The Oxford Debate

The Oxford Debate

Comma wall art

Is there anything more hotly debated in the grammar world than the Oxford – or serial – comma? Possibly, but that tiny little punctuation mark definitely ranks in the top five. Personally, I don’t think there should be any debate – USE THE STUPID COMMA! – but since a posting should be longer than a few sentences, I’m going to explain WHY the Oxford comma exists and has its place in proper grammar.

So what is the Oxford comma? By definition, it’s the comma used after the final item in a list of three or more things. Simple enough, right? The purpose it serves is to clarify the items in that list as separate entities. For example, let’s look at the following sentence:

I’m going to make apple, blueberry and kiwi pies.

Instead of making three individual pies, the omission of the Oxford comma translates to making two pies – one of which sounds particularly disgusting, if you ask me. There’s no clarification of the three pies because the comma was left out. Let’s try another:

My personal heroes are my parents, Deadpool and Harley Quinn.

Now, while you might be under some delusion as to your parentage (I’m not trying to judge), odds are your parents were not fictional characters. See what happens without that Oxford comma? You can start to look a little questionable in the sanity department (not a bad thing, but if you write that to an editor, they might wonder). Now, let’s look at a properly written sentence:

I dedicate this book to my sister, Chonky-Butt, and Crazy Town.

Written properly, people may wonder what in the world you’re saying or who you know, but at least you’re not going to offend your sister (can you imagine the hit-man she’s going to contract for you if she reads that without the Oxford comma?!). One tiny little curlicue on the page makes the difference between a snort and you’re life being on the line. One final example of proper grammar:

We entered the maze with our friends, zombies, and victims.

Again, it’s all up to you on whether or not you want to insult your compatriots or not. I guess it might depend on how close those friends are? To be accurate, though, that Oxford comma should be in there.

For whatever reason, Americans in particular have this abhorrence with the serial comma, and they keep trying to sacrifice it to the Grammar Gods. It seems to be related to age, too, with the younger generations trying to execute it (in the killing sense, not in the sense of using it) more frequently than those who underwent grammar lessons “back in the day.”

Strictly speaking, is it wrong to omit the Oxford comma?

….no.

Am I ever going to omit using it? Not a chance. I’m a firm believer that it exists and should be utilized for purposes of clarity and ease of reading. Plus, I’m not a psycho, and there are some truly great psychotic sentences generated out there when the serial comma is omitted – just run a Google search for examples.

My best advice is to read your sentence through aloud and ask yourself whether there is any doubt as to how the content could be interpreted. The last thing you want to do is cause someone – say, an editor – to laugh at you when you were trying to be serious.

The Autopilot Concept

The Autopilot Concept

My I Love Kickboxing gloves

Admission: when I first conceived this post, we weren’t in lock down. I considered holding off until orders were lifted, but A) that could be another couple of months for some, and B) I realized there was no reason. After all, it is entirely possible to find ways to exercise in the comfort of your own home. So onward!

Yeah, I know: some of you cringed when you saw the “E” word. After all, as writers, our place is sacked out in front of our computers, shoveling sustenance into our mouths (when we remember to do so). And I used to abhor the thought of taking an hour out of my day, too (not to mention the very idea of getting into anything resembling gym clothes and going in front of other people).

What changed?

For one, a lot of surgery. I have the fortune of inheriting really bad genes, and my body hates me (not a joke – it does…but that’s a post for another time). Some of those procedures came with physical therapy and therapists laughing hysterically (turns out, I am also a freak…and not in the way I knew). Since I didn’t want to keep repeating that process – anymore than I already had – and because I wanted to stave off some of the nastier aspects of my body destroying itself, the E-word was the solution.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, this had nothing to do with weight loss. I’m a major advocate of loving your body, however it looks. I don’t believe in starving yourself, I definitely don’t believe in depriving yourself (I eat normal food, and I have never turned down anything), and I think all fad diets are absurd. None of my surgeries were related to weight; they really were bad genes, as well as terrible job conditions.

Moving on: I discovered that the gym really wasn’t so bad, especially because I walked in with the indispensable accessory of headphones (you people are introverts – I know you own them).

MAGIC!

I suddenly had an entire hour of privacy to live in my head! Once I had figured out the various machines, my body could go on autopilot, and my brain was FREE.

I get SO MUCH writing work done!

I can unravel scenes that I was blocked on, design characters, sketch out plots, work through dialogue – whatever I need! I just program whatever playlist is most appropriate into Pandora, and I’m all set. With the volume set high enough, even if someone tries to bother me, I’ll never hear them (and I have a great resting bitch face which tends to discourage people).

I did branch out from the gym, and I joined I Love Kickboxing. Even there, where I can’t wear headphones (they play music throughout), and I need to listen for the exercises to be called out, I still get work done. During the bag rounds, my body knows the movements, and my head goes off on its own. When I’m frustrated about a scene or short story that won’t work, punching a bag is the best therapy in the world!

Still not convinced?

Have you noticed how much geek swag is out there?

Above are my actual kickboxing gloves. I deliberately bought two sets of 16-ounce gloves, and I painted them with Harley Quinn’s symbols. My gym bag has a flerken on it. I have a headband with the Cheshire Cat grin. I have a Venom tanktop and a Lion King top and short set.

People, they cater to US!

Yeah, it’s a little harder to workout right now. My kickboxing classes are now via Zoom, and it’s shadowboxing instead of with a bag (it’s a little weird). Instead of using an elliptical, we’re walking the dog around the neighborhood on nice days. It’s also using the Nintendo Switch and our Ring Fit Adventures and Fitness Boxing games.

They still work the same: the body knows what it’s supposed to do, and while it’s exercising, the mind can do something else. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish while you’re on autopilot. And if you get a little added benefits from the exercise itself, well, that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Just give it a try – see what comes of it. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

Persistence Pays Off

Persistence Pays Off

You hear veteran writers tell you the same thing a lot of times, “Keep trying.”

Well, they say that for a reason: because it WORKS! I have been submitting pitches for freelance work for about three weeks now, carefully making sure I followed the advice I was given and not letting the silence on the other end discourage me.

And I now have two contracts for three articles under my belt as a result of my continuing work! It feels awesome!

So, yes – KEEP TRYING!

We’re Awesome

We’re Awesome

"Smile and the world smiles with you"
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Writing is competitive. Whether we’re submitting a pitch for a magazine article, sending in an essay for a competition, or submitting our novel to an agent or publisher, we know that hundreds of thousands of other writers are doing the exact the same thing. When we sit down to draft that cover letter or proposal or scrutinize that final draft, we’re trying to make sure that we’re doing something that will stand out from everyone else and shine all the brighter.

Nothing wrong there!

After all, we want to win that competition, or secure the contract to write that article, or net that agent/get to sign a deal with that publisher! We’re aiming for the dream of being a published author, seeing our name in print. Along with all of the others out there that we encounter in our writing groups and workshops.

What sets us apart, though, from other careers, other vocations, is that even though we’re in competition with each other, we’re also the biggest fans of one another.

Read that again:

Writers care about and cheer each other on!

Madness, right? Yet we do!

We sit down in workshops, and while we pick each other’s works apart, we do so with the intent of making the work BETTER. We aren’t sitting down to belittle each other or tell the other person they’re a hack. We sit down and analyze words on a piece of paper to figure out how to make them shine. We offer suggestions and marvel at the ingenuity and imagination of one another. We lift each other up and offer encouragement. We puzzle out knots and, when necessary, we murder useless characters. We’re frank with each other, and we emerge better for every session.

We post about our accomplishments and cheer for everyone, regardless of how small or large. We “hold hands” when one of us is going through a rough patch. We boost one another during our slow times. We send laughs and jokes when we’re down. We form a net of support and reassurance that is always there – unwavering, constant.

It’s wonderful, and it’s refreshing because I haven’t always experienced this circle of acceptance and caring. In my previous career, it was a false smile carried over a sharp blade that could be buried in your back at any moment. No one actually cared about you – everyone was out for themselves. No one wanted you to succeed, and if they said they wanted you to learn, it was only so it would benefit them. It was gutting, and it ate at the soul.

And I will never do that again!

Writers genuinely care about other writers, and we like to see each other succeed. Sure, we feel a twinge when someone close to us lands that publishing deal and we don’t, but it spurs us on to try harder. The best part is, our writing friends don’t just spontaneously ditch us – they continue to haul us around and demand better from us.

Writers seek the best from each other, and they know what each of us are capable of giving. We all want one another to succeed, and we want the best from each other. I think that’s why we form the support network we do, and why it’s so empowering to belong to this group.

You’ll definitely not find another group that’s better out there.

Color-Coding, Erasable, Visible – Oh, My!

Color-Coding, Erasable, Visible – Oh, My!

The two white boards I use for my writing life.

Behold – the greatest invention in the entire world! Yes, lasers and jellybeans, I mean the humble whiteboard. This little piece of erasable genius is pure perfection. If it weren’t for the fact that white is insanely boring and only meant for institutions, I could quite happily exist in a house made completely of whiteboards. (Side note: I promise my writing room is actually painted one color – just so happens the morning sun shines on one wall and not the other, so it looks like two in those pictures)

I use whiteboards for both sides of my writing: the work part and the fun part. I am an organization FIEND, and they’re one of the tools I use to:

  • Stay on track with my goals
  • Make sure I know where projects are
  • Leave notes for myself (I have a great memory, but no one’s perfect)
  • Plan out blog entries

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, if you don’t have a visual representation of your goals somewhere you can see it daily, it’s harder to meet that goal. When it’s in your face every day, you find yourself with a greater drive to be able to mark the box – and the satisfaction of getting to do so is IMMENSE. Even if the box is minor – i.e., writing up to two Goodreads reviews or writing 1000 words a day. When you put an X or a check through that box, a sense of achievement/fulfillment comes over you.

Unless you only have one short story or novel that you are submitting – and if that’s the case, shame on you! – you need to know where your work is currently sitting and for how long. Things still get lost in this digital age, and editors/first readers aren’t infallible (they’ll be the first to admit that). While I do have an Excel file that has detailed records for every short story and novel (more about that in another post), being able to quickly glance at a whiteboard without having to pull up the computer is easier. It tells me where each story is currently at and how long it’s been there. It also tells me whether or not I’ve updated my Excel file.

I’d love to say I’m one of those people that never forgets anything – and if you’ve screwed me over or made me mad, I remember every word (not kidding). However, if I’m trying to remember where my can’t-possibly-forget-it hiding place is or didn’t-need-to-write-it-down item for the grocery list…yeah, no dice. Especially if it’s work-related, and especially because SOMEONE likes to steal my pen, the whiteboard becomes the catch-all for notes. (Thankfully, Tonks hasn’t figured out how to get to the whiteboard marker)

I do plan out my monthly blog entries – at least my weekly posts. I take time into crafting them, figuring out images and such; on my other blog, I take time researching quotes I want to use. This means setting out my schedule in advance so my brain has time to digest my topics.

Whiteboards let me do all of this, and then I erase what I don’t need and start again. Nifty, right?

And because I’m one of THOSE people, everything is color-coded. How else am I supposed to tell different tasks apart? How else am I supposed to tell different genres apart? It all makes my little organizational heart go pitter-pat.

I used to make do without the whiteboards, and things were more difficult. I had to turn the computer on (this was before my SSD – torture!), or I had to flip through a physical calendar to find things (I always had multi-color pens, so that wasn’t so bad), and trying to keep track of Post-It notes or scraps of paper – even without a tiny demon – never seemed to work well.

Now, everything is within a couple of steps, it’s easy to see, it’s easy to use, and I can add or subtract without a fuss.

It’s so easy, I added an additional whiteboard to help with the wedding planning…much to my fiance’s chagrin…um, “delight.”