Month: July 2014

Reading and Writing as Punishment

Reading and writing as punishment? There is something inherently wrong with seeing the word punishment in the same sentence as reading and writing. Outside of academia, or reading to self-learn something, most of us look at reading as something relaxing, an escapism, something to get lost in or something that takes us to a place or time that becomes somewhat real.  Again, outside of writing for scholastic purposes or work, writing is a form of expression, something pleasurable, something creative.  So where does punishment fit in and where am I going with this?

I read often as a child. We had an extensive selection of books at both my house and at my grandmother’s daycare center where I spent a lot of my time.  We read, my mother would read to us, and we played with writing.  My mother was big on that which could be expected since she was a writer.  Besides the usual assortment of children’s books, we had classics, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and stacks of National Geographic Magazine. We read them all. One summer when I was around 12 or 13, I got in trouble for something and subsequently became grounded for a month.  My punishment: reading and writing.

I grew up in a small mining town on the Mexican border that has long since reinvented itself as a tourist attraction with quite the artistic community. Since I sill regularly stay in contact with many of my childhood friends, I see pictures they post of my childhood home.  One picture in particular immediately made me smile and took me back to that summer and my month long punishment.  It was a picture of the library that I was sentenced to for a month: The Copper Queen Library, Arizona’s oldest library.

For one month, I was required to check out a book each week, read it, write a complete book report on it, and if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to write down twenty vocabulary words from the book along with their meaning.  Four weeks, four books, four book reports and eighty words.  Summer vacation had started off with a bang. Oh, one other stipulation to my punishment: the books had to be non-fiction. OK, it wasn’t like I couldn’t go out and play with my friends that first week, miss my baseball games, or do other things kids want to do in summer, I just had to show my mother the progress I was making on reading, my list of vocabulary words, and notes I was making for my book report.  Playing privileges for each following week were dependent upon successful completion of the prior week.

Since we were in the southwest, and I recently had a relative of Cochise come and speak at my school, I browsed the library and chose a book about the Apache leader Cochise.  My second and third books were about the Apache leader Geronimo. My last book was Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  I did as my mother asked, was able to play each day, and didn’t miss any baseball games. Four weeks, four trips to the library, four books , four book reports, and eighty words later, I had completed my punishment and was not grounded any more.  Freedom…

Week five. I asked my mom to punish me some more and we all headed off to the library. I checked out The Outsiders and read it over a few days.  That summer we went to the library once a week, and each time, I got a new book. My little brother even got in on the punishment and got a book each week. I even continued writing book reports and keeping a notebook with vocabulary words.  For free.

Best punishment I ever had in my life?  Reading and writing.



Who Needs an Editor?

My first blog entry so go easy on me.

So who needs an editor?  I do for one and I will venture to guess that many of you do too.

My formal education is in engineering and business.  Although I have had a few writing and literature courses in college, the majority of writing for me has been technical reports, term papers, essays, and business cases.  Despite my best efforts, my grammar is weak, I get tenses confused, I repeat words; use adverbs too often, have problems with punctuation, hyphens, commas, quotations, italics, and only recently figured out how to write dialogue correctly.  Oh, and I use run-on sentences occasionally.  To all the writers out there who write for a living or who chose to follow that path in college, I have an immense amount of respect for you.  I chose a different career path that I actually love but still found myself wanting to write.  Because I have not had formal training, I can be honest enough with myself and my present ability to know I need help beyond friends and family.

After years of reading and saying I want to write, I made a decision to try.  I will clarify that by saying: write with the intent of putting a piece of work out there for all to read.  I have written poetry that has long been forgotten; lyrics that nobody will ever hear in a song, and short stories that until recently have never been read.  So what is different now?  What’s different is that I am at that point in my life where I am no longer afraid to fail. The technical and anal side of me followed a plan that had me reading numerous books on writing and crafting stories, studying information on author platforms and use of social media, and researching the various paths to publishing.  What I was not doing was writing.  This is a personality trait I know I have and might stem from my technical background.  I research everything.  Years ago, I wanted to backpack so I read numerous books on backpacking and gear before ever hitting the trails.  I wanted to cycle a century and again read magazine articles and books, then bought a bike and have completed numerous centuries.  Cooking, running, fishing, and numerous other activities… same thing.  An important note here is that I took the appropriate steps and accomplished each thing I set out to do.  I didn’t just read a few books, jump on a bike, then ride a hundred miles.  I put countless hours and miles in each week for over six months until I could ride a hundred miles.  Why should writing be any different than any other activity or goal?  I think it comes down to acceptance and judgment.  Writing exposes your soul, opening up your deepest thoughts to all, and sets you up for criticism.  In the past, I was not sure I wanted to do that and fail.  For a number of personal reasons, I no longer care about failing.  We learn from failing (although what does failing actually mean which is subject for another blog).  So here I am writing with more purpose than to shove it away in a desk file somewhere, and in the process, finding I love it in almost an addictive sort of way.

Although writing a novel has always been the end goal, some months ago I wrote a short story.  Not a literary piece by any stretch of the imagination but a work of fiction with a message and not in the genre I intend to write in. After I had finished it, I was elated to have a completed story and satisfied with what I wrote. To be honest, I was proud of what I wrote.  I shared it with a few people close to me, got positive feedback, made suggested edits and submitted it to a writing contest.  I immediately started writing a novel that I had previously outlined to death, got a few chapters completed, then decided to read my short story again.  I hadn’t looked at it since the day I sent it off and as soon as I read it, I noticed mistakes and regretted my premature decision to enter it into a contest.  At that moment, I made the decision to cancel my entry, and have a professional look at it.

I connected with someone on Twitter of all places, and eagerly sent my manuscript off to her.  What transpired after that is interesting to say the least.  Within a short time frame, I received my “first” round of edits and suggested changes back from her.  A 5300 word short story and 104 side comments with suggested changes or requests for clarification.  That is not counting the changes she had already made with grammar and punctuation and the attached document with an entire group of other suggestions.  My first reaction was, and I will use my exact thought to myself here, “You suck and need to give this up, NOW!”  I thought of just paying my bill and apologizing for wasting her time, tossing my WIP along with all the detailed character sheets, outline, scene information, and other research I had done and quit before I invested any more time on a foolish dream.  I walked away from it for a day, came back and read through her suggestions again realizing this was not a bad thing and that I had an opportunity to learn something here.  So I continued making most of suggested changes, clarified others, and questioning everything.  I sent it back along with a running document the two of us had going with various comments and questions.  My short story returned to me within a week, much cleaner and once again with suggested changes, although not near the number as before, and with my previous questions answered.  I worked through my manuscript making some of the changes along with adding a few of my own then sent it back for what turned out to be a third round of edits before the final proofread.  The entire process took less than a month, countless emails and notes back and forth, and resulted in one of the best learning experiences I could have hoped for.  More importantly, I carried what I learned forward in my present writing.  I will still have many of the grammar errors I made but I am OK with that.  What I hope not to have are many of the foolish rookie mistakes I made but if I do, again, I’m new to this and will work through it.  As for my short story, I am comfortable enough with it that I had another author whom I admire read it, have shared it with other family members, and will submit it to contests and/or for publication.

I consider my first experience with an editor a blessing and I’m happy to have met and worked with someone who could critique my work, answer my questions, and teach me so much in a firm, yet nurturing way if that makes any sense.  What I also got from this experience is that I can tell a story which is all I really want to do… albeit with some professional help which in my mind makes it a team effort.  I can live with that.

Thank you Susan Buchanan of Perfect Prose Services.

So who needs an editor?  I do.  Back to writing…

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