I’m Sorry, But…

Almost every writer who wants to be published will have to face rejection somewhere along the line. Perhaps it’s not what they’re looking for at that time; maybe they liked it, but other work was of a higher standard.

Last week, though, I was in the position when I had to turn down an offer. I have a friend – let’s call her Alice – who runs community engagement activities for a historic trust. This time, she was running an event for people aged 60 and over to share their memories for a children’s’ book. Unfortunately, one of the participants had fallen ill, but she had an unusual story of World War II that deserved to be told.

Anzacwoundedturk
Wounded soldier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alice furnished me with the important points. I considered the offer for six days, but I found it impossible to shape a poem or a story around the facts I was given.

The difficulty with biography is that when you don’t know the individual personally, it’s necessary to conduct a lot of research. There was a Middle Eastern leader some years ago who would carry out an hour of research for every minute he planned to spend with a visitor; inconveniently, my own research has not turned up this guy’s name.

I need to stress that this wasn’t Alice’s shortcoming, but from the information I was given, I felt I’d be unable to do justice to her story. So I made the decision to decline the offer, but not before referring Alice to a tutor friend who teaches life writing. I do hope the participant’s story can be told in a suitable manner.

Of course, if there’d been no requirement to tell a true story, I could easily have taken the available facts and fictionalised the rest. It would have been very different, but probably rather compelling.

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Your Weekly Writing Update by Grammarly

A few weeks ago, I started a subscription to Grammarly.  As I sometimes churn out my writing work quickly, especially blog posts, it’s a useful tool to pick up any spelling or grammar errors that creep in.

There’s already a proprietary checker in Microsoft Word, and it’s possible to download browser extensions that perform a similar function. But Grammarly software is consistent in Word, in your browser, and anywhere else you type on your computer. It doesn’t, however, seem to be available for mobile devices.

Every week, I’m sent a summary of how well or badly I’ve performed in my spelling and grammar. Here are selected stats from 06 February to 12 February.

  • You wrote more words than 96% of Grammarly users did.
  • You were more accurate than 82% of Grammarly users.
  • You have a larger vocabulary than 97% of Grammarly users.

So far, I feel like a latter-day Shakespeare. However, it’s not all happy news:

Top 3 grammar mistakes

1. Missing comma in compound sentence: 44 mistakes.
2. Incorrect use of comma: 15 mistakes
3. Missing comma(s) with interrupter: 10 mistakes

Grammarly and I can’t seem to come to an agreement on this issue.

Sometimes it allows the use of the Oxford comma in a list, but sometimes I’m told to take it out. Similarly, I’m often shouted at for placing a comma before and in a sentence, but it’s occasionally required to stay in.

I’ve also discovered a problem with the verb form in the following sentence:

  • The audience here tends to be corporations.

I’m advised this isn’t correct:

tends

So I duly drop the final letter to make the verb agree with the plural subject corporations. Then I’m told:

tend

Now the verb form is incorrect because it doesn’t agree with the singular audience. And so we go around in a loop. There is a facility to add custom spellings or to ignore a suggestion, but no way to let the software learn your writing style or to flag up false positives.

Ultimately, the writer has to determine whether the words that are written, or the way in which they’re written, are suitable for the intended purpose. Grammarly is a tool that uses algorithms to apply the conventional rules of English; it’s not a textbook that must be followed precisely.

Forcing Toothpaste Back into the Tube

Tonight I’m hosting a spoken-word evening called Hotchpotch. This is an informal monthly event where writers and poets can read out their own work without judgement or criticism. In recent months, we’ve seen many new faces, a trend we would like to maintain.

To keep our events at the forefront of people’s minds, I’ve made it a priority to communicate with members regularly, also to cross-promote other literary events and the venues we use. I send a bulletin every couple of weeks on Facebook and Twitter, and by e-mail.

The last time, though, there were some problems with the reminders, and it was up to me to fix them.

Facebook

A lot of our regulars subscribe to the Hotchpotch Facebook page. This is the easiest update to make: it can be done on a PC or a phone, subscribers are notified immediately when a new post appears, and there’s a facility to tag the pages of related literary groups. The posts can also be edited, and people can ask questions in the comments.

On Facebook pages, administrators have the option to post under their own name or to post under the name of the page. The last time, I forgot to change the option and posted as myself. People could still see the message if they happened to look at the page, but they wouldn’t be individually notified.

The post had been up for a few hours before I noticed. Fortunately, all I had to do was copy it, make sure the related events were correctly tagged, and repost it in the correct mode.

English: internet Español: internet
Teh interwebz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Twitter

After posting on Facebook, I send out the link on Twitter using HootSuite software. This can calculate the times of day that people are most likely to see your updates; in our case, it typically posts at 9am the following day.

Shortly after I’d corrected the Facebook error discussed above, I saw our Twitter post had a spacing error which meant the venue wasn’t properly credited. To add to the problem, the message had already been retweeted by two followers and later a third. One of these is the Scottish Poetry Library, which has an extensive audience and is great exposure for us.

The question was how to correct this error in the least disruptive manner. I didn’t want to leave the post as it was because it looked unprofessional, yet I didn’t want to take it down because users had already engaged with us. I’ve learnt a few things from managing literary groups, and one of them is to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

I posted a corrected version with the venue properly credited. I then sent private messages to the three users explaining what had happened and asking whether they would do me a favour and retweet the correct version. And they did. This move ended up working in our favour, as more Library followers engaged with our new message than the original.

E-mail

A significant proportion of our members don’t use Facebook or Twitter, so we also maintain a mailing list.

The bulletin I’m most worried about is this one; once an e-mail has been sent, it’s not usually possible to recall or amend it. So when I send Hotchpotch updates, I’ve set up a 30-second delay so it can be cancelled if necessary before it leaves my outbox. Gmail users can find this feature in the Settings.

But despite the problems with the Facebook and Twitter pages, the e-mail was sent without any mistakes.

 

Further to Last February

Exactly 12 months ago, I was given a chance to attend a masterclass at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh.

Performance poet Francesca Beard led the weekend class, with the aim of helping the participants form a full-length spoken-word show. Like many performers, she believes revealing part of your inner self on stage – or indeed on a page – makes for compelling work.

One year on, I’ve completed a few projects as a result of that fabulous weekend:

The Purple Spotlights EP

Before I had enough material for a full-length show, I did have enough poetry for a four-track EP.

I chose three existing pieces around the theme of friendship. Additionally, I wrote Seven Months especially for the release, which takes more than five minutes to perform. In print, that would be too long for most magazines, but ideal for audio.

The recording process taught me a little about performance and a lot about packaging my work for an audience who aren’t in front of me.
The EP was released in April 2016 and is available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify, plus many other outlets.

Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton's Close, Can...
Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh Designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects, frequented by many excellent writers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Crossing the Road

On the second day of the masterclass, Beard asked us to identify the subject or theme we were scared to write about. Then she asked us to write about it, and I did. We all did.

This gave me the confidence to interest the publisher in a previously-written work called Crossing the Road that deals directly with my bisexuality. It was then included in the Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry anthology; the first publication I approached. I was pleased to be invited back to Edinburgh, then to Aberdeen, for the launches.

I felt this poem would have more impact if it weren’t read from a sheet of paper, so I committed it to memory. From that point on, I’ve tried to do the same with all my performed work.

Sir Madam

Over the weekend, I became acquainted with the other participants, and I remain friends with most of them. One introduced me to the intense and angry work of Andrea Gibson and, by coincidence, I happened upon the Kate Tempest poem The Woman the Boy Became.

These influences helped me to shape an idea I’d had for years, but hadn’t been able to commit to paper. Sir Madam is a character who identifies as somewhere between male and female. Owing to the subject matter, I was particularly nervous about performing it. However, I received several positive comments afterwards, some from quarters I hadn’t expected.

Jennifer Goldman’s Electric Scream

The main aim of the workshop was to form a full-length spoken-word show. I’ve used some of the techniques taught to write a series of monologues that I’m seeking to turn into a one-hour play.

That isn’t finished yet, but it might not exist at all if it hadn’t been for that weekend with Francesca Beard.