The Writers Circle: Changing Grammar Rules

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

A question by a writer friend:

My editor keeps changing my “he said” or “she went” phrases to “they said” and “they went”. He also keeps changing sentences and making them end in a preposition:  “The person with whom I spoke” becomes “The person I spoke with.”  Is this a universal change in the writing rules we are seeing? 

My friend wanted to hear what other writers were experiencing in this regard, so I’m posing it here.  What changes in long-held grammar rules have you noticed? Are your editors pushing you toward using the singular “they” instead of gender-specific pronouns? Where do you choose to hold onto the rules we learned in school and where to let go of them?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.



There are a lot of words to describe the state of politics in the world today and this morning I’m posting just a random question that came to me while sitting in my local Starbucks:  Can we as writers describe the current chaotic state of politics as inspirational?

In other words, I’m curious if other writers in the Today’s Author community have been using the non-stop political news from around the globe as a creative spark for your works in progress, new works or anything creative.  Personally, I’ve been working on some ideas related to national and international politics (in a distant future, interplanetary sci-fi sort of area).

Whatever your or my politics might be, we are in a reality right now that on some days reads like fiction.  No one’s political views are right or wrong for this particular discussion, I really just want to see if other authors are finding ways to use the current state of things for a creative gain.  If you are, how are you using it in your work? If not, is this because you can’t find inspiration in it or is it because you need to get away from the 24-hour noise of it?  Looking forward to hearing about how you might or might not incorporate political issues into your works.

What Are You Writing for NaNoWriMo 2016?

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? I am, I think. I have no idea what, specifically, I am writing, though, but I guess I have a week to figure that out.

I know that not everyone participates in NaNoWriMo or the Young Writer’s Program for writers 17 and under, but I see it as a way to take advantage of a vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic writing community while working on a new (or even an existing) project. You can try new things, new genres or styles for example, and you have a great place to seek help or guidance. I, for one, see it as a very useful program and if you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will.

For me, as I said above, I don’t have any clue what I’m going to write. But I’m thinking I will work on something that is like a serial. Thinking about novels I’ve enjoyed, specifically books by Isaac Asimov, many started as periodic stories in literary magazines before they were brought together as full-length novels. So, my current thought is that I’ll work toward writing an installment or chapter every couple of days. I don’t know if that will work out to a 50,000 word novel in the end or not, but this year my goal is to just write.

How about you? Whether you’re participating or utilizing the NaNoWriMo site or not, what are you writing in the coming month? What goals do you have and what new things are you considering trying?

Once a Writer…

microphoneI haven’t written anything particularly good or creative in a long time.  Between work and life, there just hasn’t been a way to focus the time or energy on my writing.  This has led me to even question whether or not I can say, even in passing, that I am a writer.  I mean, to be a writer, you have to write, don’t you?

I was faced with a challenge these past weeks.  I was the best man at a wedding and therefore had to give a speech during the reception to an audience I largely didn’t know (there were about 10 people I had met  prior to the day before the wedding).  With all the emotions of the wedding, combined with some extra complexities given the nature of our family dynamic, I felt a lot of pressure on this one.  How do I put together a speech that is heartfelt and funny and interesting and exactly the right tone, temperament and style for that environment when I had no idea of the audience’s sense of humor, educational or social background or the level of alcohol that would be consumed by that point in time?

Clearly, I’m not the first best man at a wedding or even the first person who has had to write a speech. But this task seemed pretty tough to me at the time. I thought about it for a long time, always coming up blank with how I wanted to proceed.  I found myself in the emergency room one day, and since the ER is run like a prison and I couldn’t do anything while I waited for them to decide which needles to stick into me, I pulled out my phone and did some research on the history of the role of the best man in weddings, the history of weddings, the history of speeches…anything I could think of.  That led to nothing of substance at the time, seeing as I was constantly interrupted for testing and questioning.

A week or so after I was sprung from the ER, about a week before I needed to give my speech, I still had nothing. S0, I headed to a Starbucks early one morning with a pen and paper, leaving the laptop, the phone and all of their distractions at home.  As I sat there staring at the blank page, trying to keep myself from panicking, I thought to myself, “Okay, Rob, what have you done when you’ve had a creative deadline for a story?”

The answer?

I just started writing.  I wrote for an hour and a half, just scribbling every word I thought of onto the page as fast as I could make my hand scrawl it out.   At that point in time,  quality didn’t matter at all,  it was all about quantity. The more words and ideas, the better.  When I finished, I headed home to type it into my computer and edit it. Which of course meant that I had to figure out how to read it (there’s a reason I type for a living).  What I found was that when I fell back to what I’ve always relied on for creative works, I could actually still put together a story.  And that’s what it was. I used the research I did in the emergency room to pick a starting point (believe it or not, it was swords and shields).  I then wove that together with themes of family and friends, love and happiness and some self-deprecating humor. And finally I pulled the family bits together with the swords and shields to present a toast in which the bride and groom had an army of supporters surrounding them.

The point I’m trying to convey here is that I’m sure we all have stretches where we question whether or not we are “a writer”.   I certainly have been questioning that about myself for quite some time. This speech showed me, though, that if you trust your creative instincts, you can fall back on them when you need to do so.  Sure, I needed to do some major editing on what I scribbled down on the pages at Starbucks, both for content and for time, but when I finally just trusted myself to write it, the words were there.  I gave the speech (without notes!) and afterwards I had people coming up to compliment it. The people who worked in the reception hall came up to me as well and said that they hear three or four of these speeches a week and had never heard a better one than mine.  Was my speech really that great?  I suspect not.  But I think it was not what was expected and that is what made it work.  What I did different from the prototypical best man speech is I wove a single story thread throughout and didn’t just go for cheap one-liners and random, embarrassing stories about the groom.  That was really the key for me to get the speech written in the first place – I needed to not force myself to write a 4 minute standup comedy routine.  They say you have to know your audience, and that’s true, but I’ll add to that concept that it is just as important to know when you don’t know the audience, too. Jokes fall flat if told to the wrong crowd. Personal stories fail if not enough people know the tale. But a well-balanced story can be funny and heartfelt and engaging to a wide variety of people. Having written for so much of my life, I just needed to remember that.

This event helped me see that while I may not have written much in the recent past, I’m still a writer.  So I want to know – have you had any experiences that helped you to see that the phrase, “once a writer, always a writer” is a Truth?  I’d love to hear your experiences here in the comments!

Private Thoughts: Diaries and Journals

This is not meant as a scientific poll by any means, but more of a curiosity:  do you keep a diary or journal that is just for you? In this era of social media, it seems sometimes that there is no privacy at all.  We post often and regularly to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr (or whatever the latest one is – I can’t keep up!). Many of us post regularly to our blogs, sharing our works of art as well as our opinions and thoughts on the world.

But there are a lot of times when I have things that I need to say, but I need to say them to no one at all.  I used to keep a paper diary but that was hard to manage because A) my handwriting is atrocious, B) finding storage for all those notebooks in my tiny, little, crooked house is not easy and C) I would have to take the laptop off my lap in order to put a notebook there…and that’s just not likely to happen.

I used to use my diary as a place to “just write”. Some days it was my deepest, darkest secrets. Some days it was just me waxing poetic about the girl with the beautiful hair who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Some days it was me doodling with a new story idea that magically started to appear on the page as I was waxing poetic about that girl with the beautiful hair.  I used to be diligent about it – 30 minutes, every day, no matter what.  I’d go back days or weeks later and read what I wrote, often being able to pull a neat little short story out of the debris field of my written mind-dump.  While times and life have changed, I’d like to get back to that kind of structure where I write whatever thoughts come to mind without any particular goal or target…though I suspect most of my commentary will be about coffee these days.

Regardless of the potential topics, I’ve tried various online tools to keep my private thoughts and ideas safe and secure, but I’ve never really been happy with them.  Private blogs work okay but end up distracting me anyway as I fiddle with the look and feel (even though it’s just for my eyes only).  I find online notebooks like evernote to be clumsy and hard to use.  I’ve used Microsoft Word documents but they, too, come to a point where I get distracted by fonts and colors and formatting and tables of contents and… you get the picture.

The issue is clearly me more than it is the tools.  I have settled on a private blog for now but I’m curious what methods the Today’s Author community might be using for a modern, comfortable, easy-to-use-and-not-too-distracting journal or diary.  I’d love to hear your methods for letting the private thoughts out while still keeping them private.

‘Tis the Season

It’s hard to believe that this morning I tore the page off the calendar as we moved to the first day of October (okay, I realize the phrase “tore the page off the calendar” may say more about my age than I’d like). Didn’t summer just start a few days ago?  Yet, here we are, October 1.  Leaves are falling, there’s a cool, crisp feeling in the air (at least here in New Jersey) and thoughts are turning to seasonal things like pumpkins, Halloween, raking of leaves and… NaNoWriMo.

Yes, it’s officially the season for National Novel Writing Month preparations!  Many writers spend October gearing up for a fast-paced November of writing. Whether it’s for the thrill of creating a new work of fiction in a short amount of time, the camaraderie of participating in a writing event with a couple hundred thousand fellow writers or simply a writing challenge, NaNoWriMo presents aspiring writers with an opportunity to make writing a priority above all the other top priorities we have each day.

Whether you are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year or not, the start of a new month, a new calendar quarter  and, essentially, a new season of the year is a good time to consider the projects you are working on and what new project(s) you might be considering in the near future.  As a “pantser”, I don’t really plan out what my writing projects will include, but I still have generally vague ideas in mind.  I’ve participated in and won NaNoWriMo every year since 2006 and am hoping to participate and win again this year.  But I understand the concept and rigor of a month of writing isn’t for everyone.  So today I am wondering who among our community is planning to participate or at least considering participating in NaNoWriMo, either on the main “adult” site or via the Young Writers Program.  Whether you are participating or not, what project(s) are you looking forward to working on over the coming months?

As always, I and everyone here at Today’s Author are happy you have made us a part of your writing journey and hope to continue supporting your creative efforts.  If there are ways we can help, please contact us, leave a comment on one of our posts or create a topic in our forums. Keep writing, everyone!

Tell the Story

A few weeks ago, we asked the question each of us has probably been asked many times: Why do we write? We had a few people answer both online and offline and the general theme of the responses was simple:  “I write because I can’t not write.”

This was always my answer in the past, too.  But after a few years of basically not writing, at least not writing in the way I always used to write because I “had to”, I’ve started doubting that answer.  I mean, if I’m being honest here, I’ve successfully not written much of anything for quite some time, so clearly I am actually quite capable of not writing.

Yet, I feel like I am – and should continue to be – a writer.

The reason I say this is because I have stories to tell.  A lot of them.  Stories that are unique to me and only able to be told by me.  Sure, I’ve already told a lot of stories, some really good, some less good. But I know I have a lot more in me because they are all trying to come out in one way or another.

I’ve been reflecting on my creative struggles a lot recently. Most of the struggles are due to outside factors such as work, kids and life.  But some of them are definitely simply related to inertia – now that I’m not writing regularly it is easy to continue to not write regularly.  It’s just like going to the gym every day — when you’re in the habit, you just keep going to the gym each day, even if you don’t feel like it.  But if you skip a day, it is much easier to skip the next day, and the next day, and the next.

And so here I sit, worn out from the daily grind but still full of creative energy.  I’m so tired when I sit down to write that I tend to drift off to sleep almost immediately upon beginning to write, my head nodding slowly down, hovering slightly above the laptop keyboard. It’s not that the stories aren’t there for the telling, it’s that they can’t type themselves!

So what is my answer when I’m asked “Why do you write?”  As I mentioned, it always used to be “I write because I can’t not write.”  But now I’ve got a different answer:

“I write because I have stories to tell.”

Is there really a difference in these answers? I suppose in the grand scheme of things there is not much of a difference in them.  The small detail of actually putting words on the page is there, looming larger than life no matter how I might phrase my answer.  But if you parse those two answers carefully, there is a subtle difference.  One makes writing be almost like a chore – something I must do, something that is required.  The other gives a more rational explanation and a more realistic expectation – the writing is about the story being told, not about the writing being done.  I tell stories all the time, wild and whimsical tales of excitement or woe, epic victories and massive defeats, paper bags and plastic bags.  Stories that make my kids roll their eyes at me and stories that make my kids’ friends laugh at how odd I am.  The stories are there and they come out, whether I get them on paper or not.

And so, I am a writer.  I am a writer because I have stories to tell and I tell them.  The next step is to get back into putting them down on the page so that they can be shared outside of the small circle of people who ride back and forth in my car as we go to baseball games or band events.  Maybe then I can get back to the simpler answer of writing because I can’t not write.  But until then I will keep telling my stories and I hope you will keep telling your stories, too.


Why do we write?

youshouldwriteabookThe picture above is a real picture of a real fortune I received in a fortune cookie a few days ago.  As with most fortune cookie messages, I just kind of tossed it aside with the other papers on my little table by the couch and didn’t think about it.  Except, I’ve been thinking about it for days now.

“You…should write a book.”

I’ve been told that I should write a book for years. Many times over the years, in fact.  And while I’ve written stories, novels, plays, poems, songs and any number of other things, I’ve not yet produced “a book”. For a while it looked like I was spiraling in on doing just that.  I had several stories published, I was writing regularly (completing stories almost weekly)…I was in the zone as it were.

But then it stopped.

Interestingly, as I’ve thought about my charming way with words” over the past few days, I’ve realized that nearly just as often as I’ve been told I should write a book, I’ve been asked that inevitable question asked of aspiring authors:

Why do you write?

In the past, I always had an answer for this question.  It was simple, really:

I write because I can’t NOT write.

To a large extent, this answer was one of those infallible Truths of my being.  I simply had to write or else I was not me. It was unhealthy to not write.  It was the only way I could clear my head before going to sleep at night and the only way I could get myself going in the mornings.  It was simply what I did when I was not doing anything else and it was what I chose to do whenever I had options.

But now, as I sit here and look at my woeful creative output in recent months, I realize that my answer for “why I write” is no longer so easy.  In fact, it is now very easy for me to NOT write.  The hectic life of being self-employed —  with two busy and active teenagers who still allow me to be part of their lives — means that the decision matrix of what priorities bubble to the top is more complex than it has ever been and unfortunately for my creative side, the time involved with sitting down to put pen to paper causes writing to slide down the priorities scale.  I still do write.  It’s a paragraph here or there, it’s notes on a random napkin or junk mail envelope, it’s stories I recite to myself while I’m mowing the lawn.  The passion for writing isn’t gone, it’s simply sitting there burning quietly like a pilot light in a furnace, waiting for the call to burn brightly.

But this still leaves me with thoughts of whether or not I need for a new answer to the question of “why do I write?”.  I mean, wouldn’t it just be easier to hang up the notebooks and pens and just be a dad or a worker bee or a homeowner with a ton of yard work to do, and not have the added burden of “being a writer“? Sure, maybe it would be easier.  One less thing on the never-ending, never-empty, always-expanding to-do list each day.  But as I’ve thought about it these past few days since a wise slip of paper informed me that I have a charming way with words and should write a book, I realize once again that I have a story to tell — many stories to tell, in fact– and the only way these stories will be told is if *I* write them.  So even though today I may be putting most of my writing on scraps of paper or on the backs of envelopes, even though most of those slips of paper are being stuffed into a “for the future” folder and left on the corner of a desk in the basement, I’m still writing.  And the reason is still the same as it was when I wrote my first stories at 6 years old:  I write because I really can’t NOT write.

How about you? What is your answer to this question and how is that answer being manifested differently (or the same) now as compared to whenever you started writing?  Discuss in the comments here or over on the forums.

Improvements and Changes for Today’s Author

Here at Today’s Author we are have been working to build a community of aspiring writers since December of 2012. We’ve accomplished a lot in the first couple of years of working toward this goal and we are constantly seeking new ways to improve what we bring to the community.

That is why we are pleased to unveil today a new feature at Today’s Author: our Discussion Forums! Our goal with these forums is to provide a more open and interactive place to discuss our collective journey with writing. We’ve put some forum categories together to start things off and these will continue to grow and change as the community grows and changes.  I hope everyone in our community will create an account in the forums and that this will enable a new level of interaction and growth within the community. Since we are just getting this started, there may be a few kinks to work out with it, but I hope you will give it a try today!

Secondly, we are looking for a few new contributors to write for Today’s Author. Do you feel you are ready to commit to writing a post or two each month, sharing your techniques, strategies, goals and dreams with respect to writing? If so, please fill out the contact form on the Contact Us page and let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

The new Forums are just the first of several exciting things coming to Today’s Author.  In the coming months we hope to be bringing you even more tools to help you in your writing journey. Thanks for being part of our community and remember to just keep writing…

Games to Inspire Creativity

I’m a nerd.  My kids are nerds. My wife is a nerd (that’s a compliment, honey).  What this means is we often get gifts that are intellectually stimulating (along with the occasionally absurd varieties).

Two of the games we have on our shelf tend to spur a lot of creativity in our house.  First, there are Rory’s Story Cubes.  Rory’s Story Cubes are a set of dice that have pictures on them.  You roll the dice and then make up a story based on the pictures that come up.  As far as I know, they have three sets:  Original, Voyages, and Actions.  Each set of dice can be used individually or together to build wild stories that are generated by the random rolls.  It is a pocket-sized game, so it is easy to bring along with you wherever you go.  When you want to make up a quick story, whip out the Cubes, roll them out and start writing!  I find these to be a lot of fun with friends or kids and they can really kick start the creativity if you just want to write something fun or different.

Another game we have received is called You’ve Been Sentenced.  In You’ve Been Sentenced, players select a hand of 10 pentagonal cards from the deck. Each card has various conjugations of a base word.  There are nouns, verbs, adjectives, indefinite articles, proper names — everything you’d need to write complete, grammatically correct sentences.  The goal of the game is to build the longest sentence you can (again, properly formed, grammatically correct).  When a player has achieved what they believe is their best sentence, they set a timer and the other players have until the time runs out to complete their own.  Any player in the game is allowed to argue that your sentence is improper or grammatically incorrect or just doesn’t make sense…then you both defend opinions to the rest of the players (The Jury).  The sentences that result from this are often quite hilarious, on their own, but as you can imagine, the arguments against or in defense of a given sentence are often even more hilarious.  We have had games where in defense of a sentence we’ve spun up entire tales explaining back story and side details about the character(s) within it.  Other times, I have attempted to make each of my sentences (each hand of cards) be part of a single storytelling universe- as you might imagine, this is not easy to do with a random set of words every few minutes.

I’m sure there are many other games out there that can provide similar creative sparks.  I have a box on the table next to me that is called the “Writer’s Toolbox”. In it there are flash cards and popsicle sticks that have words, phrases and ideas written on them. There are also spinners with different words on them.  Selecting a card or stick from the various piles or spinning the word wheel provides different ideas and story arcs.  Similarly, I’ve taken a standard dictionary, closed my eyes, opened to a random page and dropped my finger onto a word… do it a couple times and then use those words to build a story.  (In fact, my wife and I used to do this together… we’d select words, write stories and then compare the results — I told you we’re both nerds…).

In the end, I look at any and all opportunities to find creativity.  Games, prompts and other idea generators are great tools, but ultimately they can just be a means of kick starting the creativity that is already there.  Do you know of any other games similar to these which you use as a means of generating ideas? Share them in the comments!

NOTE:  I am not trying to sell these games, but if you are interested in learning more, I’ve provided links to them on Amazon:

Rory’s Story Cubes

You’ve Been Sentenced