Word Refiner Extraordinaire

One of the best parts of an author platform is making new connections that turn into friends.  Such was the case with fellow word nerd, Mark Schultz, of Word Refiner.  The Weight of Words, found in my Writing Toolbox, is all about the complexities of words.  I believe this is what caught Mark’s eye and started the conversation between us.  With that being said, it just made sense to feature Mark and Word Refiner on my blog.  Without further ado, I’m pleased to introduce Mark Schultz and his homonym-sniffing sidekick, Grizz.

Hello and welcome!  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I have been married for over forty years to my wife (she is a keeper).  We have three kids, girl-boy-girl, who are now ‘adulting’ quite well, and three beautiful granddaughters who we love and see frequently.

What has your experience been?

I am a journeyman sheet metal worker and a journeyman HVAC service technician.  I work outdoors a great deal and love it most of the time.  I had nearly twenty years of experience in retail before I launched into construction.  I like helping people.

Did your work experience lead to the creation of Word Refiner?

No, but my love of reading led me in that direction.  I have been a super reader all of my life.  Reading is one of my favorite things to do.  During my college years, I worked as a proofreader for a firm of consulting engineers, proofing specifications and contract documents.  This was in the dark ages before the Internet, before computers, cell phones, and calculators.  The new exciting thing was correction paper for a typewriter.  That is the only experience in the industry.  But I was alerted to the fact that I was really good at finding all types of spelling errors, including homonyms, typographical errors, missing words, misplaced words, and multiple words.  I was better at it than everyone else in the department.

How did you develop your passion for words/spelling?

I read some books, then I read some more books, and more books, and … you get the idea.  I have read many thousands of books in my life.  In college or at work I had three books I was reading at the same time:  one for home, one on the bus, and one at school or work.  I read very widely as a boy and an adult.  I was very bored growing up on a small, non-working farm.  I had only my younger sisters and baby brother to play with.  I devoured encyclopedias and spent many happy hours in a twenty pound dictionary.  Relatives sent me books for birthdays and holidays.  I read my parents magazines and loved Reader’s Digest.  I read very widely and loved every minute of it, no matter how many times I had to go to the dictionary.  I also checked many books out of the school and public library.

So, you’re an avid reader?   What do you enjoy reading?

At the moment, I am in the middle of Paul Cude’s Bentwhistle the Dragon, Volume One, in between book reviews.  I am reading this for fun and have found it quite enjoyable.  My favorite genres are sci-fi and fantasy, but I have come to appreciate good writing in whatever genre.  I have read some great cozy murders, historical fiction, and romantic stories.

When did you decide to create Word Refiner?

Many years ago, a friend was writing a book.  He sent me his tenth draft.  It was typewritten and double-spaced.  He liked my suggestions a lot, and I proofed for him for many years after that.  I started looking for other authors and found it very hard to meet them.  I had the concept in mind for a long time, but could not connect with very many authors.  I advertised on Craig’s List for several years with a little bit of success.  I found it really hard to connect with authors on Facebook and some other social media portals.  When I looked into Twitter, I realized I had struck pay dirt.

How does a client contact you?

I can be contacted on Twitter of course: @wordrefiner.  I can also be reached at my website: Word Refiner, and by email: wordrefiner@yahoo.com.

How does Word Refiner work?  What is the process?

While it is detailed on my website, here are the basics. I offer a free evaluation of a manuscript whether fiction or nonfiction.  My skill is in spelling, so I tell a client that I can provide the best value after all the editing and rewriting is done.  When the client thinks the book is ready to be published, I should be the last set of fresh eyes.  I ask for a section from the middle of the book, two to three thousand words.  I go through it and provide the estimate based on the density of errors in the sample.  My pricing is based on word count and starts at $3.00 per thousand words; as the number of errors increases, so does my price.  If we agree on the project, they send me the entire book in a format compatible with MS Word 2013.

What does a client receive from you?

I use the commenting feature in Word; I do not make any changes in the book.  There is a sample of what that looks like on my website:  Learn More.  If I find a weird formatting error, such as a line cut off in the middle and moved down, I will fix that for continuity reasons.  Otherwise, I believe in a hands-off approach.  I want the author to be able to see exactly what they wrote and consider my suggestions.  If any particular suggestion is not liked, then no harm is done.  While I am not a full editor, I do offer suggestions for readability, plot points, and technical details where warranted.  Many authors have been very grateful for my suggestions.  I know a little about a lot of things.  I am a super reader and the Hyper-speller. I know my strengths and don’t stray too far from that sweet spot.  When I send the book back, I have changed the name of the file.  I keep the original file as received for safety purposes.

Do you specialize in one type of book:  fiction or non-fiction?   Do you work on promotional materials, programs, brochures?

I can do all of the above and more.  My specialty is words.  If it has words I can read, I am there.  I am also cognizant of the differences that can exist in British English and Australian English.  I have clients in many parts of the world.

Can you tell us some of the titles you’ve worked on?

I have worked on quite a few books.  The full list is at Books We Have Refined.  I would like to mention the books of one of my favorite authors, Diane Munier: Darnay Road, Deep In The Heart of Me, Finding My Thunder, and most recently, Bayah and the Ex-con.  The first three were done post-publication.

Any favorite words?

My favorite group of homonyms is rite, write, right, and wright.  It is the longest group of homonyms I know.  I would love to find more of equal or greater length.  I also heard a phrase on a BBC production: “insalubrious morass” was a bit of dialog and stuck in my ear.  I relished the sound of it and feel in my mouth.  It means an unhealthy, swampy area.

Word(s) you see misspelled most often?

From and Form come to mind first.  Their, there, and they’re are also very common.  There are so many homonyms that can be mixed up, and typos are created so easily.  I know because my fingers are pretty sloppy on the keyboard.

Is Word Refiner your dream job?

Yes!  Getting paid to read books is my dream job!

How do you see Word Refiner growing?

I am one person; I have not found anyone that can do what I do for the price I charge.  My rates are very reasonable.

So this is a solo operation?

It is the three of us:  me, myself, and I.  Let’s not forget Grizz.  Call it 1 ½.

Is there any truth to the rumor that Grizz has 51% controlling interest in the business?

I have defeated his proxy attempts a couple of times now.  I am not sure he has given up.

A Snapshot of Writing

A Snapshot of WritingThe creation of art can be a wonderful and dreadful process at the same time. Some of the struggles I’ve encountered with my chosen art form of writing include writer’s block, doubts and fears regarding my abilities, the evil query and rejection letters, comparison, envy, impatience, and the list goes on and on. But every now and then, there are lamps along the tunnel as I travel toward the light at the end. That’s when it’s wonderful.

As an outlet for my frustration, I began to tag along with my sister-in-law when she took photographs. She’s really quite good and a patient teacher as well when I asked her questions on how she approached her shot. One of the ways she explained the process was to hand the camera to me. I declined the opportunity to even hold her camera, which looked far too technical and expensive, but in addition to being a great teacher, my sister-in-law is mildly insistent. There was no way I was getting off the hook.

So, I snapped a few pictures as she taught me what the various dials and buttons on the camera do. She talked me through the procedure, and by allowing me to make mistakes, I learned quite a bit and became addicted to photography.

Here’s where the wonderful part happened. After setting up an account on ViewBug for my photos, joining challenges, and voting on other peoples’ pictures, I earned a free tutorial on landscape photography. Even though I don’t own a camera, I watched the video with the hopes of gaining more knowledge and possibly impressing my sister-in-law.

The lesson on photography will help me hone my skill, but what truly impressed me was how much of what the instructor said could be applied to writing. For starters, new experiences are good for you. Even if you’ve been writing for a while, keep in mind that every time you start a new piece, you’re taking yourself someplace you’ve never been with a different location, characters, style, descriptions, etc. And even if you’re working on a series, you have the power to make something new happen each time. Then there is your unique perspective. You are going to see things differently than anyone else in the world, so write them from the perspective that you alone possess.

As for equipment, writers have the luxury of keeping it simple, and I strongly suggest you do. A well-sharpened pencil and single-subject, college ruled notebook is all you need to create literary brilliance. Know the basics and fundamentals of your technique. Scouting a good location is important for a writer because distractions, even in the home, will keep you from your goal. Timing is important for the same reason: determine when in your day you are the most productive and stick to the schedule. And when it comes to composition, that’s where your personal style will shine through.

So now it’s time to address your process. The instructor on the tutorial called it a mind process and used words every writer knows. He started with subject. Identify what deserves to be written. Don’t forget POV. Take a small bit of advice from a photographer, and don’t be afraid to explore multiple POVs at the same time. What it does for photography will not be lost on writing. The formula for determining exposure translates into plotting, pantsing, or a combination thereof for a writer. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment. Next, decide what you’d like to focus on. Once all of this is determined, work that composition.

When you show your photographs to other people, they don’t know what else is going on around the scene you’ve captured or how you felt when you took it. Writers can combat this issue by providing essential backstory at the appropriate time. But just like a photographer, you don’t have to show it all. Leave a little mystery, a little something to the imagination, and your reader won’t feel led around by the nose. Write about the most interesting parts because that’s where the story is, and you’ll capture a good picture. A mental picture in this case. Remember that the objective is not to capture one big picture of everything all at once, but rather a frame that tells a clear story. You are the director, you choose the content.

Don’t fall in love with the first thing you write. Investigate your characters’ surroundings and discover what else you can do with it or them. Walk through their world. Return many times with breaks in between. Take another look at your subject, and decide what else you can do with it. Then apply your creative style in a way no one else has thought of.

Add vibrant but well-written details and structure, and a sense of order will emerge. You can do this on different levels of your writing whether writing on a grand scale, intimate stories, or the minute particulars. Keep in mind that your ideal and the reality won’t always match, but don’t let this discourage you. Work with what you’re given, seek inspiration, and the great story will come.

As for filters, they apply to the writer during the editing stage. You’ll be able to filter out the bad in your own writing after you’ve set it aside for a couple months and return to it fresh. Beta readers provide some of the best filtering toward your writing goal, seeing things you didn’t, and offering advice from their own perspective.

With a few modifications, the guidelines for taking a great photograph apply to writing with stunning clarity. I mentioned this at my writer’s group and was told by a poet that this is known as the rules of the creatives. They are a set of standards that transcend one artistic form to positively influence another. Hanging with the poets a couple of times a year has already lent valuable insight to my writing. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that my newfound hobby would as well.

There are so many artistic pursuits that crossover to supply inspiration and encouragement. Already I’m viewing the story ingredients in my mind and trying to figure a way to bake them all together so as to produce a perfect word painting. I suggest you do the same.

How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words

How Reading Taught Me To Misspell WordsI’ve read so many books during my life that I’ve started to misspell words. I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I didn’t pay attention to which books were written by English authors and which by American authors. There must have been a time when my selections were top heavy with Brits because I started dropping a U into words that Microsoft Word kept underling, claiming that a U didn’t belong in said word. When it happened with the word color, well, that one seemed rather obvious.

Then came a day when Word underlined realise. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I kept re-reading the sentence for grammar and content to make sure it wasn’t a fragment, etc., etc. But wait, the underline was red, squiggly, and mocking. What in the world was wrong with this word?

I deleted it, retyped it, and again the ugly red squiggles popped up. It was time to resort to the good ole Google search bar. When the first article to pop up was titled Realise vs. Realize, I had a sneaky suspicion of the mistake I’d made. I was having my own private British Invasion.

According to Grammarist.com:

Realise and realize are different spellings of the same word, and both are used to varying degrees throughout the English-speaking world. Realize is the preferred spelling in American and Canadian English, and realise is preferred outside North America. The spelling distinction extends to all derivatives of the verb, including realised/realized, realising/realizing, and realisation/realization.

None of this may seem relevant to a writer, but on the off chance your writing includes a letter composed by someone born and raised outside of North America, think how smart you’ll look to your editor when you spell realize with an S.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 12

Writer's Soul 12Today’s Writer’s Soul blog post is going to be a bit like tap dancing on a landmine.  Per the suggestion in Page After Page, I’m going to explore my parent’s influence on my writing life. When I first read the exercise, I thought to myself, “There isn’t enough red wine in the entire world to make me do this, especially when both parents follow my blog.” Yet here we are.

I don’t believe either of my parents ever aspired to be writers, although I do remember mom jotting down an occasional poem during my childhood. That’s okay because neither resisted the idea of writing or being an artist of any kind.

The funny thing is I don’t really consider either of them to be readers. Well, not on the same level that I hoard and consume books anyway. Mom admits that she came to pleasure reading as an adult when she read The Wind in the Willows. This still surprises me because she was always reading to me and my brother when we were little. In fact, I credit Mom with instilling in me a love for books as I mentioned before.  (My Love Affair With Books)

I only remember my Dad reading Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and John Irving’s The World According to Garp. Otherwise, my only memories of Dad reading were the gigantic manuals and/or books he studied when testing to make rank on the police force.

To what degree did my parents influence my writing? Mom is extremely creative in areas of decorating, cooking, hosting, and crafting. Perhaps I’m drawing on these genes when I write. From Dad I learned that whatever I do should be done well and completed. I mention the completion aspect because he has always complained that Mom has thousands of dollars of unfinished crafts and too many tea sets. I think Dad doesn’t understand that creativity is ongoing.

Both of my parents are hard workers, and while Dad would probably say that he did what he wanted to in life, Mom would wistfully admit that there were things she would have liked to have done and didn’t. I know she wanted to own a bed and breakfast or tearoom.  Her dreaming is what prompts me to keep writing even when things seem hopeless and the self-doubts arise. Dad’s successful career causes me to worry about making money at writing. I believe this stems from the fact that he conveyed to me and my brother the need to get jobs that supported ourselves but didn’t necessarily allow us to follow our dreams. This is the type of influence one would expect from a provider.

With these perspectives on working and following dreams in mind, I am better able to understand why I vacillate between the thoughts of “Will I make any money at this or am I just chasing a pipe dream” and “I really want to write and be published more than any other creative endeavor.” There’s a lot of pressure that comes with such thoughts, but as an adult, I’ll own them.

If Mom and Dad aren’t the driving force behind my writing, who is? The first people to come to mind are the countless writers behind the Little Golden Books Mom bought for me. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and L.M. Montgomery float to the surface of my memory. I could go on forever listing all of the authors and books I discovered through the years, but I’ll just say that my love of writing was birthed from my love of reading an excellent story.

What makes a great story? Great words. I admit, I’ve been caught reading with my lips moving, but if people would step closer and lean in, they would hear me reading softly to myself. When a passage is well written, it begs to be read aloud. My friend, Eleni Byrnes, would understand my obsession with words. She keeps a notebook of words she likes as she comes across them. It’s why she writes so well.

So, I’ll start with Eleni in my writing family tree and make her a sister. I’ll add Billie Letts and Wally Lamb as grandparents because they are excellent story tellers, and I’m all about the story. Isabel Allende will be my exotic aunt, and David Mitchell and David Liss my quirky cousins. Tim Gautreaux and Charles Frazier are favorite uncles.

Again, there are too many brilliant authors who have influenced my writing, so I’ll direct you to my Authors I Admire board on Pinterest and Goodreads to see who they are. Together, they make up my writing family tree and neighborhood.

I encourage everyone to explore who influences their writing or chosen art form. You’ll discover an extended family you never even knew you had.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 5

untitled (5)Allow me to preface today’s post with a nod to Heather Sellers’ book, Page After Page. As I mentioned in an earlier Baring My Writer’s Soul post, this is about blogging my experience. I truly hope you find something here that appeals to you; however, I strongly suggest that you do yourself the favor of reading Ms. Sellers’ book. Believe me when I say that you don’t want to miss one word of her valuable insight.

With that being said, the following lists are a writing exercise from Page After Page. The simple task jumpstarted my writing when I stalled due to resistance and, I recently discovered, boredom. (Boredom and Burnout: What To Do When Artistic Work Stops Being Fun by David J. Rogers) Even if it’s just a blog post, at least I’m productively writing.

The qualities of my ideal writing guidebook (what is covered):

  • Large, easily referenced grammar and punctuation section with examples
  • Daily writing exercises
  • Visual writing prompts
  • “How to” quality to the book, instructional without being preachy or stringent with rules
  • Info packed, fast paced

The qualities of my ideal writing class (what I learn):

  • How to write a query letter
  • Order of items in an e-mail to an agent, what is attached, what goes in the body of the e-mail
  • Standards of punctuation, grammar, when to italicize, underline, quote
  • How to write in deep POV (my most evil nemesis)
  • The art of good story telling (which I’m currently exploring in Steven James’ book, Story Trumps Structure)
  • How to write in the present tense when something occurred in the past
  • Writing a great first chapter (Again, Story Trumps Structure)
  • The best way to conduct research
  • Answer the question, “Does every story written these days have to follow an outline with nine-point structure, character arcs, pinches, plot points, etc., etc.?”

My best student-like qualities (who am I when I’m learning, my attitudes when I’m loving the act of learning, what do I look like, what do I wear, what do I have in the palm of my hand):

  • Detail oriented
  • Takes fabulous notes
  • Studies diligently, thoroughly
  • Combines book learning/reading with a hands-on experience, admittedly a bit more on the bookish end
  • Listens well
  • Questions endlessly because I like to get things right the first time
  • Loves to learn when it’s interesting, must apply more effort when it’s not
  • Wears casual clothing
  • Writes information (usually on a McDonald’s napkin unless I’m in a formal setting) but will use my laptop if the info comes fast (I type well!)
  • Enthusiastic, passionate
  • Loves to be hooked from the first moment of instruction

As expected with me, the completion of this task prompted more self-analysis leading to admissions and questions:

  • I discovered that I’m afraid to tell people I’m a writer because I believe if I don’t produce quickly, I’ll be viewed as a failure.
  • I feel pressured to publish soon, but I don’t want to crank out garbage.
  • Certain people I’ve engaged in life resent when I do something that they perceive as getting ahead of them, being more successful, so I downplay my achievements.
  • Other than the occasional, “That’s nice,” I don’t feel as if anyone supports my writing.
  • Money factors in to my writing heavily. I make very little working as a substitute at the library, and I feel the pressure to bring in a paycheck especially with the economy the way it is.
  • Is my writing a selfish hobby or a real career?
  • I don’t really feel as if I have a writing ally, no connectivity in the writing world or to another writer.
  • Have I started too late in life to make a go at writing?
  • What do I do when there is no money for writing classes, retreats, programs, conferences?

These are the thoughts that usually accompany me as I sit down to write. Unfortunately, they influence my writing habits. I know that most of them are ridiculous self-doubts, so when they arise, I remember to acknowledge them quickly, and then press on with my writing.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 4

In answer to the question in my last post, “Why am I not learning?” I discovered an answer that is not at all surprising: resistance.

I think I always knew this was my problem, but I hated to admit it. I created a vicious circle in my head that started with fear-born resistance to what I thought should happen versus what actually does happen when I write and/or learn to write. The fear/resistance combination kept me from learning from my new chosen method. There was nothing left for me to do but shut down and stop writing. I tried to claim writer’s block, but even I knew this wasn’t true.

images4GQIRHHZSo how do I reduce the resistance in my life? First of all, expect that it is going to occur in the form of doubts and ego which leads to comparison to other writers. By acknowledging this fact, I’ve already begun to address the issue, and that’s exactly what I want. Second, by dealing with the first concern, I’ll be able to tackle the fear of change which I often perceive as a threat to myself.

I already know doubts, ego, and comparison are counterproductive, so I must quickly recognize this yet again, and press on. Address my good intentions, per Heather Sellers the evil twin of resistance, and press on. Don’t over think the process, and press on. Let go, let down, relax, and write.

Page After Page advises that I learn to listen to my mind without getting sucked back in to all the negativity mentioned above. Just because I do this once doesn’t mean it won’t rear its ugly head again, but when it does, I’ll be ready for it, and that knowledge is very liberating.

Naturally, this self-analysis generated more questions for me.

  1. If I’m not receiving quality instruction, does that translate into resistance on my part?
  2. Are instruction and critiquing/criticism the same thing?
  3. If I don’t rewrite based on someone’s opinion, does that mean I’m resistant?

While I don’t plan on addressing these questions in future posts, I put them out there to see if other writers/authors struggle with these issues. I’d love to receive your feedback on them.

Write Happy!

I’ll Take Theme for $1000, Alex

I'll Take ThemeThe continued editing of my novel has been an equally wonderful and painful experience. One of the points I wanted to make sure I had cinched up was my story’s theme. It was time to revisit one of my favorite posts by writing guru, K.M. Weiland. Then I realized that I should probably share this one in my Writing Toolbox.

What’s the Difference Between Your Story’s Theme and Its Message? posted on December 14, 2014, by K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors.

To NaNoWriMo, or not to NaNoWriMo, that is the question

I first heard about NaNoWriMo two years ago from my friend who heads our Writers’ Group. The idea of writing 50,000 words (an entire novel) in thirty days was both exciting and terrifying. As luck would have it, I had been kicking around an idea for a great novel. NaNoWriMo seemed like a good way to get the story out of my head and onto paper.

Before NaNoWriMo, I wrote short stories and children’s stories of picture book length. I had never heard of outlining a novel which might have been helpful for my first NaNoWriMo experience. Undaunted, I began writing near the end of the book leading up to the scene that was the catalyst for the whole novel. That’s when I realized I need to go back to my character’s beginning. My first experience with NaNoWriMo was a jumbled mess.

I reached my goal of 50,000 words but didn’t have a complete novel. There was more to the story than I originally thought. The rest of the year was spent creating those portions while editing and chucking large sections of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I began to wonder if my November efforts had all been for naught when NaNoWriMo rolled around again. What to do?

I cheated again. I used the 50,000 word goal to keep writing new stuff my novel needed and editing what I had written last year. Perhaps the Deities of NaNoWriMo would smack my fingers with a ruler for this, but I justify what I did with the explanation that at least I wrote.

This year marks the third NaNoWriMo since I first participated. I didn’t join. I also didn’t use it as a motivational tool for rewrites and editing. I let myself off the hook with the understanding that my schedule and novel were in different places than what NaNoWriMo required. In short, I didn’t have the time and there wasn’t anything new to write or edit to meet the word count. I also didn’t want to start another novel when I already had one under way.

I’m not sorry for having tried NaNoWriMo, and I’ll probably do it again. In the meantime, I shall continue working on my second round of editing and looking for beta readers.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not NaNoWriMo is for you, consider the following article by Christopher Shultz. He’s much more eloquent in his explanation of what one needs to consider before jumping feet first into NaNoWriMo without knowing what it’s all about. I agree with his opinion that one should make NaNoWriMo work for him/her and that it isn’t a ‘must’ or ‘mustn’t’ situation in the life of a writer.

Advice on Character Description

Nine times out of ten, when I find a piece of good writing advice on the Internet, the link directs me to K.M. Weiland’s website, Helping Writers Become Authors. And just as many times, I’m in agreement with what she has to say.

Like a carpenter stocking his toolbox with quality tools, my goal is to fill up my Writing Toolbox with valuable advice, tips, suggestions, etc. In turn, I want to share what I found with people who are seeking assistance with their own writing.

Most of the posts I put in my Writing Toolbox have been created by the owners of the sites to which I link. I will always indicate the website/blog name and owner (if known). When I create the post on my own, I’ll let you know.

So, with that being said, it is my very great privilege to share K.M. Weiland’s advice on ‘4 Ways to Make Readers Instantly Loathe Your Character Descriptions.’

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