Archive for December 23rd, 2012

December 23, 2012

Gerunds and active writing voice


For your ‘viewing’ pleasure…does that count as a gerund, anyone? 🙂

I’m ashamed to admit that until recently, I didn’t know what a gerund was.

I’ve been using them all my writing life. If I understand right, they’re verbal words ending in ‘ing’ that can be used as nouns.

As in ‘my writing life (?).’

I’m still learning about it, obviously. For me, it’s a little like diagramming sentences. Some things I’ve done by instinct for a long time now, but my writing can only get better if I keep learning. Grammar is one of those areas of personal education that I think I’ve neglected far too long.

One of my big questions about using gerunds was whether or not they contributed to an active writing voice or whether they made writing sound passive. I found this site that has some wonderful information.

It looks like they can be used in active voice (as in ‘writing makes me happy’), but also in passive voice (like ‘having’ or ‘being’).

When I first started writing fiction more than a decade ago, my writing style was mostly passive. I understand that active voice in writing makes it more enjoyable to read and easier to sell.

As my personal fiction style develops, I’ll be keeping a watch on gerunds. I’m curious to see if they impact my writing as much as I think they do.

December 23, 2012

Biking down Imagination Lane

This is how I bike down Imagination Lane

This is how I bike down Imagination Lane

Of all the things that take up space on my office floor, the compact stationary bicycle I borrowed from my sister is the most inspiring.

I can’t type while I’m using it. Even though I keep it under my desk, my knees hit the table when I use it there. I have to pull it out and turn my chair slightly to get any good spin of the pedals.

This doesn’t mean it’s a nuisance. On the contrary, it gives me more reasons to enjoy my thinking time as well as work on my health as I work at home.

I assume that every writer has a thinking time. For me, this is the time when I hit writer’s block, and I desperately want to DO SOMETHING, but I know if I leave my desk I won’t come back for a very long time–or, if I do come back soon, I’ll come back with an open bag of chocolate chips. Not a good thing.

This little bike has already had several impacts on my writing.

First, it keeps me active. Even if it’s a half a minute at a time while I wait for something to print or a half hour, off and on, while I sketch out a plot, movement is movement.  It means more oxygen for my brain, which I believe translates into better thinking and hence, better writing.

Second, it uses up nervous energy. When I’m overloaded with work, I mentally chain myself to my desk. I become so absorbed in my work that when night comes, I can’t unwind to sleep. If I use my bike more on those days, my life seems less hectic, somewhat balanced and manageable. Because that movement allows me to unwind, I sleep better and then work better the next day. That makes it a time-saver.

Thirdly, it seems to stimulate my imagination. If I sit on my chair, close my eyes and cycle, I can muse on possible plots or character development in my fiction projects, wording and organization and even who to contact and what to ask with my nonfiction ones.

Overall, that’s what makes this little bike so inspiring. I love thinking, but I especially love seeing efforts for my thinking. If I’m thinking and holding still, it’s too easy to fall asleep.

Staying active while trying to work full-time at home means I have to put a little extra effort into my down time. The bike comes in really handy for this. It’s become the guardian of my feet (I can’t get away from my desk without noticing it’s there) as well as my ride through Imagination Lane.

December 23, 2012

How new curtains make me write better

I write better when I feel at home in my office--and these curtains help me feel at home.

I write better when I feel at home in my office–and these curtains help me feel at home.

It’s the week before Christmas. I look around my office.

It’s not clean. The toy box I keep in my office to entertain a certain little soul has been moved by that same enterprising little soul to the middle of the room. The limited space by the door has been conquered by Christmas presents and wrapping paper. The table that serves as my desk has a piles of notes from three different projects on it, as well as my camera, my cell phone, my recorder and a well-used copy of Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham.

But it’s better than it was a month ago. I can see the carpet. I at least know where my notes are, which means I can get things done on those projects when I feel like it. All the Christmas presents are in one place–no running around at the last minute looking for things hidden in drawers or under the bed, no tracking down wrapping paper or tape. Doing just a few things each day has helped keep things under control.

That said, I got a kick out of this blog post from The Garrett because it resonated so well with me. From that post:

My office has three states:

  1. Hot mess – If the office usually looks like it’s exploded, like it does now,  I’ve been busy working in it. The closets are open, the desk is surrounded by paper, pens, packages of Kleenex, chargers and a few unidentifiable objects. Things (plants, books, papers, cats) are hanging off my bookshelves. My closets are open and things are falling out. That’s what it looks like now.
  2. Cold mess – If there are a lot of boxes and laundry baskets in the middle of the floor and it hasn’t been vacuumed in a long time, I’ve been avoiding it – and my novel – for a long time. I’ve just kidnapped my laptop, closed the door and fled. This is what it looks like after the holidays.
  3. Clean –  Have you ever seen Poltergeist? Remember the little psychic lady who says “This house is clean”? If so, you know how creepy “clean” can be. It is the worst state for me office by far. Everything is tidy. Spotless. Dusted. Everything’s been filed. The carpet has been cleaned, the laundry is gone, and worse, the desk is immaculate. If my office looks like this, it means something’s wrong; I’ve spent a lot of time in there but all I’ve been doing is cleaning.

I had to smile. Several times. My office is currently a lukewarm mess.

I understand what that post is all about, although I’m coming to see I really do write better in a clean office. It’s worth the investment in time for me to be able to focus.

I recently re-decorated my office in an attempt to claim my office space as my own. This weekend, I made curtains. And was this just an attempt to avoid my writing projects?

I don’t think so. Sure, it took an hour or two away from my writing time, but that’s not bad when I think of the benefits I’m getting from them:

  • They make me feel ‘at home’ here. I’ve admired the fabric for these curtains in several fabric shops. never mind the fact that they don’t have any green in them and may not exactly go with my new green walls. They sparkle. It’s a constant reminder to me that I need to make all my work sparkle too. Also I just love sparkly things.
  • Because I feel at home, I allow myself to daydream here. Writing, for me, is daydreaming while I type. I become a more productive writer and can concentrate well enough to be a better editor.
  • So does this make me a better writer?

I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt and saying yes. I write best when I’m happy.

Maybe it’s just about pampering myself or having something new that I really love. Maybe somehow it makes me feel a little more professional to put time and effort into my work space. When you work at home, there’s something to be said for every effort you make to be professional.

Whatever it is, these curtains make me happy, and that can’t be a bad thing.

December 23, 2012

Magic Studies: the second lesson

This is the last post for Magic Studies this week. I’ll add about two more of these types of posts next week. 

A 'wand' my husband carved for one of our daughters...

A ‘wand’ my husband carved for one of our daughters…

Dear Mother Humphrey

The assistant arrived here just after your last letter. He was talking with my mother while I went go get the book. I could not find it anywhere, so I asked my mother if she had seen it. I am sorry to have to inform you that she had.

This is how that conversation went:

That disgusting book, ‘Everything a Hag Needs to Know About Transmutation and the Aftereffects Thereof?’ Yes, I found it. I am sorry, Justine, but I refuse to have such a dangerous book in the same house as an apprentice. I destroyed it this morning. It is way more advanced than you are and should not have been given to you.”

But Mom, I was to give it this Dork Boy here to take back to Mother Humphrey!”

Well, if she wanted the book, she should not have given it to you.”

Mother, why can’t you leave me alone and stay out of my stuff like you promised?”

That is not your concern.”

So I am sorry, but that is what happened to your book. If you want I can try to replace it. I just don’t know where to get something like that. I am truly sorry.

Dork Boy did bring me the right book, and I read the chapter that you told me to in your first letter. It was a lot simpler than the book my mother destroyed, and I understood it.

What Witches Do” is going over the basics about the laws and regulations put on magic uses (and how to get around them). It was very interesting. It also talked about what magic is and where it comes from. It explained that a magic do-er is simply someone who knows energy and has the ability to influence it to go where he or she wants it to. In other words, we don’t create, but we do manipulate.

It was very interesting. That being said, I was wondering what you want me to do with the Bergamot? Is it poisonous, nonpoisonous? I just don’t know what to do with it.

I have completed all that you asked me to. I did it the best I could. I am ready for the next lesson. Aren’t I?

Your apprentice Justine

P.S.- I didn’t think Dork Boy was cute. I already like someone else. Duncan Dunsz’s assistant.

Dear Justine,

Your next assignment is to make doubly sure that your mother actually did destroy the book. I’m suspicious, especially if she was talking with Dork Boy. Did you hear what they were talking about?

While you’re working on that, you can also try your first potion. There are three things to remember for good potion making:

1)Always make sure your cauldron is clean before you begin. Otherwise you might get unpleasant results.

2)Measure accurately. For example, the recipes for Essential Wart Remover (relatively harmless) and Skin Bubbler (to be used on your enemies) are exactly the same, except Skin Bubbler has ½ oz more slug slime and ¼ teaspoon more Cayenne Pepper.

3)For the same reasons as above, make sure you read your ingredient list and recipe directions carefully before you begin.

Now for your first potion: Happy Hour. It will make the person you give it to extremely happy for at least an hour.


6 oz. dried, crushed bergamot (non-poisonous, by the way)

Juice from 1 lemon (For flavor, probably, and vitamin C)

½ teaspoon cinnamon bark (stabilizes blood sugar levels so that the effects of the potion can last the entire hour)

1 minced cacao nib (antioxidants—good in almost any potion)

3 spider sacs (this gives the subject a wriggly feeling)

1 whole dried lightening bug (adds a tingly feeling)

3 drops early morning glory dew

½ cup sugar—otherwise, no one will want to taste it.

Mix the above in your cauldron. Gently place over glowing coals and stir CLOCKWISE until the mixture is dark orange, about 25-30 minutes. Note: Stirring counterclockwise disrupts the flow of electrons and results in a sour-bitter tasting concoction that actually makes people angry or sad. MAKE SURE YOU STIR THE RIGHT DIRECTION!

Cool the potion completely. You can store it in glass flasks or jars at room temperature.

Next I want you to try it out, but NEVER TRY IT ON YOURSELF. I’ll tell you more about that later.

I think I’ll have you try it on Duncan Dunsz’s assistant. Add 2-3 drops of the potion to orange juice or lemonade and let him drink it…record the results and let me know what happens.

If this works, you can try it on your mother later when she’s angry at you for finding the book. If it doesn’t, sorry—you’re out a boyfriend.

Your ever caring teacher,

Mother Humphrey

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