Visualization Story Structure

Recently, I have been working as a writer in a computer lab where visualization software is designed.

With the over-abundance of information, visualizations can make targeted pieces of information easier and clearer for the reader to instantly comprehend. This particular software mines a large database of information and displays what you tell it to find in a visual format.

For example:

Fig. 1 Scatterplot of Obesity vs Age

Fig. 1 Scatter plot of Obesity vs. Age

This is a scatter plot of obesity rates vs. age. Even without a lot of explanatory text, you can see that as people get older, the rate of obesity increases. This is not exactly earth shattering information until you compare this graph with graphs from earlier years and then you’ll see that with each successive year, obesity starts affecting a younger and younger demographic.

I’m fortunate, because I find this use of visualization fascinating and I love nothing more than “going to work.”

But it has me wondering about the role of visualization in storytelling. When people are crushed (and I mean absolutely *crushed*) for time, is there a place for condensing and presenting information in a visual format within the context of a story?

Last weekend I was out of town. My kids decided to surprise me by re-organizing the kitchen. Like any mom who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, I have to admit that although I said “thank you” through somewhat gritted teeth, what I was really thinking was “you did what?!!” My kitchen is my studio, it’s where I create nourishment and where I build our family structure. It’s where stories are birthed. I was a little worried at what I would find.

My son proudly showed me his contribution to the effort. We tend to have a large collection of coffee mugs and his job was to sort through and organize them.

After looking at all the mugs, my son, my little black or white thinker, decided to only keep a set of vintage white Pyrex matching mugs and he placed the rest of the mugs in a box that was headed to Goodwill as soon as I went through them. (Seriously after reading that do you blame me for our house rule – “Nothing goes to Goodwill until I okay it!”?)

My heart sank as I looked at the perfect row of matching mugs, all lined up with their handles facing to the right. If I were to visualize my son’s idea of what mugs in a kitchen should look like, I would use this graphic.

Fig. 2 - Logan's mugs

Fig. 2 – Logan’s mugs

Utilitarian. Nothing else is needed. Identical. In a row. Functional. Move along, there’s nothing more to see.

We’re done here.

But if I were to try to visualize my idea of what mugs in a kitchen should look like, it would look more like this.

6 cups

Fig 3. – Wendy’s mugs

See that large magenta flower? That’s my “World’s Best Mom” mug. The lighter rose one behind it is the mug I picked up at the King Arthur bakery when my son and I stopped for lunch after I had picked him up from college to bring him home for the holidays. The spiked purple flower is the “I’d Tap That” mug I got when the kids and I followed the maple syrup trail last year and we all tried a maple syrup injected hotdog.

Well you get the picture.

As we all get busier and busier, visualizations, whether they are used in journalistic articles to convey a great deal of information in an easy to understand format or in storytelling to emphasize a dramatic point, are the way of the future.

We are going to see more and more of this technique being used in writing.

Using visualizations within the context of storytelling (think adult picture books) is exciting, it’s a different way of designing stories and if done effectively, could add much to what we have to say. It will be, however, our ongoing challenge as storytellers to figure out how best to incorporate this information tool into our tales while still keeping to a defined story structure.

Something to definitely think about.

Oh, and just so you know, this is the handmade blueberry pottery mug Marc got for me on our honeymoon.

honeymoon mug

Fig. 4 – Wendy’s most favorite mug

Matching mugs be damned, this one is going back onto the shelf.

 

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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.

I Love Twitter

A screen cap of my tweet streamDeborah recently wrote about her foray in to Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter since the early days. Back then, we were all kind of bumbling around, test driving and seeing what this baby could do. Now that Twitter has become social media force, it can be a tad overwhelming to say that least. That said, I LOVE Twitter!

Twitter for me is more of an intelligence gathering tool than a marketing tool. I view Twitter as a ginormous cocktail party. I realize that strikes fear in the hearts of some, but my advice it is to be yourself and travel around “listening” in on different conversations of people and groups that interest you. Keeping in mind some of the social conventions you would use in face-to-face communications. Introduce yourself (this can be accomplished by following someone you’d like to interact with), be polite and talk about others more than yourself.

As in individual, using Twitter as a marketing tool requires finesse. If you are L.L. Bean and marketing your weekend sale on canoes well sure, that’s one thing, but for the individual, I feel Twitter is less about overt marketing of the “Buy my book. Buy my Book! BUY MY BOOK!” variety and more about marketing by building relationships. “Hi, I’m Lee Laughlin, I’m a freelance writer and I’m working on a romantic fiction novel.”

Twitter as a News Aggregator

I use Twitter for multiple things, as news source for current events, (WHAT happened in Baltimore? What did they name the Royal Princess?). @WMUR9_Weather gives me a nice summary of the day’s weather and what to expect for the next two days all in two or three tweets. @Eversource (forever known to me as our electric utility PSNH), is phenomenal at keeping people up-to-date about outages. They were awesome during last Thanksgiving’s blizzard. My daughter is a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan, I’m not, but the chatter on Twitter during THAT episode, cued me that maybe I should watch it with her. I’m glad I did.

Twitter as My Librarian

I get the majority of my book recommendations from Twitter. I follow a number of editors, agents and my favorite authors. Yes, they announce their new books, but they also congratulate fellow authors on new releases or gush about something they’ve read or are reading. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev Is a good example of this. I would NEVER have picked this book up were it not for Twitter. Everyone in my tweet stream who read it loved it. Then someone announced it was on sale. BOOM! It was on my kindle. I loved it too FWIW.

Twitter as an Educational Tool

I’m a very outspoken person, but in general, Twitter is a place where I listen more than I speak. That said, I have been known to “convotrude”, (intrude on conversations I’m not necessarily a part of). Like I said, it’s kind of like a cocktail party, so if I “overhear” (read) something that catches my attention I will politely tweet with a question or a comment.  With the people I follow this is ok, so long as it is don’t politely and judiciously. I have found if approached with respect, most people are very gracious with their answers. On the other hand, if people in my stream are discussing a topic where I have knowledge or experience, I will share (again politely). Not gonna lie, It’s an ego stroke when I share a link or a resource for someone and then they follow me :)

Twitter is balancing act. In general, you want to give more than you get. Read an article you found interesting? Tweet it! Did someone you follow on Twitter point you to a resource or share the article you liked? Don’t be afraid to tag them with an h/t (hat tip). For example “Here’s an interesting article on raising chickens http://link.com h/t @WendyENThomas.”

Don’t be afraid to RT (retweet) another author’s marketing. Twitter now allows you include comments on your RTs. Did you read the book? Are looking forward to it’s release? Say so! In general I try and stay away from negative tweets on any form of social media. If I have an issue, I will typically take it up via email.  The exception is companies who offer customer service via Twitter. If they are going to put themselves out there, I’m going to ask for help or share my displeasure.

Me "chatting" with AT&T Wireless about their lack of winter weather preparedness

Do you use Twitter? What do you use it for? If you are new to Twitter, post your questions and I’ll try and do a Q&A post in the near future.

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. You can find her on Twitter @Fearless. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com and she is a regular contributor to the Concord Monitor. 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.

 

Grammar-ease: When to Capitalize a Season

So, here in New Hampshire, we had one of the coldest winters (or is it Winters) on record, weeks of single-digit and below zero temps.

Then we had April, definitely labeled spring (or is it Spring) on the calendar. It was filled with temps averaging in the 40s.

daffodils_april_10_03_editedNow it’s May 4th and temps are in the 80s.

To say we had a short spring (or is it Spring) is crazy, but, honestly, 80 degrees after weeks in the 40s? I’d say summer (or is it Summer) is here! It’s definitely shorts and t-shirt weather!

To the topic of this post — it’s a common question: Do you capitalize the seasons when writing about spring, summer, winter, or fall?

The short and simple answer is: no.

You only capitalize the season of spring, summer, winter, or fall when it’s part of a title or the name of an event.

You wouldn’t capitalize “spring break,” but you would if it was in reference to, for instance, the event known as”Spring Break 2015: Bermuda Bound.”

Correct examples:

  • signs of spring are everywhere
  • ushering in spring
  • shake off the winter blues and celebrate spring
  • fall foliage is a few months away
  • 2016 Winter Cruise: Sail Away to Hawaii
  • Mayberry’s Fall Festival

It’s been a while since I posted a grammar article.

Would you like to see grammar tips again?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition: Love Your Mistakes Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

 

It’s All Part of the Process

Wise Owl says, "There are no mistakes (only happy accidents)!" (Lovely altar to mistakes compliments of my sweet and creative friend Kristin Cutaia)

Wise Owl says, “There are no mistakes (just happy accidents)!” (Image of a lovely “altar to mistakes” compliments of my sweet and creative neighbor, Kristin Cutaia)

Earlier this week, my friend Emma (fellow writer, mama, and – unlike me – a woman with a very chic style) shared an excerpt from an interview with Mike Patton of the band Faith No More. I am not cool enough to be an aficionado about Faith No More, but I loved the theme of the sound byte Emma shared: the value of making mistakes. Here’s a snippet:

But all the mistakes are little tiny little technical things, anyway, like, I shouldn’t have sung that that way, or, Oh, I was flat there. It’s not like, Oh, I shouldn’t have made this record. Because I feel like even if maybe I don’t like a particular record, it was a step in the process and I must have learned something from it. I think that’s more of a mature viewpoint. If you’d asked me that ten years ago, I’d have gone, “Oh, this record sucks and that’s bullshit,” but it all had to happen.

It all had to happen.

We forget that sometimes. We read – humbled, awed, and perhaps a little bit green – the inspiring (and somewhat intimidating) work of a writer we admire, and we forget what went into making it what it is. She wasn’t born with the ability to make that kind of art. She had to make a lot of mistakes to hone her craft. She had to try and fail and learn, and try and fail and learn again.

It’s all part of the process.

Whether you’re striving for brilliance or mere competence, you have to go through being clueless, inept, and moderately capable to get there. There are no shortcuts.

You have to learn you way to the top, one screw up at a time.

In my post about how to tell if you’re a real writer, I commented on the ludicrous demands our culture places on people who want to call themselves “Writer.” In most cases, simply practicing a thing – running, yoga, gardening – is enough to earn you the right to call yourself by that title: runner, yogi, gardener. Not so with writing (or, any other art for that matter). Likewise, there is something in our collective consciousness that tries to convince us of the infallibility of the “real” artist. Some primal part of our id wants us to believe that the road to literary greatness bypasses inadequacy via some kind of magical detour. Steven Pressfield would probably name this horrific misconception Resistance.

Whatever it’s name may be, you need to get rid of it.

We acquire skills through learning. Learning, by its nature, requires failure. Think about any skill you’ve learned – walking, talking, reading, baking a cake, tying your shoes, driving a car, dancing the waltz. Were you perfect the first time you tried? Of course not. You stumbled and tripped over your own feet and your partner’s toes. You mispronounced words, ground the gears, and watched – heart broken – as the perfect, golden arc of your faerie cake caved in on itself.

You made mistakes.

And, more importantly, you learned from them.

There is nothing like learning by doing. Being in the trenches trumps theory. Every. Single. Time. We study to gain knowledge, but we must practice in order to gain experience. And, only through experience can we ever hope to achieve mastery. Who would you want by your side if you were heading out for a week in the jungle – the guy who has read a thousand books on the jungle ecosystem and learned enough to earn himself a PhD in environmental science, or the gal who has bushwhacked her way through the heart of the tropical forest a dozen times and has already experienced torrential downpours, snake bites, and the hospitality of the indigenous people?

That’s right. You want the person who has “been there and done that,” the person with hard-won experience that I can guarantee you was riddled with mistakes and failures.

Don’t apologize for your mistakes. Welcome them. They are proof that you are making progress, that you have stepped outside the confines of your comfort zone. That you are growing. You practice and you fail and you learn from that failure, so that you can do better next time. You learn to see what works, and what doesn’t. You learn to understand not only where you went wrong, but why. You start to get your head around what makes a story tick because you’ve taken so many apart in order to figure out what was missing.

Making mistakes is also a great way to lighten up a little already. Never take yourself too seriously. Don’t just sulkily accept that you’re going to make a mess of things. Revel in it. Go into the process with your eyes wide open and your heart filled with a sense of adventure. Think of all the amazing things you’re going to learn along the way! Last fall I took a Fiction I class at the Grub Street Writers Center. To help us learn about how to write strong dialog, our super smart and warmly encouraging teacher (the fabulous KL Pereira) had us write a scene that included all the worst dialog gaffes in the book. We had to try and cram every dialog-related transgression we knew into that one scene: stilted language, filler, exposition, naming characters, overuse and variation of modifiers, too much faithfulness to speech (um, y’know, like), dialect exaggeration, excessive direct address, etc. The exercise was fun, and it drove home the lesson she was trying to teach in a way that simply reading about the mistake could never do.

In addition to helping us learn, mistakes provide fertile ground for new discoveries. Many of our best-known scientific advancements are attributed to happy accidents – things that happened while a scientist was “playing around” with an idea. When we practice writing in a way that embraces the possibility of making mistakes, we open ourselves up to a world of previously inaccessible opportunities. Instead of letting fear of failure keep our creative feet glued to the straight and narrow path, we can step off into the wilderness of creativity and imagination. When we set our muse free to explore and experiment, there’s no limit to what can happen.

But, no matter what happens, regret nothing.

Remember, mistakes are part of the process.

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What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

One of the images from my nature-centric Instagram account

One of the images from my nature-centric Instagram account

I am repeatedly amazed by how much I don’t know about all the different writing markets out there. Though I have mentioned the power of niche markets before, sometimes life gets so busy that I forget to apply what I’ve learned to my own career development. Thankfully, I have friends who remind me.

This past week, I had the pleasure of a phone chat with my friend, YiShun Lai. In addition to being a talented writer, mindful philanthropist/volunteer, and sharp wit, YiShin is also a generous human being who gave me a valuable gift simply by pointing out what was right in front of my nose. She noticed that some of my social media profiles include the descriptor “nature lover,” and asked me if, in addition to loving nature, I also write about it.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it turns out that I write about nature a lot. I laughed and said that I guess I’m kind of an “accidental” nature writer.

And then we talked at length about what a nature essayist does and where. She shared some reading resources and generally opened my eyes to a new potential outlet for some of my writing. How cool is that? More importantly, she gave me a lens through which to view some of my work in a way that will help me focus my efforts. Again – so cool.

Are there themes or topics that you return to again and again in your writing? Pay attention to them. Explore them. Think about how they fit together and where they might fit out in the world. You might be, like me, missing an invitation to walk a particular path just because you didn’t notice it was there.

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What I’m Reading:

bok darker shade magicI heard about A Darker Shade of Magic, the new book from Victoria (V.E.) Schwab, via Jen Campbell’s vlog, This is Not the Six Word Novel. Thank you, Jen!

I have had several recent disappointments with fantasy novels lately. I grew up reading fantasy and SciFi almost exclusively, and I’ve been itching lately to recapture that feeling of being swept off my feet and into another world. The trouble is, my tastes seem to have evolved, and it’s been a challenge to find stories that feature the kind of world-building prowess that makes me suspend disbelief, even at my – ahem – mature age.

Enter Schwab’s world of four parallel Londons.

From the book jacket:

STEP INTO A UNIVERSE OF DARING ADVENTURE, THRILLING POWER, AND MULTIPLE LONDONS.Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Sounds fabulous, right? It is. 

This is the first book I’ve read by Schwab, but I have already added other titles of hers to my Want to Read list.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a perfect example of thorough and engaging world building. Once I opened the cover and stepped into the story, I was immediately drawn into Schwab’s alternate reality of four, parallel Londons and the magic that binds them together. Her characters are well drawn and her magic system is full of unexpected possibilities without being at all implausible (as magic systems go).

Once she had me hooked, Schwab led me through her story at a perfect pace. Though my overall impression of the book is that it’s something of a swashbuckler, the action is balanced with pockets of “smaller” action. It never feels like a Hollywood car chase, but I still couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Perhaps most importantly, I cared about what happened to these characters. Having recently abandoned a book because I just didn’t care what happened to the story’s protagonist, I was delighted to feel actual anxiety about what was happening to Kell and Lila. I reacted physically to some scenes, cringing and tensing as I read.

Perhaps the most complimentary thing I can say about this book is that it was good enough that I found myself making all kinds of excuses to read “just one more chapter.” I even carted it with me when I went to wait in line to pick up my daughter at school. (And, yes, I may have left a little earlier than usual to extend my waiting/reading time.)

Bottom line: I recommend this one highly, and I already can’t wait for the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, which is due out next February.

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And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

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Finally, a quote for the week:

This week we have so much more than a mere quote. Big thanks to the lovely Sara Foley (aka The Practical Mystic) for finding and sharing this gem in her Twitter feed this week.

Here’s to embracing your mistakes, learning from them, and creating a writing world that sweeps you off your feet and into a new life. Happy reading! Happy Writing! See you on the other side. 

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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 – Where do you get your story ideas?

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: We recently invited you to submit your questions about writing, and Bethie asked about where we get ideas for our writing. 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Everywhere. That’s probably not very helpful. But, it’s true. I love asking “Why?” and “What if?” I like to daydream. I guess you could say that I’m incurably curious, and my curiosity creates an endless stream of ideas for essays and stories. I mean, from where I’m sitting at my desk, I quickly looked up and the first thing I saw was a Hawaiian scarf with a batik-style fish print on it. Looking at that, the following thoughts ran through my head:

  • I wonder what goes into making one of those. Is it even made in Hawaii, or just labeled there? What are the industrial and financial stories behind that simple scarf?
  • I wonder who sold it – maybe the owner of a family-run shop struggling to survive against the competition of the big-label stores in the newer, fancier malls. What kind of conflict is there between the different store owners or family members?
  • Is that a traditional Hawaiian motif? What kinds of Hawaiian myths might have inspired that design? What if Hawaiian gods met the old Greek or Norse gods? How would they get along?
  • The fish are grouped in schools of five. Why would there be only five fish per school?
    • What if that was an actual natural phenomenon – how would the fish determine which of them went into which school, and what would happen to the odd fish out? Would there be in-fighting, manipulation, or even fish murder for spots in a school?
    • How might this thing play out with humans – like cliques in school? What if in the future people were only allowed to interact in groups of five – how would that affect relationships, privacy, emotions?

You get the idea. Be curious. Ask questions. Let your mind free associate. Don’t judge your ideas. (The above list proves I’m clearly following an “anything goes” approach.) Just have fun.

And, here are a couple other posts that you might find helpful:

Your Writer's Mind

Your Writer’s Mind

or maybe …

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

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Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: While I was waiting my turn to drive through a construction site where the state was rerouting a highway, I wondered what Vermont was like before the Interstate, how it was built, and how the state changed as a result. And so began the research that turned into Elegy for a Girl, Into the Wilderness, and the untitled novel I’m working on now. Ideas for my VPR commentaries, editorials, and blog posts arise in similarly mundane and mysterious ways: I see something, I hear something, I read something – often something quirky or ordinary – and it sparks thoughts that make their way onto the page. It’s a good job.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Some of my story ideas seem to come out of the blue. I’ll be driving and a thought will become a sentence which then becomes the idea for a story. Because I write a lot of non-fiction, many of my ideas also come from asking questions. If I want to know an answer, chances are someone else will want to know it as well. The toddler’s “what if” and “why” questions that are constantly asked (to the point of exhaustion) never seemed to have left me. Lastly, my ideas can come from a quiet place of observation. I’ll sit and look at what is around me. I’ve seen this with my blog, where I’ve been writing about my flock of children and chickens for the last 6 years. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say at this point – nope, there are days when I feel like I’m just getting started.

Susan Nye: I bump into ideas everywhere. In the news. In random conversations with friends, family and strangers. In the supermarket and farmers’ market. (I do a lot of food writing so ingredients inspire me.) In books, magazines and in the nooks and crannies of my wandering mind. I walk almost every day and find it really helps. No music, no phone and no distractions, I let my mind ramble and amble in search of inspiration.

Coming up with something new week after week for my newspaper column/blog is probably the biggest challenge. Next week makes 448 stories and recipes plus another couple hundred menus and party ideas. When in doubt I check the calendar. Holidays are always good for a post. Who doesn’t have something to say about Mom on Mother’s Day, family cookouts on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving dinners? That said, after nine years it can be tough to find a new approach to Memorial Day.

Editing for Others

I often edit pieces of writing for friends and family and lately I’ve edited a couple of letters and a resume. I noticed a few of the same issues coming up. Back when I edited medical textbooks and articles, the same things came up—and that was a long time ago.

The first thing I noticed is how often people don’t say (write) what they mean. When I ask, “What did you mean here?” the author of the piece can usually tell me in one sentence. So I write that down. Instantly, the communication is clearer.

Another common mistake is putting the most important information last. Why not lead with what’s most important, whether it’s a letter or a resume? People don’t always read through an entire piece, so you want to make sure you put your main points toward the beginning—that’s why reporters put the “who, what, where, when, and why,” in the first paragraph of a newspaper article.

The last common mistake I see over and over is a lack of parallel construction. Parallel construction, also called parallelism or parallel structure, is the use of phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure.

Use of parallel construction is important for fiction writing as well as all kinds of nonfiction and business writing. Just making sure you use parallel construction can improve a piece of writing immensely.

The grammatical structure can be simple, as in this example:

“I like to cook, run, hike, and craft in my free time;”

or more complex, as in this example:

“I convened a committee, created a work group, and monitored the progress of the work group until the new clinic was a reality.”

Writers who don’t use parallel construction in fiction pull the reader out of the story, which is potentially when the reader could put down the book, and in nonfiction or business writing, lack of parallel construction allows miscommunication to happen, especially when you shift from active voice to passive voice.

An example that lacks parallel construction:

“Job description: Lectured twice weekly to undergraduate students, reviewed graduate student theses, and was able to have research done on a weekly basis.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read this, my first thought was—who did the research?

As an editor, I can ask and find out the answer (the person writing the resume did the research,) but it would have been clear if the author had just used parallel construction:

“Job description: Lectured twice weekly to undergraduate students, reviewed graduate student theses, and did research every week.”

In conclusion, it’s good to take a look at whatever you are writing with an editing eye—or give it to a grammar-loving, detail-oriented friend, like me!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m enjoying the spring weather and looking forward to the day when it’s warm enough for me to sit out on my back deck and write.

 

 

Professional Writer Super Power Tip: Buffers and Backup Plans

tiny supermanAhhh, the life of a professional freelance writer – the freedom, the creativity, the coffee shops.

The deadlines.

I love my life as a self-employed writer. I get to make my own schedule, choose my own clients, and run the show my way. I honestly don’t think I can ever go back to working in a corporate job. Ever.

But, and let me be crystal clear about this, it’s not like I don’t have a boss. In fact, I have many bosses. Each of my clients is my boss, each project lead within a client company is my boss, my business (managing and building it) is my boss. Add on top of that all the professional and personal responsibilities I take on voluntarily (professional education, blogging, side projects, being a mom, having a life), and that schedule I get to set for myself starts to look pretty scary.

CONFESSION: I had planned to publish an entirely different post today. I was really getting into writing the second half of my two-parter on getting started as a freelance content marketer. But, I had to put the breaks on. I could have pushed through and cranked out “something,” but I realized that I just didn’t have the time to do it the way I wanted to. (Sounds like a familiar refrain. *hangs head in shame*)

Here’s the thing – when you’re a freelance writer, your schedule is a living beast that can (and probably will) mutate at any moment. Despite my strong Type-A tendencies, project management background, and magical calendaring skills, I still fall victim to the whims and wiles of my never-fully-tamed schedule.

BUT … most of the time, I protect myself from catastrophe with two super powers:

BUFFERS:

Most things will take longer than you expect.

It’s a harsh reality, but one you should go ahead and accept. Estimating the time a task will take is, in the experience of many writers, one of the toughest part of this gig. And, even when you nail your estimate, there is a whole slew of unforeseen events lying in wait to ambush your beautiful plans and turn your whole day (and week) into a mad scramble.

The solution: build in buffers wherever you can.

Don’t pack your day with back-to-back, end-to-end tasks and obligations. Make it a point to insert as much “white space” as possible. If, like me, you use calendaring to manage your tasks and time, actually put that non-working space on your calendar. Make it a pretty color. Put a smiley face on it.

Most of your buffers will get eaten up by things like impromptu phone calls, tasks that took longer than you’d planned, having to pick your sick kid up from school, etc. That’s okay. (Well, not your kid being sick. That’s the pits.) Buffer time is there to be eaten. If it doesn’t get eaten, yay. You get bonus time. The point is to have it “just in case.”

BACKUP PLANS:

But even if you’ve made a beautiful plan and built in buffers, Life can still throw you a left hook and leave you down for the count and unable to get back on your feet. That, like having a sick kid, is also the pits. BUT … it’s not too horrible if you employ the freelance writer super power: backup plans.

This post is a kind of backup plan. I had hoped to write that other massive, epic, deep-dive post today; but life (and work) got in the way and my buffers got all eaten up. SO … this post was my fallback position, my safety net.

In a perfect world, I would have had a few posts like this queued up and ready to publish at a moment’s notice. But, this isn’t a perfect world, so I’m writing it “live.” Still, it’s taking me about a quarter of the time it will ultimately take me to write the other post, so – that helps in my time-crunched day.

Always have a backup plan. Always know the answer to the question, “If I just can’t make this happen, what will I do instead?” Give yourself options.

 

So – buffers and backup plans. Learn how to use them. Make them part of your freelance writer world. You’ll be less stressed and more productive. Trust me.

And now, I have to go. Those other deadlines are nipping at my heels.

 

"There are never enough hours in the day." - Freelance Writers Everywhere

Feeling tangled up in your schedule?

 

PS – In case you missed the two links above, you really might want to check out this post from the archives: How to be a Freelance Writer: 5 Tools for Smart Planning and Time Management. It goes into a lot more detail & walks you through some actual tactics for wrangling your schedule into submission.

 
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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. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: Terence l.s.m via Compfight cc