Yes and No…Mostly eh

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The Writer’s Mentor by Ian Jackman, Editor

Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

Summary  Both books purport to offer advice and insights to help you improve your writing.

Review
While neither of these books was worth keeping, at least “The Writer’s Mentor” lived up to its title. It’s quotes and anecdotes made me realize that even well-known authors can sometimes struggle with a story, maintain a regular 9-to-5 job despite being published and lauded, and don’t always consider writing as less than a full-time, underpaid vocation.

After reading this book, I felt mentored. I truly felt as if someone with more experience and a different perspective took my hand and said, “Look, others have felt like you feel, and others have gone through what you’re experiencing.”

However, if what you’re looking for is step-by-step instruction on how to write, “The Writer’s Mentor” is not the book for you. But then, neither is “Scene and Structure.”

Jack M. Bickham, author of “Scene and Structure,” is (supposedly) a well-known author. I, however, have never heard of him or his books. Despite that, I went through this book hoping for some nuggets of insight that might help me improve my own manuscripts. Unfortunately, I failed to find anything useful.

As a technical writer, I expect a certain amount of usefulness and help in a how-to book. (It’s why they’re called how-to books or self-help manuals.) What I found was dense passages of rhetoric and mind-numbing paragraphs that had to be read several times before I could glean his point. These were combined with self-promoting examples from his books, which did little more than shout, “See what a great writer I am?”

I don’t normally disparage the use of one’s own works when giving examples or helpful tips (heck, I do it myself), but in this case, I think it was greatly overdone. In addtion, the examples were not always applicable to the point he was striving to make.

So, if you’re seeking wisdom and instructions on how to improve your writing, skip both of these books. If, however, you need a morale boost, then at least try “The Writer’s Mentor.”

 

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Are You Too Empathetic?

MM_FinalCover - CopyIf you feel at times that you’re too empathetic–torn apart and unable to cope with other people’s suffering–help is at hand. Doing a compassion meditation every day for two weeks may just help you reduce the distress you feel when witnessing someone’s suffering.

To find out more, please read the article.

To learn about other types of meditations that might help you, try Mastering Meditation.

Mastering Meditation–Now in Paperback

I’m proud to announce that my Mastering Meditation book is now available in paperback. Because the images included in the book are (to me, anyway) important, the book will be printed in color. While this does push the price a bit higher, I believe it is worth it.

Take a look, just go to Amazon.com for your copy.

 

Our Crazy Language

letters-flying-into-dictionary-pagesDid you ever wonder about the derivations of some of our words and why they’re spelled the way they are? This article explains the reasoning behind the spelling of some of our words, such as light, bright, and neighbor.

What’s with the ‘gh’ ?

Up Standing

108825CMX01.inddJust a note to praise the tiny word that is used so much and in so many ways. It’s a simple word, yet it has more meanings and uses than any other word in the American language. So, here’s to the word: Up. It’s a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and preposition.

This simple, two-character word props up many a sentence and can be seen and heard in nearly every conversation.

While we can all easily understand using the word Up as a direction (such as when pointing toward the sky), it becomes a little more confusing when it’s used to describe awakening in the morning (waking up) or to describe our confusion (mixed up).

So, here are some of the ways in which the word Up has enriched our lives and our language:

  • He brought that topic up at the meeting.Up
  • She stepped up.
  • She has to write up a report.
  • I’m fed up.
  • He’s really fired up about this.
  • He needs to grow up.
  • Would you please speak up?
  • I need to call up my doctor after I look up the number.
  • Opening up the windows helped brighten up the room.
  • Warm up the leftovers before you eat them; then clean up the kitchen.
  • Be sure to lock up the house.
  • Let’s open up the house.
  • Can you fix up the car?
  • Never give up.
  • He’s always stirring up
  • They lined up for tickets.
  • They really worked up an appetite.
  • She’s always thinking up
  • To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special.
  • A drain must be opened up because it is stopped up.
  • If you are up to it, go ahead.
  • Sounds great, if you’re up for it.
  • It’s going to take up a lot of time.
  • Don’t give up.
  • It clouded up; but, then it cleared up.
  • She cracked up.
  • Heads up.
  • Let’s gear up.
  • You need to look it up.
  • I’ll wrap this up.

Now, I will admit that in several of the examples I’ve included, the word Up is extraneous and unnecessary. And were I writing the sentences, I would not include the word Up. For instance:

  • She has to write up a report. (The word up is totally unnecessary; yet, many people do use it in similar sentences.)
  • Can you fix up the car? (Again, it’s just as clear to say: Can you fix the car?)
  • I need to call up my doctor after… (the first instance of up is unnecessary).
  • A drain must be opened up…(again, the first instance of up isn’t needed).
  • It’s going to take up a lot of time. (Up is rather redundant and not needed.)

I think now you can see why I think we need to applaud that tiny, two-letter word, UP. It’s a hard-working, seldom-praised useful little word that shows up more often than you would think. And it’s always propping up sentences, even when it doesn’t need to.

So, two thumbs up to…

up2

I can resist, I can…Oooh, Candy Crush

reader

Have you ever started reading on a tablet or other hand-held device, but soon lost focus or interest? Not because the article or book was unappealing or uninteresting, but because you couldn’t resist that siren call of Candy Crush or Diamond Mine.

Or have you ever started reading something, again on your hand-held device, but when you finished you couldn’t really give more than a high-level summary of what the article or book chapter was about? All the details simply skittered away?

Well, according to an article I read, this is becoming more common place than we realized. Evidently our brains have become so accustomed to being interrupted by moving video ads, twitching game icons, and streaming text headlines that we are unable to focus for more than a few precious moments on static text. And, unfortunately, even when we do get our brains to focus, we are losing the ability to comprehend the full flavor of the concepts and meanings behind the words that we read.

Now, I know I haven’t yet lost my ability to comprehend the nuances of a good story or a well-written article (no matter how long). However, I have encountered the alluring call of those gaming apps when I try to read a book or magazine on a hand-held device. And, I will admit that sometimes I have even given in to those beckonings. Not because the book is boring or the article not interesting, but simply because the games are too accessible when I’m using a hand-held device. When I read the same articles or books in physical form rather than digital, I’m rarely tempted to trade them for one of the hand-held devices, so I can play a rousing game of Angry Birds.

However, according to the article, our brains have become used to one- to five-minute snippets of input. Therefore, when some book or article extends beyond that, we tend to either discard or ignore the remaining information. So, what does that say for the future of books, book readers, and authors?smartphone-technology-sugar-white.jpg

One thing that book readers can try is to implement tools such as Spritz, Spreeder, or Readsy. These tools not only move the text across the screen, but they are supposed to help readers read faster while retaining or improving their comprehension rates. They sort of create a game out of reading by giving readers the feel and motion of interaction that normal, static books don’t; yet, they also help readers retain their focus on a book long enough to complete it.

As authors, I believe the best we can do is to find ways to reconnect people with the joy of reading. Maybe we need to change the way in which we write. Perhaps, we need to put aside our traditional writing styles of long, convoluted paragraphs piled one upon another until we have ten pages that we call a chapter. Instead, maybe we need to write short paragraphs (one- to two-sentences long) and very short chapters (one- to two-pages long). In fact, we may need to resort to writing novellas (150 to 200 pages long) instead of 300-page novels. (Perhaps, breaking our books into two or three novellas that a reader can easily complete in short ten- or fifteen-minute increments of attention is key to gaining more readers.)

Of course, if we really want to connect with the readers of today, we might just skip the book part completely, and simply create movies or YouTube videos of our stories. However, I’m not that desperate for readers (yet). I still love the written word; so, I will continue to use them to express my thoughts and ideas with the hope and belief that there are still enough people out there who share my joy in reading (even if the words don’t sing and dance across their screens).

“A compilation of book reports with anecdotes”

CarolBowmanBookChildren’s Past Lives by Carol Bowman

Summary: Has your child lived before?

In this book, Carol Bowman reveals overwhelming evidence of past life memories in children. Not only are such experiences real, they are far more common than most people realize.

Bowman’s extraordinary investigation was sparked when her young son, Chase, described his own past-life death on a Civil War battlefield; an account so accurate it was authenticated by an expert historian. Even more astonishing, Chase’s chronic eczema and phobia of loud noises completely disappeared after he had the memory.

Inspired by her son’s dramatic healing, Bowman compiled dozens of cases and wrote this comprehensive study to explain how very young children remember their past lives, spontaneously and naturally. In this book, Ms. Bowman tells how to distinguish between a true past life memory and a fantasy, offers practical advice to parents on how to respond to a child recalling a past life memory, and shows how to foster the spiritual and healing benefits of these experiences.

Recommendation: Mixed feelings (In Amazon’s world, maybe 1.5 to 2 stars)

Review:  If you enjoy reading anecdotes of people recalling past lives, then you’ll find the book mildly interesting. If, however, you want a book that truly provides evidence and science-based research into past lives, then this book is not for you.

The first half of the book is little more than a compilation of book reports, which in its own way was helpful to me, only because I didn’t have to go far to find a list of better resources for what I wanted (science-based information on reincarnation). The author condensed each of her reference books into a synopsis and summary of the main topics, and then wrote that up as separate chapters for her own book. She then borrowed one or two anecdotes from the reference book and incorporated that into said chapter. This made it quite helpful for me to determine which of those reference books I wanted to use to gain more insight into this topic.

(I do understand that she was doing this to show her readers that she had done her homework, and wasn’t just a silly housewife writing a book. However, this material should have been included simply as a bibliography, not as chapters in her book. Although, without these as chapters, she wouldn’t have had a book, since they did make up a little more than half her total page count.)

The second half of her book was divided into two sections. The first, contained snippets from her own life and family struggles in figuring out how to write the book while attending conferences and symposiums that would help her gain notoriety and aid her to launch her career as a regression therapist. The second, contained the instructions for parents on how to handle their children who may be remembering past lives.

The whole theme running through her narrative is that this book will help parents deal with their children’s sudden past life memory eruptions. Yet, that information garnered only twenty or so pages at the very end of the book.

So, if you’re looking for other materials to read with more science and more depth, then read the first half of the book for her book reports. If you’re looking for an anecdotal biography of Carol Bowman, then try the first part of the second half of the book. And, if what you really need is some help recognizing when your child is spouting information about a past life he or she may have lived, then try the last few pages. The author does present some fairly sound common-sense ways to tell whether your child is making up stories or actually remembering something from a previous life. However, on the whole, I would give this book a pass and find one that is more comprehensive and useful.