Let’s Finish What We Started

You can do it.

 

finish what started motivate
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The feel of the soft yarn as it slides through my fingers. The rhythmic clicking of the metal needles against each other. The almost magical formation of an article fit for wearing from a piece of string.

I paused and examined the hat I was knitting, satisfied with the way it was turning out. I placed my project in my bag for the next time.

But the next time never materialized.

finish what started motivate

I’ve been knitting on and off for about 10 years. I recently took somewhat of a hiatus to focus on some writing, but recently decided to get back into my wool stash.

It got me thinking that knitting is a lot like writing. 

Well, in some ways that is.

They both frustrate the hell out of me sometimes. 

Writing, because the words get all jumbled up in my head and when they do decide to form themselves into beautiful prose, they come out all jumbled up on the computer screen anyway. 

Knitting, especially designing (I’m too flaky to follow most patterns), lends itself to all sorts of jumble-ness too. I can easily create a beautiful design in my head that I can’t seem to translate into the finished piece.

finish what started motivate
Photo by Christian Kielberg on Unsplash

But most of the time, I do love them both. 

Writing and knitting both have provided me comfort and a purpose. 

Like many folks, I turn to my art in times of distress or grief. Sometimes, the best creations are born out of the toughest times.

Our art also provides us a sense of identity. I am a writer. I am a knitter. 

A painter, a furniture-maker, a bonsai enthusiast.

On the one hand, focusing on getting the right words down or counting stitch after stitch provides a concentration and a focus for the mind. It’s like brain exercise for me. Coming up with just the right word and phrasing. Figuring out if I need a left-leaning or a right-leaning decrease.

On the other hand, both activities can have a tremendously relaxing and meditative effect. Letting the mind wander as words flow effortlessly onto the page. Words that are not destined to be read by anyone but myself. There is no pressure, no deadline, no criticism. 

The same can happen with knitting. Certain stitch types (endless garter, for you knowing knitters out there) can provide a kind of solace as your hands, using muscle memory, allow the wool to flow through them creating a soft and squishy fabric that will eventually become an item fit for your head, hands or neck.

finish what started motivate
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

Sometimes, as I’m writing something, I pause and look at it as I read it. My head nods ever so slightly as I decide that this could work.

The same happens in knitting. I’ll just begin knitting without a project really in mind, and pause and look at it and think the same thing.

I will continue to write. Writing is a lot newer to me than knitting, and I’ve enjoyed it so much. 

I’m also excited to get back to knitting. I can and will do both.

They will both continue to frustrate me at times, and both will continue to be a part of me and encourage and comfort and define me.


What have you placed away “just for now” or “until the next time” and that next time never came?

Is there a book you started writing, but never got around to finishing? Maybe, like me, you began a craft project that has been waiting patiently for you to pick it back up and finish it.

I’d like to encourage you today, right now even, to go and find that book or project. Look at it and let it speak to you. Allow your mind to remember what it was about it that excited you or motivated you. What did you enjoy about it? 

Perhaps the frustration you were feeling with it was too much, so you needed time away. Hey, it happens to all of us. But now that time has passed, you can look at it with a new eye. You can get excited about it, and begin again.

I feel it’s so important to finish what we’ve begun. This hasn’t been my strong suit recently. But that’s changing. 

I’m finishing my hat.

Word Hoard Weekend: February 15, 2019

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Happy weekend, fellow logophiles!

Well, it’s been pretty crazy here in the Seattle area the past couple of weeks. Snowmageddon, or Snowpocalypse, has rendered many of us prisoners in our own homes. I’m beginning to wonder if the kids will ever go back to school.

But, just like in every situation, the positives stare you in the face if you are willing to look. It’s a great excuse to snuggle in with your coffee or hot chocolate (both of which have been copiously consumed here lately) in front of the fireplace, and write to your heart’s content.

word hoard weekend

This weekend’s collection is a nice variety of adjectives, which are usually used to describe nouns.

Adjectives kind of have a bad rap. Author Stephen King said the road to hell is paved with adjectives, and many writers overuse them in an effort to make their writing flowery or dramatic. It depends on how and where they’re used, but it’s important to be watchful of your usage of these descriptors.

For your free Word Hoard Printable, click here.

For the First Word Hoard Weekend, click here

Ineffable

word hoard ineffable

Ineffable can mean indescribable or unspeakable. It comes from the Latin words for not and capable of being expressed.  I’ve seen it used to describe things of greatness or beauty (the ineffable beauty of mountains) or something unspeakable (an ineffable disgust at his words).

Tenebrous

word hoard tenebrous

Tenebrous is a synonym for dark, murky, obscure or causing gloom. According to Merriam-Webster, it comes from the Latin noun, tenebrae, meaning darkness. Use it to describe a foggy grove, or a moonless night, or a haunted house perhaps.

Related: This Fun Activity Will Improve Your Writing

Arcadian

word hoard arcadian

While Arcadian literally refers to the Greek region of Arcadia, its definition of simplicity and untroubled by worry or fear comes from the simple and easygoing way of life of the ancient Arcadians.

Ephemeral

word hoard ephemeral

Ephemeral is a synonym for fleeting, short-lived or brief. An example is: footprints in the sand are ephemeral. And I just think it’s a beautiful-sounding word.

Antiquated

word hoard antiquated

Antiquated is also a cool-sounding word. It means old-fashioned or outdated. Examples include antiquated opinions about the roles of the genders in society; or the antiquated pluming system in the old house.

Are you familiar with these words? Have you used them in your writing?

For those of you surrounded by an abundance of snow this weekend, enjoy the hunkering down. For everyone else, have a great writing weekend!

What are your favorite words? Let me know in the comments.

 

How to Overcome Writing Obstacles as an Introvert

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Hello, fellow introvert.

So, you want to write and share it with the world, right? You’ve set up your blog or your account at Medium.com. Now what?

I mean, after all, sharing your writing with an unfamiliar audience is kinda like stepping up on that stage while trying not to trip over the hem of your dress and giving the all-important speech while your confidence slowly ebbs away. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all…

No worries. I’ve been there. Heck, I am there. Every time I write something and hover that little arrow over the publish button, my introversion rears it’s feathery, azure-eyed head, and I tremble into a wobbly ball of anxiety.

But there are some methods introverts can use to overcome the obstacles of sharing your writing. You just need to find a few things first.

overcome writing obstacles introvert

So let’s go on a scavenger hunt. As introverts, we’ll look for, and find, three things that will help us write our very best.

Find Your Voice

As a beginning writer, you will find it difficult to find your voice at first. You may try out different voices as you struggle to find the words and style that reflect YOU. Maybe you’ll try imitate your favorite author or blogger. You might get so worked up on finding just the right words or phrasing, that you’ll be in editing mode forever.

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That’s OK. At first. That’s why you practice. And practice some more. And even more. As you continue your practice, you and your voice will get to know and become more familiar with each other.

It’ll be like a first date, where you’re not sure you want to spend more time with the person, but hey, it was pretty good, so maybe we’ll try it out again. The next time, you become a little more comfortable with each other, more relaxed. Then the time after that, it will become yet a little easier; you continue to become more comfortable, and eventually the words and phrases flow easily.

Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul. -Meg Rosoff

I find it helpful to ignore most of the advice from the “experts.” Yes, grammar, vocabulary and syntax is important, but sometimes rules are made to be broken. For the most part, I find the best practice is to write how you speak. Let your personality shine through. Don’t try to sound like someone else, even your favorite author.

Are you a bubbly type? Or a more serious personality? Writing like you speak will make you more genuine in your readers’ eyes.

On a related note, do you publicly share your initial attempts at writing? I think it’s a good idea to do so, and even encourage it. The reason: you may never start otherwise. If your goal is to share your writing with others, if you think your writing isn’t good enough, not quite yet, you’ll procrastinate until not quite yet becomes never. As long as you’re publishing online, the Edit button will always be there for you.

Find Ideas

You may think that everything’s been done and said before, that there are no new ideas.

That’s true.

The good news is no one’s heard your version yet.

As an introvert, where can you collect your ideas? Many suggestions stem from being out and about in the world, surrounded by other people, folks you pass on the street, overhear in the coffee shops, etc.

Photo by Clever Visuals on Unsplash

As an introvert myself, I usually actively try to avoid those places. Situations like those can cause mental drainage at the best, and anxiety at the worst. As an introvert, you probably spend much of your time in your own home, alone or surrounded by your family.

Additionally, you’re not likely to be able to focus on obtaining writing ideas and collecting notes if you keep checking your watch for the time you get to go home and recharge.

So, where can you find great writing ideas? There are plenty of sources, but I suggest ignoring the advice to write what you know.

Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. …If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy. -Nikki Giovanni

The most important source of writing ideas for introverts is the imagination. As a general rule, we’re a creative bunch. So, sit back, relax, and pull from the center of your mind secrets, desires and motivations with which you can use to create a character or construct a blog post.

Other sources of inspiration include your family and your close (small) circle of friends. Perhaps your neighborhood will provide ideas. Look out the window. What do you see? Your neighbors? Write a soap opera (changing the names to protect the innocent of course). Woods, deer and birds (in my case)? Let some poetry materialize. Is your view of a bustling busy skyline? Try to creatively describe the shapes, colors, angles and other things you see. These ideas may or may not turn into masterpieces, but they will be useful as some helpful practice.

Find Courage

Fear. This may be the single most debilitating obstacle for an introvert who wants to share his or her writing.

Fear keeps us stuck in a quagmire, right where we’re at, right now. It keep us from moving forward.

And guess what? Most folks stay in this very spot.

What if you fail? Ray Bradbury once said you fail only if you stop writing. And he’s right, you know. As long as you persevere and keep on practicing your craft, you’re not failing. Seems pretty easy right? All you need to do is KEEP WRITING.

But, but, but…what if I offend someone?

I’m going to tell you right now: It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

I promise if you publicly share your writing, you WILL offend someone, somewhere, sometime.

But, who cares? I understand though, because I still struggle with this. Others will have differing opinions and views, but it doesn’t mean you (or they) are wrong. It’s OK, and even desirable, to sometimes be forced to look at things in a different way.

And about hateful comments from strangers? They don’t mean a thing. The support and love you receive from your longtime and loyal readers, friends and family: that’s the important stuff. Learn to ignore the haters. They’re not worth your time.

Then there’s that pesky fear of not being good enough.

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

Whoa, stop right there. This comes from comparing yourself to others. Quit it right now. Every single writer in the history of the world started at the beginning. Some folks are far along in their writing journey, while you may be just beginning. In a year, or five, you’ll be farther along in your journey than someone will be just starting out.

Think about it; when you’re writer extraordinaire in a few years or after a lifetime, you may be encouraging the next newbie.

Maybe you’re afraid of actually succeeding?

Why? Because it’s comfortable here. Change, even positive change, is scary.

It’s hard to let go of the grip on comfort, on familiarity. But if you want to move forward, to grow, to become inspired, you’re gonna have to let go. Don’t be afraid.


As in introvert, once you find your voice, ideas, and courage, the rest is a piece of cake. You’ll encounter plenty of stumbling blocks along the way, but you’ll have no problem navigating them. You’ll be well on your way to becoming the best writer you can be.

It’s a lifelong journey, but one that is well worth it.

Motivation Monday: Stop Not Writing

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The other day, I came across this tweet from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott:

If you’ve ever read any of Anne’s works, you’ll know that words seem to come to her as easily as I can burn a pancake.

But they certainly don’t come easily to me. Perhaps they don’t for you either.

But that doesn’t matter today. Today is about what Anne expresses in her tweet. Don’t think about it. Sit down. Open your laptop (or pull out your notebook and favorite lime green pen). Type (or write) words. One after another. They don’t need to be good. In fact, they probably won’t be.

writing motivation monday

No editing allowed today. You can edit tomorrow. (That’s not procrastinating, I promise.)

I suppose if you’re reading this while brushing your teeth or letting the dog out for his nightly business, so you can go crawl into bed for a great night’s sleep, you have my permission to wait until tomorrow to get your butt in the chair and write some words.

But if you’re reading this as a procrastination technique to get out of writing, stop it right now. Do as directed above.

If you have no ideas on what to write, no matter. Just write words that pop into your head. Write awful sentences. Write about what you did today. Make up a character that is part human, part humpback whale, and part chihuahua and explain how he was able to go into the local bank branch and open an account despite not being able to fit through the front doors.

If you need more motivation from Anne, I highly recommend her book, Bird by Bird. The title refers to her father’s advice to her brother when faced with the daunting task of writing a report on birds that was due the following day, after putting it off for a couple of months. (Now, that’s procrastination.)

So, go write. Let us know in the comments how you did. What did you write about?

How New Day’s Resolutions Can Help You Accomplish and Organize Your Goals

Coffee mug on planner
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

 

Well, the first month of the year is already gone. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Not so great? Me neither. In fact, I didn’t even make any. But I never make New Year’s resolutions.

I prefer New Day’s resolutions.

New Day’s resolutions consist of tasks, actions, activities and goals that I expect to achieve just for today. If I can make it through this new day succeeding at the goals that I have planned for myself, I consider it a win.

Then I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Some of my New Day’s resolutions are the same every day: Drinking a glass of water before having my coffee. Taking a walk. Reading for at least an hour. Feeding the sourdough starter. Making the bed.

These are arguably minor daily goals, and I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t manage them. But that’s the beauty of New Day’s resolutions. You have another chance tomorrow.

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

New Day’s resolutions can and should also include more important or bigger goals as well. They may not look exactly like the previous ones, but they are those activities that move you toward a larger goal: Doing something for your new business. Writing a page of your book. Plan these ahead of time.

For example, each night before bed, Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary writes three tasks on a sticky-note that he says he must accomplish the next morning before anyone else wakes up. This seemingly insignificant action of writing his plans down can greatly increase productivity.


Author and psychologist Angela Duckworth, in her book Grit, describes a hierarchy of goals. The top-level goal is achieved by accomplishing mid- and low-level goals; they’re a means to an end so to speak.

Perhaps your top-level goal is to start a small business. Your mid-level goals would include writing a business plan, registering your business with the government and IRS, purchasing insurance, setting up financial accounts and creating a website. Minor goals and tasks can then be planned to accomplish those mid-level goals. Seemingly trivial tasks like making the bed each day can contribute to your top level goal because it increases your productivity and motivation.

So, each night before bed, write down three assignments that you will accomplish the following day that will move you toward that top level goal of starting the business.

If low- and mid-level goals aren’t aiming you toward your top-level goal, it may be time to re-evaluate them.

I find it helpful to use a diagram of a hierarchy of goals to see which goals are supporting other goals. It also makes it easier to see those goals that may not be contributing to your top-level one.

Goal hierarchy
Angela Duckworth’s Hierarchy of Goals

Maybe your top-level goal is to start a successful blog. Your mid-level goals could include writing 1000 words on one day, and editing and publishing those words the following day. Rinse and repeat.

Low-level goals to support those mid-level ones could include the ones I previously mentioned in addition to perhaps waking at an earlier hour or consuming a healthier diet.

Can you have more than one top-level goal? Yes, but don’t spread yourself too thin. A top-level goal in your professional life and one for your personal/family life are usually sufficient.

Can your top-level goal change? Of course. Finding one’s passion can take a lifetime and passions and interests change over time. But many folks give up too easily, too soon. The most successful people, as described in Grit, are those that can sustain their passion over a long period of time.


I find it much easier to stick with New Day’s resolutions than New Year’s resolutions. Many people give up after breaking the New Year’s ones. They feel guilty and feel like it’s not worth it to start again.

But by creating goals for each day, you can create a new sense of accomplishment each day. Will you screw up? Of course, we all do. But each day is a new opportunity to get back on the wagon. 

I highly recommend Kevin O’Leary’s productivity trick and Angela Duckworth’s goal hierarchy chart. Try them out and watch your productivity skyrocket.

What are your favorite productivity tips?

Should You Share Your Crap Writing?

The answer may surprise you.

All writers write junk at some point. Those of us who are beginners will probably write more crap than the more seasoned writers. Obviously, because practice makes progress. (Not perfection.)

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. -Margaret Atwood

But what about sharing our less-than-stellar pieces of prose or poetry? Do we keep it to ourselves, in a private little virtual folder on our laptop or inside a locked journal? Or do we share with a select few, some trusted friends and family? 

Or, do we throw caution to the wind, and — after we feel we’ve done our best — go ahead and publish what we may feel is not our top work?

While there are pros and cons to exposing our perceived sub-standard creations, I think that, especially as beginners, it’s important to share our crappy writing because of the following reasons:

It will help you ditch the fear.

The first time I hit the publish button both here and on my blog, my body physically reacted. My heart raced, hives-like itching covered my body, and I became light-headed and dizzy. You would have thought my poor introverted self was getting ready to give a public speech to a crowd of thousands of people.

And I suppose in a way, I was. (But of course, just starting out, my audience was tremendously smaller.) It’s terrifying putting your creative self out there for the world to judge and criticize.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

I hit the Publish. Guess what happened then? Nothing. No one laughed at my writing (to my face anyway). I didn’t have a mental breakdown. And the world kept spinning on its axis.

So I wrote again. And I hit Publish again. And I had the same symptoms, but to a lesser degree this time. And each following time, the fear lessened, and now I’m pretty good about not passing out cold.

It will build your confidence.

When you realize the world isn’t going to explode every time you share your writing, you become a little more confident that it will stay whole the next time you do it too.

The more you write, whether on Medium, your blog, or other public platform, the more people will see your work. And the more views you get, the more feedback you’ll receive. Most of it will be positive feedback. (Ignore the haters.) You can take that positive feedback and use it to build your confidence. As your confidence increases, the more you’ll be able to write and the more comfortable you’ll become in sharing more of your writing. A pretty nice cycle, right?

You’ll figure out what works (and what doesn’t).

This may be the most important reason. If you’re writing for an audience, you’ll quickly figure out what topics appeal to your readers. Write more about those. You’ll also find out which topics your readers couldn’t care less about. Write about those less.

Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

(If you’re writing for yourself though, write about whatever you want. You are perfectly allowed publicly share and publish pieces that you’re creating for yourself if you choose.)

Furthermore, it can help you find and develop your writing voice. When I first started writing, it was in a way that didn’t really reflect the way I thought and spoke. And it felt forced. I thought it sounded good, but my readers could tell that it wasn’t me.

You’ll figure out your voice the more you write. You’ll realize it doesn’t work to force it. I’ve found that it’s generally better to write how you speak, then go back during editing and correct spelling and grammar errors. 


Of course, there are valid arguments against publicly sharing our crap writing. You’ll screw some stuff up. We all do it. 

And once your writing is out there, it’s pretty much guaranteed that it will stay out there. But on sites like Medium and a blog, there’s that all-important Edit button. It wouldn’t be there if it were never meant to be used.

And I think the pros of sharing your weaker creations outweigh the cons. Losing the fear of writing, finding your voice, and building your confidence are the best advantages.

Just remember to apply that Edit button as needed.

My Favorite Weird Methods for Beating Writer’s Block


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

So you’ve executed all of the suggestions available out there for beating writer’s block: read a thousand books, took a walk (or a nap), removed all distractions, danced to your favorite song, and enjoyed some spicy tacos (wait, just me?).

All of these important activities can keep your writing mind sharp. But, if you’ve gone through all these exercises and your brain is still filled with the fuzzy fluffies, maybe it’s time to sit down and do some actual writing.

I’ve come across some pretty creative writing exercises out there, such as writing a letter to your bestie and describing in excruciating detail every annoying trait about him or her. (Obviously, you don’t want to send it, unless you’re looking for an excuse to end the relationship. Or start a fight. Which might make some good writing material. But I digress.)

I’ve obtained a collection of a few offbeat exercises that I employ when I’m beating my head against the wall for ideas.

Beat Writer's Block Writing

Try these methods to get those creative springs bubbling.

Write Some Fanfiction

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

Fanfiction isn’t just for bored middle-aged housewives. If you’ve got a favorite television series, movie, or book (I’ve even seen fanfic written about famous, real folks like sports figures), then this might be the practice for you.

Take the characters from your favorite fandom and create new relationships, settings, and plots that are different from canon (that’s the official material in the fictional universe for all you non-geeks out there).

In this case, there’s no need to come up with brand new characters or settings; just use the already-created characters in your fandom and let your imagination fly. Didn’t like the end of the Harry Potter series? Write an new one! (I always thought Hermione should have ended up with Draco, but whatever.) For added challenge, try keeping your characters in character while they’re placed in entirely new situations.

Please note, if you’re interested in sharing your work on some of the fanfiction sites, keep in mind there may be legal issues involved with using (borrowing, ripping off?) someone else’s created character. I prefer to keep my stories to myself and just apply them as a useful writing exercise, but keep this in mind before sharing publicly.

Create Opposite Characters

Create two characters that are opposites of each other in terms of physical traits, personality, family life, age, etc.

If I have difficulty getting started with this one, I may use a real person that I’m well-acquainted with — a friend or family member — and create my opposite character from him or her. If my friend is an extroverted, easy going, single baby-boomer guy, I’ll invent a character that is a young female introverted wife and mother who stresses about everything (um, I may have just invented myself. Except the young part.).

Once you have your opposite characters, create a situation (real or imagined) where you, in turn, place your character and real person. Let the characters lead you to write how they would react and act differently (or possibly similar in some respects?) in that same situation.

Invent Nonsense Phrases and Words

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

This can be fun. Set a timer for 15 minutes — or whatever time you want — and combine words to create nonsense phrases or sentences. Flaming gloveCreative poochStandard bath onions. They don’t even have to be real words (swillowy and benaptic). Keep putting them down on paper or screen until your timer rings.

Keep track of how many words and phrases you come up with. Each time you do the exercise, try to come up with more than the previous time.

This can be more difficult than it seems. Our brains are so limited by what we we perceive as “real,” that it’s difficult for our imaginations to break out of that. But breaking away from that perception is what the exercise accomplishes. Your words and phrases may or may not be pretty, but it will stretch your brain biceps.

Write a Story About Last Night’s Dream

Ahh, dreams.

Photo by Tyson Dudley on Unsplash

Sometimes I think dreaming is the process of our minds drawing out stories from the Universe that we’re not able to access while we’re awake and distracted with life stuff. These are stories that desire to be told, so don’t ignore them.

If you’re able to remember your dreams, they can be a spark for creativity. If you have weird dreams like I do (I once dreamed about a giant octopus that lived on the roof of my old elementary school — I’m not making this up), they become fuel for something interesting and wonderful.

Maybe you only remember snippets of your dreams. That’s OK. If it helps your memory, keep a dream journal and pen next to your bed to write down your dreams immediately upon waking.

Sell Ice Cubes to an Eskimo

Why not try your hand at a little copywriting? The process of writing advertising for products and services can be a helpful exercise, even if you’re only into writing fiction. The objective is to persuade your “customers” into thinking they desperately need the product/service you’re advertising; that they can’t live without it. The challenge lies in explaining how the product will improve their lives.

You may have a lot of success writing copy for a product you like, but to up the difficulty, try it for a product or service that you despise (ahem, pineapple pizza).


There are plenty of methods to help crumble writer’s block. But to get right down to it, you must write. Writing exercises and prompts can be the WD-40 to get your creative cogs turning, even (and especially) if you don’t ever share them.

By writing without the expectation of publication or sharing with others, it allows our writing to become freer. We can even give ourselves permission to write garbage. ANY writing at all can become the cure for writer’s block.

Please share your favorite writing exercises in the comments!

 

Watch Out for “Word Weirdness” in Your Writing

 

I was reading a book the other day (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and came across the word nonplussed. But it didn’t make sense in the context it was used.

At least, I didn’t think it made sense. It’s not a word I normally use in everyday life or in writing, and I’m certainly no word purist, but I always thought I understood its definition.

I was wrong.

The English language after all, is a crazy, messed up thing. Sometimes I wonder how we’re able to use it for communication purposes at all.

Especially words and their meanings. Many words have evolved into a usage that means nearly the opposite of their true or original definition.

Nonplussed for example.

word weirdness writing blogging obi-wan
Obi-Wan is visibly nonplussed.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word nonplussed has been around since the 16th century, and has always been synonymous with “perplexed.”

Until relatively recently, that is. In the early 20th century, people — especially those in the U.S. — inexplicably began using it as almost an opposite of its true definition, that is, unimpressed or unconcerned.

While the definition of nonplussed as a state of being unconcerned remains incorrect, that hasn’t prevented some well-respected publications from using it that way.

word weirdness writing blogging alls write with the world

 

With language being as fluid as it is, perhaps this context will eventually become “correct.” Who knows?

Disinterested vs. Uninterested 

Another bewildering set of words is Disinterested and Uninterested. It appears the history of these two words is as baffling as the words themselves, with their respective definitions swapping back and forth.
word weirdness writing blogging ron swanson
Is Ron Swanson disinterested or uninterested?

Traditionally, uninterested has meant “not interested,” while disinterested has been synonymous with “impartial.” The confusion appears to have materialized due to the two meanings of the word interested: “having the attention engaged,” and the less common “having a stake in a given matter.”

Uninterested refers to the former, while disinterested refers to the latter, as in an impartial (disinterested) mediator, who has no bias in the outcome of an arbitration.

As with many other words, disinterested’s original definition is slowly changing to another one that is commonly used and accepted.

Flammable or Inflammable?

If those examples don’t make you nauseated (as opposed to nauseous, which, unless you enjoy making others ill, you probably want to refrain from), check out flammable and inflammable.

Flammable means easily ignited.

Here’s the messed up part: Inflammable also means easily ignited. This word was invented first, and is a derivative of the verb “inflame” (to catch fire). The confusion, of course, comes from the misinterpretation of “in” as the well-known negative or opposite prefix.

Word weirdness writing blogging
Exactly.

So inflammable literally means the opposite of what common grammar rules would dictate.

Speaking of literally

This word is so often used incorrectly that its meaning is also evolving into “figuratively” or as an emphasis. (“It is literally a thousand degrees in here.”)

The internet is packed with lists of commonly misused words. Adding the most difficult ones — along with their proper, or evolving definitions — to your Word Hoard may be helpful.

If all this incorrect word manipulation leaves you feeling a bit bemused (which is synonymous with confusion or bewilderment, and NOT with amusement), check out contronyms.

Contronyms, also called auto-antonyms (among others), are words that have two opposite (and correct) meanings. Obviously, the context in which the word is used provides the meaning the author intends.

Examples include: dust (removing dust from furniture, or applying powdered sugar to a cake); screen (to show a movie, or hide from view); and fast (moving rapidly, or fixed and unmoving).

My favorite is left, which can mean “departed” or “remaining.” (Before my dad left, he ate all of the pretzels in snack mix. The peanuts are the only thing left.) Then you have its other definitions, like the opposite of “right.”

I am so nonplussed by English vocabulary.

What words have tripped you up? Please share in the comments!

This Fun Activity Will Improve Your Writing

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As a new writer, you’re bombarded by a surfeit (n. an overabundant supply) of advice to improve your craft. Most of it is helpful and useful such as practicing your writing every day and reading as much as you can get your eyeballs on.

You’ve researched methods for procuring (v. obtaining something, especially with care or effort) ideas for your writing. Ideas can be found in your everyday life, someone else’s life, or your imagination.

But what about words? Of course, the vocabulary we employ provides the foundation of our writing. Our words must engage our readers and form images in their minds. But what specific words should we use?

fun activity improve writing word hoard

Creating a Word Hoard is a fun and worthwhile pursuit (n. an activity that one engages in as a vocation or profession) to refine your writing vocabulary. This type of compulsive collecting won’t find you on A&E’s Hoarders though. Accumulating words will enhance your vocabulary and can sharpen your writing and make it more interesting.

What is a Word Hoard?

I first saw the term in Barbara Baig’s book Spellbinding Sentences (this a fantastic guide for any writer wanting to improve their craft). A Word Hoard is an aggregation (a collection of units or parts into a mass or whole) of interesting, new-to-you, or otherwise useful words that a writer can use in her writing.

Where should I keep my Word Hoard?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Your Word Hoard can be kept in anything that is easily accessible; that is, a place where you can have it available while you’re writing or collecting. A Writer’s Notebook is a great place to start. Every writer should keep a notebook where he can organize his word hoard, writing ideas, and other useful information that is used to help him write.

Your Writer’s Notebook can be a physical notebook or a binder if you prefer to hand-write your work. It can be a file or folder on your computer. For word hoarding, I prefer using pen and paper because it helps my brain to retain (v. keep in one’s memory) the information better. Of course, you can use both methods or incorporate others.

I recommend keeping a 3-ring binder for your Writer’s Notebook, so you can add and subtract items as needed. Download your free Word Hoard printable here.  Print off as many as you need as you continue to collect words.

Where Can I Collect Words?

Everywhere!

One of the best sources for your Hoard is your reading materials. Whether you read books, blogs, or the instructions for your IKEA furniture, when you come across a word that you like the sound of, add it to your collection. If you read a term or phrase that you like the definition of, write it down in your notebook. If you happen upon a new-to-you word that you’ve never seen before (or haveseen before but never really knew what it meant), be sure to ascertain (v. find something out for certain; make sure of) its definition and pronunciation, and jot (v. to write briefly or hurriedly) it down.

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

Another great source for collecting words is everyday life while you’re out and about. I’m not advocating eavesdropping, but overhearing a conversation while sitting in your favorite coffee shop can be a great source of new words (and perhaps story ideas). If you can’t carry your Writer’s Notebook with you everywhere, at least be sure to keep a small notebook or use your phone to keep track of ideas you hear or see.

An effortless way to acquire words is to sign up for one of the online dictionary’s daily “Word of the Day” emails. Every morning, I receive an email from the online version of Merriam-Webster containing its word of the day. Some of the words I’m already acquainted with while others are unfamiliar. Even if they are already part of my vocabulary, the email provides examples of ways to use the word, synonyms, and other useful information.

Pinterest, if you’re into it, is a great source for unusual and interesting words that may or may not be located in a standard dictionary. Words like “pluviophile” (a lover of rain), “oneiric” (of or relating to dreams), and “sempiternal” (eternal and unchanging; everlasting) reside in my Pinterest Word Hoard.

Keep an eye and ear out everywhere for any words you may want to collect: billboards, the media, and your kid’s Tae Kwon Do class can all be great sources.

How to Use Your Word Hoard

What the heck are you supposed to do with all these new words that you collect?

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

Try to incorporate your new words into your daily speaking. Make a game out of it, and have fun with it.

When writing, if you’re struggling for just the right word, check out your Word Hoard. It may be there. But don’t force it. Sometimes a thesaurus can be helpful.

Some words are so beautiful and amazing, you can create an entire plot from them. Or try to create a story or essay using as many of your hoarded words as you can. There are countless ways to incorporate your Hoard into your writing.

Let’s Get Started

First, create a section in your Writer’s Notebook for your Word Hoard. Label it whatever you wish. (I’m kind of partial to “Word Herd,” but I’m weird like that).

Sign up for daily emails from Merriam Webster or another online dictionary. Or several of them. Check the word every day. It may be interesting to keep track of how many words you already know compared to the new-to-you ones.

Now, keep your eyes and ears open.

Start collecting and Happy Writing!

My Writing Process is Better than Yours

I wake up early and refreshed, while the family remains blissfully asleep. With my hot mug of black coffee and freshly toasted, cream cheese-slathered blueberry bagel, I settle with my laptop at the desk in my office, which has a gorgeous view of the autumn forest in the backyard. The morning sunlight filters through the trees and falling leaves creating a visual wonderland, while the deer family saunters across the yard munching the grass. Inside, my houseplants, oil diffuser, and salt lamp surround me to create a calm and serene atmosphere. The radio softly plays my favorite music in the background. Inspiration – images, phrases, poetry – flows through me with the ease of the changing seasons. I stretch my fingers out over the keyboard as Zen overtakes my spirit, and beautiful words and ideas flow from my soul through my hands onto the screen, creating stunning, captivating and visually enticing prose in a perfect, harmonious flow.

Not.

Writing Process

Are you one of those mythical unicorn writers that are able to pull this off? Perhaps you’re able to profusely bleed your soul and creativity all over the screen or notebook, but in a non-messy sort of way. Maybe you come up with the most appropriate content at exactly the right moments. (#jealous) Do you have a secret? (It’s the salt lamp, isn’t it?)

Believe me, I’d give my analytical left brain to be able to function like this.

 

So maybe that process doesn’t work for you either. If you’re unable to create like this, agonize no more. I’ve created an alternative. The following is my actual writing process in a convenient, easy-to-follow, step-by-step process. Feel free to imitate it if it works for you.

  1. Set yourself down in front of a television sitcom or drama and allow some vague idea to pop into your head when a character says or does something stupid or funny. This also works with superhero movies or your in-laws.
  2. Go to bed and wake up at 2:00am with your head full of unique, subconsciously-created sentences and phrases so breathtaking that Thoreau himself could have crafted them. Don’t write them down; they’re so amazing, there’s no way you’re going to forget them.
  3. Wake up late and bleary-eyed the next morning, promptly forgetting the inspiration that materialized during the middle of the night.
  4. Go about your day, executing all your life stuff, job stuff, parenting stuff, house stuff, etc.
  5. Sit down in the evening and word retch all over your laptop monitor. Make sure you do this while one kid is crying over her math homework and another is arguing with you about unlocking the computer for more screen time. Bonus points if the parakeets are angrily chattering with each other and the dog is staring at you while performing his trademark “Chihuahua Shake.”
  6. Edit the hell out of what you just wrote: chop 25% to 40% of your writing, spend a ridiculous amount of time with the thesaurus searching for the perfect word, and rearrange sentences until you’re cross-eyed.
  7. Change the ending of your story or essay or blog post because the right side of your brain just now decided that it has a better idea. Then rewrite the rest of it too because now nothing makes sense with the new ending.
  8. Repeat steps 5-7 ad nauseam.

I hope this is helpful. Now, please excuse me while I go and revise this entire post.