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Grammatical Fisticuffs by Stephanie Nickel

I read a meme on Facebook recently that was originally posted by Grammarly. (I love their memes.) I found it to be a humorous exchange between a student and his teacher about the difference between “may” and “can.” Yes, I admit there are things that make me twitch, but this isn’t one of them – and the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           things that do aren’t actually important to “the big picture.”

The thing that really got me thinking was one of the comments left by another reader. She seemed quite offended that someone who was concerned with proper word usage would be called names (pedantic and pretentious in this case). I also know of a writer and editor who feels each time we don’t follow “the rules” we diminish the language. It’s okay. They’re allowed to feel this way.

There may be some of you who already feel your blood pressure rising. Funny how a discussion about linguistics and grammar can do that to people. 

I heard Ammon Shea, author of Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, on a radio talk show. I learned a thing or two and very much want to read his book.

One of the things that aggravates Shea is that often those who get up in arms when the rules are broken haven’t done their research. These “purists” would have been considered the uneducated ones in the not too distant past. You see, these rules change over time. What was once considered proper is no longer. Shea believes that a language that does not evolve is a dead language.

I use reference books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, but 5, 10, 50 years from now, the edition that sits on my shelf will be outdated. Even now, despite what some academics say, editing is often a subjective endeavour. Just compare one publishing house’s style sheet with another’s.

What is language really and why is it important to learn – and use – the currently accepted rules?

A Means to Communicate with One Another

According to Wikipedia, researchers conclude that less than 35 percent of face-to-face communication is verbal. If we break a rule from time to time, it won’t likely have a dramatic effect.

And when it comes to written communication, for the most part, we have to use language that can be understood by our target audience. Writings for the general population are now at a lower reading level than in days gone by. Of course, neither of these things means we shouldn’t use accepted spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

A Means to Express Your Thoughts and Feelings

Our intention may come across loud and clear if we are communicating face-to-face. However, if our written work is bogged down by errors, our thoughts and feelings may get lost in the muddle.

A Means to Effect Change

If we want to effect change on a broad scale, we don’t want our audience distracted by our apparent ignorance about the language. Whether we consider this distraction their problem or ours is irrelevant. If we want to be heard and know our audience may very well be alienated by such things, we should purchase, read, and apply a book (or two) on the subject. If you do a search for “grammar” on Amazon, you will find 100 pages of books. (This is also a good place to mention that a skilled editor is worth the investment – even for editors.)

A Means to Entertain

Deliberately breaking the rules can have a humorous effect. First, however, you must know the rules. You must also know that your audience will understand why what you say (or write) is funny.

When your humor has nothing to do with linguistics and grammar, it’s a good idea that errors in this area don’t distract from the message. On the flipside, strictly following the rules can be equally distracting—and unintentionally amusing. Consider Winston Churchill’s words: “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

An Aside

If you haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves, you absolutely, positively must. It’s my favourite book on punctuation. I howled as I read it while my family was watching TV. They thought I was a little strange, but that’s okay because I am. Using incorrect punctuation can convey an unintended—often hysterical, sometimes tragic—message.

My Personal Philosophy

As an editor and writer, I want to do the best I can to create—and help others create—the most polished, effective written communication possible.

When it comes to reading work created by someone else, I want to be gracious, looking passed the mistakes to the message they are seeking to convey.


Stephanie Nickel

Write Passionately And Prosper by Shan Jeniah Burton

What fires you up? What consumes you? What do you keep coming back to, again and again, in life? What are you passionate about? Do you indulge it, or feel guilty about it? Do you try to avoid it while you’re writing, because youfeel it distracts you from your work?

I used to do that, too. For me, it’s Vulcans, and it probably always will be. I have a deep, abiding passion for them that’s been with me for over three decades, now. There’s something about those green-blooded, pointy-eared beings who wear cool logic as armor over souls filled with intense and sometimes uncontrollable passions that ignites my imagination and utterlyfascinates me.

Yes, I have many other passions, but, again and again, the Vulcans draw me in, compel me, demand – politely, of course – I give them and their stories my attention. For most of my life, I told myself that the fan fiction I wrote wasn’t “real” writing, and that I was “wasting time” when I indulged it. I wrote those stories in notebooks I kept hidden, showing them only to one or two select people, and I ridiculed myself for the time and energy I expended on them.

I was cheating myself.

Only when I decided to take my passion for Vulcans seriously did I move forward as a writer who creates not only Star Trek fan fiction, but also:

  • An original fantasy series, part of a duology with my fanfiction Trek universe;
  • A poetry collection;
  • A series of novellas about life and death at a private no-cost hospice resort;
  • Short stories and flash fiction.
  • Several essays, and nearly a thousand blog posts, so far.

Those are the tangible proof that something shifted when I embraced my Vulcan passion. There are also other, less easily quantified benefits:

  • I’m better at allowing my characters to breathe and live on the page.
  • I understand more about what to say and what to leave unsaid, and the power of the smallest gestures – a swallow, the brush of fingertips, a glance, a sigh…
  • I’ve extended and stretched the way I see myself as a writer and a person, and how my passions feed all of my writing.
  • I come to my writing with a sense of freedom and playfullness inspired by indulging my passions, and I immerse myself in the realities I create.

I used to divide my life into rigid categories. I had a ‘Real Writing’ category, and an ‘Other Stuff I Write But Feel Guilty About’ category. But I’ve come to see that it’s all writing, just as writing is a part of me. Interconnection, interweaving, all swirled and blended together into an ever-shifting whole. Everything I write is Real Writing. There is no “other”. It all feeds each other, and that’s where passions come in.

Loving what I do makes me a better writer.

It’s not because I love Vulcans. It’s because I accept that I love them, revel in my love for them, and give myself permission to write about them, observe them, delve their minds…to let myself sink into all that it is that makes them irresistible to me, and to capture that and offer it to you.

I get more out of indulging my passions than I do out of fighting them. Since I began treating my fascination with writing Trek fanfiction as equally worthy, I’ve allowed myself to indulge in delightful observation of T’Pol and Spock, my two favorite Vulcans (anyone else want to read that as ‘My Favorite Martian’, or is that just me?).

Vulcans aren’t human. Their body language, thought processes, and approach to life are quite different. There is a stillness about them, a lack of the types of exuberant, spontaneous motions we humans tend to engage in. Their usually submergedemotions aren’t nearly as much a factor in their decision making as logic. A small lift of the eyebrow conveys amusement, frustration, surprise…a tiny shift of visual focus to indicate anger, discomfort, evasion…each movement means more, in Vulcans, and, in order to find my stories, I’ve needed to become attentive to those subtle shifts.

Vulcans are also a study in contrasts and unresolved inner conflicts. Writing them requires understanding and conveying the lighting flashes and thunderclaps when they lose their calm and control. When the maelstrom of raw emotion is loosed, they might kill to win a mate; make illogical and self-destructive choices, sob, seduce, scream, or sink silently and rigidly into themselves.

In learning to read Vulcans, to focus on those tiny clues and glaring signs of their inner thoughts, motivations, conflicts, and emotions, I’ve honed skills that make me a better writer no matter what species my characters are.

Because that’s really what’s at the heart of fiction writing – understanding why our characters do what they do, how to read and see into them more deeply, to know what it would be to live within their skins, their minds, their souls, their lives.

It isn’t about Vulcans or Star Trek – not really.

It’s about passion.

Because the best writing is based upon passion. We don’t choose our passions; they happen to us, based on many factors: exposure, interests, personality, needs…By indulging our passions, we’re engaging ourselves more wholly – and isn’t that exactly what we need to do, to be the best writers we can be?

At the beginning of this post, I asked what you are passionate about, and whether you indulged those passions. Now, at the end, I offer up a challenge. If you already indulge your passions without guilt, can you see the ways in which they’ve enhanced your writing? If you don’t, will you find some small space you can give to your passion, freely and joyfully?

You may find that your life – and your writing – will become richer and deeper, if you do. May you, to paraphrase the Vulcans, “Write passionately and prosper.”


Shan Jeniah Burton


Carving Out The Time By Lauralynn Elliott

But I just don’t have TIME to write! I have to do this, and this, and THIS.


These are things I’ve said before. While my house was in CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome, ref. flylady.net) and paperwork piled up, you would think I was spending the time writing. But I wasn’t. So what was I doing with all that time I could be writing? Well, here’s what was happening. Since I started doing line editing (proofreading), I got so overwhelmed by it, my mind would shut down and I couldn’t handle anything related to work. So I was playing computer games. I was watching TV. I was messing around with my iPad. It’s amazing how much time can be spent on just those things. The next thing you know, it’s bedtime, the house is still cluttered, and no writing was done. That’s okay. I’ll think about that tomorrow. (I call that Gone with the Wind syndrome.)


So what can we do about our time? Can we add more hours into the day? Um, no, that’s kind of set in stone. Can we slow down the time? Nope. So what can we do? Make the time count. Use the time wisely. Prioritize. I know…this takes discipline, doesn’t it? And our inner rebel doesn’t like discipline. And, being creative people, we are free spirits. Right? But does that get things accomplished? I don’t think so. So I have a few things that I’ve learned, mostly about how to carve out bits of time to do the things that need to get done.


1)      Do the most important things first. That way, if you don’t get around to everything, you’ll know you did what had to be done.

2)      Find little snippets of time to do things. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a short period of time. A little during your lunch break. Maybe a bit while dinner is cooking.

3)      Sprint. I’ve learned about this from two different sources. The first one has to do mostly with housework. On http://flylady.net/, she suggests doing housework in increments of 15 minutes. You work that long on one thing, take a break for a little while, then work on something else. FlyLady says you can do anything for 15 minutes. (My husband says you can’t hold your breath that long, LOL.) And then I learned how to do that with writing from Virginia Nelson (http://www.authorvsnelson.com/), a warm and funny lady who writes full time. I’ve taken her class three times, once at Buildin’ the Dream and twice at RNC. To sum it up, you write for 15 minutes (or whatever time works for you), then take a break to do something else (throw a load of laundry in the washer, get a cup of coffee, etc.). While you’re on break, you’re supposed to think about the next scene, then you go back for another 15 minutes and write that scene. Here’s the kicker. You can’t backspace or correct anything during your sprint. Get the words on paper. You can fix them later. This just KILLS my inner editor, but I’ve done it in her class, and it amazes me how many words I can write in 15 minutes (although, some of those words end up looking like words from the language of planet Jupiter). So using these two methods, you can get housework done and get writing done.

4)      Give yourself days off. Treat this like a real work week. I take off Wednesdays and Sundays, and I don’t write or edit on those days. If you don’t get a break, you burn out.

5)      Don’t procrastinate. How many times have we sat down to write, only to get on social media and play around because we don’t want to get started on our manuscript? Stop it. Social media isn’t the priority. See #1.

6)      Reward yourself with games and fun…AFTER you’re done writing. This one is hard for me. I love playing Big Fish games on my computer, and I want to do it RIGHT NOW. But good self-discipline will make me…well, see #1. I’m still working on this.


These are just a few things I had in my head. I’m currently working on two paid editing jobs, and another I’m working on when I can for a friend, and I’m trying to write my own book. I work full time. I NEED to read my own post over and over.


What about you? Do you find yourself needing more time? If so, you’ll need to carve it out from somewhere. Let’s all do what we can to be more productive!


Lauralynn Elliott

On Being A Storyteller by Lisa Lawler

There are many different reasons why writers write, and we have various different goals we hope to achieve through our writing, but what we all have in common is that we are Storytellers. (And Storytellers, it turns out, have quite an eclectic ancestry: Modern storytellers are the descendants of an immense and ancient community of holy people, troubadours, bards, griots, cantadoras, cantors, traveling poets, bums, hags and crazy people. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Indeed!)


As long as there have been human beings, there have been stories. Stories are what separate us from the other life forms on our planet and make us human. To some extent, we ARE our stories, because we give meaning to our lives by telling stories that make sense of the past and that reveal our dreams and desires for the future.


As Storytellers, we have many important functions.


Storyteller as Community Builder

People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song. – Neil Gaiman,Anansi Boys


Our stories have the potential to build connections in a world where, despite all our technological advances, we are cut off from one another in the way that really matters. In stories, we can look at the world through eyes other than our own. Protagonists can live in a different country, different culture, a different time, even a different world.


This ability to step outside our own lives and into another’s ultimately changes us. It expands minds and hearts. It provides an opportunity for building bridges across superficial differences and divisions.


“You have yet to understand, my friends, that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” – Anthony de Mello


Storyteller as Teacher

Stories live in your blood and bones, follow the seasons and light candles on the darkest night – every storyteller knows she or he is also a teacher. – Patti Davis


In our stories, we can share our insights into history, not just the dry, boring facts and figures, but what it must have been like to live in those times and in those places. We bring the past to life and we help modern readers to experience it, and, therefore, to remember it.


Not only that, we put forward ideas and values for readers to weigh up and see if they are a good fit as a way to live their own lives.


Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. – Hannah Arendt.


The teaching function of the storyteller is a particularly important one. Our stories are going to touch hearts and minds, and those stories can strengthen and nourish. But stories also have the power to weaken and damage. So a Storyteller is a person of immense influence with a huge responsibility.


The Celtic people, for example, insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous: it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow? – Mathew Fox


Storyteller as Healer

Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you. – Alice Walker


Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. – Barry Lopez


To put it mildly, life isn’t easy. It has its moments of torment and suffering and almost unbearable heartache. As storytellers, we can dig deep into our own sorrows and fears and say, “This happened to me (or to my character) and this is one way to deal with the pain. And if I or my character can do it, you can do it, too. Don’t give up. The world needs you.”


We can heal through humour: what we can laugh at no longer holds power over us.


We can heal by reminding others that nothing lasts forever and that life can get better, that we have it within us to overcome all challenges that face us. Stories can teach us to never give up, and remind us that, as Neil Gaiman put it, “dragons can be beaten”, because whatever does not kill us can serve to make us stronger.


We cannot wish old feelings away nor do spiritual exercises for overcoming them until we have woven a healing story that transforms our previous life’s experience and gives meaning to whatever pain we have endured. – Joan Borysenko


Storyteller as Inspiration

Australian Aborigines say that the big stories – the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life – are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. – Robert Moss


Storytellers have the power to set their readers’ worlds alight, to share new ways of thinking about the world and about who we really are, inside and out. Storytellers place before their readers heroes to emulate, ways to move past difficulty and ways to relate to people.


Stories are hardwired into our brains; they show us how to live, they teach us, they entertain us, certainly, but they also bring us closer together, inspire us, change us, heal us.


So, if we have a story we yearn to share, let us honour it and nurture it, for we never know whose life it may touch and what changes it will bring about.


And that is the power and the magic of being a Storyteller.


I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou (1928-2014)


Lisa Lawler

Mind Your Memes by John Holton

I’m fascinated with memes. I’m not talking about Grumpy Cat (but isn’t she adorable?), I’m talking about the kind of memes that Richard Brodie talked about in his 1996 book Virus Of The Mind: The New Science Of The Meme. The idea of a meme was first proposed by Richard Dawkins twenty years earlier, in his book The Selfish Gene, where he compared it to a gene: where our genes are units of genetic transfer, memes are units of cultural transfer. They’re thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that are the building blocks of our mind.

Here are some examples:

  • “Polite kids say please and thank you.”
  • “Everything you do goes on your Permanent Record.”
  • “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m tellin’ ya why, Santa Claus is comin’ to town.”
  • “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
  • “Boys do better in Math and Science, girls do better in Language Arts.”
  • “Be American, Buy American!”
  • “Drinking Coors Light makes you attractive to the opposite sex.”

It doesn’t matter whether the meme is true or false, right or wrong; a meme, like a virus, replicates itself and spreads to as many people as it can. We spread the memes that we’ve taken on, sometimes without even knowing it, and others do the same. Like these:

  • “To be a writer, your spelling, grammar, and punctuation need to be perfect.”
  • “It’s so hard to sell your book to a publisher.”
  • “Short stories are a waste of time; if you want to sell your writing, you have to write a novel.”
  • “No one takes self-published books seriously.”
  • “Good writers got ‘A’s in English in high school.”
  • “The best books were plotted out extensively before they were written.”
  • “An outline of your novel is a waste of time.”
  • “Western novels are out of fashion.”

Again, it isn’t important that a meme be right or wrong. A good meme is just one that catches on, that gets replicated to as many people as possible.

My point in telling you all of this is that your memes can prevent you from achieving your goals. When you say, “I am a writer,” you might feel like your mind is rebelling against the whole idea, and you might not know what it is that’s causing the distress.

It doesn’t matter. It’s something you can overcome. You own yourself. You decide what goes on in your mind. You can reject any negative reaction you have, even if you don’t know what meme is causing it. Fill your mind with positive memes. Force the negative ones out.

I know you can do it. You can make the sky green and people fly like birds. You know how I know that?

YOU ARE A WRITER! That’s what writers do!

Straight ahead!


John Holton

Trek To The Sea by Chris Kincaid

The other day, I saw an amazing video.

A slight depression in a sandy beach began to move and shift. A small black object wrestled to the surface, all flippers and new-born awkwardness the tiny sea turtle emerged. For a moment it craned its neck in all directions, then started off with determination towards the sea. Dozens of its brothers and sisters followed, all aiming for the same destination, sand still clinging to their backs. Their instincts told them to get to that giant body of water as soon as possible.

They traveled over beach debris, climbing what to them must have been insurmountable dunes. Occasionally they would veer from their route, but their instincts would send them back in the proper direction or the toe of a giant human spectator would nudge them back on course. Shadows from seagulls flying overhead crossed their paths, and only the handful of people watching the exodus kept the birds from snatching up the helpless babies.

Finally, the newly hatched sea turtles splashed into the water. Their awkwardness on land forgotten as they swam to safety and began the lives they were born to live.

As writers, we face the same hurdles to be overcome. We know what we want to write but we struggle to get those first words on paper. We don’t always know where our stories are going but we have faith that they are going in the right direction. We sometimes feel like we are all alone in our task, but in fact our companions are just inches in front of us or behind us. Predators surround us which would like nothing better than to steal all of our thoughts and our motivation. There are unseen supporters aiding us when they are able.

A few of us will not make it, we will not find our way to the sea of publication, or even to the lake of completion. If that happens, when that happens, we simply need to begin again to dig out of our nest in the sand. When our writing reaches the water and is set free, the fight will have been worth it.

Easier Said Than Done by Tia Bach

There are so many ways to motivate yourself to write. Heck, I think I’ve written about several of them in my many terms as a ROW80 sponsor.

But I’m here to admit something… I suck at inspiration most of the time. What works one day, doesn’t work another. It’s like parenting. You do some magical thing and the kid listens. Then, the very next day, they are savvy to your tricks and look you dead in the eye and do whatever the heck they want to do.

Inspiration and motivation are easier to talk about than to put into action. There is no magic pill, potion, contraption, carrot, or method that will ensure you get your butt in the chair to write.

What we have to rely on is our passion for writing plus a good kick in the pants from the friends who understand said passion. For now, I encourage you to do what’s necessary to produce results—promise yourself a treat for every 5,000 words, turn off the Internet for a set amount of time, go to Starbucks and don’t go home until you hit your goal. Whatever it takes.

If you need a new spark of motivation, visit all the amazing ROW80 blogs and see what’s working for people. Then try it. For the last two years, I’ve written a book during NaNo. Why can I write during November and struggle the rest of the year?

Honest to God, I don’t know! It makes me crazy. I dabble from March to October and then BOOM—write a book in November, shelve it for December, edit it like crazy January through March, and publish it in April/May.

I WILL break the spell this year. How?

I don’t know yet, but I will. Knowing all of you will be rooting for me will be one huge push to get me there. One thing I can tell you… if you love to write, you will find a way. Plus, you’ve taken a great first step by joining ROW80 and surrounding yourself with others who get it.

May this round grace you with motivation, inspiration, and WORDS via whatever path you choose (or paths, as the case may be).


Tia Bach