Showing posts with label VBT - Writers on the Move. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VBT - Writers on the Move. Show all posts

Celebrating the Coming Release of "The Frugal Editor" with an Essay on the Conceited Pronoun "I"


A Little Essay on the Pronoun “I”
Using "I" As a Conceit

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of fiction,
poetry, and how-too books for writers.

I don't know when I learned the word "conceited." I was raised in Utah (yes, that’s part of the United States of America!) where most of us didn't use "conceit" in the sense of an elaborate or strained metaphor but rather to mean that someone thought they were extra-super special. The little girl across the street who snubbed me because I didn't wear long stockings with garters (which was an immediate tipoff that I was not her kind) was "conceited" rather than prejudiced. The kid who was quick to make a point of how bright he was when I made a mistake was "conceited" rather than arrogant (or insecure). Gawd! I loved the word "conceited." I could apply it to so many situations and avoid learning new vocabulary words.

Of course, in a culture where being extra-super humble was valued, I soon noticed that our English language is, indeed, "conceited."

I'm speaking of the way we capitalize the pronoun "I." None of the other pronouns are capped. So what about this "I," standing tall no matter where you find it alone in a sentence?

Recently as I tutored students in accent reduction and American culture, I noticed that some languages (like Japanese) seem to do quite well without pronouns of any sort. I remembered back (a long way back!) to a linguistics class in college and did a little extra research.  Some languages like Hebrew and Arabic, don't capitalize any of their letters and some, like German, capitalize every darn noun. So, English—a Germanic language at its roots—just carried on the German proclivity for caps.

But the question remained. Why only the "I?" Why not "them" and "you" and all the others. Caroline Winter, a 2008 Fulbright scholar, says "England was where the capital "I" first reared its dotless head… .Apparently someone back then decided that after it had been diminished from the original Gemanic ich,  the little lowercase
“i" was not substantial enough to stand alone." Some say it had to do with an artistic approach to fonts. The story goes that long ago in the days of handset type or even teletype machines little sticks and dots standing all alone looked like broken bits of lead or scrappy orphan letters.

Then there is the idea that religion played a part in capitalizing the "I." Rastafarians (and some others, too) think in terms of humankind as being one with God and therefore—one has to presume—it would be rather blasphemous not to capitalize "I" just as one does "God." Capitals, after all, are a way to honor a word or concept.

Which, of course, brings us back to the idea that we speakers of English are just plain "conceited."

More About the Guest Blogger

Carolyn Howard-Johnson was an instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renown Writers' Program for nearly a decade and is author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including The Frugal Editor, soon to be released by Modern History Press in its third edition, updated to accommodate new editing expectations around gender and lots more. Modern History Press President, Victor Vollkman, says it has more than 50% new material as evidenced by the Index he just finished installing.  Carolyn is the recipient of the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and was honored by Pasadena Weekly for her literary activism. She also is a popular speaker and commericial actor with the likes of Blue Shield, Disney (Japan) Cruiselines, and Apple Computer to her credit. Her website is https://HowToDoItFrugally.com.
Book Cover for New 3rd Edition by Doug West

Freewriting Frees You From Your Inner Editor



How do you get rid of that inner editor—the devilish one that sits on one shoulder, whispering,
“That’s not very good. What makes you think you can write? You can even spell!” Or “Doesn’t that need a comma there?” Or “Is that the right word? I don’t think so.”

Freewriting or flow of consciousness is a great exercise to shake off that devilish inner editor and get yourself back into a fun, playful sense of creativity. I think Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind) was one of the first who promoted this form of writing.

The rule for doing this is there are no rules. Choose a topic. Set a timer for ten minutes and put pen to paper. Do not stop for any reason. Don’t worry about commas and spelling and grammar. Don’t think about what you’re writing, just write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s “I can’t think of anything to write. This is a stupid exercise.” Something will come to mind. Go from there, see where it takes you. You may end up on a topic far from the one you started with.

But what do I write about? Anything you want. Something you see out your window, something that’s bothering you, a resignation letter to your boss, a mini-murder mystery in which you kill off your boss. When I teach beginning writing classes, I ask my students to make a list of 5-10 things they’d like to write about. Then each picks one and we do the 10-minute exercise.

Take something from your Work In Progress. Have your character talk to you or write you a letter. Write a page describing your setting. Pick a feeling and write everything you associate with that feeling: what’s your physical reaction? What smell does it evoke? What color do you associate with this feeling? Any tastes come to mind? Music? What memories?

You might end up with pages of drivel, but you might also find a diamond in the rough, something that could help with your WIP or be the beginning of a whole new novel.

Try it. You might enjoy it!
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A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches
writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, have just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


How Much Emphasis Should We Use?



Isn’t it frustrating, when you’re writing, to figure out how to emphasize a word or a phrase? When you were starting out, did you (like I did) put words in ALL CAPS or in bold or underlined, or maybe all of the above? Oh yes, and let’s not forget the exclamation point!!!! The more, the better, right?


All of these methods are red flags that point to an inexperienced writer. I’ve had editors tell me no more than four exclamation points in the entire manuscript. When you submit a manuscript, agents and publishers do not want to see all caps, bold, or excessive exclamation points.

Here is some sage advice from pros
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.” Terry Pratchett

“We only live once, but once is enough if we do it right. Live your life with class, dignity, and style so that an exclamation, rather than a question mark signifies it!Gary Ryan Blair

When can you use an exclamation mark? 
“Fire!” Jane screamed. “Get out!” Fire is a good reason for emphasis, right? Well, maybe this is a little more than needed (two exclamation points plus "screamed.")

It’s better to show emphasis with action and dialogue. “I’ve had just about enough of this.” Maryann narrowed her eyes and turned to leave. (You can tell she’s not happy with the situation without adding any emphasis.)

You can emphasize a word with italics. But, use this method sparingly. Just like with exclamation marks, you don’t want to overload your manuscript. 

It used to be that editors wanted words underlined that were to be type-set in italic, but nowadays with computers, most accept and prefer italicized words. If you are submitting a manuscript, check your agent/publisher guidelines to see if they specify what they want.

So, for emphasis, challenge yourself to “show” the emotion you want to portray and try not to rely on the easy way out.

Anyone have any other ideas for emphasis?

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A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, the sequel, Follow the Dream,  won the national WILLA Award, and Dare to Dream rounds out the trilogy. In addition a non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of the Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing, edits, and blogs. 



Commonly Misused Words



“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ― Mark Twain.

Words can have more than one basic meaning and some words sound similar but have a completely different denotation. For example:
(Wrong) Older people often suffer infirmaries.
(Right) Older people often suffer infirmities.

Some words are homonyms (sound-alikes) but mean very different things. For example, principal/principle or rain/reign/rein.

Then there are words with similar but distinct meanings.
            (Wrong) Television commercials continuously (unceasingly) interrupt programming.
(Right) Television commercials continually (regularly) interrupt programming.

Which vs That. Which is used to introduce non-restrictive clauses (extra but not essential information) such as in The leftover lettuce, which is in the refrigerator, would make a good salad. Which needs a comma preceding.
That always introduces restrictive clauses: We should use the lettuce that Susan bought. (This limits the lettuce to a specific lettuce.) That  does not need a comma.

And some words have related meaning (denotation) but different connotations:
·         Pride—sense of self-worth
·         Vanity: excessive regard for oneself

·         Firm: steady, unchanging, unyielding
·         Stubborn: unreasonable, bullheaded

·         Enthusiasm: excitement
·         Mania: excessive interest or desire

“For one word a man is often deemed to be wise, and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish. We should indeed be careful what we say.” — Confucius.

What words have you run across that are interchanged in the wrong way?


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A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona.
Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, the sequel, Follow the Dream,  won the national WILLA Award, and Dare to Dream rounds out the trilogy. In addition a non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of the Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing, edits, and blogs. 


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