Weekly Progress Report #42

Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward. This past month I’ve been focused on editing and revising. It’s become a chore. Yes, it advances me to my goal of being published, but detracts from the main reason I’m writing. Mainly, the joy of writing a story. Sometimes they are received well, other times they fall flat. Regardless, I enjoy writing each and every one of the stories. The more I write, the better the stories and more importantly the better the writing.

I looked back at some of my early writings and I cringe. What was I thinking? Some of them look like a total hack job. This shows me how far I’ve progressed. I’ve still got a ways to go. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. I’m not anywhere close to that number yet. I’ve yet to complete a novel. I’ll work on it in spurts, then something will come up to distract me from it. It takes a bit to get back into writing the novel.

I don’t expect my first novel to do well. Maybe my fourth or fifth. Just like writing short stories, it takes practice to write a novel that I will be proud of. Writing the novel is a major project. Editing my memoir is a major project. I’m not at the level of writing to be able to do both at the same time. I could edit and revise on certain days of the week and write the novel on other days, but it doesn’t quite work that way with me. I need to write on the novel for several days in order to get back up to speed. Once I stop writing, then I have to start the process over again.

I hope to do the final revising of the memoir this week. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t. I’m not going to pressure myself. It will come when it needs to come. Meanwhile, I will post my weekly writing challenge tonight. It’s a hard one in that it could go several ways. I always have a problem with these type of prompts. So many ideas, but only one story. I could write multiple stories on the prompt, but I feel that would get repetitive and negate the purpose of the challenges.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Yay for the Weekend!

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It’s been a hell of a week at work. Not to mention we are in a hot humid heat wave that feels like you walk into an oven whenever you go outside. It’s baking everything. No wonder Floridians are crazy.

Then we have an afternoon thunderstorm every day. Usually about the time I’m ready to go home. Drivers here think that if it is sprinkling just a bit, then they need to slow down from 60 mph to 30 mph. Makes for a long commute home. Not to mention the wrecks caused by half the drivers going fast and the other half driving timidly.

To add to the confusion, a good portion of the drivers are from other states. They have recently moved here and still don’t know their way around. Especially since the whole damn city is always under construction.

Regardless, I somehow make it home safe each day. After driving a 30 foot box truck all day, when I get into my economy car, it feels like I’m lying down on the road.

Tomorrow is rototilling day! Hooray! Okay, that may be a bit sarcastic. First though, I have to get up early to get my blood drawn. Hopefully that won’t take too long so I can do the yardwork before it gets too hot. That’s generally about 8 am around here.

Posting will be light tomorrow as I plan on doing my final revisions on my memoir. I’ve been putting it off all week. Yes, shame on me. However, I’ve gotten my writing juices back as I’ve been posting stories all week. Yeah, let’s go with that excuse.

The writing prompt for this week is going to be a doozy.

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.

Weekly Progress Report #40

At first glance, I didn’t accomplish much in writing this week. After coming home exhausted from work most of the week, I didn’t have the energy or creativity to do much on writing.

I did accomplish a major milestone this week. I finished editing my memoir “My Cancer Journey”. I also designed three book covers and managed to figure out how to put up a poll on which cover is best.

I’ll be doing a final read through of the memoir today. Then I’ll be sending it out to beta readers for a check on readability, grammar, typo’s and interest. Would you like to be a beta reader? It’s a novella length memoir, so it won’t take too long to read. If you are interested then send me an email with the subject “Beta” to Matt.DunlapATprotonmail.com (replace the AT with @) I never send out unsolicited emails, so you won’t get spammed by me.

My poll on book cover design is a sticky post that will remain at the top of my posts this week. I was a bit disheartened by the lack of votes yesterday. Not sure if I did the poll right or not. I had Mrs. D look at the post and I had to prompt her to vote after she read everything. I’ll have to look at a better way of wording posts like that.

In case you missed it, I have a contest(?) or giveaway that I announced with the book cover poll. Link to the post and you are eligible to receive for free an Advance Reader Copy of the memoir.

In addition, I did a deep dive into statistics. (I’m a statistics nerd) Saturday’s are my least viewed days. If I had known that, I would have waited to post the poll on Monday which is my most viewed day. I’ve suspected that Saturday is a day that most people take a break from reading blogs for quite a while. That’s one of the reasons, I’ve moved the Weekly Writing Challenge to Sunday night.

My prompt for this week is a doozy yet again. Of course, when is it not? I’m thinking of expanding my writing skills and venture into the genre of “Romance”. More than likely it will turn into a comedic farce as I really have no idea how to write “Romance”. No guarantees, I might do a different genre altogether.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

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.

Weekly Progress Report #38

This week has been all about editing. Not my strongest suit, but something that I need to work on. Slowly I’m getting there, but it seems like I’m slogging through a mud pit. I’ve decided that I need help. I’m going to pull the trigger on buying a year’s worth of premium for ProWritingAid. Of all the editing software I’ve seen, it fits the bill the best.

I’m on day 2 of my stop smoking process. I only get to smoke 19 cigarettes today. Yesterday was the first day I’ve only smoked 1 pack. I’ve been a pack and a half smoker for a while. When I visited with my youngest daughter at their new home, I went over two hours without smoking. When I left and came home, I smoked and I got a buzz. Felt lightheaded. From past experiences, this will happen more this week. Not a good recipe for success with trying to concentrate on editing.

I still need to write my Weekly Writing Challenge story. I will post it early tonight. It’s another vague prompt that could go in a number of different directions. Probably what I need to continue to grow as a writer, but indecision is wracking my brain.

I foresee a tough week ahead. I’ve been through tougher weeks in the past, so I know I’ll be able to get past all the obstacles.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

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.

Weekly Writing Challenge #24

Prompt – Start a story with a quote from a song.

Dust in the wind is a fact of life in southeast New Mexico on the high plains of the Llano Estacado. That’s Spanish for Staked Plains. The early conquistadores saw the many yucca plants with a single stalk sticking up four or five feet and said it looked like a bunch of stakes.

During the windy period of March and April, the wind blows from sunrise to sunset. A stiff breeze is about thirty miles per hour. 50, 60 and sometimes 70 mile per hour wind is common. Being a dry arid country, this naturally picks up a lot of dust. Since the wind blows predominantly from the west, the saying was that during this time, Arizona blows and Texas sucks.

In the 1970’s and early part of 1980’s it wasn’t uncommon to have a sandstorm. The wind would strip off a layer of dirt and sand and it would form a wall of sand. If you were on the highway, the prudent thing would be to stop on the side of the road when you saw one coming. If for some reason you wanted to drive through the sandstorm, this was a recipe for disaster. The sand would be so heavy that visibility drops to zero. It’s like turning out the lights. The increased velocity of the sand due to your car driving through the storm is enough to strip paint from your car down to bare metal.

I used to ride a motorcycle quite a bit. One time I looked up and saw a wall of sand 100 feet tall moving toward me. I quickly slowed and steered my motorcycle into the bar ditch beside the road. Putting the bulk of the motorcycle between me and the approaching storm, I curled up like a turtle and covered the best I could. A long ten minutes later, the sandstorm passed and I shook off the accumulated sand from me and my motorcycle. With a prayer on my lips, I kickstarted the engine a few times until I heard the distinctive sound of my motorcycle roaring. With a gritty smile, I was back on the road heading to town.

Farmers around that area started changing how they managed their crops and by planting winter crops, cut down on the sandstorms tremendously. Now it is exceedingly rare to have a sandstorm. The weather in that part of the country is very interesting. It is considered the start of tornado alley. When I was in Junior High School, one day we were outside practicing for a track & field event. A cry went out and we looked to the north to see five tornado funnels across the horizon. The coach watched for a few minutes and saw they were moving away from us. He then yelled for us to get back to practicing.

Living in Florida, I don’t miss the constant dust in the wind. Mrs. D is happy she doesn’t have to dust every single day.

Want to be part of the Weekly Writing Challenge? Using the prompt above, write your story and publish it with a link to this story. Make sure you tag it either md-wwc or #md-wwc

Author’s note: When I first picked this prompt, I thought it would be easy. Then I realized there are thousands of songs and thousands of lyrics to choose from. My first couple of tries, I wound up telling the story of the song. That didn’t appeal to me. Then I went looking for esoteric lyrics and started a couple of stories that just petered out rather quickly. Finally, I went back to the Rock Classics I grew up with. As soon as I saw this song, I knew what to write.

Weekly Progress Report #37

It’s been an up and down type of week. Between the doctor visits and doing serious revising and editing for the first time, I’m not sure if my progress was good or not. After this last year with all the appointments I’ve had, I think I’m developing anxiety right before I see a doctor. Inner thoughts run through my head the night before projecting every worst case scenario I can imagine. Considering I’m a writer that comes up with stories, I can think of a considerable amount of bad outcomes. And waiting on test results? Don’t get me started.

Of course, this means my regular writing suffers. Astute readers will have noticed I didn’t post the Weekly Writing Challenge yesterday. The prompt at first glance seemed to be an easy one, but I’ve been having a difficult time with it. I’ve started four different stories and abandoned each of them after only one paragraph. I’ll keep trying today. At the very least, I’ll post a series of one paragraph stories based on the prompt if I can’t find something to settle on. Then again, they are all dreck, so that may not be a good idea. The Bowl of Doom may have finally got the best of me this week. We’ll see.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Weekly Writing Challenge #23 – The Window

Prompt – Outside the window, you see something you can’t believe.

Finally a chance to sit back and relax with a hot cup of coffee. It had been a hectic day at work full of stress. Somehow I muddled through all the requests, demands and outright weirdness that encompasses my work day.

Sitting back on my favorite recliner I faced the fake fireplace with my flat screen TV over it. I picked up the remote and turned on the flames that soothed the savage beast inside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement outside my window. I turn to look and see nothing amiss. Perhaps, as my wife would put it, I saw the ghost of someone I know. You can only see them out of the corner of your eye supposedly. I usually just smile and nod whenever she talks about ghosts. I don’t believe for one second there are ghosts.

Sipping my coffee, I flick my shoes off and lean back in the recliner putting the foot rest up. Again, I see something out of the corner of my eye. Maybe I should go get my eyes checked? I’ll have to put that down on my mental checklist. I turn slowly toward the window and I have to blink my eyes twice. I can’t believe what I see. A man dressed as a Samurai is standing on the street looking right at me. It’s too early for Halloween.

I put the foot rest down and lean forward in my chair getting ready to stand and the Samurai disappears. Confused I pause where I’m at. Could this be an optical illusion? Or am I going crazy? I slowly lean back keeping my eyes on the window. The Samurai doesn’t reappear and I sigh. Maybe I’m having a brain aneurism and it’s causing me to hallucinate. I start to call for my wife, but take another look at the window.

There! Not a Samurai, but a monkey dressed as an Indian riding what looks like an armadillo. Now I know I’m going crazy as it becomes a veritable parade of the weird and crazy. Pink spotted Giraffes with the face of my mother-in-law. A dancing coffee cup being chased by tiny army men. Not to mention the up side down naked lady riding a lawn mower.

Instead of being alarmed, I start to enjoy kooky parade. For some reason it calms me the more outlandish it gets. I look around the neighborhood, but no one else is around or looking through their windows. Then the parade ends with a black mist that seems to be growing and coming straight toward my window.

I cry out in horror! I try to get up out of my chair, but I’m frozen in place. My legs are kicking and my arms are flailing about to no end. The black mist reaches the window and then oozes through a tiny crack in the corner. I knew I should have fixed that. The black mist grows and seems to be getting solid. I’m frozen in fright.

As the apparition closes on me and everything goes dark, I scream!

My wife turns on the light and grabs my shoulder shaking me. I’m in my bed sitting up.

“Honey”, my wife gently says, “are you having another nightmare?”

Whew, what a relief! It was just a nightmare. Granted the strangest one I have ever had. I close my eyes in relief and start to lay back down in my bed.

A bright light flashes in my eyes. I hear voices indistinctly. The light goes away and I am back in darkness but I can hear the voices becoming clearer.

A man’s voice says, “I’m sorry, but your husband has no brain activity at all. The machines are the only thing keeping him alive. When you are ready, nod and we will shut everything down.”

I scream “NOOOOOOO!”

Want to be part of the Weekly Writing Challenge? Using the prompt above, write your story and publish it with a link to this story. Make sure you tag it either md-wwc or #md-wwc