I can either wing it or research it. I’ve already tried winging it and it didn’t work very well. So I did a bit of research. First I built a revision list. Then after completing the list, it is now time to go bad word hunting.

My two words to search for are “just” and “was”. Found 24 instances where I used “just”. Not too bad, but not great. I want to get rid of every one of them. Then I searched for “was”. Ouch! 265 instances of “was”. That word is a very good indicator of passive sentences. Before deleting all the bad words, I did a bit of investigation. Consider this sentence:

I was just trying to be a good writer.

Uh-oh, it has both bad words in it. It also sounds weak. I found that the word “just” when used this way is called “Hedging your bet”. It’s better to be bold, so we will omit “just”.

I was trying to be a good writer.

Hey, it actually is better. Not a whole lot, but we are getting there. The sentence is a passive sentence. So let’s remove the word “was”

I trying to be a good writer.

Ugh! That sounds horrible. I need to revise it and I’ve decided to change the tense of “trying”

I tried to be a good writer.

Much better sentence. Still not there. This sounds like I tried and failed. It has completely changed the tense of the sentence. Writing in present tense and then throwing up this sentence would be jarring. Instead of changing “trying” let’s add “am”

I am trying to be a good writer.

Much better. Compare this sentence to the original. This denotes action, firmness and an onward journey. The original sounded a bit whiney. Now the question arises, should I always delete “was” and “just”? At first glance, the answer is yes. My twisted brain decided to go a step further and see if there is any possible way to use the original sentence.

Suppose you have a character that is sniveling, whiney and pathetic. A character that the reader hopes dies first. What if I gave the character this sentence to say?

“I was just trying to be a good writer,” he sobbed.

Yes, context matters. I can definitely see the character talking like this. But let’s make sure. Using the same weaselly character, I’m going to give him the final sentence without the “just” and “was”.

“I am trying to be a good writer,” he sobbed.

Meh. I like the “just” and “was” instead. This whole exercise has taught me that there are no bad words. Words that appear out of context seem bad, but can be used in other context.

I think I’m turning into a word nerd.

Cancer Story

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After getting my blood draw results Saturday, I am finally able to complete the first draft of my memoir “My Cancer Journey – Stage 4 to cured in 10 months” I did the first round of editing and then sent it to Mrs. D to look over. She pointed out some things that I didn’t remember correctly and has been reviewing all my medical records to ensure that my story is accurate.

In addition to that, we have been talking about the whole journey. Mrs. D liked that I shared how I was feeling even the bad times. Over the next week or so, I’ll also be interviewing Mrs. D on what she was feeling so I can add it to the memoir.

The reason for that is no Cancer journey is a solo effort. I felt like the burden was all on me most of the time, but in reality loved ones are just as involved. So it is important to get her true feelings written into the story also. Even the times she was scared I was going to die.

I believe by writing this memoir with my thoughts and feelings and Mrs. D’s thoughts and feelings is important. Almost everything I read about people going through cancer treatments is that you have to have hope. Hope is hard to come by when you are going through treatment. I also want to show that it is natural to feel depressed and hopeless at times. So many stories either ignore that or gloss over it..

I also want to share what cured me. It’s unconventional to say the least, but it did work. My primary physician said he was okay with me doing the unconventional treatment as it wouldn’t harm me.

Meanwhile, my sci-fi book is on hold as I’m concentrating my time on this memoir.

If It’s Thursday, Then It Must Be Editing Day

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My days in the Navy instilled in me a craving for a specific routine. With that in mind, I’ve decided to make Thursday’s my editing day. Editing one day a week is not going to cut it, but I need to ease into this horrible, necessary task.

I don’t like editing. To me, it’s not the fun, exciting part of writing. I’d rather poke a sharp stick in my eye. When I write a story to post on this blog, I’ll do minimal editing. Typo’s, some grammar corrections, but no real tightening of the story to make it punch. This usually takes about five to ten minutes, sometimes less.

Writing a book that way is a sure fire recipe for disaster. Like it or not, I have to learn to embrace the editing process. By designating one day that I will edit, eventually I hope to learn and maybe find some joy in making my story that much better.

Tonight, I picked my short story “Lump” to edit. I rewrote dialogue. Cut out extraneous words. Scrapped an entire paragraph as it was an info dump. Added descriptions. Took out adverbs and replaced with metaphors. I was entirely ruthless in editing.

After an hour of possibly mangling my story, I had finished the first page. Only ten more pages to go. Sigh.

I Goofed, Or Did I?

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My gut instinct last night was not to publish Part 4 of The Curse. I didn’t know why so I overrode what I felt and published it anyway. It bugged me all last night and this morning. I read it again and now I see that I should have followed my instincts.

I wrote Part 1 almost ten years ago and didn’t write another word until I started writing again last September when I was casting around for an idea to write a story. After the first draft, the story ended up being about 1800 words. I had a couple of people beta read it and from their suggestions the story expanded to about 2500 words.

It still didn’t seem right, so I sent it off to another beta reader. I tweaked and added a whole new section which brought the story to 3100 words. By this time, NaNoWriMo was about to start and I decided that The Curse was complete and ready to go. In the next few months I submitted it to six different magazines and received six form rejections.

With every thing going on in my life and the writing challenges that I had set up, I didn’t make the time to go back over the story and see why it was getting rejected. Frankly, I gave up on it getting published. A month ago, I didn’t have anything to write on a Friday and as a lark, I posted the first part of The Curse. It seemed well received, so I decided to post the rest in installments every Friday.

Normally, I like to keep my posts between 400 and 800 words. Anymore than that, it seems to long for a blog post. I know when I read a story on someone’s site that is well over that, I rarely finish the story. After posting Part 2, I was surprised that readers were saying that I had left it as a cliffhanger. I was even more surprised when after posting Part 3 that it looked like another cliffhanger. Why it was so unexpected is that when you read the story in whole, there isn’t an obvious moment where you think “Cliffhanger!”.

Part 4 was hard for me to figure out how much to post. I tried three or four different ending spots but nothing seemed right. Finally I said the hell with it and just posted what I did. I realized afterwards that I needed to add a short note that Part 5 would be posted next week as it looked like the story had ended.

I didn’t get the reaction that I had been getting from the previous parts. I now know why. Part 4 is just a massive info dump. I had been ratcheting up the story up until that point and then it goes completely flat with the dump. Now I see why the story had been rejected repeatedly.

Back to the drawing board.

I’ve got some ideas on how to fix that part. Mostly by eliminating a lot of the info dump and adding in an action sequence or two. Then instead of doing a paragraph telling about the trek to Canada, I’ll need to add in more story lines and more characters. I expect the story to almost double in size by the time I’m done.

In retrospect, it seemed like I errored by posting Part 4, but instead it has given me insight to why the story wasn’t working and how to fix it. I think this was an inspired exercise by posting the story in serial format. I had thought to delete the Part 4 post, but I’ll let it stay to remind me to stay away from the cursed info dumps.

So This Happened

I was notified that my critique partner had finished looking over my story. I opened it and there was red all over. It was a Blood Bath! My initial reaction is that I’m horrible as a writer and should forget this completely. I should delete this blog and pretend that I never once thought about writing.

Then I started reading the critiques, and noted that she said it was a good story with fine thematic overtones and style. It just needed tweaking a bit with a wrench. A big damn wrench! As I went through each edit suggestion, I could see where I had gone wrong and what needed tweaking. After taking in her suggestions, I looked back at the opening paragraphs and was amazed at how much better the story had become. Not only did she suggest edits, but also provided the reasoning for the edits. I’m taking it all in and am really grateful now for the learning experience. Hopefully, this will make me a better writer.

I do know one big huge lesson that I’ve learned is to go over my story and be ruthless before I submit it to anyone else to beta read. I never want to open up a critique and be faced with a blood bath again.