The Downfall of Semicolon Use

The Purpose of the Semicolon

To allow for a pause longer than that indicated by a comma but shorter than that indicated by a period

To connect two related ideas that could be separate sentences (i.e., independent clauses)

Left Hanging

A. According to the research of Denee and Lomas (2008), the members of this “Nuclear Family” included the; father, mother and the children. 

B. Interesting to note, the research of Caspe, Lopez, and Wolos (2007), also suggest that even the low-income African Americans who participated in the research study; had great results with parental involvement and or support, yielded positive results, academically. 

Oooo, left hanging by a semicolon! I know I am not the only one to state this, but I will reiterate it. One of the most commonly misunderstood and misused punctuation marks is the semicolon. Examples “A” and “B” above provide some of the worst offenses utilizing the mark. Both sentences are split; in example “A,” a verb is separated from its object and the subject is separated from the predicate in example “B.”

Neither sentence actually needs a semicolon as illustrated in examples “C” and “D.”

A. According to the research of Denee and Lomas (2008), the members of this “Nuclear Family” included the father, mother, and children. 

B. Interesting to note, the research of Caspe, Lopez, and Wolos (2007) also suggest that even the low-income African Americans who participated in the research study showed great results with parental involvement and or support, which also yielded positive academic results. 

I made some other critical edits to make them both readable. Obviously semicolons aren’t our only problem.

 Correct Semicolon Usage

Two Independent Clauses

One of the two primary uses of a semicolon is to connect two related independent clauses (a clause containing a noun and a verb) to avoid short simple sentences. The ideas on either side of the semicolon MUST be related. Correct usage in this manner is depicted in example “C.”

C. Study participants indicated that when spiritual matters arose with students, they did not turn students away; they addressed the question or concern using their best thinking.

We could separate the two clauses into separate sentences. However, “they addressed” would become ambiguous because both “study participants” and “students” had been referenced. The semicolon not only allows us to make our sentences more complex and our writing less choppy, it allows us to use pronouns more freely as they refer to a noun in the initial clause.

Incorrect usage of a semicolon with clauses

When one clause is independent and the other is dependent, or cannot stand on its own, a comma is the appropriate punctuation, not a semicolon. See example “D.”

D. This study analyzed insect and plant biodiversity on and adjacent to organic vegetable farms on the Central Coast of California at two spatial scales; the landscape-scale and a smaller within-farm scale.

“The landscape-scale and a smaller within-farm scale” are further explaining or describing the phrase “two spatial scales.” They are not comprising a complete sentence and cannot stand alone because of their purpose. The sentence should look like this:

D. This study analyzed insect and plant biodiversity on and adjacent to organic vegetable farms on the Central Coast of California at two spatial scales: the landscape-scale and a smaller within-farm scale.

When equal ideas are separated by a punctuation mark, they should be separated by a colon. A comma is used if the ideas are adding information to and qualifying the previously mentioned concept. This is covered in another post. Example “E” illustrates further use of a colon before equal terms.

E. The Central Coast provides habitat for 482 vertebrate species: 283 birds, 87 mammals, 42 reptiles, 25 amphibians, and 45 fish.  

Complex Sentence Construction

F. The engineer found the tape player he’d heard about. He turned it on. It did not work. He called a technician. The technician had not worked on reel-to-reel players before. The technician worked only with cassette and 8-track players.

Obviously, some editing could make example “F” more interesting and read more smoothly.

F. The engineer found the tape player he’d heard about, turned it on, and called a technician when it did not work. The technician had not worked on reel-to-reel players before; he had only worked with cassette and 8-track players.

It is now a paragraph with what I call “heft,” also called substance, to it. It no longer reads like a 10-year-old wrote it. To test if one should use a semicolon or not, try taking the two clauses of a sentence and making them into separate sentences. If they stand on their own, a semicolon can be used. Sometimes, however, a comma and conjunction (and, or, but) are more appropriate. But if you are not using a conjunction, a semicolon is the way to connect those clauses.

Lists

When people think of listing items, they typically think of using commas. But what if commas are used inside the list? As example “G” illustrates, commas within lists can allow a reader to experience comma confusion.

G. The researcher conducted interviews at American River College focusing on three primary individuals: Manuel Ruedas, Coordinator of the Puente Program, T.J. Watkins, adjunct instructor and coach, adjunct faculty, coordinator of the Learning Disability/DSPS, and DSPS counselor.

According to example “G,” the researcher interviewed seven, not four people. A reader would not necessarily know that and would probably be confused by the author’s numeracy. Upon further questioning, clarity could result, as shown here:

H. The researcher conducted interviews at American River College focusing on three primary individuals: Manuel Ruedas, Coordinator of the Puente Program; T.J. Watkins, adjunct instructor and coach, adjunct faculty, and coordinator of Learning Disability/DSPS; and the DSPS counselor.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs are words such as however, moreover, furthermore, and therefore. Sometimes such words are used within a clause and are only set off with commas; however, as illustrated in this sentence, if they separate two independent clauses, a semicolon comes before the word and a comma follows it. Examples “I,” “J,” and “K” help illustrate the concept.

I. The majority of the ethnic groups in the United States are labeled or categorized for various reasons; however, most of these categories are used to assist various researchers and governmental officials with statistical data and population changes.

J. A majority of single-parent households are headed by women; therefore, only a small amount of research is focused on single fathers.  

K. The aid of programs such as AFDC are more likely to be given to single-parent mothers than fathers since it is assumed fathers have a higher average income and, thus, have a lower need for assistance. 

Other Sites to View on This Topic

A funny, quick explanation
University of Wisconsin
Grammarbook

Missing the Writing Boat

It is a funny title for me considering I’m having trouble with both the writing and the boats. I started a ceramic boat series a few months ago. It has halted completely due to the class I began teaching September 2. The writing I am doing is totally restricted to anything for class or work. Well, that’s not entirely true. I snuck in a couple entries in the Trifecta challenge these last two weeks.

The Class

Designing a class takes much time and my financial planner is not happy about that because it does not pay. Oh sure, I get paid for teaching the class, grading the papers, etc. But really, the amount of hours I have been putting in relegates me to a lower than minimum wage. Ah, such is the price of education.

I’ve worked in education for almost thirty years in some capacity, so I am no stranger to the hours involved in relation to the pay. I am enjoying this class very much. I have two sections; I thought I would at least get paid a little more for doing all the prep work for one class. I have gotten much more than that, however. My two classes could not be more different in so many ways, thus enhancing the quality of my learning.

Well, as they say, all work and no play…

The Need to Write

I definitely started to feel the need to write as week five of the class carried me with it and confusion and fear settled into my students. We had all reached the end of the honeymoon period. The only way I could think to make it through the muck following that was to do something quick and frivolous. Trifecta called me and I answered.

Personally, I love nonfiction writing, editing, and consulting. I love research and everything involved with it. I am not a proverbial lab rat, though.  Eventually, I need to feed other parts of me. It was amazing how much it helped to simply write 99 words or 33 words. I’m also looking forward to getting my hands stuck in clay for a bit. I need just a bit sometimes. Meanwhile, it’s off to completing this week’s lesson plans. Keep writing!!

Variable Control

Variables are commonly thought of aspects of research. They are. However, writers of all kinds deal with variables, especially fiction writers. I address both fiction and research variables.

Constants in Fiction

A story contains many moving parts. Things change all the time, for example, characters’ ages, interests, and relationships; story location; plot via twists. No matter what variables there are, and no matter how much those change, a writer needs to remember the story’s constants. For instance, if a character or groups of characters move into a location at a certain time, that must be remembered. An author most likely would not consider having the character move to, say, Arkansas five months ago in the beginning of the story only to refer to the character as having been in Arkansas for the last year a few pages down the line.

Variables and Control

Variables, on the other hand, can change at any time. If a character despises a workmate when we first meet him, when he decides he can stand the colleague in the next chapter, we can accept that. Acceptance is not without conditions, though. This is where control plays the game. The reader needs to understand how the character came to the change of mind. Even if the change is critical to the plot, it makes for poor storyline to leave variables to their own devices, so to speak. The reason the character had a change of heart could be summed up in one or two sentences or it may be a gradual shift shown to the reader rather than told. No matter what, control your variables! Take note of them and attend to them.

Research Constants

In research, specifically educational research, constants are anything about your sample that do not vary. In a study on third graders, the students’ grade level is constant regardless of the rest of the study. Sometimes there may be multiple constants such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES). That might occur in a study regarding 12-year-old girls of low SES and their attitudes toward going to college. The dependent variable is their attitudes.

Variables and Control

Gaining control of research variables includes moving step-by-step through the proposed methodology and determining if any variables are not being measured, and, if so, whether that is desirable, acceptable, or a problem. You will also need to continually revisit your research questions to ensure your variables are being properly addressed.

There are different types of variables: independent, dependent, moderator, and extraneous. They play different roles in your design and study. The independent variable is something that will have an affect on dependent variable, such as a curriculum, a program, a lecture, a group classification if comparisons are made. The independent variable is applied to a situation, a certain type of grouping, or something manipulated in the study.

Dependent variables are those characteristics that vary. If your study is on children of all ages, age is a dependent variable. If you want to determine how many teachers at a specific site respond to using a new curriculum, the variables are as follows:

Curriculum                       Independent

Gender                            Dependent

Age                                 Dependent

Years taught                    Dependent

Grade level/subject          Dependent

School site                       Constant

When analyzing data, if you have kept track of all data for all variables, there is much you may do with that information. You may want to see if men ages 24-35, more positively responded to the curriculum than men ages 36-54. That may be valuable information. The data can also be split by gender as well as by years taught or grade level. There may be no differences between the curriculum response and most or any of the variables.

If, in the same study, you find a difference between how men and women responded to the curriculum, gender becomes a moderator variable.

Finally, extraneous variables are those which cannot be controlled. It is critical you decide how you will address these variables in your design as well as in your analysis. You can only control what you do with these variables since they themselves cannot be controlled.

Deciding on your variables has much to do with your research questions. But knowing your variables and controlling for them is key.

 

See also: http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/siegle/research/variables/variablenotes.htm

Location, Location, Location – Fiction Style

How important is location to your story? Maybe the whole story takes place in a store and every detail matters to the point of knowing all about the failing furniture and why it is in the state it’s in. Perhaps the plot forces the characters to travel and you, the writer, need to know more about multiple locations. Maybe it is about time travel and location plays both a smaller part and a larger part depending on the story segment. Generally, though, location plays a great part in any story.

Note: This post is about analyzing location for your story as opposed to describing it.

What is the Story Focus?

Recently for me, it was about a tree. The tree was not the story, but it was an integral part of it. The tree was not an initial fixture of the story, so when it entered my writing, I needed to know…would the tree grow in the location I’d already chosen?

Where to Write

In this post, I am speaking to writing in a geographical location as opposed to a more specific location such as a café. Writing in areas we’ve lived in or visited will happen naturally if we don’t push ourselves to think about the setting in different ways. Writing where we’re comfortable has its advantages, among them knowing the landscape and high points and pitfalls to being there. Then there is writing in completely synthesized worlds, which happens much in Science Fiction. But if we’re not doing that, then writing in locations foreign to us requires research, or as I like to say, allows me to play.

I love picking a place at random, a general area, such as a state or small country. I visit Google maps, or some such site, and scroll around looking for desirables for my story. Location desirables include the size of the town or city as well as its proximity to other cities, population, and topography. Those are some of the first things I look for. I already have character traits swirling in my head so my location needs to fit who my characters are. Why would they live there, or visit there, or come from there?

What is it about There?

There may be many questions to ask about location before deciding on one or several. If location is an important part of a story, the following could be critical to your decision about using a place:

  • What amenities does the town/city have? Does it have a downtown? Would my character need to go somewhere else to shop? Does it have public transportation?
  • Does this place have things like a cemetery, places for characters to work, a music scene?
  • Are there nearby natural amenities such as rivers, mountains, forests, farmland?
  • What is the weather like there? Does it get tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, sleet, snow, summer thunderstorms? What is the climate like?
  • What is the government structure of the place? Will it inhibit some character activity? What rules are in place making it different from somewhere else?
  • Is the city a major hub of a region? How does the general population make its living? Are there homeless?
  • What is the history of the area? Who are the communities? Is the character part of the community or a new arrival?

The Fiction Aspect

Some of aspects mentioned above do not have to be true to a particular place. Whether or not a place actually has a homeless population or how the general population makes its living are things that could be created as you write. They don’t necessarily have to be true to the location. However, that is a decision in and of itself. How much do I fictionalize? If you are naming the place by its true name, it is worth it to explore what readers may know about a place (topography, government structure, proximity to other places, things to do for fun, etc.) or things they could discover on the internet with a few clicks.

Your research will most likely take some deeper clicks, perhaps a visit, or even some emails to residents. You will probably turn up some of the quirks of the location, even better for storytelling. Location can be, and most likely is, an important part of many stories. Taking time to pin down the aspects of location important to your characters, your plot, is crucial to solidifying your work.

What are some the steps you take to finding a location for your fiction?

 

Also check out Kate Pullinger.

Navigating the Literature Review

A thesis or dissertation can be daunting in itself. When an advisor tells a graduate student to start with Chapter 2, the literature review, anxiety can knock the wind out of even the most proficient writers. What follows is an OVERVIEW of a literature review, its purpose, and its structure.

What is the Literature Review?

A literature review (lit review) is most obviously a review of literature, but I realize that is not all that helpful. There is a body of literature on almost every subject you can imagine, all created from someone’s research or metaresearch (a summary of existing research). A researcher’s job is to justify her own research by ensuring her study has not already been done. Additionally, a researcher must illustrate how the foundation of her study has been laid based on existing research. A literature review provides the background for the study as well as evidence the researcher’s study is necessary. It should illustrate a gap, some study that has not been done, ideally pointing to the researcher’s purpose for doing his or her study.

How Do I Organize My Lit Review?

The organization of a lit review will most likely be driven by the literature found. A researcher must be creative and thorough with keywords when searching his topic to amplify his chances of exhausting the literature in the research area. For example, if a researcher is studying the effects of a tutoring program on homeless students in grades 3-6, the following topics are the minimum to be searched:

  • homeless children ages 9-12
  • tutoring programs, grades 3-6 (what’s a typical one look like?, a successful one?, a failed one?)
  • tutoring homeless students (what have other educators done?)
  • research on students in the district area in which the tutoring program will be implemented
  • barriers to tutoring program success
  • evaluating tutoring programs
  • recruiting criteria for tutoring programs
  • mandatory tutoring based on test scores

Depending on what the searches reveal, or the amount of literature in each area, the headings for the lit review could be determined by the search phrases. If not much was found, new search terms may need to be used and the researcher may have few headings.

There is typically a historical segment in the chapter that gives either an overview of the literature at hand or gives a chronological progression of how the research led to the current point of study. In the tutoring case, there would most likely be a history of homelessness – along with data describing homeless children’s school retention, test scores, and transiency – as well as a history of tutoring programs in the country and in the geographic area in which the program will be implemented.

What Does it Mean to Review Literature?

In a more specific sense, reviewing literature does have its regimen. There is much synthesis involved and some summarizing. It is important to find research studies, as opposed to theoretical articles, so there are empirical data to support your reasoning. It is great when big thinkers make important assertions, but it is even better when those are supported by data. However, research should be grounded in theory, typically described in a section titled Theoretical Framework (located in Chapter 1 or 2, depending on the program).

Critically analyzing the relevant literature is crucial to including the right literature in a document. Each study cited must in some way be relevant to the topic of the proposed study. In reviewing a study, it is important to discuss the methodology of the study, emphasizing differences from the proposed study. It is important to clarify for readers the study is not simply a duplicate of what has already been done. Reviewing a study means seriously examining sample size, population demographics, instrumentation, data collection and analysis, and conclusions and include those components that support the need for the study. Each of the above concepts does not necessarily need to be written up in the lit review. However, a researcher should analyze them all and cull the points key to his study’s relevance.

When writing about other studies, a researcher will summarize some of the information, but the connections between the proposed study and other studies on the same topic are created by synthesis. Synthesis by the writer creates connections for the reader so the inclusion of that particular research being cited is clear. An important point to mention is the idea of paraphrasing. A good lit review is one that has been synthesized from the existing literature instead of one containing direct quote after direct quote. If a researcher has only one paragraph between direct quotes, there are too many quotes.

How Much Literature Do I Need to Review?

While some programs may have a specific value in mind for how many studies the lit review should contain, it is more important the researcher cover his topic thoroughly in terms of the existing pertinent research. However, number of sources does not always equate to relevance. If a researcher has yet to provide evidence for why she is doing the study, she needs to keep looking for literature. On the flip side, if she found her gap, that does not mean she is finished looking. If someone can still question why she is doing her study the way she is doing it, she has more research and writing to do.

For more on lit reviews, see the following:
UC, Santa Cruz Library
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Writing Ethically

Citations and references. They can be the bane of any non-fiction writer’s existence, not because writers do not want to give other writers the credit they deserve, but for possibly many other reasons. Maybe keeping track of them is such an arduous task, or formatting them and getting all the pieces in correctly is the challenge, or maybe a researcher is not sure when to cite and where.

What to Cite

Any time we take results from someone else’s research, we need to cite the research. When we have synthesized paragraphs from various articles we have read, the information still needs to be cited. Typically, we will find more than one authority on a topic that has been well researched. It is not uncommon to pull from multiple researchers or theorists and create our own writing based on their ideas. However, it is still based on their ideas, which, unless we cite, we would be claiming as our own.

Why Cite

Most likely, no matter what type of research we are doing, we will not have done all the research that led up to our specific study. Our study becomes more credible if based on those of other, more seasoned researchers. Also, we do not want to be duplicating other studies. We want to be adding something new to the research base and dealing with at least one new variable in a new way. Therefore, we will be utilizing other authors’ material, research, concepts, and theories (if you are doing a foundational study, less of this will be occurring). This is why we cite, the primary reason. The other reason we cite is so others reading our work can find the sources of the argument for our study. They may be doing research similar to what we are doing and our study can be an opening to many literature doors.

What Happens When We Do Not Cite

When we do not properly cite, we are plagiarizing. We want to avoid plagiarism, which among other things, can lead to expulsion from a program, failure of classes, and being sued. As an editor, I have experience with people who have inadvertently plagiarized. Most people do not plagiarize on purpose. Often it is a combination of losing track, not knowing (i.e., not learning), or forgetting and being in a hurry. None are good excuses. There is no excuse.

I work with students on their citations and references. If I read paragraphs of literature review text with no citations, I question the client. Where did you get these ideas? I cross check clients’ references with their citations, meaning I look up every one of their citations in the reference list to make sure there is a proper reference for each citation. Just citing the work is not enough. Some authors write multiple articles in a year so a search for the citation (Banks, 1995) may give multiple results on the web.

The other issue, besides plagiarism, not citing or properly referencing causes is a dead end for other researchers. Say you cited Banks as above, but there was no corresponding reference. A fellow researcher may have been interested in that particular information you attributed to Banks but now has no way to get to it. A search for the information could take 10 minutes or hours, precious time a researcher cannot spare. I cover searches in a later post. In the past, I have, at the request of the client, relinquished a document missing half its references because the client did not want to do the footwork of locating the references. That study is less useful to future researchers than it should be and the scholarship level is definitely sub-par. The citations are incomplete, as a corresponding reference needs to be listed on the reference page for each citation.

Ethics

Some researchers believe no one will read their material and, thus, no one will know what is missing. I caution against underestimating the power of the internet. Most theses and dissertations are now loaded onto the internet at submission. I had a client contacted by the primary researcher because his work was quoted directly in my client’s document, but not cited at all. The client was essentially claiming the information as his or her own (to protect my client). They were the only two researchers who had covered that particular topic in one way or another. The cleanup was pretty ugly.

Citing and referencing is ethics. Ethics is not something with which we are born. It can be learned if the passion is there.

Take the time. Write ethically, for everyone’s sake.

For more on plagiarism, go here.

Writing Efficiently

Most readers do not necessarily want to slog through paragraphs containing around-about writing leading, finally after three pages, to the point. I don’t know many writers who want their readers to do that, but sometimes our writing can get long and drawn out. Writing efficiently is critical in just about every type of writing – fiction, scholarly, non-fiction, even memoirs, but especially reports and proposals.

Writing Efficiency Keys

Concept Clarity

The keys to writing efficiently include clarity and writing as a writer, not as a conversationalist. First and foremost is clarity. Writers need to have a vision of why they are writing, the breadth of what they want to say, and at least a concept of how they will get there. One of my techniques for making sure I have a vision is to actually describe (in writing) why I am writing a specific piece as well as who my audience is. If I’m unable to say for whom I want to write, specifically, then I’m going to have a hard time writing what needs to be said. An audience that is too general is tougher to write for than one that is too constricted.

For example, if my audience is a provider funding programs to assist mentally ill homeless people, I will write specifically in terms the provider will understand. Among other things, I will explain to the provider exactly how I will locate the population of mentally ill homeless people I intend to help. I will spell out the characteristics of the program. I need to ensure the provider his or her money will be used efficiently and appropriately.

With concept clarity comes concise writing. The following passage has definite efficiency issues:

You’ll write down everything you can think of that pertains to the topic or the question that you’re looking to answer. Then what you do is, you go on to something else. So again, in the first pass, you just write everything that you can think of, then you go on to something else.

As you can see, the last sentence is simply repeating the previous two sentences. Most writing does not need that much repetition. The passage also has word and sentence efficiency problems, which I discuss in the second section.

Another example of a lack of concept clarity follows:

She glances casually around the restaurant. Nonchalant is the word of the day. This is a blind date and blind dates are for other women… not her. She’s not just ‘stuck-up’… she’s stuck-up with super glue.

This paragraph, the first of a story, jumps through three concepts without really telling us anything about what we are going to read. Sometimes we may begin to write just to get writing and ideas to come out, but as we keep writing, the real clarity begins. It is important to watch for that in the revision process.

Sentence Clarity

Along with concept clarity, as described above, are word and sentence clarity. Many writers write conversationally, or how they speak. It can be easy to do if one is just beginning a project or hasn’t written formally for a while. Also, conversational writing is a little more acceptable in the fiction world. However, the suggestions in this section apply to fiction as well.

What do I mean by conversationally? When we talk, we often use excess words because they’re just flowing as we speak. I consider the following words or phrases overused and mostly extraneous (there are always exceptions)

that           that is      that was     that are  (and other variations)
which        which is   which are
there are   there is  (passive)
who are     who is
in order

In this section, the red sentence utilizes one or more of the above words/phrases marked in yellow. Below it, in blue, I have the sentence without it/them.

Some may have a definition or meaning that is unique to the field of inclusive education.
Some may have a definition or meaning unique to the field of inclusive education.

kept in facilities that were run in a prison-like setting.
kept in facilities run in a prison-like setting.

stigmas of being different in school, and this is compounded when students are removed from the general education setting.
stigmas of being different in school, compounded when students are removed from the general education setting.

Silverman identified three major factors which are necessary in order for teachers to have a positive attitude about inclusion.
Silverman identified three major factors necessary for teachers to have a positive attitude about inclusion.

The blue sentences should sound tighter and more clear than the red ones. My rule for whether any of the words or phrases do not belong in a sentence is whether it sounds fine without it/them. In the majority of cases, the words/phrases I’ve identified as overused and conversational and do not need to be written.

Just Write!

Everybody needs a vacation once in a while to simply float in time, away from the typical routine. Returning to daily life, however, often requires re-entry skills. The same is true with an art such as writing. Yes, writing takes practice, regularly. However, whether you’re writing poetry, novels, blogs, reports, or even a dissertation, you need periods of time away from writing to rejuvenate the brain and writing muscles. It can be easy to let a day or more slide by without writing, thus giving yourself a mini-vacation. If you stop writing for an extended period, even a week, you may need re-entry skills.

Out of the Writing Zone

So how many days are too many before you realize you are out of the writing zone? When you are finding ways to avoid writing, it has been too many. When you are convincing yourself you only write as a hobby or you have time to finish that document if you start tomorrow, it has been too many. Have you encountered the hard stone in your stomach when you have to force yourself to sit down and write because it has been too many non-writing days? Then you have begun re-entry.

Writing Re-entry

Re-entry takes much more energy than sitting down to write every day, even if your writing produces little at first. Perhaps you think you are not writing on target. Writing anything will get the juices flowing, as they say, and eventually, what you write may be exactly what you need. When clients tell me they don’t know where to start, one of the first things with which I respond is, “Just write!” It may sound simplistic, but that is because it is. I say it along with other tips:

  • If at first you have to write about how you’re not writing, do it
  • Writing anything is better than writing nothing
  • Break the task down into portions
  • Give yourself deadlines for those portions
  • Try just writing and organizing later (does not work for everyone)
  • Go to the library or a different venue than normal
  • Change scenes or sections, i.e., work on a different part of the document
  • Re-read a section and clarify your thoughts about the story/project/proposal

Writer’s Help

I use writing for a variety of reasons from working through a creative block to producing a document. I learned the power of constant writing from Julia Cameron through her book The Artist’s Way. After working through the book, I came away with something I still use 10 years later – morning pages (not always done in the morning). Cameron suggests a practice of expelling our own critics by dumping them onto the page and “just writing.” I always do this exercise in longhand but it can be done on the computer or even via different media. The exercise is to fill three 8.5×11 pages without lifting the pencil/pen from the paper or stopping writing (except to turn a page).

If you are experiencing a block, it will inevitably show up on the page. It is stream-of-consciousness writing but what can happen, and often does, is the writing you have been struggling to produce gets uncovered. Sometimes all it does is allow us to vent our frustrations in preparation for writing. But not giving up and trusting the process is key. The point is to open the creative floodgates.

If you are at a writing crossroads, try the morning pages. They’re a good way to get out of a non-writing rut or get past the feeling of being overwhelmed. They’re a perfect way to “Just write! Then, as writing becomes a regular activity again, try some other tips mentioned to keep it fresh.

(see also this writer’s post on scheduling)