In with the new

Well it’s started. The great redesign project is underway here at thebeachwriter.com. We have a new front porch to welcome guests and provide directions to a couple of new destination pages…one for blog posts and another with a brief summary of, and contact information for, Janda Writing and Consulting. The foundation is complete. Now the much longer and slower phase of building can begin. That is going to stretch out over the coming months so, if you’re curious, you might want to stop by every so often and have a look around. I’ll post blog entries noting significant additions along the way but in between those there will be plenty of little tweaks and add ons.

For those of you who like hints and spoilers, in the coming year I’ll be adding business details, along with articles, guides, and webinars that provide more in-depth and detailed information on a variety of writing topics. My goal is to get this information out of my head and off of notes (both handwritten and electronic) and into a format that will benefit others. Personally, I’m hoping that clearing out some of the information I keep in my brain will free up storage space for other, non-writing but terribly important information, like what I am supposed to buy at the grocery store, or the names of people I’ve just met, or anything involving numbers.

For those of you who visit for my beach pics, rest assured there’ll be plenty for you to enjoy in the upcoming months as well. I have plans for a gallery or two, as well as continued posts and pics of what I see and think and feel when my feet are in the sand. In fact, as I continue to make adjustments to the layout of various pages, I’ll be adding more pics from my local beaches, especially Jax, Atlantic, Neptune, and Hanna Beaches. To kick the year off right, here’s one of Jax Beach taken January 1st.

Jax Beach, sunset, January 1, 2013

Jax Beach, sunset, January 1, 2013

I’d love your input. Please let me know what you think of the changes as they happen, and feel free to suggest topics you like to see discussed in the future, either by commenting below or contacting me directly.

 

 

 

Out with the old

Reviewing, reflecting, analyzing and revising are familiar activities for writers and artists. Have we created what we intended? What changes could we make? Should we revise? And if so, what needs to be added or removed to transform what we’ve created into what we believe it can or should be?

Answering those questions may be easy or difficult, simple or complicated, but it’s always a personal, individual experience. Feedback from others is important, but unless we are writing or creating art for a particular client or customer, we make the final decision. Even so, we keep our audience in mind. What do our readers want? What do our customers and clients need?

Ideally, the finished product bridges the gap between what the writer/artist wants to give and want the reader/customer/client wants to receive.

As 2012 winds down I have been reviewing the past year of blogging as The Beach Writer. When I started, I wasn’t sure what I wanted the blog to be. I began writing and creating without a clear picture of what I wanted to produce. I spent most of the past year blogging in a fog as thick as the one blanketing Jax Beach a few weeks ago.

Gulls in fog

Jax Beach, December 8, 2012

I’m not saying I’m unhappy with what I’ve posted this past year. On the contrary, I’m pleased with my return to the realm of public writing after many years of keeping my words to myself. But each time I sat down to write a new entry, I was creating without a clear plan for how each entry would relate to the ones that came before or after, and that was ok for 2012. But for the new year I want to make some changes to align The Beach Writer blog with my longer term professional and personal writing goals.

Some of the changes I’ve planned will occur quickly. Others will build over time. First I’ll be redesigning this site to accommodate both The Beach Writer blog and my business, Janda Writing and Consulting. Those of you who’ve followed my writing and career over the years know that I’ve gone through periods when my personal and business writing lives have overlapped as well as times when they’ve been kept separate. That was ok when I was working for someone else, but it’s increasingly difficult when I answer only to myself and clients. Since there is only one of me, I believe my life will be simpler (although not necessarily easier) if I merge the two as much as possible.

What I won’t change is the blog itself. I’ll still post pictures, observations and opinions about the beach, writing, and the nature of creativity. All of you who stop by for a dose of that can rest assured that The Beach Writer will remain as is. But in addition to that, I’ll be providing more detailed information, tips, and advice for writers and clients.

I’m excited about these changes and I hope you will be too. I am looking forward to a bright 2013 filled with sun, sand, water, and words.

sun, sand, water

Sun, sand, water

Happy New Year!

The more things change…

Since my last post, the Summer Olympics came and went and each political party held their convention. There are many writing lessons to be gleaned from each of those events such as the importance of perseverance, training, practice, organizing/outlining to ensure a coherent presentation of your thoughts, and my personal favorite–the importance of comparing a changed document with the previous version before publication.

Without taking sides in the current nasty U.S. political climate, I think we can all agree on the fact that words were omitted when two sections of the Democratic Party Platform document were updated for 2012. Looking at this purely from a business writing or publication viewpoint, it seems that the person(s) involved with preparing the platform failed what I believe is the most critical step when revising anything written. They failed to compare the old and the new versions, side by side, word for word.

Now that takes awhile with anything over a few pages long. It’s tempting to just run spell check and have the new version proofed, reviewed, and authorized while leaving the old for dead. But without comparing the old and new side by side, word for word, the odds are high that something important could be unintentionally left out. Perhaps more than one something important will be left out. And if the new version is published or widely distributed, such omissions can quickly become a great embarrassment, or worse.

What if the document is an instruction manual and the omission is a critical step that skipping causes an unintended result? What if the document is a procedure that must be followed exactly and the omission causes a violation of regulations? These are two quick technical writing examples, but omissions during the revision of a recipe or a book on just about anything can be similarly serious.

Do yourself a favor and remember that a quick proofread to ensure correct spelling and grammar and that the material “sounds good” isn’t enough when you’re dealing with a revision of a previously published document. Compare the old and new one last time, before your readers do.

A foolish day for a walk

Midday on a hot Sunday in Spring is not the ideal time for a walk along the beach. But I went anyway.

Jax Beach, FL - April Fool's Day 2012

Labeling it crowded would be grossly understating the scene. The beach was packed and the tide was already high and still rising, forcing everyone there to share increasingly less space. There was a lot to see, sure, but not a lot of room to do anything that involved moving from place to another along the coast.

This was when I decided to take my walk. And at first it seemed like a mistake.

I’m not one of those people who exercises at the same time or even exactly the same place each time. I procrastinate. I get bursts of energy and decide to go for it right then. I am all over the map at times and therefore wasn’t the least bit surprised to discover as I crossed over the dunes that early on a Spring Sunday afternoon was not the best time to get my walk in.

But I also didn’t let it discourage me. I switched on my pedometer and started weaving between towels, hairs, umbrellas and people toward the shore. Once there, I headed south, focusing only on the few feet of sand in front of me rather than the crowds of people ahead, behind, and surrounding me.

At first it looked like walking even a couple of feet would be impossible. Walking a couple of miles seemed out of the question. But I took that first step determined to make it work.

I had to dodge a lot of people who couldn’t care less if I walked or not. I had to stop and restart when beach balls or babies crossed my path at the last second. I had to weave around fishermen and football-throwing teens. I had to share space with squawking gulls used to having sand to land on.

I also got to watch a fisherman rescue and stingray and send it back out to sea.

Pretty soon it was time to turn around and retrace my steps, and although even more people had crammed together on the beach by then, the walk back actually seemed easier.

Maybe I’d simply adapted to the distractions and obstacles, which is what any writer has to do if they want to consistently produce.

Writers and other artists often find themselves trying to create in less than ideal situations. Crowds. Obstacles. Distractions. These don’t disappear just because we have deadlines or if we’re just not feeling “it” that day.

At those times we have to create anyway. We have to make that first move determined to get where we want to go.

Sometimes we have to get creative to be creative. And sometimes that leads to memorable results.

 

There’s a reason why they’re called The Basics

I frequently read ridiculously funny things on professional writing forums, most of which, sadly, weren’t intended as a joke. Since I live in a creative household, I tend to share these little gems with my husband and adult offspring so that we can all enjoy. But sometimes I read and share something so outrageous that we skip the laughter and land on righteous indignation.

“Seriously? Somebody posted a question asking How important is grammar and punctuation (i.e., subject verb agreement, conditonl clause, etc.) for a technical writer? Unbelievable!”

Believe it. The bold portion is word for word, complete with the misspelling of conditional.

Call me a snob. Call me an elitist. But I simply don’t understand how someone can call themselves a writer, or worse a professional writer, if they can’t or don’t understand and follow the most basic grammar and spelling rules.

To sign or not to sign

They got it right the first time, and then failed to duplicate their efforts on the second line

That’s like getting paid to be a plumber and not being able to tighten a sink faucet. It’s like calling yourself an artist, a painter, but not knowing the difference between watercolors and acrylics. It’s akin to claiming to be a mechanic without knowing how to open the hood of a car, or how to jump-start the battery. Or it’s the same as getting paid to run a multi-billion dollar corporation without understanding that failing to serve your largest customers will erode your profits and eventually cost you your job.

Ok, wait, that does happen an awful lot lately. But it doesn’t make it right. And it isn’t right to call yourself a writer, personally or professionally, if you don’t know the basics.

By basics, I mean [bey-siks], the fundamentals of using the language (English for our purposes) to communicate information to a reader.

I’m not going to teach a grammar lesson with this entry. I’m not even going to provide links to those who do, although I likely will add those on a resources page here eventually. What I am going to do, however, is indulge my desire to list my personal basic pet peeves.

These are the tools I expect professional writers using the English language to have mastered.

  • The fact that every sentence requires a subject and a verb. The subject can be implied. The verb cannot.
  • Punctuation–what it is and why it’s necessary, even in a text message, or a Facebook or Twitter post
  • The difference between and appropriate use of:

its and it’s
there, their and they’re
to and too
your and you’re
effect and affect
except and accept

  • Subject verb agreement–what it is and why it should be second nature if you make your living, or hope to make your mark with words

It’s ok if you can’t explain what a gerund phrase is or diagram a sentence. But you should have an ear, or an eye, for sentence structure and paragraph flow. And you MUST know the basics.

If you don’t, you’re not a professional, regardless of how long you’ve been writing or how much you get paid.

A word about an award

 

I want to thank The writer, the reviser, the visualizer at Write Or Revise Daily (WORD!) for choosing me for a Versatile Blogger award (http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/)! Write or Revise Daily is one of my favorite blogs and it’s a treat as well as an honor to be recognized by a fellow blogger!

The Versatile Blogger

For those of you who, like me, aren’t familiar with how this works, there are rules. Rule #1, don’t talk about Versatile Blogger award. Wait, that is definitely not right!

The real rules are as follows.

Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.

Done and Done. But thanks again! I appreciate the recognition and encouragement.

Share 7 things about yourself.

1. I don’t handle praise or recognition well. It’s not that I don’t welcome or appreciate it. I do! But although I often come across as an extrovert, I am actually shy about being in a spotlight not of my own making.

2. Although I have been a writer all of my life, I was first published as a photojournalist when I was a teenager. I put away my camera professionally in favor of a keyboard long ago, but this blog is allowing me the chance to revisit my photographic roots a bit.

3. Speaking of journalism, I once owned and published a weekly newspaper.

4. I was born and lived most of my life in the incredibly, landlocked, ocean-free Midwest.

5. In 2011 I decided it was a good time to have a mid-life crisis and rather than buy a sports car I relocated from snowy winters to a southern city with a beach.

6. I live in an all-creative household. My husband is a poet, photographer and writer. My son is an artist, lapsed poet, and master of puns. My daughter is a dancer and writer.

7. My favorite food is sushi.

Pass this award along to 15 others.

I am nominating blogs I always look forward to reading. Each of them has something that draws me back post after post no matter how busy I think I am. Hope you enjoy them as well! They are, of course, in no particular order.

1. Fibromy-Awesome
2. Cerridwen’s Cauldren
3. 1 Story A Week
4. Terribly Write
5. Wordsmith Six
6. Writers Write Daily
7. Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride
8. Robotic Rhetoric
9. Word Flows
10. David Gaughran
11. Savvy Writing Careers
12. Outside the Box
13. Villanova Junction
14. Cdeminski’s Blog
15. Alice Dusenberry

I also want to link to one more blog that would have made this list if he hadn’t been the one to nominate The writer, the reviser, the visualizer...Pete Denton – Writer. Maybe now I’ll get around to adding each of these to my blogroll?

Contact your chosen bloggers.

In process!

Thanks again to Write Or Revise Daily for the vote of confidence and to everyone for reading.

 

All kinds of people


Crowded Jax Beach

Busy Jax Beach, Jan, 1, 2012

People are drawn to the beach by many things.

The waves attract surfers, body boarders, kayakers, and splashers of all ages. The water attracts swimmers and fishermen.

The sea spits out a daily dose of shells for the beachcombers.

The sand provides a soft landing spot for sunbathers and ample open space for the recreation of throwing footballs and frisbees, flying kites, playing bocce ball and tossing beanbags. The sand is also the building material of sand castles, simple and elaborate, the backdrop for sand writers and artists, and the hiding spot for treasures revealed by passing metal detectors.

The sun is there for everyone.

The beach is home to is a seemingly endless supply of wildlife to watch and interact with. Sea gulls and pigeons scavenge and kvetch. Ospreys and pelicans soar over head and then plunge into the water to come up with dinner. Crabs, sea stars, and other creatures that hug the coast move about in the shallows and on the sand. Jellyfish and occasionally something bigger become stranded on land as the tide recedes. Dolphins, sharks, and more can be spotted offshore with a sharp eye.

The beach is also home to people who have no home.

The beach serves as an outdoor gym for walkers, runners, and bicyclists. And it’s a wonderful people watching locale, topping both the mall and the airport as a gathering place for all kinds of people.

All kinds of people visit the beach to enjoy what it has to offer them. The same is true for your writing.

When writers follow the commandment to know your audience, we tend to focus on our target audience. That is as it should be. But it’s also important to remember that all kinds of people may come into contact with our writing, and to think about what our blog post, article, procedure, manual, course, or book has to offer them.

We shouldn’t try to be all things to all people, but it’s good to be aware that there are multiple perspectives, desires, and goals held by our readers. Our target audience is our primary reader, sure, but not the only one.

Keeping that in mind allows us to get to know our audience a little better.

 

 

Tools don’t make the writer

Twice last week I read blogs and forum discussions involving writers judging other writers by what tools they use.

According to a blogger who writes fiction, you aren’t a real writer if you don’t carry a moleskin notebook and fancy pen with you everywhere. And according to a professional writer in a forum discussion, you aren’t a real technical writer if you use, and especially if you prefer, the most commonly used word processing program rather than the program currently favored by the DOD.

I have carried a moleskin notebook in my past and remember how richly appealing they are to hold and scribble thoughts in. But my notes and writing fragments are just as valuable captured electronically using Evernote on my smart phone. That frees me from lugging around a bag big enough for a moleskin and continually fishing in it for my favorite pen.

I have used several different programs to develop manuals, procedures and instructions, and I enjoy learning new ones whenever possible. But I find that each has its pros and cons and believe that the perfect technical writing software has yet to be designed. I therefore prefer the tool requested or required by the employer or client because that is the tool that enables me to get the job done.

It is beyond my expertise to explain why some writers develop a tool obsession, or why so many humans in general feel they have to put others down to build themselves up. But both are a waste of time and talent.

Writers are writers because of the content they produce, not the tool they use to capture, display or distribute it.

Go forth and write something worth reading.

Men On Bikes Talk To Me

“Don’t scare him,” the man said, quickly walking his bike toward me. “Rescue is on the way.”

Pelican under Jax Beach Pier

“Him” was a pelican meandering between the pillars of the Jacksonville Pier at the water’s edge. Intermittently he would swim a few feet when the ocean lapped up around him and then return to walking as the water line receded. Several pictures of the pelican were already on my iPhone before the man on the bike warned me to stop.

He wasn’t the first stranger to approach me on the beach. Walking a few miles up and down the coast several times each week puts me in the path of interesting, and sometimes weird, individuals.

Most who stop me as I pass them they want me to take their picture with the ocean behind them. One asked me if it was wrong to take home a shell that still had a creature inside it. Another made a beeline for me so fast that I instinctively took up a defensive posture just as he asked me what a “guy has to do to find a shark tooth around here?!”

Although few are creepy like shark tooth man, I tend to keep my distance and maintain my pace as I pass people. I have my walk to get in and they have their lives that don’t need to include me.

The pelican protector wasn’t creepy but seemed intent on talking to me, so I paused my walk long enough to learn that the pelican had oil on his wings and his protector’s name was Ray. Ray also told me that since the pelican couldn’t fly and therefore couldn’t eat enough on his own, the fishermen on the pier above had been throwing down bait to the bird.

Half an hour later as I made my way back down the coast I found Ray still straddling his bike and keeping watching over the pelican, warning walkers and surfers alike to give the bird space. With his right arm was in a cast, resting on the handlebars, Ray took up our conversation where we’d left off earlier, schooling me on normal pelican behavior and the work of the bird sanctuary to the north that would be picking up the pelican and returning it to health.

As a former surfer and longtime local, Ray knew a more than a little about all things Jax and was eager to share that knowledge. When I told him I was new to the area he launched into a list of parks and beaches I should visit, complete with driving instructions and landmarks to look for along the way. Ray also told me which local bars were the ones to frequent and where I could play a game of pool for a quarter.

I am extra appreciative for that last tip and plan to check it out soon.

I had to leave before the pelican was rescued but trust that Ray made sure everything worked out for the best. I didn’t realize that Ray and the pelican were part a theme week until my next walk, when I was once again stopped by a man on a bike.

This time I was walking with my husband. We were on the return lap, approaching the ocean rescue station, when I saw a man on a bike enter the beach and stop to take in the view. He was wearing a helmet and straddling a significantly upscale bicycle with a small, single-wheel trailer packed full of what looked like spare clothing, bedding and supplies.

“Excuse me,” man on a bike #2 said as soon as I was within hearing range.

“Whatcha need?” I thought maybe he was lost and wanted directions.

Man on a bike #2 knew exactly where he was and what he wanted was to have his picture taken with his front wheel in the ocean. My husband stepped up to oblige, patiently following the man’s instructions regarding the angle and counting to three so that he could pose and flash a peace sign alongside his wide smile.

We quickly learned that man on a bike #2 had just then completed a coast to coast bicycle trek. In 75 days he had traveled from Los Angeles to Jax! We were the first to congratulate him and he was still smiling as we wished him well and left him there to enjoy his moment. We forgot to ask his name, however, so he remains man on a bike #2 for all eternity unless, by chance and internet, he is identified.

In two days I had talked to two men who at first appeared to be striking opposites–the local ocean wildlife guru and the L.A. visitor whose only interest in our beach was getting his tire in the water to symbolize the finish line for a personal journey. What they had in common, besides their mode of transportation, was a unique perspective of our surroundings and a drive to share that perspective with anyone and everyone crossing their path.

Isn’t that a good description of a writer?

From those encounters I take away a gentle reminder to be tiny bit more open to strangers I pass in the sand, on the off chance that they have something unique to tell me. I am also now affectionately referring to the past seven days as Men On Bikes Talk To Me week.