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Sunday

A to Z Writing: Zealous Zombies in Zany Ziggurats


Writing can be serious business, but it need not always be.

Once in a while, even the most scholarly wordsmiths may zip out of zone and zoom off a zillion zesty zips.

It’s all part of living in the zoo.

Freelance, agency or corporate writers tend to be imaginative sorts. Don’t we all need an occasional break from tedium?

For decades, I’ve made my living in writing, composing everything from executive speeches to editorials, and from legal exposes to limericks. And I love it.

I’m one of those curious sorts, pouring myself into research and enjoying outlining. I actually enjoy staring at my computer screen and trying to come up with creative ways to express the most straightforward of subjects.

But once in a while, I want to go off the page. Maybe zealous zombies in zany ziggurats are onto something. So, just for fun, here’s my wrap-up for the A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Hey, sometimes one has to let go of logic (and logistics) and simply write about zombies. It's a way to escape from daily routine, so as not to become a zombie oneself!

(Watch for a complete listing tomorrow
of my Working in Words posts
for the 2012 A to Z Blogging Challenge.)

The Zombie Zoom –
Limericks in Fun for Words on the Run

Zealous zombies march apace
In zany ziggurats in space.
They stand and stare,
Seem unaware,
And yet each footfall leaves a trace.

We writers tap our keys to cite,
As zombies zoom into the night.
We sit, compose,
And pen our prose –
Although we’d best grab foil for flight.

For creativity’s a game,
And if we lost, ‘twould be a shame.
But never fear,
The zombies near
Stand ready to accept the blame.

c2012 by Linda Ann Nickerson

(For Amy Browne, Joshua Cook, Tammy Lee Morris, Linda StCyr, and other zombie writers.)

Related Items:

Acrostic poems need not contain rhyme or meter, but this acrostic poem does. Brainstorms offer creative notions, new ideas and open-ended possibilities. What brainstorms are brewing in your own imagination today?

Dear Editor: About that rhyme; I think I need a bit more time. It's not a writer's block I face, I'm concepting at warp-speed pace. A hardware glitch has got me beat; I'm squirming in my writing seat.
Image:  
Zombies!
Creative Commons Licensing
Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons Photos
2012 A to Z Blogging Challenge logo
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Saturday

A to Z Writing: Yearning to Spin Yarns


Do you yearn to spin yarns? I surely do, and it has nothing to do with needlework, knitting, or arts and crafts.

OK, maybe it’s a craft.

What’s a yarn spinner?

A yarn spinner is a person who spins yarns. (Maybe you knew that.)

When I was in the third grade (OK, here we go!), my teacher stapled yellow construction paper on a bulletin board in our classroom. Then she wound several strands of fuzzy yarn all over it before adding these words.

Y A R N
S P I N N I N G S

We puzzled and pondered about what she might be planning until she explained. The curious-looking bulletin board would hold the short stories we would write that semester.

Some students groaned at the prospect of crafting fiction. Inside, I rejoiced.

Maybe that’s where it started for me.

These days, I juggle news beats, feature assignments and other somewhat straightforward writing gigs. But I still try to carve out occasional moments for musing and yarn spinning. From flash fiction to lingering limericks or short and sweet senryus, I love to play with words.

Maybe every writer yearns to be a yarn spinner, weaving wonderful wordings and stitching sentences together to spread sense in our nonsensical world.

Spin on, wordsmiths. Your craft counts. Perhaps a marvel awaits. Like Rumpelstiltskin, some may one day spin gold.

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Image:  
Rumpelstiltskin, by Dik Browne
 1946
Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons Photos
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Friday

A to Z Writing: X Marks the Spot for Proofreading


Exactness counts for editors and proofreaders – no matter what type of manuscripts they are preparing for publication.

Historically, manuscript editors have employed specific notational symbols to mark errors and necessary changes to content or typography. In the past, before virtual editing became commonplace, it was virtually impossible for an editorial student to graduate from journalism school without earning high marks in learning these marks.

Here’s a sampling of proofreading symbols from The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition).



Who remembers these once-common editorial symbols?

With the advent of electronic publishing, traditional proofreading marks have fallen out of common usage.

Does electronic editing cut out important information?

Editorial changes have become considerably more efficient, economical and perhaps effective through the use of computers. At the same time, however, part of the process has been lost. It is difficult now for authors and editors to track manuscript changes, unless original files are kept and compared against revisions.

Image:  
Pencil or Keyboard?
By Cohdra
MorgueFile
2012 A to Z Blogging Challenge logo
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Wednesday

A to Z Writing: Waiving Weak Wordings


Weak wordings wreak havoc on quality content.

I’ve read reams of reports, endless series of cyber-stories, mountains of memos, and scads of student essays. Maybe you have too.

What’s the worst sort of weak writing one might find?

My personal pet peeve is the use of passive voice in common constructions. Sure, certain communications might call for this format. Legal and financial communications might use passive voice in official matters.

Still, the most interesting compositions in news, non-fiction, fiction, and poetry aim for active voice.

Consider these examples of passive and active voice:

  1. Were you at the party that was thrown by Katrina?
  2. Did you go to Katrina’s party?

  1. A good time was had by all.
  2. The party rocked.

  1. There were more than 100 people who went to Katrina’s house.
  2. More than 100 people crowded into Katrina’s house.

  1. Unfortunately, a teen was struck by a car, which was driven by a minivan driver who happened to be intoxicated, on the way to the party.
  2. Unfortunately, an intoxicated driver struck a teen with a minivan on the way to the party.

  1. The teen was said to have had a few bruises, but he was found to be found uninjured otherwise.
  2. The teen suffered a few bruises, but no other apparent injuries.

  1. If you were one of those who attended and enjoyed themselves, you may want to be among those from whom Katrina receives thank-you’s.
  2. If you liked the party, you might want to thank Katrina.

  1. It would seem that Katrina would be likely to have another party soon.
  2. Katrina might host another party soon.

Which approach is most readable and enjoyable?

Active voice makes sentence subjects do the work. Passive voice has work done to folks instead. Which would you rather read?

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Arm Wrestling
US Navy/US Government Photo – Public Domain
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A to Z Writing: Varied Vocabulary Adds Volumes of Value


Vocabulary is vital for writers, but we don’t always see it on the web.

Web content producers strive for search engine optimization (SEO), plunking extra keywords into copy to lure cyber-robots to blog posts, articles and websites. Many internet writers believe repetition is the key to top rankings in search engine results, and the highest rankings usually reap the most readership.

Does repetition spell good writing?

Consider these two paragraphs. Which would you rather read?

The singer sang three songs. Then she walked down the center aisle. She walked into her dressing room for a break before walking onto the stage to sing three more songs.

The soloist performed three numbers before parading down the center aisle. She stepped into her dressing room for a break before returning to the stage to offer an additional trio of tunes.

Which version of the story is most readable and interesting?

Readers and web writers are reaping the benefits of recent changes in search engine formats. Web crawlers have been reprogrammed to recognize synonyms, as they search for keywords relating to web surfers’ queries.

Go ahead, writers. Stretch those verbal muscles. Vie for variation! Readers will still find you.

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Image:  
The Concert Singer
By Thomas Eakins
1892
Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons
2012 A to Z Blogging Challenge logo
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Saturday

A to Z Writing: Unnecessary Add-Ons Upset Understanding


Wordiness is wicked in web writing, and it’s also practically poisonous in print.

Editors have likely used more blue pencils and red ink to scratch out superfluous phrasings in copy.

Check out these 10 examples of wordiness in writing. These sentences simply stand stronger without the excess expressions, indicated in bold.

  1. The grocer raised his prices, saying he had little choice in the matter.
  2. Katy looked in closet and complained she had nothing at all to wear to the dance.
  3. Obviously, the spring term ends in May.
  4. At this time, job hiring levels seem to be rising now.
  5. The grey wolf has, by all intents and purposes, been removed from the endangered species list.
  6. That chocolate cream pie was really, really tasty.
  7. I’d like to know, just for the heck of it, why writers add superfluous phrases.
  8. Salary reviews will continue on an ongoing basis throughout the third quarter.
  9. The moving van is scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m. in the morning.
  10. Mayberry’s top mayoral candidate received a total of 821 votes in the election.

Maybe it’s time to trim the proverbial fat. Removing redundancies almost always results in better writing.

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Colored Pencil Shavings by Jorge Royan
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Friday

A to Z Writing: Tags Are Tops for Topics


Tag, you’re it! Or at least, you may be writing about it.

Social networking tags are terrific for topic specialists. Web writers, in particular, tend to work hard at building their online visibility and sourcing community.

Do you carry a column about biking, birding, or bowling? Maybe you write regularly about careers, cooking, or cars. More than likely, your social networking profiles and friend bases reflect your interests.

Within your area of specialization, folks are likely posting photographs, headlines, event announcements and other newsworthy or notable items. Why not train these folks to tag you in these posts?

I’ve joined groups that apply to my assigned columns and posted tag requests.

Perhaps daily, cyber-friends tag me on relevant items, especially on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook.

On event invitations, I reply with a “maybe,” even if I’m not likely to attend, just so I receive updates. After I’ve done a story, I go back and respond more accurately.

When I’m working on a story, I sometimes even suggest sources tag me in photos, particularly if they are willing to offer me permission to publish those pictures.

Once I have downloaded the images and information, I simply un-tag myself.

Press-savvy sources are likely to email news releases, announcements and photo files. But many folks do not. That’s exactly where tagging enters the picture.

Social networking can make story starts so much simpler.

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Image:  
Mailbox
By Clarita
MorgueFile
2012 A to Z Blogging Challenge logo
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Thursday

A to Z Writing: SASE Simplified

Veteran authors and columnists know the drill. For decades, publishers’ editorial guidelines have insisted that writers include SASEs with their manuscript submissions. 

What is an SASE?

SASE stands for self-addressed, stamped envelope. Traditionally, publishers have requested such inclusions for their own convenience, particularly with unsolicited manuscripts. Writers willingly complied with the SASE protocol, hoping to increase their chances of receiving editorial responses and as assurances that their manuscripts would be returned, if rejected.

Besides the publishing world, the SASE is occasionally used with autograph requests, special event ticket sales, rebate offers and more.
Should a writer still include the SASE with a submission?


In this age of computerized communications, no savvy writer sends a manuscript without saving its document file first. Increasingly, publishers request electronic submissions eliminating papered submissions.

In addition, a growing number of professional literary agents no longer encourage writing clients to follow the increasingly archaic SASE tradition for several reasons:

1. The SASE begs the question of manuscript rejection. Why not display confidence instead?

2. Editors tend to frown upon tattered recycled (read: rejected) manuscripts. Smart writers print new copies for subsequent submissions anyway.

3. Seasoned writers generally request editorial replies in their cover letters, providing their addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses. Snail mail replies are somewhat superfluous these days.
Still, some periodicals and publishing houses continue to require SASEs with incoming manuscripts. Editorial guidelines are must-reads before mailing.
Image:  
Letter Opener
By Amedeo Momo Simonetti
Early 19th Century
Creative Commons Licensing/Wikipedia Commons
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Wednesday

A to Z Writing: A Reporter's Routine Revealed


Reporters write on deadline, grinding out veritable volumes of verbiage daily. Once a writer takes on an assignment, how does he or she race to the finish line with completed copy?

Surely, a system is both strategic and sufficient to keep wordsmiths pounding out productivity.

Brace yourself!

Here’s a regular routine I employ, using the acronym of “BRACE.” This simple structure really does help to support me, particularly when I’m writing on deadline. It is possible to compose quality copy without holdups.

B – Brainstorm

The first step is creative contemplation, as the writer considers various fresh angles for a subject. Suppose the assignment calls for an editorial on a trending news topic. The writer must then consider what unique approach he or she may take to the topic.

R – Research

From in-person interviews to emails, and from books to internet searches, the writer builds the background and basis for the story. This step is critical for fiction and non-fiction alike.

A – Analyze

Critical thinking comes into play at this point, as the writer evaluates the information he or she has collected. What facts are fascinating, and which details are unnecessary or irrelevant?

C – Compose

Now it’s time to begin writing. Usually, the skilled writer starts with an outline or a list of key points to cover. That makes turning out the text much easier.

E – Edit

Proofreading perfects the piece, as the writer pores over every character on the page (or the screen) before clicking the key to print or publish.

And that’s it.

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Notebooks
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Tuesday

A to Z Writing: Quick Quiz on Correct Constructions


It’s easy to use bad grammar in casual speech, text messages and other quick communications. However, correctness still exists, particularly for published work. Can you tell right from wrong in writing?

Here’s the question.

OK, no more monkeying around. Check these 12 sentences. Which are correct, and which are quagmires of poor construction?

  1. You’re not supposed to drive the car without fastening your seat belt.
  2. Its a long way from a tyrannosaurus’ nose to it’s tail.
  3. They’re sure that their parents grew up there in that neighborhood.
  4. I can not tell a lie, even if you insist.
  5. Everyone has their own opinion.
  6. If you love horses more then I do, than I will be surprised.
  7. A pair of security guards are going to lock up the building after the big game.
  8. The drag queen dragged the drugs all the way from the drugstore. What a drag.
  9. The nauseous smell made Nathan nauseated.
  10. If you keep your keys on a lose key ring, you might loose them.
  11. You’ve got to be kidding when you tell me you got a new dog.
  12. I would of asked you to the party, if I’d known you’d come.

Do you think you have spotted the correct and incorrect sentences? What’s wrong with the faulty ones?

Scroll down for the answer. Post your corrections in the comments, if you can.

The correct sentences are numbers 1, 3, 8, 9. How did you do?

Image:  
Gorilla Scratching His Head
By Steven Straiton
Creative Commons Licensing/Wikipedia Commons
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Monday

A to Z Writing: Public Domain Is Fair Game


With plagiarism and copyright infringement running rampant in cyberspace (and perhaps in print), how can writers tell what works are free to copy? What artwork and content is considered reproducible with no strings attached?

Public domain materials are available across the board. Writers may quote, cite or even copy these works without permission or royalties, although the original author must be credited. Also, it’s advisable to cite sources whenever possible.

What constitutes public domain?

Intellectual, musical, and artistic properties may become public domain for a number of reasons.

Copyrights may have expired, or forfeited by their holders. Generally, copyrighted material transfers into the public domain 70 years after the author’s death, 95 years after publication, or 120 years after the work’s creation (whichever comes first). Of course, copyrights may be extended, in certain cases, by authors or their heirs.

Works created by U.S. Government employees on official duty are considered public domain. For example, photographs shot by U.S. Armed Forces members on military installations or during active duty fit the bill.

What are some examples of public domain works?

Popular public domain materials include:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
  • “Auld Lang Syne”
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  • The Constitution of the United States
  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  • Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
  • The Holy Bible (older translations)
  • “Jingle Bells”
  • Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
  • “The Pledge of Allegiance”
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Scientific principles and mathematical formulae

Kindle and Nook users frequently find public domain works available as free downloads.

Web writers seeking illustrations or photography to accompany their work often search public domain photo sites for appropriate images, which may be simply used without licensing or repercussions.


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Books
ClipArt ETC – Public Domain
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Sunday

A to Z Writing: One-Sided Output is Optimum


When it comes to submitting work to publishers, one-sidedness is a good thing.

We’re all for ecology, saving papers and trees. But editors almost universally loathe two-sided manuscripts. The ink smudges. The pages stick together. 

It’s a real mess.

I’ve spent a few years on editorial desks, and I agree.

Writers invest both time and talent to produce and proofread publication-worthy manuscripts. Why not present these in the best possible way?

A respectable manuscript should be double-spaced and printed one-sided on clean white 20-pound copy paper with standard margins all around.

The cover letter must be placed on top of the title page and attached with a paper clip. Skip the staples, and stick a clean rubber band around the entire bundle.

Place the entire one-sided stack (unfolded, of course) in a sturdy envelope, whisper a prayer, and whisk the entire package off to the post office.

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Typing Writer and Mailboxes
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Saturday

A to Z Writing: Noms de Plume Need No Introduction


Writers have adopted noms de plume, or pen names, throughout literary history.

A novelist, poet, or journalist may employ a pseudonym for privacy purposes. Others might use noms de plume to conceal a nationality, mask gender or hide shared authorship.

Still more may write under pen names to separate genres under which they write. For example, a financial writer might use a nom de plume to pen romance novels. A best-selling horror writer could adopt a pseudonym to write children’s books.

Consider these 15 examples of famous authors’ noms de plume:

  • Anatole France – Jacques Anatole Fran├žois Thibault
  • Ann Landers – Esther Pauline Friedman
  • Ayn Rand – Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum
  • Dr. Seuss – Theodor Seuss Geisel
  • Ellery Queen – Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
  • George Eliot – Mary Ann Evans
  • George Orwell – Eric Arthur Blair
  • James Herriot – James Alfred Wight
  • Joseph Conrad - Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski
  • Lemony Snicket – Daniel Handler
  • Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
  • Mark Twain – Samuel Langhorne Clemens
  • O. Henry – William Sydney Porter
  • Saki – Hector Hugh Munro
  • Sapphire – Ramona Lofton

Personally, I use a pen name.

It started when I branched out from a professional corporate communications career into creative writing. Of course, my nom de plume made even more sense when I began blogging and writing for multiple online news sites.

Have you seen some of the comments readers stick on political and sports articles?

 I prefer the privacy of a pen name. My real name reaps very little on a Google, Bing, or Yahoo search. But my pseudonym turns up enough.

And nope, I’m not telling.


Sometimes, using a pseudonym allows a writer to be extra candid and truthful.

More than a few writing colleagues have confessed that they find more freedom in sharing personal anecdotes under the protection of their pen names. Like the famous opening line from the 1950s-1960s Dragnet television series, “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

That is, if you can call the writers innocent. But that’s another blog post altogether.

Image:  
Writing Hands by Sandro Botticelli
Circa 1485
Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons
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