A little exercise about seeing suggested by Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction
Walking on the path through the woods in my neighborhood, I wear a mask. The pandemic, you know. Since my glasses fog when I exhale, I take them off.
The normal markers of trees, rocks, and bushes are lit with sun splotches seeping through nature\'s canopy. A three-foot owl, low to the ground, with a head of white feathers, draped with a thin, gauzy wreath appears around the bend of the path. As I near, I come to doubt it is an owl and the gauze has slipped away, but the white head remains ... until the distance shrinks. Close in, I see a pile stack of fallen branches. The ends of two branches have been peeled of their bark. When the sun strikes them, they are brilliant against the dull brown-gray of the limbs from which they stick out. The leaves of bushes before and beyond receive their own pattern of sun rays, and illumination which Thomas Young perhaps suggested in his double-slit light experiment. At first sight, at a distance from which I could not discern individual elements, they gave me a single gauze wreath.
My daily exercise became a journey into a mysterious world, only slowly resolved. Boulders that moved became deer. The resolving magic of Renoir\'s \"By the Water\" became my partner.
|These days remind me of the Isaac Newton's escape from Cambridge to farm life when the Great Plague raged in England. He made great advances in his understanding of the workings of the world and the solar system.
Maybe someone on this board will write a great work, given that concentration can be more easily gained than it has been possible for many decades.
|I see writing as my full-time retirement occupation, so I need to check that I'm not wasting my time.
1 Joined WDC. 80 reviews given. 50 reviews received.
2 M-Anation 3 stories and 2 essays published.
3 Mental Construction web site. Printed book of all posts. Wrote 13 new posts. Revised all content.
4 Burning Thoughts blog added 20 essays.
5 Quora. 44k reads of my posts, mainly in neural cognition and economics.
|Oh, I just got an email from Elle telling me that my portfolio is nominated in the Best New Portfolio. I'm honored and thrilled.
Please take a look at my portfolio
and at all nominees in the Quill categories
|I finished the first draft of a science fiction short story, seven thousand words. That's my hot draft. My goal is capture the main action and dialog in scene order. I write from beginning to end without going back to fix or alter things as they occur to me. Those changes will be caught in subsequent revisions.
Hot Draft Shortcomings
Before I start revisions, I print the hot draft. Besides settings and transition passages, shorted by the hot draft, there are certain ways I use words that benefit from further scrutiny. Here are four cases.
1 and . Over-reliance on the word 'and.' Often text can be improved by replacing the equivalence of 'and' with logical relationship between the clauses.
2 was/is . Too frequent use of 'was' and 'is' can indicate that I am explaining the story rather than using narrative links.
3 It/There . When 'It' or 'There' start a sentence, often the true subject is hidden too much.
4 -ly . Finding the words ending in 'ly', offers many opportunities to replace a verb-adverb combination with a stronger verb.
With what frequency do these words occur in my hot draft? Are those frequencies normal or excessive?
To answer the first question, I wrote a python program to count word usage in my story.
The second question is harder and more subjective. To get a feel for a good writer's mix of words, I ran the program against the Project Gutenberg copy of Emma, by Jane Austen. Of course, this is just a first brush on usage frequencies, not the final word.
Figure 1. Word frequency in my hot draft and Jane Austen's Emma
Looking at Figure 1, my overuse in the hot draft of adverbs (ending in ly) is striking, almost three times as frequent as in Emma. Her frequent use of 'and' surprised me, especially since a glance through my hot draft showed it often used when the logical relationship of the joined ideas was more important than 'and' indicated.
Such was my intellectual excursion as I rested after an extended creative effort.
Python code cools my mind after writing a hot draft.
Web site with word frequency information
|I've been on WDC three months now. There are so many names and userids and handles that it's not all straight in my mind—who's who and where do I know this person from and what about that name. So I created a spreadsheet.
I've communicated with about 60 writers on WDC in this quarter of a year. That's way more than I did in the previous two years! They fall into three main groups so far: members of the Rockin' Reviewers (PDG), writers of stories I reviewed, and people who reviewed stories of mine.
I am not a profligate communicator, but seeing the writers and items all together helped me to appreciate the breadth of companionship, context, and insight that is provided here.
And yesterday for the first time, I entered "Newbies ONLY Short Story & Poem Contest" . Oh, the list will grow.
|Usually I study fiction writers. Right now, I’m in an online writers group. To get into a reviewer group, a writer has to take some certification courses. It made me face that I should also re-examine my non-fiction writing more systematically.
Best American Essays of the Century
I want to learn from the best. I purchased the collection, The Best American Essays of the Century.
My writing in Mental Construction and most postings in Burning Thoughts are essays.
Now I can enjoy these essays as well as study the structure the authors used to achieve their effects. There are fifty-five essays by fifty-five famous writers. These authors range from Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, and Robert Frost to John Muir, H. L. Mencken, Langston Hughes, Susan Sontag, and so on.
The first essay I picked was “The Creation Myths of Cooperstown” by the evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould. After I enjoyed his lighthearted expose of the muddle of baseball’s origin, I looked at the fit of his sixty-five hundred word essay into the organization structure I’ve been using since a technical writing class. It gave me my first insight into how flexible the essay form can be–and that I shouldn’t be so rigid in my adherence to that structure.
The aim–one might say a corollary of the thesis–of “The Creation Myths of Cooperstown” comes near the end of this essay published in 1989, the claim that defining personhood as originating at conception is an arbitrary marker along the continuum of fetus development. That perhaps fetal quickening is more meaningful.
Yet after raising this important and provocative point, Gould steers completely away and back to the calmer waters of baseball lore.
My essay Impact: Personhood at Conception Thoughts develops other worrisome consequences of that definition. Such as, will every pregnancy that doesn’t result in a live birth, be the potential source of legal jeopardy?
Year to Come
The nearly six hundred pages of The Best Essays of the Century will keep me in clover for many happy and productive hours. Even when I disagree with an essay’s substance, I’ll still be learning.