Writing Tip: Listen to the PDF Lady

Editors are often advised to read manuscripts aloud, as you will catch mistakes that you might not when reading silently. Recently I got an excellent editing tip from the blog The Blood Red Pencil (http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com) that takes this advice one step further.

Convert the manuscript into a PDF file, then on the View menu click the Read Aloud function. Adobe will read aloud to you. It’s true, the voice (mine is female, so I assume they all are) reads in a mechanical monotone, but this is a plus. You will hear each individual word that way. The first time I tried this, I was amazed at how much easier, faster, and more efficient this was. If you’re editing your own, or someone else’s work, I urge you to try this.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Adobe has some strange ideas about pronunciation. The manuscript I first edited this way was about succeeding in small business, and it included the word “referral” (and its variations) often. The PDF lady thinks this word is pronounced “reFAYrul”. I can’t imagine why, but that’s what she thinks. She also does not recognize the name “Jan”. The book mentioned someone named “Jan Smith” but the PDF lady read this as “January Smith.” There was also a “Cal Jones” in the manuscript, and the PDF lady read this as “calendar Jones.” And if you end a sentence with the word “is”, be prepared for the PDF lady to read this as “island.”

But after you get used to these peculiarities, it’s a fine way to edit. I recommend it.

Ghostwriting for a Dog: Working for Amazon

My human likes to read in bed. This is a problem for our relationship. When I go to bed, I don’t like that light shining in my eyes. So while she has that light on, I refuse to sleep by her. I wait on the couch in the other room until she turns it off.

My human recently bought a Kindle, and now reads that in bed instead of those paper books. Although she doesn’t know that I know this, she is thinking about getting one of those lights that hook onto the Kindle, made especially for reading in bed yet not disturbing your partner. I think this is a great idea – after all, I’m a partner, right? A disturbed partner, at that.

The reason she hasn’t bought this special Kindle light thing yet is that it costs $59 and she thinks that’s exorbitant. It’s not that she can’t afford $59, she can. But she thinks a little light shouldn’t cost that much and so she’s balking.

Maybe $59 is too much for a light, I don’t know much about money. But I think she’s looking at this the wrong way. She’s not buying a light, she’s buying comfort – for me. Aren’t I worth $59?

I think Amazon should hire me. I’m a pretty good salesdog.

Haiku Friday – Dying

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Dying:

on the day you die
dogs bark, birds chirp, leaves rustle
people talk weather

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Sharing History: Earth Mother Days

Around 30 years ago, I went into training as an Earth-Mother. I began to bake my own bread, make my own granola, my own yogurt. I started an herb garden and made my own teas. I bought vegetarian cookbooks and shopped at health food stores, just then becoming more popular and carrying more items. “Meat” became a dirty word in my house. My husband, whose indulgent mother had let him continue his childish eating preferences way into adulthood, hated vegetables and refused to eat them. He liked hamburger, fried chicken, wienies, jello, and ice cream. He hated my natural food regime and began eating his biggest meal at lunch, where he could go to a restaurant and have as much fat and grease and additives as he liked.

I thought he was ridiculous and was determined to prove to him that he just thought he hated vegetables – it was all in his mind, not in his mouth. One day I found a recipe for spaghetti squash casserole. The recipe said that the squash both looked and tasted like spaghetti, especially if you poured marinara sauce over it and slathered it with cheese. I made this concoction and served it for dinner one night, telling my husband and 6-year old daughter that it was spaghetti. (It was a lie for their own good, you see.)

The recipe didn’t lie in one respect – it did look like spaghetti. My husband suspected nothing and took a big bite. But he didn’t swallow; his cheeks ballooned out, his eyes got huge, and he started making gagging sounds. He leaped from the table, heading for the bathroom, making retching noises all the way. In his haste he upset the table, and tomato sauce flew in all directions – on the walls, the windows, the ceiling, my shirt, our daughter’s hair.

Although she was charmed with the drama, naturally our daughter refused to eat the spaghetti squash casserole too. And I must admit, I didn’t like it either.

Being an Earth Mother is not that easy.

Compost: Writers Block is Not the Flu

From time to time, every writer contracts a case of Writer’s Block. But Writer’s Block is not a disease, something that you “catch” that will go away after you pamper yourself, take Vitamin C, and postpone activity until it’s over. Writer’s Block is really just another name for fear.

This doesn’t mean Writer’s Block isn’t real – of course it is. Writer’s Block is like a boulder damming up a flowing river. The boulder is real. The water can’t flow smoothly until you do something about that boulder. You have to move it or find a way around it.

In other words, you have to do some work. We want things to be easy. We think if our writing flows easily, it must be “right”, or even god-directed. And if we are having trouble, if we have to write the same paragraph twelve times over, that somehow the writing is not as good, that we’re doing something wrong, that maybe it’s not “meant to be.”

This is not necessarily true. Not everything comes easy. Writing is work, and sometimes work is hard. Sometimes you have to sweat when you move the boulders.

So if you’ve got Writer’s Block, get to work. There’s always a way to deal with the boulders. It’s your job to find it. Hint: Going back to bed and taking Vitamin C is not it.

Haiku Friday: Mix

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Mix:

if you are mixed up
look around, take in the view
before you unmix

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Writing Tip: Wishy-Washy Words

Here is a list of some of my least favorite words:

very
quite
almost
kind of/sort of
pretty (as in, “He was pretty amazing.”)
somewhat
rather
really
basically, actually, generally, probably

When you use these wishy-washy words, you are trying to tone down the power of your message. You are trying to hedge, soften, or run from what you think or believe. You are being wishy-washy because you’re afraid if you come off too strong, you’ll scare people away.

You won’t. If you use powerful words without those namby-pamby hedges diffusing your message, you will draw people in. You might convince them, sway them, attract them, entertain them, and move them.

Try it – the next time you write something, don’t use any of those words I listed above. Or if they sneak in anyway (they are cunning little devils), edit your writing and take them all out. Every last one. You won’t miss them.

Ghostwriting For a Dog: Dumb Bunnies

In the spring the rodents who live in my yard have babies. Young mousies and rats, baby squirrels and bunnies are everywhere. This would make me happy except that my human won’t let me chase them. This is especially irritating because The Cat Who Lives in My House does get to chase them. The human doesn’t think she can boss The Cat, because cats are not bossable.

This wouldn’t be a problem for the rodents if the rodents had good brains – which they don’t. The Cat, who is old and fat and slow, outsmarts them every time. She just hunkers down partway hidden, stays really really still, and waits for the young and stupid bunnies to pass by. That’s when she pounces on them and rips their stupid baby heads off their bodies. Sometimes she brings the bodies into the house via my dog door, trailing their intestines and making yucky spots on the floor. My human yells at her, but it doesn’t do any good – The Cat doesn’t care about yelling.

Dumb rodents. It’s all their own fault. Why don’t their mothers teach them that The Cat is No One’s Friend?

Haiku Friday – Ideas

Here’s my haiku for today, on the topic of Ideas:

in just one morning
two new ideas spring up
I am Mighty Mouse

It’s Haiku Friday again. For the past twenty years or so, it has been my practice to write one haiku every day. Every Friday I share a haiku here, about whatever topic I happen to choose. I invite you to write a haiku on this topic too, and share it with me and the readers of this blog. Just write it in the Comments below. The only rules are: 1) your haiku must be about the named topic; 2) you must follow the 5-7-5 syllable format; 3) no obscenities or hate (I will delete those). That’s it.

Sharing History: The Dead Can’t Tell Stories

How many of us wish they had an ancestor’s story, told in their own words? Sometimes all we know is a tantalizing tidbit: a tiny piece of an ancestor’s story that raises as many questions as it answers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we think, to know the hopes, dreams, wishes and fears of Great-Great-Grandma as she bounced over the plains in a covered wagon? Wouldn’t it be cool to know what Great-Great Uncle Joe was thinking while he robbed that bank? And why did Great-great-great Grandpa leave Scotland in such a hurry? Well, if they didn’t write their thoughts down, you’ll never know now.

I was told that my great-grandmother on my father’s side was Native American, from the Blackfoot tribe (now in Montana) – but then I was also told that she was a “half-breed” (a derogatory term of the time) and the Native American half was Nez Perce from Idaho – but then I was also told she wasn’t Native American at all, and born and raised in a small town in Kansas. The story depended on who you were talking to. It’s hard to know the truth now, since she’s been dead for over fifty years, and so is nearly everyone who really knew her.

Everyone does agree that her name was Isabelle Evelyn McKay and she died at the age of 90-something in 1954. Before that, there seems to be some disagreement. The story I like best is the one told me by her daughter, my great-aunt, now long deceased. It goes like this:

Evelyn McKay was born and raised on a reservation in Idaho (her daughter refused to name the tribe), and lived there until she was sixteen or so, in the mid-1880s. That’s when a circuit preacher rode onto her reservation. A circuit preacher meant that he rode (on horseback or in a buggy) between the little towns in eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and preached his brand of Christianity for a few days, and then rode on. Towns would see him once or twice a year when he would regale them with hair-raising sermons on the hellfire and damnation he saw waiting for them. Those in the family who remember the Preacher agree that he was not a lovable man, being particularly given to frightening small children with vivid descriptions of hell.

But there must have been something about him, for he was able to convince the young Evelyn to marry him. He took her away with him and plunked her down somewhere in Eastern Washington, and left her there to birth and raise their seven children while he rode his rounds, totally uncaring of the vicious racial bias against Indians and “half-breeds” which was normal for the western towns of the time. She must have had a lonely, difficult life.

Or maybe not. Maybe she coped well with a Bible-thumping wanderer, and wasn’t the victim of anti-Indian prejudice. But I wish I knew for sure. I bet she had fascinating stories, at the very least. I wish I’d been around then to ask her questions and write her stories down. But no one did, and now those stories are as dead as she is.