Grammar-ease: Toward vs Towards

In regard to whether to use “toward” or “towards” it boils down to personal preference as the words have the same definitions.

When I see toward or towards in any manuscript (fiction or non-fiction), my belief is that it’s best to be consistent in usage. Pick one version, with or without the ‘s’, and stick with it.

It’s more common for ‘toward’ in American English and ‘towards’ for British English, if that helps you decide.

Toward

My personal preference is toward, but when editing, I let majority rule in a manuscript. Whichever version the author uses more often (if both are used) is the one that will be used throughout.

You might think the same is true for “forward” and “forwards” but it isn’t. The correct version here is always forward.

I hope your week is off to a good start and that you can move forward with ease toward your goals! (see what I did there?)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Sunday Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links and Sundry

It’s the dead of winter here. The threat of snow looms on the horizon of each new day and hovers around the cold moon at night. The wind has been working itself into a frenzy, sending empty trash barrels rattling down the street and causing tree boughs to sigh and moan in a melancholy chorus that’s punctuated by the cries our resident crows.

It’s perfect reading weather.

This past week I enjoyed two books – one fiction and one non-fiction – as well as my usual helping of fantastic essays and articles across the blogosphere. All the links and details are below. I hope you enjoy perusing this week’s selection of shareworthy bits and pieces.

Happy reading & happy writing!

··• )o( •··

book the curiosityI scored a free ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan a couple years ago when a Newburyport bookstore was purging its inventory. (I’ve never been one to pass up free books!) It sat on my shelves all this time until it was suddenly the right time for me to read it. (Isn’t it funny how you know when it’s time to read a certain book?)

The back of the ARC billed the book as “Michael Crichton meets The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I’m not terribly familiar with either point of comparison, but I know enough to understand the intended meaning – it’s a page-turner with emotions – and I agree. The premise, as featured on the publisher’s website, goes like this:

Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. Remarkably, the frozen man is brought back to the lab and successfully reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was—is—a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906.

Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah’s new life is slipping away…and all too soon, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.

Interesting, right? The story is told in alternating points of view: Dr. Kate, a slightly seedy journalist covering the story, the egomaniac funding the project, and – eventually – the frozen man himself. I was impressed with Kiernan’s ability to shift so effectively between the four voices which, between them, covered both genders, multiple age groups, very different personalities, and a couple different eras. I also found it so interesting that Kiernan chose to use the second person for the sections narrated by the egomaniac. That’s not something you see everyday.

The story was fast paced but well written. I kind of knew where it was heading, but even so I stayed engaged and interested, right up to the end.


 

book dillard writing lifeI’ve heard Annie Dillard‘s name many times, but until now I’d never read her work. I picked up The Writing Life, a collection of short essays on the experience of writing, from my local library on a whim. I found it by turns inspiring and infuriating. I gobbled it up in only a couple sittings. (It’s short.) Parts of it made me whisper “Yes!” under my breath, other parts made me want to give up writing altogether (either because Dillard’s prose was so beautiful or because she makes being a writer sound like a journey through all seven circles of hell), other parts made me cringe as I caught a whiff of the elitist literati and pretentious “artiste.” I finished the book feeling confused and conflicted – drawn in, and yet repelled. I already want to pick it up and reread certain sections, but it’s not a book that feels like an old friend.

That said, it’s definitely worth a read. Whether  you can relate to Dillard’s experience of writing in full or only in part, it will make you feel something and it will make you think to ask yourself questions that hadn’t occurred to you before. And, I must admit that Dillard’s own description of the book on her site as “… an embarrassing nonfiction narrative fixed somewhat and republished by Harper Perennial …” endeared me to the author.


And here are my favorite blog posts and articles from this week:

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And here’s  a little inspiration: 

pin write anything cs lewis

Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy staying warm and cozy for those of you who are also in winter’s thrall. 
.15 Inspiring Writing Podcasts to Subscribe to Right Now
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – 5 Questions to Ask When You Don’t Know What to Write

How to Figure Out What [You Really Want] to Write:

mary oliver wild lifeWhen I first saw the movie Contact, I was deeply envious of Jodie Foster’s character, the dedicated and driven astronomer, Dr. Ellie Arroway. Her single-minded pursuit of the truth about extraterrestrial life impressed the hell out of me. She was on a mission, a quest. She wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way. She believed in something, and that belief shaped every detail of who she was and how she lived her life. Because she was sure about what she was doing, she was able to throw herself into the work without reservations or doubts. Her approach was a full-court press that channeled all her energy and effort into achieving a single goal.

I would like to know what that feels like.

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So far, my writing journey has been more pantsed than plotted. I know I love to write, but beyond that I don’t have much of a plan. This year marks the passage of four decades since I penned my first journal entry at the age of seven. Over those forty years, I have continued to practice and study writing. I have read innumerable stories, novels, and craft books. I have published hundreds of blog posts, written dozens of columns, and developed certain “marcom” (marketing and communications) writing skills enough that I now earn my living with words.

This is all good, but it’s not enough.

It’s trite but true that life is short. We only have so much time to create, and we never know when the sands in the hourglass will run out. It might be a little morbid, but I want to use my time wisely. The question is, what does time spent wisely look like … for me? What do I really want to write?

It’s an important question.

Each artist – writer, painter, dancer, etc. – creates because there’s something specific he or she wants to express. Whether we are writing poems or stories or novels, we writers write because have something to say. Sometimes, we know exactly what that something is, but other times we’re just sort of feeling our way in the dark, discovering as we go. While there’s nothing wrong with letting personal and artistic themes emerge organically over time, there is something to be said for honing in on your creative purpose – your “Writing Why” – so that you can craft your work more intentionally around that purpose.

As I’ve written before, clarity of purpose focuses your writing energy and effort:

It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity about your writing, you know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Writer’s Block becomes a thing of the past.

Study any artist’s body of work, and you will find recurring themes and “throughlines” that define and shape the work – certain ideas, beliefs, and questions. Writers often tell the same story over and over under different guises. A painter might paint the same subject hundreds of times – a sunset, a woman, a city. A musician might write song after song about the same experience. A poet might build an entire body of work writing about a single emotion.

In each of these cases, the artist has discovered and is exploring the Why behind the creative urge. Like Dr. Arroway searching the Universe for signs of life, the artist plumbs the depths of experience for meaning and connection.

··• )o( •··

I’ve written several posts about why we write, but they have mostly considered the question conceptually rather than tactically, universally rather than personally. I’ve looked at the subject from 30,000 feet up, but I haven’t yet put my feet on the ground so I can start digging in the dirt to unearth my specific reasons for writing. Up to this point, I’ve been content to meander along random paths; but lately I’m feeling a need to articulate my Writing Why in more concrete terms. I want to understand more about where I’m going and what I want to accomplish so that I can narrow down my choices and spend my time wisely.

To that end, I’ve put together an initial list of questions that I hope will help me better understand the reasons I write, and that – ultimately – will make me a better writer by focusing my attention and creativity around a cohesive and meaningful purpose. I realize that this is just a “starter list” and that I will likely need to add to it as I experiment with the process. I also realize that my reason for writing may evolve over time, changing in response to my life experiences. That’s all okay. At least this gives me a place to begin mapping out where I am and where I’m going. I can figure out the rest later.

··• )o( •··

Question 1: What do you love?

This is where most people start and end their search for their purpose. They ask themselves, “What’s my passion?” or “What am I passionate about?” Answering this question will never give you a complete understanding of why you write, but it’s as good a place as any to start exploring your motivations. Here are a few sub-questions to help kickstart your brainstorming process:

  • What are you most curious about?
  • What makes your heart leap with joy?
  • What makes you cry?
  • What makes you angry?
  • Are there topics that you return to again and again in your writing?
  • What do you collect?
  • What are your favorite things/memories/dreams?
  • Which are your favorite stories and books? (Bonus Question: Can you articulate WHY they are your favorites?)

Question 2: Who do you love?

We are often told to write for ourselves; don’t worry about anyone else, just write for you. While there is some merit to this advice (we should write from the heart and not be swayed by popular culture or the influences of our family and friends), if you write to be read you are writing to connect with other people. More specifically, you write to connect with a certain type of person. Marketers sometimes refer to an author’s “audience” or “tribe.” Whoever your people are, it’s important that you know who they are and what moves you to want to connect with them. Think about the following questions to help you get a clearer picture of just who you hope will read your writing.

  • Who do I love to spend my time with?
  • Who are your idols? Why are they your idols?
  • If you had to imagine your audience as one person, who would that person be? Who do you picture reading your work?
  • What attributes best describe your ideal reader? (Think about demographic attributes like age, gender, lifestyle, etc.; but also think about their personalities, philosophies, interests, and beliefs.)
  • Which people are not your people? (Sometimes it’s very helpful to find your “yes” by clearly defining your “no.”)

Question 3: What do you want to say?

This can be a tricky question. On the surface, it seems simple; but I can almost guarantee that once you start digging in, you’ll find it’s much more complex than you imagined. The best way to tackle this question is to keep asking it over and over, and each time you answer it ask yourself why you gave that answer. Be that annoying five year-old who never stops asking, “But, why?” Our off-the-cuff answers to this question are usually fluff. They are what we think we should say or a rehashing of what we’ve heard someone else say. That’s not it. Dig deeper. Ask again. Come at the question from different angles:

  • What do I wish I could teach the world?
  • What do I want to illuminate for people?
  • What do I see that others seem to be missing?
  • What questions do I want to ask?
  • Who or what needs a voice in this world?
  • What misconception or wrong assumption do I wish I could right?
  • What do I believe?

Question 4: What do you want to do?

If you are writing for an audience, you want to elicit a certain response. You want to touch their hearts or minds in some way. More to the point, you want to make them FEEL something. So – what is it that you want them to feel? Think about Maya Angelou’s words, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” How many stories or books have you read that stay with you more as a feeling than a memory of actual characters or events? The way a piece of writing makes us feel is its essence. So …

  • How do you want to make people feel?
  • How do you want to change their perspective?
  • How do you want to change how they feel about themselves, life, their dreams?

Question 5: What do you want your writing life to look like?

Finally, reel yourself in from the conceptual and philosophical explorations and spend some time thinking about the Real World aspects of your writing life. What kind of writer do you want to be? What kind of writing do you want to do? Visualize your ideal writing life: What time do you get up in the morning? Where and when do you write? How do you publish? Do you travel? Do you work solo, or collaborate with other writers? Are you autonomous or do you work for hire? What does your perfect writing life feel like? The questions are endless here, but let’s start with a few basics:

  • Do you want to be a storyteller or a Writer – commercial or literary?
  • Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist?
  • How much money do you want to make? (Be specific.)
  • Are you in it for fame?
  • Who do you want to impress?
  • Do you just want to be heard?
  • How do you define happiness?
  • How do you define freedom?
  • What does your ideal day look like?
  • What do you really need? (vs. what you assume you need)
  • When do you feel fulfilled artistically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

This is a long list of questions, I know. But, aren’t they fascinating? Don’t they make you wonder about how you might answer them and what those answers might tell you about yourself and your drive to write? It’s a process to uncover your Writing Why, but it’s a process that’s well worth the effort. The return on your investment of time and toil is a stronger sense of what makes you unique, what inspires you, and what you really want to offer the world – what you really want to write.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this question of your Writing Why and the process of trying to discover it. Please drop a note in the comments if there’s a story or idea you’d like to share. And, if you’d like to also share a few quick opinions, here’s a brief poll:

Thanks & happy writing to you! 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Friday Fun – How do you manage social media?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: I recently asked NYT Best Selling author Chris Bohjalian how he managed social media. Beside corralling it to early morning and evening (after he completed his writing goals for the day), he also said that he posts 40 to 50 comments/tweets a day (which he said takes about 30 minutes.) “If I can’t give my readers 30 minutes a day then I’m a despicable person,” he said.

We all struggle with social media – what’s too much, what’s not enough. Let’s take a look at how our writers handle this raging bull.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I’ll be the first to admit that I spend far too much time on social media. I try to answer as many comments and tweets as I can. The thought of setting a limit, quite honestly, has never occurred to me. I typically keep my social media windows open at all times and when I hear the siren cry of that beep indicating I have an interaction – well I just have to stop what I’m doing to check it out (and there is never any “just checking it out” I always come up many minutes later wondering where the time has gone.)

I’m using Freedom (and it now has an updated feature (you pay for this)  where you can schedule uninterrupted time.) I’ve tried to schedule my own time, but it doesn’t seem to work. I need a strict guard to the internet telling me “not right now, later, but not right now.” Social media is an ongoing problem that I continue to try and manage.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m afraid that I’m guilty of the same crimes Wendy confessed. Though I know that I should relegate social media (in my case: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, responding to comments here, and reading/sharing other blogs) to certain times of the day, I can’t quite seem to bring myself to cut off my 24/7 access to the digital conversation. Like Wendy, I almost always have tabs open in my browser to my social media pages, and I tend to “visit” there more often than I should.

That said, I have put some order to the madness by doing *most* of my blog reading at night during an otherwise unproductive time and queuing up tweets via Buffer (my most favorite social media tool for scheduling social media updates). I also try to batch process the bulk of my comment responses. Though this often means carving out a whole hour (or more), I believe it’s more efficient than posting ad hoc responses in real time.

I am always trying to assess the value or “ROI” (return on investment, in my case an investment of time) of my social media activities. At the moment, since I’m not actively promoting anything specific, it’s hard to measure whether or not my time is being well spent. I continue playing in these spaces (and organically building my communities there) so that – hopefully – when I do have something to promote, I’ll have an existing audience to talk to. I’ll get back to you once I see how that works out. ;)

 

Chris Bohjalian – The Guest Room, Social Media, and a Chicken

New York Times Best Seller author Chris Bohjalian is a class act. The first time I “met” Chris was by telephone. My editor had asked me to interview Chris for an article. The deadline was short and Chris, being Chris, agreed to talk to me on Memorial Day – a holiday where he could have spent time with his family.

Instead he talked with me on the phone for 1.5 hours. The article was written and submitted and Chris became one of my favorite authors.

However, even despite that fantastic phone interview, perhaps my most important connection to Chris is that I named one of our chickens after him. Years ago, I had the (admittedly genius) idea of offering authors the opportunity to have a chicken in my flock named after them in exchange for an interview. Chris was the first to accept my offer.

Chris-Bohjalian was a fine and much loved hen in our flock.

Since then, I’ve had a few chances to see Chris in public while he’s on book tour. Last night I saw him at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord promoting his newest book – The Guest Room (on the NYT Best Sellers List.) If you are an author, do yourself a favor and go see authors on tour. It’s a rare opportunity to see a writer in action and you can ask them *anything* you want (it’s very similar to all the politicians that come to New Hampshire, you’re very welcomed to be here, but you’ll have to answer our questions.)

Chris has got the book tour thing down pat. He started off with a funny story. Last night’s story was basically about how he’s not such a big shot (even though he is.) It was a great way to endear himself with his audience.

He then did a reading from his book. I have to say it’s the first time I’ve heard a man “become” a 19 year old Russian escort, but you know, Chris pulled it off. It was a great read with the expected result that I (and everyone in the audience) wanted to know more.

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After the reading, it was question time. People asked about some of his previous books (Transistor Radio and Midwives came up a few times.) and how he got ideas. I asked him about Social Media and how he kept it from taking over his day (by the way he begins his writing day at 6 and writes until noon with a goal of reaching at least 1,000 words.)

Chris manages his own social media, he doesn’t have an assistant (so, as he answered one person’s question, when he responds to your comment, that’s really him responding.) But because he knows social media can be a time-suck (my words not his, he called it a time-vortex which is why he’s the best seller and I’m not) he schedules a lot of his posts the night before. He looks at social media early in the morning and then again later in the afternoon BUT NOT WHILE HE IS WRITING.

This is a bit of advice that *all* writers can take to heart and something that I’m still learning (read forcing myself) to do.

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After the talk, Chris signed books. When I approached the table and said who I was, he replied with “oh – the chicken lady!” and insisted on a photo together and then signed my book.

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Of course, he asked how the chickens were doing. I had to tell him that a coyote had decimated our flock this summer.

“Oh no, did my chicken survive? “

I had to break the news that much to my dismay, Chris-Bohjalian –the chicken was no more. But, I told him, I planned on getting new chicks in the spring and I had a pretty good feeling that one of them was going to be named Chris-Bohjalian-II.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Winter Stories

I love a good story well told. I’m not a snob about my channel of entry. I read. I go to a lot of plays. I occasionally (very occasionally as I get older) go to the movies. And I watch television.

A few short years ago, admitting to watching television was not something I could admit freely in some circles. But these days? These days television is the place to be. Wonderful original series that need to be told on television (or streaming). Complicated narrative arcs. Terrific production values.

Since there is snow in the offing, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite series that are fun diversions for your consideration. Just in case you can’t leave the house for a few days.

Slings and Arrows. This isn’t a new series, but it is a perennial favorite of mine. Three seasons of six episodes each. It takes place in a Canadian Shakespearean theater company. Smart, funny, and a little too true if you work in the arts. Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle has the same “inside” vibe, but for classical music.

The Worricker Trilogy. Usually if I miss something on television, I at least know I missed it. Finding this trilogy, written by David Hare, was a lucky find New Year’s Eve. Bill Nighy is wonderful, the cast is amazing, and the entire series gave me a lot to think about.

Have I mentioned that I love Marvel? If not, I’m outing myself. I’m a Captain America girl. I also enjoy the television series. The short runs Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, are particular favorites.

Longmire is a great series, and the move to Netflix was good for it.

While I enjoy these series as a viewer, I also admire them as a writer. Each episode tells a story, and chips away at a larger story that the season supports. There aren’t wasted episodes. Since I am writing a mystery series, I study how this is done.

At least that’s the excuse I use while I am binge watching.

Any series suggestions for these long winter nights?

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time came out in October. Clock and Dagger will come out in August.

 

Enough

I’ve written in the past about using Susannah Conway’s workbook “Unraveling the Year”. Last year, my word was Practice, my intention was to commit to a writing practice. I got off to slow start but I DID it!  Then came December, all bets were off, thankfully, I have picked it up again in January.

I flamed out at the end of 2015 (thus the drop off writing in December). The last quarter was non-stop and I did no one any favors by continuing to say “yes” and ignoring what my body was telling me.

2016 WILL be different.

Thankfully, 2016 is already different. My word for 2016 is: enough.

I am enough.

I have enough on my plate. I can’t take on anything else until something is taken away. Preferably several things are taken away.  I have to scale back. I can’t go through another quarter like Q4 2015. The challenge for me is figuring out WHERE to cut back on existing commitments and WHEN to say no to new commitments.

When I saw this post on Facebook from Jen Hatmaker, I almost cried. Don’t read too far into the comments, they go sideways pretty quickly, but Jen does respond and mentions Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKewon. I’m reading this slowly so it really sticks, but so far, I’m really loving this book. It’s just what I need right now.  I’m pretty sure there will be a blog post from me on the book down the road.

So far, I’ve stepped down from an existing commitment and turned down new work. Not gonna lie, both were hard to do. The existing commitment was something I care deeply about and I would have been a really good fit for the consulting position. I just keep reminding myself “I am enough.” and honestly, after the initial shock wore off, saying no to both was incredibly empowering and uplifting.

Determining what is essential to my life is still a work in progress, but writing is without a doubt essential to my life and it is my hope by eliminating the truly unessential, I’ll make more time for writing. My goal is progress, not perfection. I’m close to finishing the roughest of rough drafts of my work-in-progress. I have another DIY writing retreat scheduled for this weekend and my goal is to pitch this story at a conference scheduled for October. To make that a reality I have many hours of revision ahead of me but, at the same time, I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself.

I start everyday reminding myself, I am enough.

Did you pick a word for 2016?

How do you determine what is essential to your life?

Haven’t set your goals for 2016 yet? If not, you aren’t too late, you are right on time.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.