Tag Archives: blogging

Recognizing the Crutch

Over the years, usually but not always in the context of discussions with atheists about religion, I’ve heard people say derisive things about the use of any sort of crutch. I’m not out to discuss the weakness of a “religion is a crutch” polemic, however.

I’ve discovered my writer’s crutch today: the Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad.

Made of 100% pure American freedom!

I do most my writing and note-taking on the go somewhere… Coffee shops, lunch breaks at work, a few quiet moments before a flight or immediately after the duty day is over. Even when I schedule time at home to write, I often gravitate toward the iPad in its handy ZAGG case with built-in Bluetooth keyboard. 

I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, but the case essentially turns the iPad into a Notebook or mini-laptop. The keyboard is slightly small, but large enough that my fingers have gotten accustomed to the locations of the keys. I can type whole sentences with my eyes closed and they turn out fine. (Like that one did… Ok, Autocorrect helped on ‘sentences’ when I felt myself add too many n’s, but still…)

So the other day I re-learned the lesson that water + electronics = failure. I dipped the corner of the case and iPad into the bathtub. Yes, I took a bath with it. I just love it that much. (My lawyers suggest I delete the last few sentences, but I won’t be silenced!)

The iPad survived just fine (minus a tiny bit of condensation in the corner), but the keyboard case started malfunctioning shortly after, and never worked right again. I even tried the “put it in a bag of rice” trick that has saved many an iPhone from demise. No joy.

This story isn’t really going anywhere other than to say I understand more fully one of my weaknesses and dependencies. Like a steady supply of coffee, functional user-friendly technology, and Internet access, the Bluetooth keyboard is a God-given Constitutional right wonderful amenity I refuse to do without, so much as it’s in my power to choose.



I’m excited about the new look on this page. Apparently I’ve had this going for four years or so. (Thanks, WordPress, for making me feel old.) But I kept with the same theme for the better part of that timeframe.

I played around with my original theme’s sidebar widgets to see if I could display book covers with the pages giving a preview of those books’ contents. No dice.

So eventually I chose a new theme, moved things around, supplied some new links, and clicked “Save & Publish.”


I know, I know. Good job, Dave. You did the basic things necessary, things that probably every blogger has to figure out sooner or later. Would you like a high-five or a cookie for all your hard work? TOO BAD.

One thing I’d like to point out is that I’ve added a link to my WattPad profile on the right hand sidebar. In addition to similar previews of my self-published novels, it also has a collection of some short stories posted on this blog as well as the ongoing adventures of Grant & Teagan from my BlogBattles entries. Those are compiled in:

The Ginger of Galway on WattPad

On top of that, I have an almost-finished WattPad novel that’s only available on that site:

Echoes on WattPad

Hooray for linking social media together!

Author & Book Promotions

From Dave – many of you on WordPress know the Opinionated Man, Jason Cushman. He has often made his blog available to help those with smaller followings gain some free exposure. He is now using his large following as an opportunity to promote indie and self-published authors, myself included. 

My experience with Jason has been very positive. He’s shown himself to be dedicated and eager to help others pursue success. 

Please share this on! I am offering contracts to promote authors and their books. I know there are many indie authors and writers that struggle to get their books noticed! It is a tough and competitive business right now and everyone wants to write a book these days. There are very few opportunities to get […]


Considering Why

A blog I follow on writing posted this lovely YouTube video of my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson:

His personal story is compelling to me on several levels.

I’ve said elsewhere on this site that it feels like I do a number of things at the “karaoke” level — well enough that people are impressed, but only when it’s free. Writing is one such endeavor.

Songwriting for Christian worship services is another. I have over a hundred songs inspired by sermons and Scripture over the last seventeen years. Some have been used in church services for a season, many have been files taking up space on a hard drive. Similarly, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, including two complete novel manuscripts and several short stories. But most of those are (for now) using up cloud storage space and nothing more.

Positive feedback from alpha readers is helpful. But let’s be honest; these are my friends and acquaintances over the years. They’re willing to pick up and read a novel because we already have a connection. I won’t be so lucky with your average reader browsing through a pile of self-published e-books on Amazon.

A friend of mine sent me this picture, which I took as much needed encouragement:  

So… why write? Am I willing to put forth the effort to craft the seven or eight novels bouncing in my head at present, knowing they may do nothing more than collect dust and entertain my kids? Am I willing to pen songs for personal worship knowing they might never be played in a public setting? Am I willing to throw a handful of words onto this webpage and click “Publish” knowing I might never have a bunch of Likes or hits?

Yes. I hope you are too.

Top Ten Posts

I’ve been making an effort to reach out to more people online, and as a result (no surprise) I’ve had more visitors.

With an eclectic mix of topics, I fear people will show up and discover that a blog isn’t what they expected. It’d be better perhaps if a viewer could get a quick idea of what content they’ll find.

So here’s the (slightly revised) Top Ten blog posts on my site, part based on views and part based on interaction, with a little explanation for each.

1. D&D Next: Character Creation – I play RPGs, and a friend and I started testing the rules for the new system of Dungeons & Dragons. I posted my experience creating a character, and it receives attention every week. <em>But those rules are out of date!</em> I’ve posted a new synopsis of my experience with 5th Edition rules at this link. If you’re familiar with D&D, and curious about 5E, check it out. If you’re not familiar, maybe take a look and see why this game is the most popular RPG of all time.

2. Yes You Can – This post’s success, I think, is a fluke based on the title. It also gets views every week. I wrote it during a Democratic National Convention, so the “Yes We Can” slogan was constantly in my ears. But this is only an inspirational post about determination in achieving goals. Hey, if you need a little encouraging pick-me-up, there you go.

3. So Help Me God – The interplay between faith and politics is of interest to me, because sometimes it leads to amazing frustration on both sides. Case in point: the Air Force recently tried to prevent an atheist from reenlisting to defend our country because he would not say “so help me God” at the end of his oath. This caused a big stir among my atheist friends, and it also garnered some emotional responses from “patriotic” believers out there in the Web. I made a case in this post that requiring this phrase in the oath was an absolute waste of time.

4. 40th Anniversary Poem – My parents recently celebrated their 40th anniversary, and I was asked to write a poem for the occasion since the military was going to move me overseas months prior to the event. I struggled for a bit, but all the Sunday School stories in my youth paid off. I was blessed to be able to deliver the poem in person.

5. Pride – This is a short story I wrote–completely fictional as an event, but something I’d hope I’d actually be able to live out. Certain songs reminded me that Christians are too often known for what we’re against than what we’re for, and this was my response to those thoughts. It starts off with a bit of stereotype that would have been best left out. But that’s what I wrote. As-is, it’s the post that has garnered the most comments & interaction on my site.

6. Who is My Neighbor – This was born out of discussion about illegal immigration, when proud patriots were stopping buses full of people shouting “We don’t want you!” and when people heard about some of these poor immigrants being given money to acquire food at Wal-Mart. Immigration reform is a difficult, multi-faceted issue. But there’s something to be said for mercy, and I hope I said it well.

7. Song: My Savior’s Love – I modernized a favorite hymn and added a bit of a chorus to it. Lyrics are provided, along with a link to SoundCloud where I have an amateurish recording of the song.

8. Elements of Critique: Appearance – This post started my 2014 A-Z blog challenge, covering topics related to critiquing writing. My favorite experience of my recent 2.5 years in the States was the special Critique Group I joined. I learned so much from each member, and my writing improved drastically.

9. D&D Next: Skills – If you still aren’t sold on the kind of fun and creativity that D&D and other RPGs can inspire, here’s the second-highest-viewed post on my D&D playtest experiment, covering how a character’s skills can get them out of (or into) trouble in the game.

10. Free Critique Group Guide – As I said before, I loved my experience in Critique Group… so much so that I made it the focus of 30 posts for an A-Z Blog Challenge this year. These were well received by my writer friends, so I compiled them into one 64-page PDF and put it on my site as a free gift. Why? Because nothing–no seminar, no discussion, no online article, no book–<em>nothing</em> has made the difference in my skill and passion as an aspiring writer so much as being in a good Critique Group. If you’re in one, this may give you new ideas on what to look for, what sort of feedback to give, and what pitfalls to avoid. If you’re not in a group but wish you were, the last three chapters are all about how to run your own. Free gift. Enjoy. Because I know I have.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you find something you like. Let me know if you do, because I’ll be visiting your site looking for something fresh and new for my blog reader as well.




The Power of a Blog

Some people measure their blog’s success in views and visitors. For others, the measurement might be the number of armed policemen who show up in the middle of the night.

The news out of Hong Kong reminded me that I’ve had this draft post in the hopper, waiting to be completed.

I recently completed a Mandarin-Chinese language refresher course.

As part of our exposure to cultural issues, our teacher brought a documentary called “High Tech, Low Life” which followed the lives of two Chinese bloggers and their experiences dealing with China’s governmental restrictions on expression.

Here’s the trailer.


One is a man in his fifties, who goes by the name Tiger Temple. He refuses to be called a “citizen blogger” because creating a label or category like that invites government crackdown and restrictions on what “citizen bloggers” are permitted to write.

The other is a man in his twenties, Zhou Shuguang, who is well on his way to a form of celebrity status on the Internet. He is even invited to speak to a worldwide forum in Germany about China’s web restrictions and his blogging experiences.

I watched with interest and was challenged by thoughts about the power of this concept called a “blog.”

At one point, ten armed policemen come for Tiger Temple, swarming the humble older man in his temporary home. They pack him into a van and drive him back to his hometown several hours away from the city.

Why? To quell fears that his communicated thoughts or even mere presence might create a disturbance to the status quo during an important conference of Communist leadership.

All because a man jots down his experiences and thoughts about life happening around him.

Tiger Temple writes because he sees it as a way of showing the real situation wherever he is, and a way to ensure that the voiceless get their stories heard.

Zhou Shuguang makes it clear he has no such altruistic thoughts about the purpose of his online activities. He’s not out to make a political scene to defend someone else or call out the government about an issue unrelated to him. But he still stands as an example of someone demanding the basic rights and freedoms of humanity – the right to think as we desire and speak as we like. His focus may be self-centered but his action still benefits many.

This made me wonder: Do I value my ability to communicate freely the way these men do? Would I suffer personal loss or some level of government oppression to keep saying whatever I want on the Internet?

It’s easy to say whatever I want when hitting “Post” costs me nothing.

Critique Group Freebie

In April I participated in the annual A-to-Z Blog Challenge, with “Elements of Critique” as my theme. I wrote from A to Z (plus 3 extra posts) on everything to look for when critiquing someone’s writing, as well as a suggested method of running a critique group.

The series was well-received, and I committed to compiling the posts into one handy document.

Finally, the 64-page PDF is available, set up for easy digital viewing with hyperlinked chapters and table of contents.

It’s free for personal use, because I’d love for other writers to get the benefits and joy I received from attending a positive and helpful critique group.

Elements of Critique

If you find it useful, I’d love to know. It’s also going to remain on a permanent page at the front of my WordPress site.

Thanks for the encouragement along the way. I hope this serves you well.

Elements of Critique: Hooks

“It’s only 3 AM. Just one more chapter…”

I can’t count how many times I’ve looked at my watch or the clock in the middle of the night and justified reading the next chapter of a good book. What is it that sucks me in, holding me captive to the storyline?

Or how about the books I pick up at the store? I flip through the first few pages to check them out. What moves me from “Hmm, interesting” to a purchase?

The powerful concept that manages both these experiences is the Hook. And since most of us hope to do more with our writing than file it away in a desk drawer or folder on the computer’s drive, the hook is something I look for when I critique other writing.

A piece should start with a hook. “Why should I read this thing? Why should I care? Get my attention.” I say that, because that’s what an editor is going to be wondering. So if a fiction scene starts off with a long peaceful account of John and Mary’s mundane dinner conversation, or a description of the magnificent table and the sweetness of Grandma Myrtle’s special meatloaf recipe, no one cares.

Ok, the writer obviously cares, and maybe the critique group cares, because we’re friends helping each other out. So I might read that thing.

When daughter Sarah bursts into the dinner screaming “Help! Timmy’s bleeding all over the place. The neighbor’s dog did it!” – well, now it has my attention.

A hook creates questions that demand answers.

How bad is Timmy bleeding?
Was it his fault?
What’s the deal with the neighbor’s dog?
Do these families get along?

Better yet, consider the difference between “It was the neighbor’s dog” and “It was the neighbor’s dog again.” One added word tells some interesting backstory right at the start, creating more questions.

Conflict arises. Curiosity follows.

So the hook belongs as close to the beginning as possible. Depending on the length of a piece, it might go right at the start. A personal story would begin with Sarah’s outburst, then describe the disruption to a peaceful dinner as John and Mary scramble to Timmy’s aid.

The principle is still true even if the subject is nonfiction. A nonfiction article might pose a question or make a statement about the importance of the subject–better yet, suggest what life would be like if things were different. “Were it not for the heroic actions of the 82nd Airborne leading up to Normandy, D-Day might have been the greatest Allied loss of World War II.”

What did the 82nd do?
How did they impact the success of the Normandy invasion?
What might have happened if the Allies failed at Normandy?

Hooks are all about creating and keeping reader interest from the start. The work has to stand out in a heap of other submissions, blog posts, and manuscripts in someone’s inbox. So I look for something that grabs my attention near the beginning. Because if I’m not that interested when I’m reading something for a friend, no one will pay attention when it’s merely a matter of impersonal business.

In my post on “endings” I mentioned chapters in a novel needing some resolution to the scene they present. Sometimes a break from the urgency of events in the story might be nice, so there are certainly places where a calm ending is appropriate.

However, chapters should rarely end with a sense of satisfaction that lets a reader put in a bookmark for later. When dealing with longer works, a hook usually belongs at the end, in addition to the resolution of that scene.

The hook serves the same function here: it creates questions that have to be answered. But in this case, the answer is in the next chapter, and the reader dutifully turns the page, ignoring the clock.

When the hero develops an unspecified plan to defeat the villain, or when a third mysterious party arrives in the middle of a pitched battle, that’s a hook. When a character makes a decision to interfere in an upcoming event, or someone receives tragic news that makes them scream or clutch at the letter, that creates questions. The hero leaps into the fray even though he knows he cannot possibly win the battle. The heroine torn between two mutually exclusive choices realizes which one means the most to her, and moves into action to save that part of her life, at the cost of the other.

These questions have to remain largely unanswered at the end of a chapter, to create a demand for “What’s going to happen next?”

If I’m critiquing a chapter of someone’s project, if I don’t feel that drive, then I’ve identified a potential problem they’ll want to address before their work gets to the hands of an editor.

Otherwise what happens next is potentially a rejection slip.

What happens next on this A to Z? I’ll describe looking for writing that creates and maintains intensity. The first page and the last page matter, but so do the pages in the middle.

Elements of Critique: Grammar

I play piano by ear.

When I took 8 years of lessons, I learned to read the notes but never really grasped how all the marks worked to interpret tempo. So I’d hit right notes with wrong timing. My teacher would say, “Let me show you how that’s supposed to sound.” He’d play the song, but instead of understanding the notation, I simply duplicated what he did.

I’m amazed at musicians who can sit down with an unfamiliar piece of sheet music and produce the song in question. I cannot. They can, because they’ve taken the time to learn the rules of notation: such a mark means a note of this length, those symbols mean a delay of a certain duration between notes, and so on.

This universal method of notation means musicians have a common language. Even if they’ve never heard a piece of music, they can read the notes on the sheet and duplicate the song.

So it is with grammar. Outside of English lessons in school, which many of us brain-dumped as soon as we passed those courses, we all learn to communicate “by ear.” We read something with poor grammar and say, “That sounds weird.” We hear someone speak and cock our heads. “That’s not how anyone says it…”

But this is vague and occasionally unreliable. Learning the rules lets us communicate clear and precise thoughts. Like the old tale about bankers identifying counterfeit money, perhaps the best way to learn to pick out what’s wrong is to study what’s correct, especially in any case where one feels uncertain. Grammar rules are facts (bonus points for a reference to yesterday’s post) worthy of a writer’s research.

However, English is notorious for its abundance of rules and exceptions, so there’s no room in this post for a thorough list. Staying true to verb tense is a frequent enough problem that it will get its own post, even though it falls into this category. Punctuation misuse or lack thereof will also be covered later.

So here are a few other examples of what catches my critical eye:

Misplaced modifiers – Word order can create or prevent confusion in the reader. In my second paragraph I originally wrote “delay between notes of a certain duration.” The delay is between the notes. It is a delay of a certain duration. But as written, this may raise the question, “Duration of notes? Or duration of delay?” I had to move the modifier.

Singular/plural verb matching – What’s the actual subject of the sentence? Many times we look at the noun immediately preceeding the verb. “The fireworks excite me” and “The display of fireworks excites me” are correct, even though “…fireworks excites me” sounds wrong since a plural noun precedes a verb ending in -s.

Sentence fragments – Every sentence consists of a subject and a verb phrase. Sometimes in description, in argument, or in haste, writers forget to include both.
“John turned at the low growl and saw a huge dog. Black and hairy, teeth bared, eyes fixed on the intruder in its home.”
“When you argue using circular logic, you have no case. Because the points you make depend on each other to prove.”
The second “sentence” is the sort I see often. In the first case, words are missing. I know the dog is the subject, but grammar demands the writer say so. In the second case, the problem is an extra word. The unnecessary “because” needs a phrase preceeding it in the same sentence. Taking it out fixes the problem.

When MS Word gives warning of a grammar mistake, wisdom pays attention. And if there’s any doubt, a web search will find numerous resources. Grammar Girl and any Oatmeal lessons are favorites of mine, as they take the time to explain the rules in a sharp and witty delivery. (The Oatmeal pictures and language sometimes get pretty coarse. You have been warned.)

Learning grammar to critique writing improves my own efforts. While I happily accept the title of “Grammar Nazi” at times, I make mistakes too. That’s part of why I go to critique group. No one is perfect.

Also, I use my understanding of grammar to my advantage. Sometimes that sentence fragment with bad grammar communicates exactly what I need in a scene, and I need to feel liberated enough to ignore the judgmental green squiggle of MS Word. (Besides, Word and Apple’s auto-correct love to suggest “it’s” for a non-gender possessive, so what do they know?)

There’s a quote attributed (perhaps in error) to Pablo Picasso that sums up this final point: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Speaking of artistry, tomorrow on this A-Z is all about looking in someone’s writing for the art of fishing. Answering “Will this piece of writing get readers to turn the page?” and explaining why.

(Did you catch the grammar mistake there?)

Elements of Critique: Facts

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier just released, perhaps it is no coincidence that “Everything Wrong with Captain America” popped up in my YouTube feed the other day.

If you haven’t seen an “Everything Wrong with…” video, it’s a recap of a movie, counting up movie sins like cliches and plot holes. There’s usually strong language.

One of the “sins” committed in the original Captain America movie is an ad on the wall of an alley, showing a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the some-team-I-don’t-care-about. The makers of the video point out that such a game never happened, or at least not on the date shown.

Steve Rogers is standing up to a jerk, getting beaten up (this is prior to him getting super strength), and viewers take the time to look at the print ad on the wall?

This is an example of why Facts matter when critiquing writing: because there’s always going to be someone wanting to prove the writer wrong. The flip side is, by including accurate factual information, the writer gains the trust of the reader.

So I look at anything factual that is included in the piece. For example, I recently read a manuscript that refered to PTSD as a diagnosis for someone in the mid ’80s. That triggered a flag in my mind, so I looked up when was PTSD first used in psychiatric care. (It was in use in official American Psychiatric Association documents in 1980. I learned something new.)

As another example, I just looked up the abbreviation APA because I wanted to type “Psychiatry” above instead of the correct “Psychiatric.” It would be pretty bad to abuse factual information in a post about facts, right?

A close cousin to factual information, I also look for anything that feels anachronistic – in the wrong time – when I critique someone’s writing. In a fantasy novel I’m reading to my kids, the writer said the magic power was like lightning “injected into his veins.” That gets the point across, but the term made me think modern medicine, not epic fantasy.

Sometimes what I note isn’t a fact but a lack thereof. It’s easy to gloss over something unfamiliar, to hand-wave it away or dodge the subject with a quick description. If the subject isn’t important to the story, then perhaps a writer can get away with this. But if it feels like something’s missing, that catches my attention away from the story and puts it on the writing itself.

For example, the manuscript I mentioned above had a scene with a victim of a car accident trapped in her vehicle. Rescuers used a hydraulic cutting device called “the jaws of life” to get her out. In the middle of the engaging scene, the rescuer said, “This is going to be loud.” The next sentence said, “A few long moments later, she could breathe fresh air again.”

That left me wanting more. This is a spot where factual information and description can put us there at the scene of the accident. I suggested describing shearing metal and shattering glass. Then I found a video of the tool in action and sent it to her.

Remember the point of critique is not to pick on flaws or weaknesses, but to build up the piece, to make it better.

That said, I also suggest writers don’t get caught up in being absolutely 100% accurate, unless they’re writing non-fiction with scientific, historical, or technical details. If I’m writing and I don’t know a specific thing (and it’s not worth a bit of research), I can be vague enough to tell the story without drawing the ire of fact-checker readers.

In an account of a conversation that happened 30 years ago as a child, I’ll trust a writer who says they were five. I’ll trust it was 2 PM, even if it could have been between 1 and 4 PM. There’s no need to offer caveats and explanations to cover each possibility.

To sum up, facts matter, unless the subject doesn’t.

Tomorrow, I’ll don my armband and jackboots to write about Grammar.