Category Archives: Writing

When Writing, Please Learn Your Subject & Vocabulary

Folks with zero interest in military history can skip this rant .

Saw this on FB today:

Just before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. The barrage lasted just two hours, but it was devastating: The Japanese managed to destroy nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight enormous battleships, and almost 200 airplanes. More than 2,000 Americans soldiers and sailors died in the attack, and another 1,000 were wounded.

1) The attacking planes that caused most of the damage were bombers and torpedo planes, not fighter planes.

2) A barrage is commonly artillery fire. I would have called this a “two-hour attack” or a combination of bombing, torpedoing, and strafing.

3) Of the eight battleships damaged or sunk, seven were eventually raised/repaired and six went on to fight in the war. They were not destroyed. The only one “destroyed” was the Arizona, which is now the well-known memorial at Pearl.

I know that over time people conflate definitions and things get progressively mushier. But I’m in the camp that if you want to write about something, you have to learn the subject matter and vocabulary.

A battleship is a specific kind of warship or naval vessel. Just because there are no active battleships in any navy anymore doesn’t mean it’s not useful to maintain the distinction. Just as a fighter plane is a specific kind of military aircraft, and is not a blanket term for all warplanes.

Ya Gotta Know When to Put the Novel Down

OK, I’m wimping out.

I’m about three quarters of the way through a novel, and it’s 9:30 pm.

I figure one or two characters that I like are going to get killed in the next chapter or two, so that the hero can righteously explode into revenge, and I don’t want to have all that on my mind just before bed.

It’s a struggle.  Can I put it down? I hate putting novels down, if I’m into them.

But I also hate trying to fall asleep emotionally roiled.

Tonight I’m figuratively staring at the sinister muzzle of the 9mm S&W pistol pointed at me, and am complying with the order: “Put the book down, and step away.”

I will finish it tomorrow in the bright light of day.

Tales from Spam Folder Subject Lines

Occasionally I like to skim through the subject lines in my email spam folder, and construct silly stories from them. It’s like being a kid and playing with those spiral-bound books in which you could individually flip sections to rewrite stories, often with funny results.

Here’s a mashup from my spam folder today:

“Explore Russian Dating Online” it’s OK because there is a “Frenzy Over Herpes Cure (Latest Discovery)” If things go bad, “Do THIS When a Gun is Pointed at Your Head” and if things go really bad “Many Threw Their Glasses Away After Seeing This”


500 Words a Day Not Going Well

I must confess that my 500-words-a-day writing project is not going well. Initially I was blasting out 500 words as fast as around eight minutes, but it’s been over a week since my last entry. I think the problem is that so far it’s basically been a diary or journal with no focus, no other goal.

It is not building toward anything, so what’s the point? I can spew 500 words about my day, but who cares about the subject matter if even I don’t?

I need to choose a topic, or choose some goal, to write toward.

It could be an essay, it could be working toward longer blog posts on topics I’m passionate about, it could be an even longer fiction or non-fiction work, but it has to be about something.

UPDATE: Hey, my Photo Tip 4 that I posted here the next day is over 600 words! I had a topic staring me in the face, eh?

Writing 500 Words Per Day – First Try

How long will it take to write 500 words?

That is the question. I am off on a quest to write 500 words a day, every day, until something substantial arises from the keyboarding. I am only one monkey pounding away, so I am curious to see how long it will take me to write the first 500 words.

Why write 500 words a day? There are plenty of writing programs out there that flog this concept. The number may be different, but the idea that remains constant is that to produce any manuscript you have to get words down on paper. Or characters up on the screen.

You simply write. If you have an idea in mind, great. If you’re adding to something already started, wonderful. If you’ve got nothing, just go. Just get those fingers tapping or pen scrawling. And do it every day.

Eventually, the theory goes, that writing will begin to coalesce into something. Ideas will form. Concepts will begin to glimmer through the mist. The more you write, the more likely you are to come up with something that will eventually be usable.

So where is my writing headed? Honestly, I’m not sure. I have a background in journalism, but I haven’t done newswriting for many years. I started a creative writing program at the university level some 30-odd years ago, and gave up after a few months. I switched to expository writing, and was happy there for the rest of the semester before going off to journalism school. So essays, reportage––those genres are certainly within my capabilities.

But there is also the lure of fiction. I love reading novels, why not write one? But that’s a daunting task. That’s also where the 500 words a day comes in. It’s a manageable chunk. It’s not dozens of pages, it’s not a chapter. I’ve taken a fiction workshop or two over the last few years, mostly from an editing standpoint because that’s my work. I’m a freelance editor. But I’ve also participated in some fiction writing workshops, and while I found them scary, I did quite well.

“Write an opening page for a novel this evening, and then we’ll come back tomorrow morning and share them.” Yikes! But I survived. I even got a fair bit of praise. But then that first page has been sitting untouched on my computer for a couple of years now.

But perhaps I could add to that page, 500 words at a time. See how that goes. All it takes is the discipline to do it. 500 words isn’t such a huge challenge, is it? I’m at 438 words on this page now, and that’s taken me six minutes.

Another approach that some of my Facebook friends were discussing recently is the timer technique. You get a cheap, simple kitchen timer, or use one on your phone or computer, and focus on activities in 30-minute chunks. Again the idea is to make the chunks manageable, and not something to be feared. So you, say, practice that guitar that you haven’t touched in years for 30 minutes a day.

Whoops! I’m done! I am now at 526 words, so I quit.

That wasn’t bad at all.

Now to just do it again. And again…

Word count: 547

Elapsed time: 8 minutes

UPDATE: July 9 – BTW I am not going to be posting my daily 500 words on this blog every day. Apologies if that’s what readers thought. While it might have been fun, I think a daily dose of unedited dreck would quickly become tiresome. However, if any 500-word session produces something I feel is worth sharing, I will post bits and pieces, and perhaps the occasional entire spew.