Precision Language

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I love coming upon new words as I read. I came upon a new one, today: dilatory. It refers to being slow or lazy. So why not say ‘slow’ or ‘lazy’? In most instances, I probably would. But when it comes to characterization, I tend to look for ways to make each character sound unique. Vocabulary is probably the easiest for me.

I’ve been called to task for using words that the reader doesn’t understand. I understand the reasons for such a critique. Anything that could draw your reader out of the world you’re creating is usually to be avoided. My personal viewpoint, however, is that it is better to use the appropriate word, not the easiest word.

The downside is that I tend to use these words in everyday conversation, often without realizing it. Worse, I use them without realizing that not everyone enjoys language like I do. I’m occasionally afraid that I come off as pretentious or patronizing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t use vocabulary to show off, I use vocabulary to communicate.

I’ve been told (multiple times) I’m very precise in how I speak. It’s not something I really focus on. I focus on the message and what words best communicate that message. I have a decently large vocabulary, so I use it.

That said, ‘dilatory’ probably won’t appear much in my speech. It seems to be mostly associated with attitude rather than a state of being. I’m far more likely to end up using ‘desultory’.

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The Marque of Marquees

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Religion is a sensitive subject for many people. It is always a risky business to deal with beliefs. The very nature of faith and belief precludes rational critique. Yet people insist on attacking beliefs as if they were a debatable point, and therefore cause people to further entrench themselves. Maybe it’s my UU background, but it seems to me that that is an excellent way to generate hate.

Rather than debating beliefs, it seems as though looking at what people say and comparing that to what they do may be a more productive activity. I’m not event talking about specifics like birth control or response to the LGBT community. I’m talking overarching ideas.

For instance, one of the church marquees near where I live has the following message: “Nothing is stronger than the power of God’s love.” I find this a positive message no matter denomination, religion, or lack of either. Yet the denomination the marquee is in front of is known, not for spreading God’s love, but for threatening the results of his wrath. These are the same people who are out there holding “God hates (fill in the blank)” signs and insisting if you don’t follow their way exactly, you will go to Hell. How do they expect to attract people with words of love when their actions spread discord?

Looking at the alignment of spoken beliefs with observable action is the best way to evaluate a group of people from a committee or ministry to an entire denomination. It is also the best way to make yourself a better _______ .

Another marquee, down the street in the other direction, has this message: “If God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. To me, this is much more in line with professed belief. If you put faith in God to lead you through your life, you will also be open to the tools He puts there for you to use. It is a message about the benefits of faith, rather than a statement of strength that comes off as simplistic or braggadocio.

The irony between these two marquees is that they are from two separate congregations of the same denomination. I wanted to point that out since in every discussion there needs to be an acknowledgement that the words “all”, “every”, and “none”, are as inaccurate and divisive as “never” and “always”. I have friends whose political and social beliefs I abhor, yet when it comes down to it, on a one on one basis, they are good people who genuinely try to live with the love in their heart that their religion dictates.

4 Elements of Self-Defense from Nature

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I haven’t done one of these in a while. Here’s a short list of self-defense techniques and concepts that you can get from a nature walk.

1. If they can’t see you, they can’t eat you. This idea is pretty self explanatory. In nature, camouflage is rampant because everything is trying to eat everything else. If a predator doesn’t register your presence as prey, you’re not likely to be eaten. What makes this a difficult concept to follow, is that often, predators are ALSO camouflaged. Why?

2. If they can’t catch you, they can’t eat you. A camouflaged predator is more likely to be able to catch its prey. This means you. If you can see the predator approaching, you have a better chance of running away. The corollary, of course, is that you can outrun your attacker in the first place. Practice your wind sprints. Practice sprinting even when you’re tired.

3. You’re more likely to survive in a group. In nature, a 1 in 100 chance is much better survival odds than a 1 in 4 chance of being eaten. This is one of the main benefits of herd behavior. Incidentally, in groups, humans have a tendency to support each others’ weaknesses.

4. Someone will always call your bluff. Bluffs are decent in single instances. They are not a good idea as a general survival tool. This means, among other things, that if you carry a weapon, you better be willing to use it. If you’re not, it will be taken from you and used against you. It also means that even if you succeed on bluffing your way through a potentially dangerous situation, you may not be so lucky next time. Can you actually punch someone with intent to do damage? It’s not an idle question. Many martial artists can’t, though they fool themselves into thinking they can.

There are many more lessons to be taken from nature, all you have to do is look. There are even lessons different from what I’ve gathered from the samples I saw. Self-defense is an attitude and a life style, not an if-then flow chart. Nature is an excellent example of this concept. Take a walk in a state or national park and see for yourself. Ask a naturalist.

All Worked Up And No Beneficiary

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The problem with writing erotica, romance, or even a plain old love scene is that it gets you all worked up. Why is this a problem? It’s not, really, unless you have no one to gain the benefits of your creativity. You think the stereotyped gamer geek is frustrated? That’s nothing on the lonely romance writer. I’ve been both places. Trust me.

What’s the solution? Stop writing? Not really an option. Here’s what happens to writers who stop writing: they have to stomp so hard on all those ideas flying through their brain that the ideas end up in a box labeled “REPRESSED”. Those ideas then come back up in therapy as actual memories. (It could happen.)

Could another solution be to put those scenes behind doors? That might work for mainstream or even SFF. Certainly some genres are amenable to this kind of treatment. Doesn’t work so well with romance or erotica. The other problem with relying on this method, even in mainstream, is that sometimes those scenes provide a crucial piece of information about the characters or, heaven forbid, something that pushes the plot forward.

Other than the couple of obvious solutions, I don’t see what can be done about it. On the whole, though, it’s a dilemma I can work with. Psychotherapists have a wonderful word that applies: sublimation. In essence, it’s channeling the pressures of various emotions in a positive manner. What does this mean for the writer? Turn that frustration into better sex scenes, better fight scenes, better resolution scenes.

Word Counts: The Ultimate Procrastination Tool

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Setting a word count goal is a massively useful tool for chronic procrastinators. I set a word count goal and immediately accomplished several chores I’ve been putting off. There’s just something about having a concrete measure that encourages me to say “I can make it up after I (fill in the blank) .”

The writing program “Scrivener” has a couple of ways of tracking your word count. So if the session goal isn’t enough for you to finish your chores, you can go back and check your entire manuscript word count for that extra boost you need to clean the cat box.

Not only do you gain the benefit of having an extra-clean house, by setting a word count goal, you finally have proof that your inner negativity can point to to justify all your “I suck at the writing” urges. Why is this good? I’ll tell you. It allows you to later rebel against THE MAN by spending time creating bad writing.

Imagine! Just one tool can give you an extra-clean house, a way to satisfy those masochistic “I suck” urges, AND stick it to THE MAN. How cool is that?

All joking aside, though. Having a word count goal is an excellent way to concretely measure your productivity. It’s a great way to counter the “you can’t measure creativity” arguments. Aside from that, there’s always something satisfying about crossing a finish line. The Tour-de-France is not raced all at once, it’s a series of successive races. Writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is much the same. It’s not written all at one sitting; it is written in a series of sessions.

Even if you consistently fail to meet your word count goal, just having it means you have something to reach for. Just as with weight lifting, you keep trying, building strength in increasing weights until you can lift your goal consistently. Consistently is the key, not ease of doing it. Once you have consistent success, then you increase your word count goal per session.

I have my word count goal as 2,000 words per day. Lately, I’ve barely been able to get 1,000. But I know there are times when those 1,000 words are all that’s necessary to say what needs to be said.

(BTW: The word count for this blog, including this message is: 385)

Writing: A Matter of Place

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Common images of writers include someone hunched over a piece of parchment with a quill pen and scribbling madly in the light of a candle, a person typing feverishly at an old fashioned typewriter, a man scratching out verse in a notebook, a woman sitting at a computer filling the screen with words. Yes, some of the images are true. But more often than not, a writer’s most often observable action is sitting and staring into space. A writer staring into space is usually in the throes of feverishly trying to tie two plot points together, or coming up with two plot points to tie together.

Leaving aside the issues of outlining versus not outlining, quite often the easiest part is the actual putting down of words onto paper, real or virtual. Sure there may be a brief struggle to find the exact word you want to convey an idea, but on the whole, by the time words start appearing in a concrete fashion, the hardest part is done: formulating a coherent message or story or idea that will (hopefully) interest other people enough to purchase said message, story, or idea.

One of the greatest challenges in writing seems to be finding a time and place where people do not assume you are doing nothing when you are gazing into the middle distance. I know many writers with families have to remind those in the house that they are working and not necessarily available. Personally I find it easiest to write when not in the house…unless there’s something very distracting going on at the location I’m writing. (Lesson learned from last night: do not try to write while supporting friends in a volleyball tournament.) Libraries are good, as are bookstores. Amusingly enough, I find fast food restaurants fairly easy to write in.

My advice for those who say they want to do some writing, whether journaling for personal enjoyment or writing something for publication: don’t write at home. You’ll get more done if you write away from people who will not only distract you, but actively disturb you.

What’s orange and good for you?

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I have decided that oranges are the new wonderfruit. Why? Because they taste good, they have the right nutrition for after a workout. Especially a workout that involves the occasional bruising. Everyone knows oranges are awesome with the vitamin c (anti-oxidant), but they also have lots of potassium. Other beneficial nutrients include vitamin a, thiamin and folate. They even have a little protein and calcium. And it does all this without filling you up and weighing you down. (I really hate the feeling of eating something and having my stomach yell at me for eating an anchor.)

What about all the sugar? Yes. Oranges are carb heavy…the good thing is that the carbs are quickly metabolized and used. This means they don’t stay around in the system, providing a quick boost without the same kind of risk of weight gain from most sports drinks. The glycemic load of a serving of orange is also 1/3 that of a serving of banana.

Don’t forget the fiber that comes with all fruits and vegetables. Not as much as celery, but a respectable 17% of daily value (assuming 2,000 calories daily). Oranges are a good fruit to have on your healthy eating list.

After a workout, the high water content of an orange is very welcome. Not only does it help with being thirsty, it helps with faster uptake of nutrients than solid food.

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