Monday, July 31, 2006

Creative Writing: Mind Your Grammar

One of my oldest pet peeves is the dangling participle. Such a pet peeve, in fact, that I made fun of them in a series of cartoons I drew in grade school...yes, I'm a grammar geek.

The problem is, many writers today don't even know what a participle is, let alone what happens when it's left dangling. Well, I've dug into Pamela Beers' writing again, and found she has an excellent explanation of the problem--and the cure.

Pardon Me, Your Participle Is Dangling
By Pamela Beers

I had a dream about dangling participles last night; probably because I had a bowl of chocolate-chip, fudge brownie, chocolate ice cream followed by a second bowl of hand picked sweet cherries, before I went to bed. Instead of sugarplums dancing in my head, there were dangling participles hovering over the bedpost. It sounds kind of kinky doesn't it?

What is a participle? It is a word ending in "ing" and sometimes "ed". It looks like a verb but acts as an adjective. A participle is used to describe other words in a sentence.

Dangling participles are writing faux pas. They are often humorous without intending to be, but can be both confusing and annoying when trying to convey a message. In order to avoid dangling participles in your writing, be specific. Avoid generalizations. Two examples of generalizations are "there is", and "it".

Make sure you include a noun or verb in the sentence for the participle to clearly modify. A modifier is a word or group of words that describe other words in a sentence.

Whew! Let's see now, dangling participles, verbs, adjectives, modifiers, there's a lot to think about. Let's have fun with dangling participles and their sometimes humorous, but confusing messages.

1.Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided. (Is the dangling participle writing carefully?)

Correct: Avoid dangling participles while you are writing.

2. Flitting from flower to flower, the baseball player watched the bee. (I don't think the baseball player is flitting from flower to flower, but you never know.)

Correct: The baseball player watched the bee flitting from flower to flower.

3. After being cracked open, the cook boiled the egg. (Oh, oh violence in the kitchen! I hope the cook wasn't cracked open before the egg was boiled.)

Correct: The cook boiled the egg after it was cracked open.

4. Leaping off the cliff, I saw the mountain goat land safely 20 feet below me. (Look out below; the goat and I are on our way down!)

Correct: Leaping off the cliff, the mountain goat landed safely 20 feet below me.

So, folks, a dangling participle is not some kinky physical problem. It is a grammar problem. When writing, make your communication clear.

ALWAYS remember never to eat chocolate-chip, fudge brownie, chocolate ice cream followed by sweet cherries, before going to bed. I sometimes have a problem with dangling participles, but today I have a stomachache.

Copyright © 2006 by Pamela Beers. All rights reserved.

Pamela Beers is a freelance writier, and educator. Visit her website at for writing and marketing tips.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Creative Writing: Let’s Try Mindmapping

I’ve been a little short on inspiration the last few days (you may have noticed by the lack of original content!). I went searching for new ideas, and found an interesting article on how to outline a book. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but I intend to.

How to Outline your Book and Chapters with Mindmapping
By Judy Cullins

Mindmapping is better than linear outlining because authors can use flexible thinking and relativity in writing their book. One can add and subtract a thought or phrase from a mindmap easily. Mindmapping is an excellent way to start, organize, and finish your book.

What is Mindmapping?

Mindmapping is a color-coded outline of main ideas, sub topics and details, printed on different colored branches connected to the center. In the center in a circle, you will list your main idea, such as your book or chapter title.

For "The One-Minute Sales Person", Spencer's mindmap would have had seven different colored vertical branches coming from that center, so details can be put on connected horizontal branches--much easier to read.

What are the advantages of Mindmapping?

First, a mindmap is open-ended and open-minded. No more squeezing new "ahas" or ideas into the strict, tight form of the linear outline. You can make mistakes in your mindmaps. Imperfection leads to creativity. When you get an idea for chapter one, you can just add another branch off the main one. Mindmapping expands flexible thinking, making for better writing.

Second, mindmaps use only three to five concrete or color words on a branch. These key words help jog our memory. Under Chapter One "Attracting Passion," I added several horizontal lines that represented the format that follows. One line had "opening quote," the next one "introduction," the next one "Jerry's Story," the next "Food for Thought and Action," the next, "Passion Hot Line," the last line, "practice."

Third, mindmaps speed up your writing because you only write key phrases. When you sit down at the computer, from your color-coded map, the answers will flow naturally. If you need to fatten up your chapter, just go to your chapter file folders where you keep your research.

Fourth, in mindmaps you see the whole related to the parts. Your thesis, chapter titles, and chapter contents all flow because you answered each question your readers had. This fast-forward technique allows me to write at least two or three books each year, and makes each book more organized, more focused and clear, easier to read, and finally brings more sales because people can understand the information quickly and easily.

How Do I Create My Mindmap?

Use a large sheet of paper, at least 8 ½ by 11 inches, but I recommend a large square of butcher paper or poster board, so you can spread out and enjoy the process! Have at least six or seven colored felt-tip pens in primary and bright colors ready.

In the center, encircle your title. Arrange your chapter headings, each on a different colored vertical branch, around the center in any order (you can number them later). If you can't think of a title, put a few key words. Use only one color per branch. Off each main branch, put five or so other horizontal branches of particular chapter parts.

Even though you later change your mind about the contents, this initial mindmap gives you the overall picture of what your book is and what it will share with its readers. I made several mindmaps of my Passion book before I settled on the best information to include.

For the colored mindmapping example, go to

Practice: Create your book's mindmap on a separate piece of paper.

Practice: Create one chapter's mindmap on a separate piece of paper now.

Wow! You are up to speed. You have your thesis--what challenge your book will solve, your chapter working titles, your rough draft evolving with a Table of Contents, and you have questions to answer in each chapter.

Mindmapping is an excellent way to start, organize, and finish your book.

Judy Cullins © 2004 All Rights Reserved.

Judy Cullins, 20-year book and Internet Marketing Coach, Author of 10 eBooks including "Write your eBook Fast," and "How to Market your Business on the Internet," she offers free help through her 2 monthly ezines, The Book Coach Says...and Business Tip of the Month at and over 140 free articles. Email her at

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Writer's Block? Another Perspective

After reading this article, I don't think I'll ever use the term, "writer's block," again!

Writer's Block
By Frances Lynn

Does Writer’s Block really exist? Or, is it a fabled myth in the writer’s tortured psyche?

Is there such a disability as a barren imagination? If a writer convinces himself that he (or she) is blocked, maybe it’s just a form of mental constipation? It's not easy to evict inspiration from one's cranium, in order to translate it in a unique style, onto the screen or paper.

How can a writer be totally blocked, if he still has fragments of conscious ideas fermenting in his head? If a writer has come to a halt with a specific, work-in-progress project, surely it would be beneficial for him to tinker with his other creative ‘avenues’.

Perhaps I’m being cynical when I say that a writer is only truly blocked when he or she is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, like the late Irish Murdoch. To my knowledge I’ve never had an authentic dose of severe writer’s block, even though I’ve been re-writing the same book for years. But, I'm the first to admit, I’m stuck with it, not blocked. My stale project seems to have turned into such a dead-end, that I’m tempted to burn the entire manuscript, Hindu style. However, since someone once advised me never to throw any of my work away, I intend to keep my laborious effort on my computer's hard drive for posterity.

My next ambition is to scrap the entire book and write a virgin draft with a different angle: a more original plot, new characters and a totally different ending. But, how can I bear the agony and no ecstasy of starting afresh, repeating myself with the same theme but with a completely different premise to my original concept? The idea of ruthlessly re-working my old novel makes me freeze before I start. I wish I could blame my fear and loathing on being blocked, but it’s just laziness that prevents me from having to hypnotise myself all over again in order to sit down and re-create my new novel.

Having never been afflicted with an inability to write for prolonged periods, I'm not professionally qualified to debate. But, I should imagine that if a doomed writer has a pathological terror of confronting his sub-conscious demons in order to write, he is likely to obliterate his senses with a concentrated diet of alcohol. That's what I would call a terminal form of writer's block.

Copyright: Frances Lynn 2006

Frances Lynn is a professional writer and journalist. Her novels, "Frantic" and "Crushed" are published by Eiworth Publishing.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Creative Writing: Another Perspective on Getting Ideas

Ideas Galore: Stay Alert
By Pamela Beers

Do you ever wake up in the morning wanting to pull the covers up over your head and go back to sleep? There are just no more ideas left in the old cerebellum. The creative well is dry and your article is due in 36 hours. Now what?

Keeping a list of fresh ideas is a must for writers. To keep that list new, it is important to be aware of what intrigues you while searching, or just glancing through, the various publications you have at your fingertips.

That wonderful institution called a library as well as the world-wide-web are gold mines for general information. Getting intimately acquainted with your local library provides you with a vast source of article ideas, and your librarian is always happy to help you find whatever you need. For those of you who just got out from under the covers, the www is perfect. It enables you to find a plethora of information without leaving the comfort of your home.

Trade and specialty magazines represent good markets for writers because the ideas from those magazines are what will interest the general consumer. If you are having a problem with understanding an article about the newest advance in computer technology, you can make a quick call to the principal researcher to request an explanation in lay terms. Once you feel comfortable in your understanding of the subject matter, you can query one of the numerous consumer-oriented magazines.

Go through old magazines and e-zines. There are stories that a magazine or e-zine has covered in the past, but new developments can occur which make the story worthy of follow-up. Chances are if the magazine or e-zine ran the story once, it will probably be interested in current material on the same subject.

Other good sources of article ideas are radio and TV, which most of us are exposed to daily. There is much grist for the writing mill when tuning in and listening to the radio while driving. Watching & listening to TV gives you an abundance of global ideas from which to choose. Just condition your mind to be alert. Constantly say to your self, "What intrigues me, and to what particular audience would this be of interest?"

The supply of ideas for articles is endless. All you have to know is where to find them and be alert.

Copyright © 2005 by Pamela Beers. All rights reserved.

Pamela Beers is a freelance writer, educator, and horse trainer who is a platinum ezine author and is in the process of having two books published. You can visit her website at for writing and marketing tips.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Creative Writing: Taking Your Profile Interview to the Next Level

Profiles are one of the most difficult types of articles to write—at least, that’s true for me. If you find profiles easy, then consider yourself lucky.

Difficult or not, with profiles as with any other writing, research can do a lot to pull you through.

Unless you’re a veteran writer, you may think that, in order to do a profile, you simply interview the person (if you’re profiling a person), and maybe a few other people for added interest. That’s partly true, but here’s a tip: Research the basics beforehand so you can focus on the juicy stuff during the interview.

What do I mean by basics? I mean the not-so-juicy details that form the framework of the profile. These are details like where the person was born; where they went to high school, college or grad school; what jobs they’ve held; if they’ve ever served in the military; or if they’ve ever received any honors or awards. Consider them the skeleton of your story. They’re small and mundane, but necessary. With them out of the way, you can go in ready to tackle the real muscle without wasting time on the small stuff.

Here are a few ways to research a person before a profile:

1. Obtain their resume or vita. Think about it; a resume is a person’s professional life in a one-page nutshell. Much of the basic information you need—such as education and previous employment—you’ll find in this document. Some people will have their resumes posted on their websites. Others will send them to you if you call and ask.

2. Find previous articles written about the person. If other journalists have worked to dig into this person’s life, why not reap some of the rewards? You’ll often find answers to deeper questions, which can form the foundation for even more probing questions of your own. Again, check the person’s website; website often contain articles favorable to the person. However, if you’re not after a strictly feel-good piece, you’ll also want to check other sources.

3. Read what they’ve written. If the person has written articles, books, theses, etc., you can often use them to find out a lot about the person’s personality and philosophy. If the person is a prolific writer, you probably won’t have time to read everything. However, even a snippet of their writing will be better than nothing.

Use the information you gain from these sources to form detailed, probing questions…or silly questions to lighten the mood of your article. Armed with a little knowledge, you can walk into any profile interview with confidence. You’ll appear prepared and professional—a sure hit with interviewees and editors!