Monday, December 26, 2011

Hey, I just learned something!

In my previous post about the word “it,” I mentioned the first line of A Tale of Two Cities – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … “. I just learned that there is a name for this type of repetition – anaphora, (pronounced uh-naf-er-uh).  When a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of two or more successive sentences, verses or clauses – the result is an anaphora.  
In oral communications class, we discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech, and the repetition of that same phrase within the speech. When used correctly, repeating a phrase can emphasize an important idea and help people remember what was said. I would argue that Dickens and King used anaphora correctly.
When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying. When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying. When used incorrectly, however, repetition can become monotonous and annoying.  
Like many other style and grammar rules, there aren’t hard and fast rules for exceptions. Great writers break rules, and the writing works. Not-so-great-writers also break rules, and the writing may not work. Sometimes we just know it when we read it.
Write soon,
 (For those of you who are following along, I just realized that I added the word “just” to the headline today, and I also used it in this sentence. See, I wasn’t just (uh oh, there it goes again!) kidding about using the word “just.”)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writer, edit thyself

Why can’t we write well the first time? There must be some sort of disconnect between what we want to write, and what we actually write, because what sounds good in our brains often shows up on the page as something not-quite-as-wonderful. Last month I gave a presentation on editing at the Ozarks Writers League. I don’t have the space here to include everything I covered, but will concentrate on deleting unnecessary words to strengthen your writing.  
Delete words placed before adjectives and adverbs that attempt to intensify an effect, but accomplish just the opposite. Words like very, so, quite, extremely, really, and absolutely. We're very hungry. Thank you so much. The spaghetti was extremely good, etc. (I used the word “so” four times in the last paragraph before editing. Even as I’m writing about what not to do, I’m still making those errors!)
According to, a qualifier is a word or phrase that precedes an adjective or adverb, increasing or decreasing the quality signified by the word it modifies (adverbs of degree). Common qualifiers include (though some of these words have other functions as well, and overlap into the intensifiers category): completely, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.
I “just” like it
If there were a competition, I would win the “Most Use of the word ‘Just’ in Writing” award. I don’t know what it is about that word, but I just like it. I just can’t help myself. I wish it were easy, but I just can’t stop using it. It’s just a bad habit, and I just wish it would go away.
If you have favorite words like “just,” and “so,” that you overuse, “search” for those words when you’re editing, and delete them. 
There is always a more specific word for "thing" or "things." Dr. Seuss is the only one who can get away with it.
“Cousin It”

Be specific. Name the "it." One of the professors on my thesis committee hated sentences that began with the word “it.” I look for them in my writing, and can’t say I delete of all of them, but I can rewrite most of the sentences to make them stronger.
Like all writing there are exceptions to every rule. This last one, especially, because of the power of the first sentence in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … “. I’m glad my professor didn’t get a hold of that sentence because she probably would have ruined it!
Write soon,

Monday, December 12, 2011

St. Louis Writers Guild Last-Minute Holiday Book Fair

Author T.W. Fendley will sign copies of her book Zero Time at the St. Louis Writers Guild Last-Minute Holiday Book Fair Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Kirkwood Train Station, 101 W. Argonne Dr., Kirkwood.

Contributors of St. Louis Reflections, an anthology to honor St. Louis Writers Guild's 90th Anniversary, will read selections and sign the anthology. Books by other Guild members also will be available, along with wine, cheese, and trains as authors reflect on the city.

Write soon,


Sunday, December 11, 2011

More on procrastination -- the big picture

Remember the “But, first … phenomenon” I wrote about last time? I want to follow up and remind everyone, including me, that we all have many things keeping us from doing what we want or need to do. The key to accomplishing anything is to focus on what is important. Don’t let what is in front of you keep you from getting what you want. Keep your eye on the big picture.

When I was writing my book, “Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing,” I wrote for a very long time before it looked like a book. And every day there was something right in front of me that I wanted or needed to do instead of writing. But I also really wanted to write a book. So if I hadn’t kept that big goal in mind, it would have been easy to do millions of other things instead of writing the book. As it was, I usually wrote late at night because I was doing all that other stuff during the day, and by the time it was finished, everyone else was in bed. That’s when I was able to write, so that’s when I wrote.

I hear excuses from students every day. They tell me they can’t do an assignment because their printers/cars/computers/jump drives/insert any other items here/ broke. Or they have other obligations. I am amazed at how many people rely solely on my students to get medical care. They tell me they had to take their moms/dads/brothers/sisters/aunts/uncles/grandmas/grandpas/cousins/nieces/nephews/neighbors/neighbors’ cats (yes, I heard that excuse) to the doctor or vet (in the case of the cat).

Something came up. I get that. But when that something is finished, why not do it then? Most of them didn’t leave the doctor’s or vet’s office to come to class. They went home, went to bed, took a shower, ate breakfast, and probably a few other things (maybe watched a little TV to relax?) before they drove to school.  

My friend, Robin, told me we all have the same 24 hours in the day, and we get to decide how to use them. Use the time you have to do what you need to do. I’ve graded many papers sitting on bleachers watching my kids practice sports, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office and in the very early or late hours of a day.

Make a daily schedule for writing, and stick to it. If you plug away for an hour, or two pages, or 100 words, or 500 words, then every day you will be closer to your goal. It’s the people who keep the big goals in mind that accomplish big things.

Write soon,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done

When I was in college, my dorm room was cleaned when my roommate and I both had homework or other class projects to work on. We realized this pattern about halfway through our first semester, but we never changed. I called it the “But, first … “ phenomenon.

When you aren’t doing what you should be doing, what are you doing? Nothing? Probably not. If you’re like me, you’re probably doing something else. So let’s stop beating ourselves up about procrastination. Maybe we just need to reorganize our thoughts about it. (I know, I know, isn’t that just one more thing to put on our to-do list?)

It’s not that I’m not the not best at focus and determination. It’s that I always have one little thing to do first before I can begin to do what I should be doing. For instance, I needed to create this blog post, but first, I had to throw in a load of laundry, write out a grocery list, run to the store for just a few things, and grade some papers.

Before I can do that big project that requires creative energy, I will do these little things, but somehow, those little things end up taking a lot of time, and as the deadline nears, I haven’t finished the project that I need to finish.

But those little things that keep life running smoothly have been finished. We have clothes to wear, food in the pantry, and a schedule that we can follow. What can we do? I’ve developed a list of four items to keep in mind when you are overwhelmed with projects.

1)    1) Delegate
2)     2)  Keep a list
3)     3) Limit your to-do list
4)     4) Don’t give up

First, give others the opportunity to be responsible. Everyone wins, especially kids because they learn valuable life skills.

Second, don’t forget the importance of keeping a list. The simple process of writing it down and then crossing it off gives everyone a sense of accomplishment.

Third, I worked with a woman who told me to never put more than three items on your to-do list for any given day. She said there is an unwritten law of the universe that says you can’t accomplish more than three items in a day. (She was correct.)

Fourth, don’t give up, ever. Keep plugging away, and some day, it will all come together. And if it doesn’t, keep working on it anyway. Because there’s always tomorrow, and we all know what a difference a day makes.

Write soon,