New word in the morning

Everybody talks about a new word in the morning.

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Well nearly.

My goodness this is 1970 vintage. My salad days, I think they call it. “My salad days, When I was green in judgement.” And that, by the way, was Cleopatra speaking. Oh yeah, you get it all here. Roger Whittaker and Shakespeare. Not often seen together in the same paragraph.

Anyway, on the subject of a new word in the morning, Caroline is upping her game, intellectually speaking.

Be gone Mills & Boon…

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(I have to admit, I have never, ever in the neverever, read anything published by Mills & Boon).

With a view to becoming a student again – an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex, application in, waiting to hear if I’ve been successful – I’ve started studying again.

First foray into the heady heights (or desperate depths) of long dormant grey matter, The Uncanny by Professor Nicholas Royle – he who would be teaching me were I to succeed. He who exchanged a signed copy of aforementioned book with a copy of my Of Night and Light after our meeting, which seemed hardly fair on him, but was his suggestion. Gulp.

I have taken to The Uncanny with alacrity. It’s fascinating. But boy do I have to be firing on all cylinders…

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Sometimes, I may have to read the same paragraph several times.

Sometimes, I discover a new word.

Here is today’s, which gave me pause for thought.

Autobiothanatoheterographical.

Yes, a new word with no fewer than 29 letters.

What does it mean?

Answers on a postcard.

I’ll tell you when I’ve worked it out.

Don’t hold your breath.

Blame Jacques Derrida, if you will.

New word:

gil-head-explode-again

 

 

 

Real writers read a lot!

Do they? DO they? Read a lot, that is, to qualify as real writers, good writers.

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Perhaps, qualify is the wrong word? What I mean to put forward has already been said by Stephen King. (How annoying is that?)

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

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King, much to my shame, also declares he has little patience with people who say they want to be writers but claim they haven’t got any spare time to read.

Note to self: Keep out of Stephen King’s way. I expect he could be vicious when cornered.

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Oh yeah, he looks pretty scary there.

What’s more, my beloved William (well, it’s not so much HE who’s beloved, but two of his books, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, sorry William, to get your hopes up)  Faulkner said this:

“Read, read, read. Read everything-trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

So, the importance of a writer taking the time to read a lot cannot be underestimated then?

(But, having said that, I’m not sure how much difference it would make to The Worst Writer In The World to munch his way through Tolstoy and Joyce and King and Blyton and Austen and Frost and Dickens…there has to be something else. SURELY? You know, like, a little natural talent?)

word poetry

Here’s John Dufresne, writing teacher, now sadly departed, from one of his works, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction:

“There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers’ conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers’ magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves.”

Okay, I’m convinced. Really.

Apart from cereal packets, emails, writing on the sides of buses and similar, at the moment I’m reading the (heart-rending) book by Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch.

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It’s very good.

It also leaves me little spare time for writing!

Discuss.

Love the words, love the words…

Yes, the famous direction Dylan Thomas gave to the actors on the opening night of Under Milk Wood. And I DO love the words.

I wrote a baby’s lullaby story as a tribute, and it was recorded…

More and more, as I’ve been writing poetry for my creative writing class, I simply love THE WORDS – and if there ISN’T a word, I make one up. It’s the sound, to me, that conveys the meaning, WAAAAAY more than a dictionary definition.

There’s even a technical term for one of the devices I (inadvertently) use sometimes, without even realising it was a device.

The transferred epithet.

Good ole’ Dylan Thomas, again – to illustrate:

“though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles.” UH?

Well,  snouting and velvet are adjectives which would usually be used to describe a mole, rather than a dingle (a wooded valley).

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I read a great article called ‘ Twist Words to Surprise Readers,’  by Beth Hill.

Here’s a little extract, which rather sums up my word choice ethos – an ethos at which I sometimes fail – but the THOUGHT is there.

“I’m talking word choices that twist the common, allowing you to see a different side or facet, twists that make words and passages of text shine. Words that crack open a scene, forcing rough edges or raw emotion to protrude. Words used in the wrong context that actually prove to be perfect in that context. Verbs used as nouns, nouns used as verbs. Adjectives used as nouns that get readers nodding their heads or laughing or smiling or pulling your book closer and settling in for another chapter.

Poets seek this kind of phrasing as a matter of course and although you don’t necessarily need to write poetically, do take advantage of this technique.”

That’s one way of saying ‘LOVE THE WORDS!’

Not to mention, onomatopoeia.

On that note, here is a poem, inspired by a piece of music – yes, played (endlessly!) at the writing class until I thought I might scream if I heard it one more time, lovely though it was. It’s Prokofiev’s Clarinet Sonata, 3rd Movement, here played on the flute by James Galway:

And the poem? As I recall, it had to be about a street.

Lowly lull
Left-behind land,
Lightly layered
Living lost in time

Meander, wander
Along the strand
The fragile strand
That binds us to
Forgetful past,
No reminder

Ghost shadows ghost,
Mist and mirrors,
Moping moon
Breath crystal-sharp droplets
Only form in formless future

And drip
And dissolve
Until street
Becomes
Shivering stream
Flowing back
To eternity

Lowly lull,
Lowly lull,
Labile luminiscence

A Street at Night in Wet Weather by Edward Steel Harper II

A Street at Night in Wet Weather by Edward Steel Harper II

Love the words, love the image…

Top tips for writers

Oh, there are so many tips for writers, aren’t there?

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Most useful are those from writers themselves. There was a great article in The Guardian a while back.

Who can beat Neil Gaiman?

I expect it’s Philip Pullman, who said that his main rule is to say no to things like compiling top tips for writers, which tempt him away from his proper work. Touché

The first in Neil Gaiman’s  list:

1. Write

Closely followed by the second:

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

See. Can’t beat it! Pragmatic. Terse.

Richard Ford’s is close to genius:

1. Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.

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Peter thinks me being a SUCCESSFUL writer who earns LOTS Of MONEY is a good idea. But that’s not the same thing.

Anne Enright:

1. The first twelve years are the worst.

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However, of all the top tips for writers I’ve come across, Roddy Doyle’s really hits home:

1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

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DAMN! Is that where I’ve been going wrong all these years?

Misquotes perpetuated by the internet

This blog was going to be all about April but then I got side-tracked, dear readers. Onto the subject of misquotes perpetuated by the internet.

(I can hear the chorus of  ‘Surely not, Caroline?’ all the way from, oh, the end of my study. Surely not that I got side-tracked, not surely there are no misquotes on the internet.)

Misquotes on the internet. So easily done. So pernicious.

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For those without a magnifying glass – “The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never know if they’re genuine,” said Abraham Lincoln.

Anyway – I was looking for quotations concerning April.

“April is the cruellest month.” Yes, T.S. Eliot, with your glass half empty. On the other hand, “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything,” said Shakespeare, with his glass half full.

So far, so good.

Then I came across this, attributed to Edna St. Vincent Millay. “April comes like an idiot, babbling and stewing flowers.” Strange, I thought. Babbling I can get, but STEWING flowers? Why would April be stewing flowers?

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Mmmmm, flower stew. Nom nom nom.

“Perhaps it’s a mistake?” my super-fast brain calculated.

I researched.

No, it CAN’T be a mistake, because it appears in that form on:

  • thinkexist
  • darienlibrary
  • quotesdaddy
  • quotecosmos
  • classiclit
  • quotestree
  • hypequote

Even in a book available on Amazon – Jabbers: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases.

It’s also been used as the title for countless blogs and images…

Where does it come from, anyway? (None of the above cited the source.)

It wasn’t that easy to find (it being incorrect and all!)

HERE IT IS…

Spring
TO what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

STREWING flowers. STREWING…

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I expect Edna St. Vincent Millay is revolving in her grave. Or chuckling.

The joy of misquotes!

And every time I put ‘misquotes’ into Google,  it asks ‘Are you sure you don’t mean mosquitoes?’ Ironic, eh?

Copywriting – to hyphen or not to hyphen?

Yesterday, I was proof-reading a piece of work and put in several missing hyphens, (Well, I thought they were missing!) in compound adjectives.

A compound adjective is one adjective that’s made up of two or more words, joined together, I have always asserted, with a hyphen to make it clear that they’re linked.

Like…a short-sighted man.

However, my client came back to me, saying, that in his own copywriting style guide, he’s stated:

“Don’t hyphenate words, e.g. online NOT on-line, and website NOT web-site. On a side note, there is a search engine marketing benefit in not hyphenating words as most people don’t use hyphens within their search terms.”

He went on to say that he had been advised not to use a hyphen anywhere as it’s difficult to be consistent with their usage.

Oh…

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Research required for cutting-edge copywriter/proofreader (Or should that be copy-writer/proof-reader, or indeed, copy writer/proof reader?)

Here is what it says in Grammar Monster:

 In the UK, your readers will expect you to use hyphens in compound adjectives. Americans are more lenient. The US ruling is: Use a hyphen if it eliminates ambiguity or helps your reader, else don’t bother. If you’re unsure, use hyphens. You won’t be marked down for using hyphens.

Ah! Eliminating ambuguity. Note my example above: a short-sighted man. A man who can’t see very well. As opposed to a short sighted man. A man who isn’t very tall and isn’t visually impaired.

Here are some more:

‘Heavy-metal detector’ and ‘Heavy metal detector’

‘I saw a man-eating alligator’ and ‘I saw a man eating alligator.’

Hmmmm.

hyphen

From the American Psychological Association style guide:

Also use hyphens for

Compounds in which the base word is

  • capitalized: pro-Freudian
  • a number: post-1970
  • an abbreviation: pre-UCS trial
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students

All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns

  • self-report
  • self-esteem
  • the test was self-paced

Exception: self psychology

Words that could be misunderstood

  • re-pair [pair again]
  • re-form [form again]
  • un-ionized

Words in which the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel

  • meta-analysis
  • anti-intellectual
  • co-occur

THANK YOU APA!

I think I have guidelines now. Go further down the American path, using hyphens to avoid ambiguity, with the above exceptions.

As a P.S. In the course of my research, I came across a sight which made me laugh A LOT! I won’t be so mean as to add a link.

Using Hyphen’s

“As we have said, it’s very important to appear intelligent in your writing. Whether you are starting your own business or working for the man, you must be able to communicate in a way that instills confidence and trust.”

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New copywriting horror revealed – article spinning

Can it get any worse than yesterday’s recycled, stolen  and uncredited articles?

Surely not?

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You have got to be joking!

I’ve found something MUCH worse. Article spinning. Article rewriting. Call it what you will.

You can employ someone to do it for you. Very often, sadly for you and for them, it turns out to be someone for whom English isn’t the first language – so caveat emptor. (Latin: My first language?)

You get what you pay for. You pay exploitative peanuts. You get…something that will probably take you longer to rewrite than if you’d written an article yourself in the first place.

You can buy software to do it for you. Oh yes you can!

” Create 100s of Unique content from just ONE in under 1 Minute.”

Hundreds of unique content?

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From Indieberries

You can even indulge in article spinning online. You are guaranteed the tools to “create another version of an article that is unique enough to pass a plagiarism checker.” The tool “will scan through your content for words that can be replaced with a synonym.”

All words can be replaced with synonyms, surely?

ANYWAY, here is an extract from a well-known pop song, spun by yours truly.

“You are the terpsichore sovereign, juvenile and uncontaminated, solely seventeen
Gyrating sovereign, feel the smack from the membranophone
You have the necessary ability to gyrate, you’ll be able to jive, having the phase of your existence
See that lady, observe that location, excavating the terpsichore sovereign”

Love it!

I’m going to give up copywriting and turn to article spinning instead.

The meaning comes across SO WELL, doesn’t it?

Stream of consciousness – love it or hate it?

Me, I love a stream of consciousness – both writing and reading.

Here’s a tidy image:

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‘Stream of Consciousness’
by Roger Sandes

I’m afraid my stream is far more turbulent and mucky than that. With rocks. And tangled water weeds.

A definition:  “The continuous unedited chronological flow of conscious experience through the mind.”

In literature: “A narrative technique in nondramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions—visual, auditory, tactile, associative, and subliminal—that impinge on an individual consciousness.”*

When reading English Literature at university, I didn’t necessarily associate my favourite novels with the fact that stream of consciousness played an important role in them. Today, I see that must have been so.

James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922),  William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929), and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931) are cited as three outstanding examples and also happen to be top of my list. I rest my case.

It seems trite to say, ‘Well, stream of consciousness – it’s how my mind works.’ Isn’t that true of everyone?

My mind seems much more random than most, a swirling minestrone of images and word associations.

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from Superpopulated.com

Perhaps others simply have more self-control? Or are buttoned-up to the neck, tight as a wincyette nightie,  with inhibitions?

The minestrone  sometimes pours out of my mind, straight down my arm and out of the end of a pencil on to paper. It seems to work, for me, at least.

Totally self-indulgent?

Some would say so.

A guy called J. Quarry described it as, “Senseless stream-of-consciousness spillages of twisted concepts and indiscernible (except he spelled it indecernable) imagery.”

Here’s the passage that ignited a new passion in my soul:

“Sunset and evening star hunching and bending sleeping and slipping virus pneumonia coughing and crying hope in the small things heaven looks brighter aching and falling earth is still darkness slip into sleeping sleepings of death dead now and buried cold now and crumbling dust now and hope-filled heaven is hope (and loneliness lingers in those left behind)”
Chila Woychik, On Being a Rat and Other Observations

To me, that’s poetry.

 

*Merriam Webster

Copywriters: Part 2 – SEO and keywords

In the dim, distant past (about five minutes ago!) copywriting meant writing persuasive, concise text for companies.

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For writers, whose interests and academic qualifications naturally fall into literature and the arts, that wasn’t so tough.

Today, it’s not that straightforward. Enter the next activity on the list of things good copywriters do, even if you weren’t aware of it. (For the first four, see Copywriters:Part 1 – why use them?)

Number 5Search Engine Optimisation or SEO if you’ve already glazed over at the length of that term.

My oldest son, Tim, is a geek (bless him.) I do a lot of glazing over when he talks to me about techie stuff. While I know it’s important, I’m of the breed who don’t want to know how the fridge works as long as it does work. The same with cars. And computers. And SEO.

The trouble is, to be an effective copywriter, I need to know about SEO.

Here is my Idiot’s Guide. This might be simplistic tosh to many of you, for which I apologise in advance, but if only one person finds it helpful then I’m happy.

So what is a Google Algorithm anyway? It’s one of those terms that litters Tim’s geeky conversations and I nod wisely, while thinking ‘Does he speak an entirely different language to me?’

Google algorithms are the complex mathematical instructions that are written to tell computers how to carry out assigned tasks – in this case to search for the best web page when someone enters a search term.

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(Other search engines are available)

Bear in mind that TODAY there are at least 3.78 billion pages on the internet (Source: http://www.worldwidewebsize.com/)

To find a local plumber might take you a while…

Google’s algorithm does the hard graft for you by finding web pages that contain the keywords you used in your search. Then it ranks each page on based several factors, including how many times the keywords appear on the page and the number of links it has. The most useful page, going by the algorithm’s criteria, will appear at the top.

Back to copywriters and SEO. We need to think about keywords when we write your copy. When someone in the Uckfield area has a dripping tap and wants it fixed, which words will they use in a Google search? The best words must appear often enough and in the right places in your copy so that YOUR website comes to the top of the page rankings, then it’s most likely to be selected by a potential customer. Making sure this happens is what SEO is all about. That’s part of a copywriter’s job.

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Oh, easy, you’re thinking to yourself. Just put ‘plumber in the Uckfield area’ about eighty seven times on the website and Bob’s your uncle!

Nope! For two reasons.

1. Google algorithms are set up to penalise sites which try to manipulate rankings using this so called keyword stuffing

2. Don’t you want your customer to read and enjoy your website and get a sense of the range of services you can offer, then contact you and become a customer?  I, for one, would bounce straight out of a site with copy like this:

‘Are you looking for a plumber in the Uckfield area? I am a plumber in the Uckfield area. Not only that – I am the best plumber in the Uckfield area! So, if you’re looking for a plumber in the Uckfield area, contact the best plumber in the Uckfield area…’  (ooops, I hope this paragraph doesn’t cause me to be penalised by Google algorithms. That would hardly be fair!)

Copywriters should ensure that, on your behalf, they create useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

To conclude: Why does SEO matter?

SEO leads to discoverability for your website

SEO leads to higher traffic

BUT – it takes a combination of brilliant keywords and fresh, well-written content to stay high in search engine page rankings.

Ask a good copywriter!

The humble comma

What is it about commas?

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. ”

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“In the afternoon I put it back again.” ― Oscar Wilde

You ARE helpful, comma, but you tend to be over-used or under-used.

A friend on Facebook (ex-friend now?) came out with the classic, ‘Please stop smoking people’ and, I think, didn’t understand the sheer wit of my response, ‘I’ve never smoked a person in my entire life!’

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How about this then? On the radio yesterday, I heard an author, Anne Carson,  being interviewed about her latest verse novel, Red Doc> – and yes, the angle bracket is deliberate – or rather, it was an accident that stuck in the same way that a formatting glitch, which compressed the entire piece into a two-inch column, was adopted.

“The embracing of these quirks – just on the safe side of pretentiousness – is characteristic of Carson’s playful lack of self importance.” Kate Kellaway, The Observer

I’m hoping so. Sometimes, I imagine, as when reading Ulysses or looking at Tracey Emin’s Unmade Bed, that it’s just possible I might be being taken for a fool…

Perhaps on that very same note, Anne Carson announced she had only used ONE COMMA in the whole of Red Doc>.

Dang it, now I’m going to have to buy the book just to see if I can find it!

Clever marketing?

Red-Doc

Very!