Hyphen, Em Dash, En Dash (revisited) #amwritng

We’re halfway through week 2 of National Novel Writing Month. Today we’re continuing our review the rules for common punctuation. This essay first posted on Feb 6, 2019. As always, if you’re already up on these rules, thank you for stopping by and happy writing!


Over the years, I have seen many books written by wonderful authors who overuse em or en dashes.

I also tend to do that in blogging and in Facebook posts, and my first drafts can be peppered with them. Em dashes are a kind of author’s crutch because it is easy to rely on them.

Trust me, readers find it distracting to see an em dash in every paragraph. Some editors don’t want to see one on every page. Their point of view is that the em dash is like any other repetitive word in a manuscript. As a tool, it’s useful as a way to emphasize certain ideas, and can also be used to good effect in the place of a semicolon. In my opinion, the em dash should be used sparingly to be most effective.

So, what is the difference between the hyphen and the em dash? Aren’t they the same thing?

Not at all. Hyphens are used to join two words to create a compound word. Never use a hyphen in the place of an em dash or en dash.

  • Time-saving
  • Twenty-one

Hyphens are not always necessary. If the meaning of a compound adjective is perfectly clear when written as two separate words, a hyphen is not necessary. If its meaning is understood when written as one word and common usage writes it as one word, again, a hyphen is not necessary. (See my post on Hyphens and Compound Words).

Dashes are not hyphens and are used in several ways. One kind of dash that is frequently used is the ‘en dash,’ which is the width of an ‘n.’ UK usage frequently employs the en dash in the place of the em dash.

In US usage, En dashes join two numbers that are written numerically, not spelled. To insert an en dash in a Word document: type a single hyphen between two words, with a space on either side of it:

1994 – 1996 (1994SpaceHyphenSpace1996) Once you hit the space key after the second word, the hyphen will form an en dash.

The dash we are discussing today is the ‘em dash,’ which is the width of an ‘m.’

An em dash (—)   is a versatile punctuation mark. It is the width of an ‘m,’ hence the name. An em dash can serve as a comma. It does the same task as parentheses and serves the same purpose as a colon when used in the narrative.

Misty Barnett—my dog walker—loves to tango.

Tonight’s featured dances—the foxtrot, the waltz, and the Basque Sword Dance.

Used in these situations, the em dash feels less formal than a colon. This shift in usage is all about economics. The reading public drives our written language. Their preference for books with narratives light on formality is why colons are no longer used in narrative prose.

To insert an em dash in a Word document: type two hyphens next to each other without any space between the words or hyphens:

A—B (LetterHyphenHyphenLetter) Once you hit the space key after the second word, the two hyphens will form an em dash.

The em dash can be more emphatic than a comma, yet not as firm a stop as the period. It sets apart any clause bracketed by them—such as this clause—which can easily be overdone.

Their main use in my work is in dialogue. Most editors will agree that current accepted practice for fiction is to not use semicolons in dialogue. Instead, we use the em dash to join short related independent clauses. Used wisely, they can smooth a choppy conversation and make it more normal sounding. A good writer will not pepper their manuscript with them.

In the rush of getting a first draft committed to paper, we use certain words and symbols as a kind of shorthand to ourselves for later, and the emdash can be one of them. When we are making revisions, we need to be alert and reword as much as we can to do without them. Used too exuberantly, they can create a mish-mash of run-on sentences where brevity would be a better choice.

So, what are these alternative forms of punctuation to create that dramatic pause? Be creative with your word choices, phrase things carefully, and see if one of these will work as well or better:

  • PERIOD = a full stop. End of Sentence. That’s all folks.
  • SEMICOLON: Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out. Call me tomorrow; we’ll go dancing then. (The AND has been left out.) As I said, the semicolon has fallen out of favor with many editors for dialogue. Also, many people don’t understand how to use them. However, I have nothing against them when they are used properly.
  • COMMA:  We purchased apples, oranges, and bananas.

Authors and editors become habituated to using emdashes without thinking. After a while, the little finger just hits that hyphen key twice whenever the mind pauses.

I have mentioned this wonderful quote before, which is from a blog post called “The Case—Please Hear Me Out—Against the Em Dash.”  The post was written by the witty Noreen Malone, staff writer for The New Republic:

“What’s the matter with an em dash or two, you ask?—or so I like to imagine. What’s not to like about a sentence that explores in full all the punctuational options—sometimes a dash, sometimes an ellipsis, sometimes a nice semicolon at just the right moment—in order to seem more complex and syntactically interesting, to reach its full potential? Doesn’t a dash—if done right—let the writer maintain an elegant, sinewy flow to her sentences?”

Write the way you want to, use em dashes where you think they work best, and rely on proper punctuation for the rest of your narrative.

Happy writing!


Credits and Attributions:

“The Case—Please Hear Me Out—Against the Em Dash”  by Noreen Malone, staff writer for The New Republic 24 May 2011 (accessed 11 March 2018).

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Semicolon; comma splice; comma (revisited) #amwriting

Here we are, entering the second week of National Novel Writing Month. It’s a good time to review the rules for the punctuation that we use (and abuse) so regularly. This essay first posted on March 14, 2018, so if you’re already up on these rules, thank you for stopping by and happy writing!


First up, the semicolon.

This joining punctuation is not complicated, once you know the one rule about when to use semicolons:

If you join two clauses with a semicolon, each clause must be a complete sentence, and they must relate to each other. In other words, they must be two short sentences expanding on ONE idea.

If your two short sentences don’t relate to each other, use a period at the end of each clause and make them separate sentences. You’re an author, for the love of Tolstoy. Use your creativity and reword those little sentences, so they aren’t choppy.

Two separate ideas done wrong: We should go to the Dairy Queen; it’s nearly half past five.

The first sentence is one whole idea: they want to go somewhere. The second sentence is a completely different idea: it’s telling you the time.

Two separate ideas done right, assuming the mention of time is important: We should go to the Dairy Queen soon. They close at eight, and it’s nearly half past five.

If time is the issue in both clauses and you want it to be once sentence, use a semicolon, reword it to say, “The Dairy Queen is about to close; it’s nearly half past five.”

On the other hand, you can join them with the em dash. My personal inclination is to find alternatives to both semicolons and em dashes, as they can easily create run-on sentences.

I don’t dislike them, as some editors do, but I think they are too easily abused and misused. My rule for you is this: Semicolons should not be used if you are in doubt.

Some authors will do anything to avoid using a semicolon, which is ridiculous. However, they see their work is a little choppy, so they join the independent clauses with commas.

That is a grammar no-no. You do not join independent clauses (clauses that can stand alone as separate sentences) with commas as that creates a rift in the space/time continuumthe Dreaded Comma Splice.

If you join independent clauses with commas and we all die, you’ll only have yourself to blame because I did warn you.

Comma Splice: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu and I like it, the dog likes to ride shotgun.

Same two thoughts, written correctly: My car is a blue Chevy Malibu, and I like it. The dog likes to ride shotgun.

But what do we join with commas? Commas are the universally acknowledged pausing and joining symbol. Readers expect to find commas separating certain clauses. Some simple rules to remember:

  1. Never insert commas “where you take a breath” because everyone breathes differently.
  2. Do not insert commas where you think it should pause because every reader sees the narrative differently.

We do use commas to set off introductory clauses:

  1. In the first sentence, “because he was afraid” isn’t necessary.

I italicized the introductory clause in the above sentence to show that it is not a stand-alone sentence. This clause introduces the clause that follows it, and its meaning is dependent on that following clause.

A comma should be used before these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, and so to separate two independent clauses. They are called coordinating conjunctions.

However, we don’t always automatically use a comma before the word “and.” This is where it gets confusing.

Compound sentences combine two separate ideas (clauses) into one compact package. A comma should be placed before a conjunction only if it is at the beginning of an independent clause. So, use the comma before the conjunction (and, but, or) if the clauses are standalone sentences. If one of them is not a standalone sentence, it is a dependent clause, and you do not add the comma.

Take these two sentences: She is a great basketball player. She prefers swimming.

  1. If we combine them this way, we add a comma: She is a great basketball player, but she prefers swimming.
  2. If we combine them this way, we don’t: She is a great basketball player but prefers swimming.

I hear you saying, “Now wait a minute! My English teacher very clearly taught us to use commas to join clauses.”

I’m sorry, but she probably did explain that exception. It just didn’t stick in your memory.

Two complete ideas can be joined with ‘and’ and you don’t need a comma.

Think of it as a list: if there are only two things (or ideas) in a list, they do not need to be separated by a comma.  I am buying apples and then going to the car wash.

If there are more than two ideas, the comma should be used to separate them, with a comma preceding the word ‘and’ before the final item/idea. This is called the Oxford comma, or the serial comma.

I must buy apples, go to the car wash, and then go to the library.

Oh yes, my friend. We do use serial commas to prevent confusion. In March of 2017, the New York Times reported that the omission of a comma between words in a list in a lawsuit cost a Maine company millions of dollars.

One habit I had to unlearn the first time I sent my work to a professional line editor:

  1. Do not place a comma before the word ‘because’ unless the information that follows is necessary to the sentence.

Grammar doesn’t have to be a mystery. If we want to write narratives that all speakers of English from Seattle, to London, to Mumbai, and to Brisbane can read, we must learn the simple common rules of the road. To this end, I recommend investing in The Chicago Guide to Grammar and Punctuation. It is based on The Chicago Manual of Style but it’s smaller and the contents are easier to navigate.

If a sentence feels muddled but you think a reader won’t notice, you are wrong. Be a little daring… crack open the grammar book or go online and look up the rules. You will become more confident in your writing, and your work will go faster.

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#FineArtFriday: Winter Landscape Evening Atmosphere by Fanny Churberg 1880

Title:  Winter Landscape, Evening Atmosphere

Artist: Fanny Churberg

Genre: landscape art

Date: 1880

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions     Height: 73.5 cm (28.9 in); Width: 105 cm (41.3 in)

Collection: Finnish National Gallery

What I love about this  painting:

Fanny Churberg (12 December 1845 Vaasa – 10 May 1892 Helsinki) was a Finnish painter and one of the great masters of her time. She is one of my favorite landscape artists. In terms of talent and technique, she is on a scale with the most renowned painters of all time in that genre.

She is generally considered by art historians as one of the greatest masters of landscape painting. She is relatively unknown as she only exhibited her work in Finland.

Winter Landscape, Evening Atmosphere is one of the last scenes Fanny Churberg ever painted. The impact of the angry sky is breathtaking. Churberg packs emotion into that sunset.

The snow on the vast Finnish countryside had fallen the day before, so the wind had a chance to sweep the ice clear. She perfectly captured the way snow looks when it’s had a chance to melt a bit and mold itself to the shrubs and grasses.

The winter-barren land reflects the tint of the sky, but the despite the transitory warmth of that rosy light, the world is frozen, shrouded in ice.

Above it all, the sky tells us the day was a brief respite. Dark clouds gather, looming and waiting for their chance to enshroud the world in new snow.

As you might guess, when I view art, I see it through the eyes of a storyteller. In my mind, the painting and the life of the artist are intimately connected. The events and passions of their lives are reflected in their work, in the same way as those of we who write books.

When I look at the emotion, raw and powerful, that has been instilled into this painting, I wonder if the scene is an allegory for her life. For reasons we may never know, Fanny stopped painting soon after this and never lifted a brush again.

Fanny had never married, and I suspect her art was her creative child. Many of the pressures that fell on women’s shoulders in that era must have led to this decision. Whatever her reason was, it must have felt like a deeply personal tragedy at the time.


About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Fanny Churberg (1845–1892) started her artistic training in Helsinki in 1865 with private lessons from Alexandra Frosterus-SåltinEmma Gyldén, and Berndt Lindholm. Her studies continued in Düsseldorf, Germany, but she always returned to Finland to paint during the summer. She was also one of the first Finnish painters to study in Paris, France. Although Churberg remained to a large extent within the conventions of the Düsseldorf school of painting, she openly expressed her enthusiasm for the countryside and its dramatic situations, relying above all on colour and a fast brush technique to do so. The charged quality of her work differed sharply from that of her contemporaries, as did her subjects, for example the tense atmosphere before a thunderstorm in the open country or the deep, swampy heart of the forest. Churberg founded the Friends of Finnish Handicrafts in 1879. She urged Finnish women to join the Friends’ effort to revive textile practice in Finland.

Fanny Churberg’s career ended suddenly in 1880. Her health was weaker and she took care of her brother Torsten who was suffering from tuberculosis. Torsten’s death in 1882 made her quite lonely and her will to live lessened as did her energy. The other brother Waldemar, to whom she used to be very close, had married in 1877. The reason for ending her career might also have been the harsh criticism she had met before, but she never withdrew completely from the art circles. She did not however paint anymore after 1880, not even for her own amusement, but during her career she had still managed to produce over 300 paintings.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Fanny Churberg – Talvimaisema, auringon mailleen mentyä – A I 189 – Finnish National Gallery.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Fanny_Churberg_-_Talvimaisema,_auringon_mailleen_menty%C3%A4_-_A_I_189_-_Finnish_National_Gallery.jpg&oldid=468220757 (accessed November 5, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Fanny Churberg,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fanny_Churberg&oldid=973669647 (accessed November 5, 2020).

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Choosing a Writing Group, revisited #amwriting

NaNoWriMo is roaring along, and once again, authors are asking me about local writing groups.  This post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on June 28, 2017. What I said then still stands today: connecting with a good writing group has been an invaluable asset to my writing path. Their insights have helped form the foundations of my work.


Writing groups come in all sorts and sizes, some specializing in general fiction and some in genres like mystery, science fiction, fantasy, or romance.

Some focus on critiquing, others on beta reading, still others on supporting each other’s career.

Most communities have clusters of authors. In your community, you will find groups for beginning writers and some that cater to more advanced crowds. I guarantee there will be one to fit your needs.

Making a poor choice can be devastating—it can undermine an author’s self-confidence and destroy their joy in the craft. We’ve all heard the horror stories regarding critique groups, and perhaps even experienced one. You are not required to return to their next meeting. Continue seeking out a more welcoming group.

However, most writing groups are good, supportive gatherings of authors who stay for years and welcome new authors into their group with open arms.

There is a difference in types of writing groups. Some are traditional critique groups, people who usually read a few pages aloud at their sessions and the others discuss it in detail in a round-table fashion, while the author listens. Often, these groups are large and because they are pressed for time, they don’t allow the author to ask questions or clarify points of confusion. Despite that flaw, this sort of focus on your work can be just right for some authors.

A group like that can tell you if you have made editing errors and point out areas that need work within the few pages they have sampled. For authors strapped for cash and unable to afford to hire an editor, this sort of group is an invaluable resource.

What you learn about your writing habits in those pages will carry over into the larger manuscript, improving your writing skills.

However, because traditional critique groups focus only on 3 or 4 pages at a time, they lack the context to be able to discern inconsistencies and flaws in the overall story arc. They don’t see enough of the work to tell if your protagonist is developed sufficiently by the first 1/4 of the tale, or if you have flattened your arc by placing your inciting incident too far from the beginning.

Unless you have submitted your entire novel over a period of time, formal critique groups usually can’t see subtle problems with

  • pacing
  • the overall story arc
  • worldbuilding
  • character development

They can’t see these things because these larger elements can only be judged by sampling more than three or four pages of a novel. One way around that is to seek input privately from one of the members if you have found someone who reads the genre in which you write and feel comfortable enough to share that much with them.

If you are looking for input on large issues, my advice is to find a beta reading group.

But how do you select a group? Before you join a critique or beta reading group, you have the right to know what that group focuses on. Attend one of their meetings as an observer.

What do I want from this group? How do they treat each other’s work? When you get home, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did they address places where the submitted chapter bogged down?
  • What did the group think about the characters?
  • Did they address places where they became confused?
  • Did the group point out spots they had to read twice?
  • How did the group address places where the story become unbelievable or too convenient?
  • Did the readers care enough to wonder what would happen to the characters next?
  • How did the group phrase their comments? Was it supportive as well as instructional?
  • Did they encourage conversation about the chosen work?
  • Is discussion discouraged? If the author was not allowed to discuss their work or ask questions, it is a red flag that should be noted.

Ask yourself, “What vibes did I get from this group of people? Will I benefit from sharing my work with this group? Did the comments they made to each other sound helpful?” Hopefully, the answer to those questions will be a resounding “yes.”

If you are considering joining the group, ask the leader/chairperson these questions:

  • If the group is a beta reading group focused on first drafts, what do they consider a first draft? Do you have it thoroughly edited before you submit it to this group? Because that is not a first draft, and that group would be a waste of your time.
  • Will you receive insights into your manuscript on points you hadn’t considered, or will the focus of the discussion center on minor editing issues that you are already aware of?

Ask the leader to define for you the specific areas that readers will be looking at:

  • Character development,
  • Pacing and the arc of the scene,
  • The arc of the conversation,
  • Worldbuilding.

When you think have found a group you feel comfortable sharing your work with, and you trust them enough to submit your first piece to them, take notes on the experience. When you are home, ask yourself:

  • Do I still feel positive about my work or do I feel like my work was treated as being less than important?
  • Did I gain anything from the experience that would advance the plot, or did I just hear a rehash of armchair editing from a wannabe guru?
  • Did I feel as if they were sincerely interested in helping me with my work?

If the answers are anything other than a resounding “yes” you have the right to leave the group.

The answers to these questions have to be that you feel good about your work, that you saw the weaknesses through their eyes, and you now know what you need to do to make your story great. You must be filled with the conviction that you know what needs to be done, and you must still have passion for the story.

Authors attend their first meeting with a new writing group hoping to find likeminded people. We are filled with uncertainty and fear the first time we meet these people. At the end of the day, you have to feel as if you have gained something from the experience.

Hopefully, you will be as fortunate as I have been, and find a group of authors who will support and nurture you in the craft of writing. The way to repay them for their help is to support them and their efforts wholeheartedly.


Credits and Attributions:

Choosing a Writing Group  ©2017 by Connie J. Jasperson first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on Jun 28, 2017

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Hyphens and Compound Words #amwriting

National Novel Writing Month is in full swing. I am busy writing incomprehensible words that will require a great deal of revising and editing. But all that aside, this perfectly good post on hyphens and compound words was just lying around, so here you go! It was first posted on June 26, 2017, and since then, nothing has changed in the world of hyphenation. However, we can always use a little refresher when it comes to compound words and their usage.


Compound words are frequently a source of grief when I receive my manuscript back from my editor. Despite my best efforts, I habitually hyphenate words that should not be hyphenated.

Most people know that a compound word combines two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning.

Most people also know that there are two types of compounds:

  • those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”
  • “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group. They are the bane of my writing life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

Fortunately, the English language has rules to guide us when deciding if it’s one word, two separate words, or a hyphenated word:  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

The American Psychological Association  style guide gives us these examples:

covert learning techniques, health care reform, day treatment program, sex role differences, grade point average

Use a hyphen in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun

Use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if it expresses a single thought.

  • “The children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences with one or more parents.
  • If the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a single household headed by two parents.

In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these categories:

  • if the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • when writing numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-respect, self-esteem, self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood when there are diverse meanings if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends, and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis
  • antiintellectual

The problem is, unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use those terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

A good rule to remember is most words formed with prefixes and suffixes are written as one word with NO hyphen.

Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic

Suffixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

When I am laying down prose in the first draft, my natural inclination when writing these words would be to hyphenate them, but that is wrong. My editor always kindly reminds me of this.

In the end, if you are in doubt and it’s holding up your work, go to an online dictionary to see the various ways it can be combined. Just go to:

http://www.merriam-webster.com

What it all comes down to is this—when editing for another author, I can see these things clearly. In my own work–it’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen to compound words that should remain separate and separates words that should be joined.

This is why the editor has an editor for her own work.


CREDITS AND ATTRIBUTIONS:

When do you need to use a hyphen for compound words? The American Psychological Association, http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/when-use-hyphen.aspx accessed June 25, 2017

Compound Words: When to Hyphenate, Get It Write, Nancy Tuten and Gayle Swanson  http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, 2017

This article first appeared on Jun 26, 2017, as Compound Words and Hyphens by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2017 https://wp.me/p1pa44-2X5

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#FineArtFriday: Utopien 04 by Makis E. Warlamis 2007

Artist: Makis E. Warlamis

Title: Utopien 04

Medium: painting

Collection: Kunstmuseum Waldviertel

Source/Photographer: Own work, Daskunstmuseum, 2007-01-05

About the word “Utopia,” via Wikipedia:

The word utopia was coined from Ancient Greek by Sir Thomas More in 1516. “Utopia” comes from Greek: οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”) which translates as “no-place” and literally means any non-existent society, when ‘described in considerable detail’. However, in standard usage, the word’s meaning has shifted and now usually describes a non-existent society that is intended to be viewed as considerably better than contemporary society.

In his original work, More carefully pointed out the similarity of utopia to eutopia, which is from Greek: εὖ (“good” or “well”) and τόπος (“place”), hence eutopia means “good place”, which ostensibly would be the more appropriate term for the concept the word “utopia” has in modern English. The pronunciations of eutopia and utopia in English are identical, which may have given rise to the change in meaning.

What I love about this painting:

This Utopia is unreachable, as all true Utopias are. It floats high above the mundane world, visible but just out of reach. The colors are intense, vibrantly moody. The landscape above which this perfect island floats is serene, a beautiful place.

Every idea of perfection is different. Warlamis’ Utopia is not the golden city many storytellers and writers of speculative fiction might imagine, but is instead an island of undisturbed landscape, looking almost like the untrammeled headland one might find beside the sea.

His Utopia is a step back to nature, to a simpler time.

In truth, it isn’t too different from the land over which it flies. And, if that is the case, why strive to reach it?

What story lurks within this painting? What a great visual prompt to jumpstart Nation Novel Writing Month.

About the Author via Wikipedia DE:

Efthymios “Makis” Warlamis (also: Efthymis, Efthymios Varlamis; born 1942 in Veria, in Central Macedonia, Greece; died 27 December 2016) was a Greek-Austrian architect, painter, poet, writer, educator and museum founder.

Warlamis was a versatile artist. In addition to his basic profession as an architect, he worked as a sculptor, painter, designer and writer. He had exhibitions in museums and exhibition centres in Europe, USA, Asia and Egypt. His works are represented in international public and private collections such as the Graphic Collection of the Albertina Vienna, Museum moderner Kunst Wien, DAM Deutsches Architekturmuseum Frankfurt, Collection Alexander Jolas, Collection of the State of Austria, Collection Liaunig.

In 1992, together with his wife Heide, he founded the International Center for Art and Design I.DE. A. in Schrems. He planned and built the Kunstmuseum Waldviertel, which opened in Schrems in 2009.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:2010 Utopien arche04.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:2010_Utopien_arche04.jpg&oldid=501416249 (accessed October 30, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Utopia,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Utopia&oldid=986041921 (accessed October 30, 2020).

Wikipedia DE Contributors, Efthymios Warlamis, Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efthymios_Warlamis (accessed October 30, 2020).

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Goals and Rewards – the No-Punishment guide to #NaNoWriMo2020 #amwriting

Most people who undertake a first project for NaNoWriMo aren’t “career” writers. For them, it’s a hobby they must fit in around their work schedule.

When we first set out to write, we are fired up about our project, and the words flow. Unfortunately, the fire of enthusiasm burns low as time goes on, and the magnitude of the undertaking becomes apparent.

I think that to be successful as a writer, one must be obsessed with their own art. However, even many successful authors either have day jobs or a spouse whose salary pays the bills. Unless you write Romance, royalties and fat advances don’t fall from the sky except for the lucky few.

We must make time and steal time to write. When you have bills to pay and mouths to feed, there is no other way to produce a finished book.

But to be happy, one must have a balanced life. What is the point of life if you’re so busy writing about fictional lives that you aren’t present in your own?

That need to be present in my real life is why I schedule my writing time. It’s also why I reward myself for achieving my writing goals.

Some people manage to fit short bursts of writing into their daily schedule, writing at work while on break or at lunch.

Others must schedule a dedicated block of time for writing, either rising two hours before they depart for work or skipping some TV in the evening.

During my working years, I fell into both categories.

When I am gripped with a new idea, I find myself stopping wherever I am, pulling out my notebook, and noting that idea for later use.

While driving on the freeway, this isn’t possible. And that is when my best ideas all seem to occur, more’s the pity.

First, we must write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required). This takes me about 2 hours because I’m not fast at this.

I can’t stress this enough: write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth noting or not. If you are a person who needs a dedicated block of time, do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am and don’t let anything disrupt you. On December 1st, you can reward yourself by sleeping in.

But maybe you can’t sit still for too long. Write in small increments—ten minutes here, half-an-hour there. These short bursts add up.

Perhaps your mind has gone blank. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you feel about life, or write that grocery list. Just write and think about where you want to take your real story.

Write about what you would like to make happen in that story. Soon, you will be writing what you intended, and everything tallies toward your daily word count goal.

Stay connected. Check in to the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers. This is a reward that will keep you enthused about your project.

Nowadays, I fit household chores into my writing time the way I used to squeeze writing into my working life.

But we have one hard, inviolable rule in my home. Whatever else happens during the day, we sit down to the table and eat dinner together. Then we work together to clear the table and clean the kitchen, continuing any discussions that were begun during dinner.

This is a reward for all the goals each family member met that day, a pocket of time dedicated to keeping the lines of communication open and maintaining the connections that bind us.

All through “the blender years” of child-rearing, dinner at the table with the family was required. Some evenings, food was accompanied by the sarcasm of a disgruntled teenager who was angry that we couldn’t “just nuke some Hot Pockets like normal people.” Yes, they were upset, but they were there.

Balance and rewards are the keys to a happy writing life. We want to feel productive and creative, and we want to share our experiences and interests with others.

Achieving your word count goals for NaNoWriMo is a reward but enjoying your life while doing it is critical.

We who write must make time to write, allowing us to be creative and still support and cheer on our families who all have activities and interests of their own. You might find yourself sitting in the car while the children are at sports (as I have often done), but I look at that as at least an hour of undisturbed writing time.

Use it to your advantage.

To be a writer requires discipline and the ability to set aside an hour or so just for that pursuit. You deserve that pocket of time where no one is allowed to disturb you.

I used to encourage my children to use that time to indulge in their interests and artistic endeavors. They became hard workers with challenging day jobs, but with hobbies in music and the arts.

As November and NaNoWriMo progresses, writing becomes more challenging and more onerous.

It becomes work.

Rewarding yourself for achieving your word count goals is essential, especially since you won’t receive a raise or a promotion for them.

Some rewards aren’t good for us. Giving yourself permission to eat junk food as a reward can be a bad idea.

If you want junk food or chocolate, just have it and enjoy it, no strings attached. Life is too short to waste time denying yourself the small pleasures.

However, a reward like scheduling time to watch something on Netflix or a regular show you’ve been looking forward to is a good thing.

The most important thing is this: don’t punish yourself and don’t feel guilty for not making a goal one day. Simply try to make it up over the next few days.

That is what NaNoWriMo is all about. Writing, developing discipline, and feeling good about indulging your creativity.

To be happy, one must have a balanced life.

Above all, be present in your life, and be happy with what you create.

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Making the most of your writing time #writetip #nanowrimo2020

No matter where you are in the process, the act of writing daily is an important thing. Many people participate in NaNoWriMo because having a visible goal forces them to find the time to write.

I have been a Municipal Liaison for my region since 2011, and my co-ML is author Lee French. Between us, we keep the writers in our area stoked about their projects and help them get through the rough spots. In the past, we have hosted write-ins, both virtual and at libraries and coffee shops.

This year, due to the pandemic, we are going completely virtual, hosting meetups through Discord and Zoom.

As established authors, we have learned a few tricks that we’re always happy to share with those planning to “do” NaNoWriMo for the first time.

If you are just embarking on this literary joyride for the first time, here are a few quick tips and resources to help you stay organized:

Things you want to have at your fingertips, so you don’t have to stop and look it up:

MAPS: If you are writing a story set in our real world and your characters will be traveling, walking a particular city, or visiting landmarks, bookmark google maps for that area and refer back to it regularly to make sure you are writing it correctly.

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map. Refer back to it to ensure the town names and places remain the same from the first page to the last. Update it as new locations are added.

TECH: Many people are writing sci-fi novels. In hard sci-fi, technology and science are the central core of the stories, so it’s a good idea to know what tech is available to your characters well in advance of writing their scenes. A little planning now will aid you greatly in the writing process.

If you are writing fantasy involving magic or supernatural skills, briefly draw up a list of rules identifying who can do what with each ability. Remember:

  • Magic without rules is both impossible and creates a story with no tension. No one wants to read a story where the characters have nothing to struggle against. Working within the rules develops opportunities for growth.
  • Each character should have limits to their abilities. Because they are not individually all-powerful, they will need to interact and work with each other and the protagonist. Establishing boundaries can drive your story in some creative and unusual directions.

Looking things up on the internet can suck up an enormous amount of your writing time. Do yourself a favor and bookmark your resources well in advance, so all you have to do is click on a link to get the information you want. Then you can quickly get back to writing.

Resources to kickstart stalled creativity:

Resources to bookmark in general:

  • www.Thesaurus.Com (What’s another word that means the same as this but isn’t repetitive?)
  • Oxford Dictionary (What does this word mean? Am I using it correctly?)
  • Wikipedia (The font of all knowledge. I did not know that.)

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers about grammar, written in plain English:

Never delete, do not self-edit as you go. Don’t waste time re-reading your work. You can do all that in December when you go back to look at what you have written. If you don’t like it, change the font color or use strike-out. Those words will all count when you go to upload the manuscript, even those using the strike out. You wrote them, so count them!

Make a style sheet: If you love your sanity, make a list of all the names and words you invent as you go and update it each time you create a new one, so the spellings don’t evolve as the story does. Save this to your desktop, so all you have to do is click on the icon to open it for updating.

My co-ML Lee French and I have found that setting a goal of 1667 words a day really is the best way to meet the goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.

However, if the stress of writing that many words a day is too much, step back and write at a speed you are comfortable with.

Sure, there’s a contest full of personal goals involved. Still, NaNoWriMo is really about encouraging the act of writing and developing the discipline to set aside time to write daily.

Every word you write is essential because it gets you closer to having a book you can hold in your hand and say, “I wrote this.” By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you will get your first draft finished.

Here is a list of earned badges we who participate hope to acquire from the national website:

  1. (this one is the easiest) Update your progress! If you want some of the later badges, do it on day 1, and then do it every day after that.
  2. Update more than once in one day!
  3. Start a streak – update two days in a row (do you see a pattern here?)
  4. Update 3 days in a row!
  5. Update 7 days in a row.
  6. Update 14 days in a row.
  7. Update 21 days in a row.
  8. Update 30 days in a row (our personal favorite!)
  9. Achieve par every day (1667 words) (difficult, but doable).
  10. Update at precisely 1667 words (fun!)
  11. Reach 5 k words.
  12. Reach 10 k words.
  13. Reach 25 k words.
  14. Reach 40 k words.
  15. Reach 50 k words by November 30th!
  16. Download that winner’s certificate!

Some years I write words like a fountain spews water and write two novels worth of words.

In other years, every word is torn from my keyboard, accompanied by the howling of banshees. During those years, I can barely make my word count.

For me, the most important thing is having my project that much closer to completion.

If you choose to embark on this project, make that your goal. Write because you have a story burning to be told, and have fun doing it.

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#FineArtFriday: The Gust by Willem van de Velde the Younger ca. 1680

Title: De Windstoot (English: The Gust) by Willem van de Velde the Younger

Artist: Willem van de Velde the Younger  (1633–1707)

Genre: marine art. Description: A ship in high seas in a heavy storm. A three-masted ship on a high wave. To the left a smaller vessel.

Date: Circa 1680

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 77 cm (30.3 in); Width: 63.5 cm (25 in)

Collection: Rijksmuseum

What I love about this painting:

Willem van de Velde the Younger captured the emotion of  a terrifying day at sea. Darkness in the middle of the day, the wild seas, raging winds–this ship is at the mercy of mountainous waves.

The storm hit suddenly, catching the ship before all the sails could be reefed. The force of the gale is such that the wind in the unfurled sail could capsize the ship. At the very least, they’ve most likely lost that sail.

Will those sailors make it back to port?

We can only hope.


Credits and Attributions:

De Windstoot (English: The Gust) by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 1707.

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:De Windstoot – A ship in need in a raging storm (Willem van de Velde II, 1707).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:De_Windstoot_-_A_ship_in_need_in_a_raging_storm_(Willem_van_de_Velde_II,_1707).jpg&oldid=387246804 (accessed October 23, 2020).

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Theme, Discipline, and Drabbles, warmup for  #NaNaNoWriMo2020 #amwriting

November, also known as National Novel Writing Month, is racing toward us. If you are planning to participate, it’s a good idea to give your project a working title.

Some even go so far as to write the first sentence and then leave the rest blank. That way, the project is waiting for them to dive into on November 1st.

Most authors have a difficult time churning out 1667 words a day, so not everyone is cut out to participate in this writing rumble. However, you don’t have to officially sign up. You can set your self a daily goal of 100 – 300 or more new words a day and try to accomplish that.

You never know what you will come up with.

I think of writing as a muscle of sorts, working the way all other muscles do. We’re healthiest when we exercise regularly.

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit

A little practice in advance helps. The more frequently you write, the more confident you become. Spending a small amount of time writing every day is crucial. It develops discipline, and if you want to succeed in your goal for NaNoWriMo, personal discipline is essential.

Trust me, it is not asking too much for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

On a personal level, you must decide what is most meaningful to you. Is your dream of writing that novel important? Or do you choose to watch a television show that is the result of someone else’s dream? This is a choice only you can make.

Suppose you are planning to write a novel in November. In that case, writing random short scenes and vignettes is a good way to develop that world in advance. This is also a good opportunity to create the characters you will put to paper on November 1st.

In writing these scenes, you have the chance to identify the themes and subthemes you hope to explore during NaNoWriMo. Theme is different from the subject of a work. As an example that most people know of, the subject of Star Wars is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.”

The themes explored in those films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”

At some point, you might become brave enough to submit your work to a magazine or anthology. When you choose to submit to an open call for themed work, your work must demonstrate your understanding of what is meant by the word ‘theme’ as well as your ability to craft clean and compelling prose.

For practice, try picking a theme and thinking creatively. Think a little wide of the obvious tropes (genre-specific, commonly used plot devices and archetypes). Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme, and then go for it.

Most of my own novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood and love of family.

These concepts are heavily featured in the books that inspired me, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must layer

  • character studies
  • allegory
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc. A way to get a grip on these concepts for your NaNo Novel is to do a little advance writing that explores your intended theme. Think of it as a bit of literary mind-wandering.

Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of extremely short stories. Authors grow in the craft and gain different perspectives when they write short stories and essays. Each short piece that you write increases your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition.

This is especially true if you write the occasional drabble—a whole story in 100 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes, but most importantly they grow your habit of writing new words every day.

Writing such short fiction forces the author to develop an economy of words. You have a finite number of words to tell what happened, so only the most crucial information will fit within that space.

Writing drabbles means you have a limited amount of space, so your narrative will be limited to one or two characters. There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or affect the story’s outcome.

The internet is rife with contests for drabbles, some offering cash prizes. A side-effect of building a backlog of short stories is the supply of ready-made characters and premade settings you have to draw on when you need a longer story to submit to a contest.

Writing a 100-word story takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

To write a drabble, we need the same basic components as we do for a longer story:

  1. A setting
  2. One or more characters
  3. A conflict
  4. A resolution.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts, others offer one word, and still others no prompt at all.

A prompt is a word or visual image that kick starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to 700+ Weekly Writing Prompts.

In a previous post on writing short stories, I showed how I use a loose outline to break short stories into acts. I’ve included that graphic at the bottom of this post.

A drabble works the same way.

We break down the word count to make the story arc work for us. We have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene, about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story, and 10 – 25 words to conclude it.

Info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories. However, they do make useful background files for your world-building and character development.

When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

Save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work or for submission to a drabble contest in its proto form.

Spend an hour to get that idea and emotion down before you forget it. The completed scene is a small gift you give yourself.

Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing a drabble hones your skills, and you will have captured the emotion and ambiance of the brilliant idea.

Good drabbles are the distilled essences of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that moment and fills them with curiosity to learn what happened next.

That is what true writing is about.

 

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