Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is Your Writing Choppy?

You have talent, you have topic ideas galore, and your creativity is oozing from your pores. Maybe you just started writing a blog, or maybe you’ve been writing one for years, but somewhere deep inside, even though you know you can write, even though you know you have talent, you feel that something is missing and that your writing could use some improvement.

The problem might be a lack of transitions, especially if your writing seems stilted and choppy. Writers need to smooth out the bumps in their copy in order to make it more easily readable. How? With transitions! Transitions help readers glide through your writing without hesitation. Transitions are the bridges that link your paragraphs together.

One comic on a recent episode of Last Comic Standing noted that he, like so many writers (myself included), had a problem with transitions and, noting the benefit of using good transitions, consciously employed them into his act. Instead of bouncing from one topic to another, this comic skillfully employed the use of transitions and improved his routine immensely. Whatever you write – comedy, fiction, or nonfiction – your job as a writer is to take your reader (or, in the case of comedy routines, your audience) from one paragraph to the next – fluidly.

Why? Because choppy writing trips up your reader. If after a couple of sentences into reading your work, your reader suddenly stops, that reader’s mind is attempting to connect the dots and find the relationship between one paragraph and the next. You, as the writer, were supposed to supply that bridge. Now your reader is either floating in that space between paragraphs, begging for soft ground upon which to land, or running back to the last paragraph to find what might be missing.

When you don’t smoothly transition from one paragraph to the next, your readers feel as if they’ve been riding a roller coaster that halted halfway up the incline – seconds into the ride. Readers want to continue the ride, but you haven’t laid the groundwork for them. Your readers shouldn’t have to make that leap themselves. They shouldn’t have to struggle through your writing. Reading what you’ve written should be enjoyable for them.

So how do you transition from one paragraph to the next? By providing a connection to the previous paragraph. You can seamlessly weave your paragraphs together a number of ways. One of those ways is by using terms that pull your writing forward. Read what you’ve just written. Do you find yourself suddenly hesitating? Does the preceding paragraph appear to be almost an entirely different topic? Look at those two paragraphs again and ask yourself how you can bridge them together. Use such words or phrases as, “In addition to,” “Another thing,” “Furthermore,” “In contrast,” “Otherwise,” etc. Transitions enable you to create a fabric of content that appears to be (as it should be) one cohesive piece of work. Your goal as a writer is to prepare your writing in such a way that your readers feel comfortable reading what you’ve written. 

But transitions aren’t the only problem that prevents your writing from glistening. For help with some other writing problems, please read two more articles to help you improve your writing (by the way, one of the articles listed below links you to a website with numerous transitional phrases that help your writing sparkle):

For My 21 BEST Writing Tips, please click the link. 

And for more help on how to tighten your writing, I invite you to read, ONE THING Will Dramatically Improve Your Writing

If you would like to read more from this author, please click HERE! And thank you for visiting!

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Blind Man Showed Me the Way

For many years I worked in Downtown Chicago. I didn't like (still don’t) driving to Chicago, so I rode either the train or the bus to get there. I often fell asleep and when I awoke, I didn’t know if I was on my way to work or if I was on my way home, especially in the morning when I rode the train, because the train stopped underground. In the winter, the sky was always dark both when I left for work in the morning and when I arrived home at night.

One morning, on my way to a job interview with a prospective employer, before I even got off the train, a man with a white cane grabbed my arm and asked me if I could walk with him – underground – until he got to street level.

Because I have never been a good judge of character, I wasn't about to allow that cane to influence my decision. He could probably see as well as I could and he was using that cane as a ruse. After my Ted Bundy experience (Ted Bundy and Me), I didn’t trust anybody. The fact that we were underground didn’t help either, and although many people exited the train at the same time as we did, I was a little uncomfortable with this stranger. I was also unfamiliar with this area of Chicago's underground.

“I don’t know,” I began. “My job interview is only minutes away, and I don’t want to be late.” He asked me where my interview was located.

"You'll be there on time," he promised.

He maneuvered his arm so that he could hold onto my elbow. I tried to look through the sunglasses into his eyes to see if he was lying, but he appeared to be genuinely blind.

As we left the platform and entered the underground street, he told me to watch my step, because at the bottom of that first step, I would fall into a pothole if I wasn't careful. Funny. It was so dark down there, I would have missed that if he hadn't pointed it out. 

"Do you see stairs kitty-corner from here?" he asked. I did. "We need to get across these streets and climb those stairs."

How would I make it to my interview? Which direction would I go once we reached the top of those stairs? I needed to be on Michigan Avenue, not underground at God-knows-where. I was completely lost, but this blind man confidently held onto my arm, even as I stumbled over loose rocks. He didn't miss a step and patted the pavement with his cane until we reached the stairs. 

At the top of the stairs, the sun was shining brightly. I was surprised and delighted to see that we were already on Michigan Avenue. The blind man pointed his finger to a building across the street, and said, "That is where your interview is. Thank you very much for helping me."

I couldn't stop thinking about the irony of a blind man who showed me how to walk through darkness and come up into the light. 

Oh, and I got the job.

Want to read more from this author? Click HERE! And thank you for visiting!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Who Are You?

One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves and one of the hardest questions we have to answer is, "Who are you?" Yes, I know the proper English way to ask is, "Whom are you?" but who speaks that way anymore?

We have all spent a lifetime learning about ourselves. But do we ever truly know ourselves? We are always changing. Our circumstances are always changing. The world is always changing. Every time something happens to us or to one of our loved ones, we have to process that information, assess it, and then deal with it. Sometimes it changes who we are.

We judge others for not responding to certain situations the way we think they should respond. We judge ourselves too and we think we know how we will respond to any event that happens – until that situation occurs and then we are surprised to find that we respond in a completely different manner.

I've seen many many people say, "My kid will never behave that way." Then they have kids and their kids are usually worse than the ones they criticized. They learn a valuable lesson – not to judge.

A woman who is raped thinks she will fight back but then finds herself cowering in fear and freezing in place, unable to move. She tells herself that, "it wasn't supposed to happen that way." She was SUPPOSED to fight back. She had decided she would be one of those individuals who fought. But fear is a vicious foe, and we have to learn to forgive ourselves for not responding the way we intended to respond.

As children we are taught to think before we act, but by taking that precious time to think, we may not run into a burning building to save the life of the child we hear screaming until it's too late. Other times we act before we think because we work on auto-pilot when we see something life-threatening happening, like when a baby falls into a pool. 

Acting without thinking can get us into trouble sometimes, though. If we don't know our core values – what we absolutely would or would not do in any situation, we won't respond effectively to choices that could affect our lives. Unless you know with absolute certainty what your core values are, you set yourself up for a tremulous life. Because if you believe that you would never subject yourself to shooting heroine or pimping yourself out for money, but you allow yourself to try it "just once" you could succumb to the seduction of drugs, prostitution, and money.

That old saying, "never say never," is so true. By ignoring your core values, choices you've made so far and things that have happened to you could put you into a precarious situation. We all need to eat and we all need a place to sleep. But what if you have a child to feed? And what if you don't have enough education or skill to made a living without prostituting yourself? You might see no other option. Not until you're in too deep do you realize the mistake you made.

The fall into depravity is more of a gradual slide than it is a fall. We justify each step along the way and we can't predict the outcome or remember what prompted us to take the wrong road in the first place. 

We don't take responsibility for our choices, so we blame the uncle for raping us. We blame our parents for ignoring our pleas to have it end. We blame the guy who picked us up off the street and gave us a home, got us pregnant, and then beat us and pumped us with drugs. We blame our pimp and we even blame ourselves. 

How did we get ourselves into this mess? 

It all comes down to the choices we make. We never really know until we are challenged by our beliefs, how we will act in any given situation. Small choices lead to big decisions and sometimes we drag along our children through all of our bad choices. Sometimes we just want to run away from our problems.

A lot of us, from time to time, think about running away. But deep down we realize we have to face our problems, because they will catch up with us sooner or later. We move in order to leave behind problems about which we are ill-equipped to handle. We think that by removing ourselves from the place where all the pain occurred, we will avoid having to deal with the pain. And then we discover that the solution to the problem lies not in the other place, but within us. We can try to leave everything behind, but wherever we go, we bring ourselves with us. We can't escape US. 

Getting to know ourselves is a lifelong process. Every day, we think we know who we are, and then a family member dies and we have to reinvent ourselves. We lose a job, we get cancer, we lose our home – everything that happens in our lives defines us and every time something else crops up, we have to figure out how to handle it. We didn't choose a lot of what happens to us, but we can choose how we deal with those things.

I remember the story of a woman who lost her only child. Nobody could understand why she would forgive her daughter's murderer. I don't understand it either, because I've never (thank God) had to deal with that. But intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually I understand the mother's decision to let go of years' worth of pain and suffering to reach out to the man responsible for her daughter's death. She discovered that the man had a horrendous childhood. Did that give him permission to rage against her daughter? Absolutely not, but the rage itself was understandable.

I would like to think that I am so spiritually progressed that I would handle that kind of situation the same way, but I honestly don't know. I know how I would handle getting cancer, because I've had it. I know how I would handle raising children, because I've done it. But I don't know how I would handle things that haven't happened to me. Even at my age, if anybody were to ask me, "Who are you?" I would have to answer quite honestly, "I don't know. I'm still trying to figure me out."

Monday, June 2, 2014

When You Have No Time To Write But You Keep Coming Up With Great Ideas

In the past month, I’ve been scurrying around in the real world (as opposed to the virtual world) trying to get my house in order (I’m selling it – truthfully, I’m TRYING to sell it). When one buyer acted as if he and his wife were doing everything in their power to purchase my home, even going so far as to buy furniture for the extra room they would have, I began packing. Boxes now sit in my home – everywhere, and I still don’t know if that guy is going to be able to buy my home. 

Several other people have come to look too, and all of them want my home (so do I, but I can’t afford it), but for various reasons, the most recent being that the bank wouldn’t approve the loan, here I sit. Looking at all my packed boxes, I feel as if I just moved in and haven’t been able to unpack yet. As you might imagine, I feel as if I’m living in suspended animation, eager and ready to “move” on, so to speak, and yet stuck because I don’t yet know WHEN my home will sell. 

In the meantime, I’m still caring for 3 of my grandchildren, still crocheting and making jewelry like a fiend, hoping to sell items that others will buy, and jotting down ideas that I don’t have time to write. Add to that, one very important reason I haven’t been able to write – a laptop that has the battery life of a popsicle in the sun – and you can see why I haven’t written much lately.

However, for the first time in several years, and for the last time in maybe forever, I got a tax return this year! The guy at H&R Block told me, “If you continue to make only this amount every year, you’ll never have to file a tax return again.” Was that good news or bad news? What I heard was, “You’re so poor, even the government doesn’t want to bother with you anymore.” 

Whatever. I bought a new laptop with my income tax return, which I got, because I cashed in my measly 401k plan last year. If any of you are interested in learning why I cashed in my 401k, please read, Why I Cashed in My 401K.

But let’s get to the point of this blog – just because I haven’t written much doesn’t mean I’m not getting ideas for articles or blogs to write, so I make sure I jot down my ideas. My most recent ideas came as a result of wanting to find a free crochet pattern for a shamrock and a 4-leaf clover. While researching those ideas, I discovered that shamrocks have only 3 leaves, not 4, which I found interesting, and, unable to find anything useful, I designed the two myself. If you’re an avid crocheter and you’d like to create them, here they are:

Now back to this blog. The best way for me to keep my ideas is to create a working title, jot down some ideas related to the title, and file them on my new laptop! I also jot ideas down in a small notebook I carry around with me. Other times I write my ideas down on an envelope that’s attached to a piece of mail I know I won’t throw away, like my gas and electric bill (a combined bill), because I still need to pay it. Eventually, all of those ideas make it to my laptop, and all of those future blogs, articles, books, and screenplay ideas sit in various stages of development. One of these days I’ll be able to spend some time writing them.

Though I have reasons I can’t spend time writing (moments like this, for example, when I should be showering because I have to run to my daughter’s home to care for her children today), I have no excuse for not attempting to write. So if that means taking time to jot down an idea on an envelope, at least I can hope to find time to develop that idea later.

If you don’t have time to flesh out an article, post a blog, or start that book, at least post your ideas somewhere. Make sure you remember where you posted them. Your phone probably comes with a notepad of some kind. If you’re like me, a lot of your ideas come when you’re showering or driving. I keep a note pad in my bathroom and in my car. While I’m in the shower, I just keep repeating it to myself so I can jot it down the second I get out of the shower. If I’m driving, I wait until I come to a stop sign or light, and I keep repeating it until I can jot it down. I get easily distracted though, so if I’m traveling for more than 10 or 15 minutes, I have to pull over.

What’s nice about ideas is that sometimes one idea leads to another, or an idea you had a month ago fits nicely with an idea you just had. Like putting together pieces of a puzzle, you eventually build a nice blog (or something else) by creatively combining all the pieces together. So don’t let those little idea bubbles pop before you grab onto them. Create an idea log!

OK. I really need to get into the shower. Maybe I’ll get even more ideas. Have a beautiful day filled with creative ideas and THANK YOU for visiting!



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