Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts

Friday, 27 June 2014

7 steps to Prolific, or more Productive Writing



Most writers and intrigued by the idea that they might be more productive. Some writers want to become prolific. Some writers, such as Shakespeare, were able to churn out two or more major works every year; others, such as Charles Dickens or Walter Scott, astonish us by the sheer quantity of their work.

I was surprised to discover recently that my writing notebook lists plans for 23 books. Clearly some of these projects are little more than a title and an outline. So the problem is not having ideas, it’s more a question of having the time, the discipline and the confidence to see them through to completion as published works. In short, I am now trying to increase my productivity by researching some of the recurring ideas typically adopted by successful writers.

While doing some research recently on translations of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, I cam across the impressive productivity of JackLindsay, who produced 170 creative and non-fiction works during his long career.

But do you have to be a genius to be so prolific? Or is it more a case of responding efficiently and effectively to commercial deadlines?

1. The Necessity of Discipline.
“Rule your mind or it will rule you.” — Horace

Simply waiting for inspiration to drive your creative output is a highly risky strategy. Even the great romantic writers employed discipline. While it is essential to experience those fleeting moments of exuberant fancy and whimsical speculation, it is equally important to write them up in such a way that they will make sense at a later date. Your notebook is an essential tool for catching and capturing your creative flow.

2. The Benefits of Routine.
“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.” — Roald Dahl

Design and create your routine rather than following someone else’s plan. Some writers find that they work best early morning; others burn the midnight oil. Some writers need the silence of the monastery or the peace of the nunnery, while others prefer the bustle of a café or the rhythm of a train or bus journey. Some writers work for thirty minutes, others for three hours. My advise therefore is to experiment with different routines and note down which combination of space and time produces the best results.

3. Maps, structures, outlines
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” — Winston Churchill

Often there is a romantic sense that knowing your future direction at the outset will cramp your creativity; that writing becomes mechanical when it is strictly planned. On the other hand it is quite common to start projects with great enthusiasm but then to experience writer’s block in the more complex middle phases. Even worse, you may find that your work is fruitless because not matter how hard you try there is a lack of a suitable conclusion for your creative efforts. Radical uncertainty of this kind frequently leads to anxiety and paralysis. Moreover, there repeated experience of failure to complete leads to a weakening of your willpower and motivation in the medium term. By finishing projects your confidence grows and develops, allowing you to undertake more creative risks with a reduce chance of blockage or failure.

4. Speed Drafting
“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” — Henry David Thoreau

Having capture your key ideas and imposed a provisional structure it is now time to work in more detail. This means fleshing out your ideas and feelings. At this stage it is essential to write quickly and to avoid agonising over precise words and phrases. Don’t worry about writing the most astonishing and eye-catching first sentence; first paragraphs are often better written at the end of your writing phase.

5. Revisioning
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Writing typically moves from fleeting moments of inspiration to the discipline of the draft: the process of revisioning. This process requires critical insights more than creative flow. It is also often best accomplished several day or weeks after your speed drafting. This period allows time for critical thoughts to develop and for your to be more objective. The revision stage often involves contraction as well as amplification of your ideas. So be prepared for cutting down, chopping up, and repositioning your thoughts.

6. Taming the Dragons of Destruction.
“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” — T. S. Eliot

It is very important that we learn to apply critical perception to our creative works. However, for many writers the negative thoughts can crowd out the ability to write confidently. The inner voice that questions your skills and ability, that constantly interrogates your sense of having a worthwhile and unique vision is the viral plague that constantly affects the tribe of writers. With experience writers learn that each of the key stages outlined above requires different degrees of critical and creative insight, and they learn to enjoy the unique character of each of the different stages. Accordingly, switch of destructive and negative thoughts. Keep reminding yourself that others will want to read your work, and that your work has value because it is the product of your unique perspective on the world.

7. Learning from others.
“Learning never exhausts the mind.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Great writers are also great readers. By studying the work of others we improve our writing skills. By becoming critical readers we sharpen our creative tools. Also, the creative work of others can allow the writer to contemplate re-tellings and re-visioning of the body of experience. Remember that the vast majority of Shakespeare’s plays were derived from printed sources written by others. He also learned the craft of writing by collaborating, by being a member of writing community. Nor did he confine himself to the writer’s room. For writing is also a big, bold, bracing encounter with life itself, and that’s not be had by staring at a blank screen. Finding the most sustainable balance between real writing and real life might be your biggest strategic decision.

Writing Machine, Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726)

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” —  Paul J. Meyer

Monday, 16 December 2013

Testing the Grammar Check Test



The march of technology into every corner of contemporary education often leads to the harsh judgment that traditional teachers have become - or will soon become - a redundant human resource. 

Are the rumours of pedagogic extinction justified?

With the perfection of advanced linguistic software, a brave new world of error-free writing has emerged. Machine-generated clarity and precision is leading us to a written world that will be ruthlessly stripped of recurring lapses and common mistakes. Foggy chasms of fatal confusion will be banished from the linguistic ecology of the planet.

There will be no more sleepless nights; no more worrying about the comma splice, sentence fragments, and dangling modifiers. Indeed, an inexpensive monthly subscription provides an enticing opportunity to join the new democratic republic of letters - a nation of automated stop-keepers.

After all, the technology has now conquered the checking of spelling, grammar and style. Indeed, some of the  most celebrated providers of software boast millions of 'followers' and 'likes' in social media.

Is it true that the days of the grammatical pedants, composition instructors, and style fascists are numbered?

With this question, and these common reflections in mind, I set out to test the standard of writing of several major writers.

I'm sorry to say that all of them failed the test. In fact, they all failed so badly that I am led to question whether any of the classics are suitable (fit-for-purpose) in the modern world of computerised SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar).

In the examples examined, the grades awarded by the Chief Examiner ranged from Poor to Weak.

(The plagiarism check was, however, excellent in each of extracts tested. Nonetheless, in more subtle cases the results from other reviewers were far more critical.)

This was a Bad Year for classic writers, but perhaps a good one for real-life (RL) teachers.

Don't give up your day jobs!


THE GRAMMARLY TEST RESULTS

Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which they moved so distinct, as almost to preclude the means of ever hearing of each other's existence during the eleven following years, or, at least, to make it very wonderful to Sir Thomas that Mrs. Norris should ever have it in her power to tell them, as she now and then did, in an angry voice, that Fanny had got another child. By the end of eleven years, however, Mrs. Price could no longer afford to cherish pride or resentment, or to lose one connexion that might possibly assist her. A large and still increasing family, an husband disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants, made her eager to regain the friends she had so carelessly sacrificed; and she addressed Lady Bertram in a letter which spoke so much contrition and despondence, such a superfluity of children, and such a want of almost everything else, as could not but dispose them all to a reconciliation. She was preparing for her ninth lying-in; and after bewailing the circumstance, and imploring their countenance as sponsors to the expected child, she could not conceal how important she felt they might be to the future maintenance of the eight already in being. Her eldest was a boy of ten years old, a fine spirited fellow, who longed to be out in the world; but what could she do? Was there any chance of his being hereafter useful to Sir Thomas in the concerns of his West Indian property? No situation would be beneath him; or what did Sir Thomas think of Woolwich? or how could a boy be sent out to the East?

[Jane Austen, Mansfield Park]

Dear Jane,

Grammarly found 13 critical writing issues in your text.

Score: 43 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
 
Plagiarism !
  • Unoriginal text detected

    Grammar 7 issues
    • Use of articles (2)
    • Verb form use (1)
    • Other (1)
    Punctuation 5 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (4)
    • Capitalization (1)
    • Closing punctuation


    The nature of the following work will be best understood by a brief account of how it came to be written. During many years I collected notes on the origin or descent of man, without any intention of publishing on the subject, but rather with the determination not to publish, as I thought that I should thus only add to the prejudices against my views. It seemed to me sufficient to indicate, in the first edition of my 'Origin of Species,' that by this work "light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history;" and this implies that man must be included with other organic beings in any general conclusion respecting his manner of appearance on this earth. Now the case wears a wholly different aspect. When a naturalist like Carl Vogt ventures to say in his address as President of the National Institution of Geneva (1869), "personne, en Europe au moins, n'ose plus soutenir la creation indépendante et de toutes pièces, des espèces," it is manifest that at least a large number of naturalists must admit that species are the modified descendants of other species; and this especially holds good with the younger and rising naturalists. The greater number accept the agency of natural selection; though some urge, whether with justice the future must decide, that I have greatly overrated its importance. Of the older and honoured chiefs in natural science, many unfortunately are still opposed to evolution in every form.

    [Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man]

    Dear Charles,

    Grammarly found 18 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 32 of 100 (poor, revision necessary)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected
    Contextual Spelling Check 8 issues
    • Spelling (8)
    • Ignored words
    • Commonly confused words
    Grammar 5 issues
    • Comparing two or more things (1)
    • Verb form use (1)
    • Wordiness (1)
    Punctuation 3 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (3)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation
    Style and Word Choice 1 issue
    • Writing style (1)
    • Vocabulary use


    Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

    [Charles Dickens, Bleak House]

    Dear Charles,

    Grammarly found 8 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 50 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected
    Contextual Spelling Check 2 issues
    • Spelling (2)
    • Ignored words
    • Commonly confused words
    Grammar 2 issues
    • Faulty parallelism (1)
    • Sentence structure (1)
    • Use of articles
    Punctuation 3 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (3)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation


    In a remote solitude, vanity may still whisper in my ear, that my readers, perhaps, may inquire whether, in the conclusion of the present work, I am now taking an everlasting farewell. They shall hear all that I know myself, and all that I could reveal to the most intimate friend. The motives of action or silence are now equally balanced; nor can I pronounce, in my most secret thoughts, on which side the scale will preponderate. I cannot dissemble that six quartos must have tried, and may have exhausted, the indulgence of the Public; that, in the repetition of similar attempts, a successful Author has much more to lose than he can hope to gain; that I am now descending into the vale of years; and that the most respectable of my countrymen, the men whom I aspire to imitate, have resigned the pen of history about the same period of their lives. Yet I consider that the annals of ancient and modern times may afford many rich and interesting subjects; that I am still possessed of health and leisure; that by the practice of writing, some skill and facility must be acquired; and that, in the ardent pursuit of truth and knowledge, I am not conscious of decay. To an active mind, indolence is more painful than labor; and the first months of my liberty will be occupied and amused in the excursions of curiosity and taste. By such temptations, I have been sometimes seduced from the rigid duty even of a pleasing and voluntary task: but my time will now be my own; and in the use or abuse of independence, I shall no longer fear my own reproaches or those of my friends. I am fairly entitled to a year of jubilee: next summer and the following winter will rapidly pass away; and experience only can determine whether I shall still prefer the freedom and variety of study to the design and composition of a regular work, which animates, while it confines, the daily application of the Author.

    (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

    Dear Edward,

    Grammarly found 13 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 43 of 100 (weak, needs revision) 
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected
    Contextual Spelling Check 1 issue
    • Commonly confused words (1)
    • Spelling
    • Ignored words
    Grammar 7 issues
    • Use of articles (1)
    • Other (1)
    • Wordiness (1)
    Punctuation 4 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (4)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation




     The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic; and the emperors, for the most part, were satisfied with preserving those dominions which had been acquired by the policy of the senate, the active emulations of the consuls, and the martial enthusiasm of the people. The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of triumphs; but it was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils. Inclined to peace by his temper and situation, it was easy for him to discover that Rome, in her present exalted situation, had much less to hope than to fear from the chance of arms; and that, in the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking became every day more difficult, the event more doubtful, and the possession more precarious, and less beneficial. The experience of Augustus added weight to these salutary reflections, and effectually convinced him that, by the prudent vigor of his counsels, it would be easy to secure every concession which the safety or the dignity of Rome might require from the most formidable barbarians. Instead of exposing his person and his legions to the arrows of the Parthians, he obtained, by an honorable treaty, the restitution of the standards and prisoners which had been taken in the defeat of Crassus.

    (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

    Dear Edward,

    Grammarly found 10 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 40 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected



    Grammar 8 issues
    • Confusing modifiers (1)
    • Wordiness (1)
    • Passive voice use (6)
    Punctuation 1 issue
    • Punctuation within a sentence (1)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation

    Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling.  ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.  Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.  Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.
    Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date ‘1500,’ and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw.’  I would have made a few comments, and requested a short history of the place from the surly owner; but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, or complete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience previous to inspecting the penetralium.

    (Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights) -

    Dear Emily,

    Grammarly found 5 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 60 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected

      Grammar 4 issues
      • Verb form use (1)
      • Wordiness (1)
      • Passive voice use (2)

      The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was one of the modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they have left by the Tiber. Brought up on the legend of the City to which the world paid tribute, he recognised in the present London much more than in contemporary Rome the real dimensions of such a case. If it was a question of an Imperium, he said to himself, and if one wished, as a Roman, to recover a little the sense of that, the place to do so was on London Bridge, or even, on a fine afternoon in May, at Hyde Park Corner. It was not indeed to either of those places that these grounds of his predilection, after all sufficiently vague, had, at the moment we are concerned with him, guided his steps; he had strayed, simply enough, into Bond Street, where his imagination, working at comparatively short range, caused him now and then to stop before a window in which objects massive and lumpish, in silver and gold, in the forms to which precious stones contribute, or in leather, steel, brass, applied to a hundred uses and abuses, were as tumbled together as if, in the insolence of the Empire, they had been the loot of far-off victories. The young man's movements, however, betrayed no consistency of attention—not even, for that matter, when one of his arrests had proceeded from possibilities in faces shaded, as they passed him on the pavement, by huge beribboned hats, or more delicately tinted still under the tense silk of parasols held at perverse angles in waiting victorias. And the Prince's undirected thought was not a little symptomatic, since, though the turn of the season had come and the flush of the streets begun to fade, the possibilities of faces, on the August afternoon, were still one of the notes of the scene. He was too restless—that was the fact—for any concentration, and the last idea that would just now have occurred to him in any connection was the idea of pursuit.

      (Henry James, The Golden Bowl)

      Dear Henry,

      Grammarly found 11 critical writing issues and generated 1 word choice correction for your text.

      Score: 44 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
       
      Plagiarism !
      • Unoriginal text detected
      Contextual Spelling Check 1 issue
      • Commonly confused words (1)
      • Spelling
      • Ignored words
      Grammar 6 issues
      • Use of articles (1)
      • Conditional sentences (1)
      • Sentence structure (2)
      Punctuation 2 issues
      • Punctuation within a sentence (2)
      • Closing punctuation
      • Formal punctuation
      Style and Word Choice 1 issue
      • Vocabulary use (1)
      • Writing style


      Nothing is more usual and more natural for those, who pretend to discover anything new to the world in philosophy and the sciences, than to insinuate the praises of their own systems, by decrying all those, which have been advanced before them. And indeed were they content with lamenting that ignorance, which we still lie under in the most important questions, that can come before the tribunal of human reason, there are few, who have an acquaintance with the sciences, that would not readily agree with them. It is easy for one of judgment and learning, to perceive the weak foundation even of those systems, which have obtained the greatest credit, and have carried their pretensions highest to accurate and profound reasoning. Principles taken upon trust, consequences lamely deduced from them, want of coherence in the parts, and of evidence in the whole, these are every where to be met with in the systems of the most eminent philosophers, and seem to have drawn disgrace upon philosophy itself.
      Nor is there required such profound knowledge to discover the present imperfect condition of the sciences, but even the rabble without doors may, judge from the noise and clamour, which they hear, that all goes not well within. There is nothing which is not the subject of debate, and in which men of learning are not of contrary opinions. The most trivial question escapes not our controversy, and in the most momentous we are not able to give any certain decision. Disputes are multiplied, as if every thing was uncertain; and these disputes are managed with the greatest warmth, as if every thing was certain. Amidst all this bustle it is not reason, which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no man needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favourable colours. The victory is not gained by the men at arms, who manage the pike and the sword; but by the trumpeters, drummers, and musicians of the army.

      (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature)

      Dear David,

      Grammarly found 19 critical writing issues in your text.

      Score: 38 of 100 (poor, revision necessary)
       
      Plagiarism !
      • Unoriginal text detected
      Contextual Spelling Check 3 issues
      • Spelling (3)
      • Ignored words
      • Commonly confused words
      Grammar 9 issues
      • Use of articles (1)
      • Incorrect use of prepositions (1)
      • Subject and verb agreement (1)
      Punctuation 4 issues
      • Punctuation within a sentence (4)
      • Closing punctuation
      • Formal punctuation
      Style and Word Choice 2 issues
      • Writing style (1)
      • Vocabulary use (1)
      I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider'd how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.—Believe me, good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it;—you have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are transfused from father to son, &c. &c.—and a great deal to that purpose:—Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, 'tis not a half-penny matter,—away they go cluttering like hey-go mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it.

      (Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy)

      Dear Laurence,

      Grammarly found 20 critical writing issues in your text.

      Score: 10 of 100 (poor, revision necessary)
      Plagiarism !
      • Unoriginal text detected
      Contextual Spelling Check 4 issues
      • Spelling (4)
      • Ignored words
      • Commonly confused words
      Grammar 6 issues
      • Wordiness (1)
      • Passive voice use (5)
      • Use of articles
      Punctuation 7 issues
      • Punctuation within a sentence (7)
      • Closing punctuation
      • Formal punctuation
      Style and Word Choice 2 issues
      • Writing style (2)
      • Vocabulary use

      Why not go to grammarly.com and paste in your own samples? No genius is safe.

      Incidentally, my introduction (above) scored 69/100 ( = "Weak, needs revision")

       Apparently, I have already plagiarized myself,  * prior * to the publication of this blog.

      Now that's clever.

      Napoleon?