One Big Story Part II

As a partial explanation of my failure to maintain this blog for the last few months, here’s one of the things I’ve been up to:

 

Words I wish I could have played in scrabble

An infinite number of monkeys...

An infinite number of monkeys… (Photo credit: Olivander)

I have an app that seems to be permanently open in my brain; maybe it is a monkey on a typewriter. Strings of letters constantly rearrange themselves and every so often a combination sticks and I have a new word in my head. I’ve tried to figure out what to do with these words.

Some of them have ended up in a story I wrote, about a “jellyfarglemarsh”, which you can listen to over at Stories from the Borders of Sleep. Others are being collected in a document on Draft  (superb tool for distraction-free writing and collaboration invented by Nathan Kontny) until I find a use for them. As a writer, you always need new words for things.

The typewriting-monkey app goes crazy, though, when I play Scrabble. In the last month, I would have scored a lot better in Scrabble if I could have played some of the following non-words:

opet
ovisa
tabe
joen
earez
loat
beetis
thone
pety
rhoney
mooty
jora
saum
nute
duntie
chun
zenu
opida
antid
laicana
zouf
zelam
criben
agantile
vermid
canu
prestagelent
adabs
ariab

So there we are.

I guess, if any other chump googles them, they will end up reading this post.

Would any of my readers care to come up with meanings for some of this new vocabulary?

Lest you be tempted by the dream of freelancing …

I’m not complaining for a minute; this is the life I have chosen for myself and I love it. As in any job, though, there are good days and bad days.

I am often asked for advice by people who are considering going self employed in creative fields and my first line is a reality check. If I had known all this when I started three and a half years ago, I don’t think it would have changed anything, but this is my second attempt to “go it alone” after I learned some hard lessons the first time round, which was about ten years ago.

Dream

Reality

Shuffling to your PC in your pyjamas with a cup of coffee at 11am to start work Getting up at 6am and sometimes working ‘til midnight to meet a deadline.
Lunching with friends Skipping meals because you are “in the zone” and don’t want to lose the flow
Being your own boss and beholden to nobody Working for a string of “bosses” in succession and often simultaneously
Never having to fill in another job application Being on a permanent job hunt to line up the next month of work
Never having to go through another annual performance review Trying to stay on top of your game and develop your skills with virtually no guidance
Holidays when you want them No paid leave and the laptop comes on holiday with you because it’s impossible to “abandon the baby”
Extended amounts of time in your own little world Missing the banter and mutual support of a work environment
Doing what you love every day Tax returns, accounts, marketing, pitching and admin at least 30% of the time
Time to work on your “big idea” Shelving the “big idea” until things calm down a bit
Having control over your working environment Moving to the kitchen because the desk is too cluttered, tripping over the laundry pile and the dog/cat who is doing everything in its power to distract you
“My office is a coffee shop” Spending half an hour trying to get access to their unfeasibly slow WiFi, getting the shakes by lunch time (after your 4th espresso), going outside to take a phone call that you don’t want to be overheard
Practice the guitar in your “lunch break” Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Stumbleupon in your “lunch break”

Deep Grammar

Grammar was never invented to separate people “in the know” from the rest of us or to keep teachers and proofreaders in a work. In fact it, was never “invented”. It is intrinsic to language and fundamental for communication.

A new piece of research, published in the May 8 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that bad grammar is not only noticed by the English teacher or the pedant in the office but also at a neurological level by your bog-standard brain – yes, YOUR brain (and mine).

Laura Batterink, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oregon, recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs) as study participants were presented with sentences, some containing grammar errors. In the majority of cases, subjects processed the errors without awareness.

Participants in a study were presented with short sentences, one word at a time, and their brain activity was monitored using a non-invasive technique. A mixture of good and bad sentences were used and the participants were asked to mark them correct or incorrect as well as to respond to an auditory tone that was played at some point while they were reading each sentence. Thus their awareness (of errors and tones) could be checked against actual brain activity.

When it was all shuggled out, the results showed brains responding to errors even when the participants did not register their awareness of them. The brain appears to pick up and correct errors of syntax without us noticing. However, this unconscious process demands neurological resources.

English: Illustration to the poem Jabberwocky....

The Jabberwocky – Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914)

Helen J. Neville, one of the paper’s co-authors from the University of Oregon, points out that children often pick up grammar rules implicitly through routine daily interactions with parents or peers, simply hearing and processing new words and their usage before any formal instruction. This has implications for second language acquisition; grammar should be taught implicitly, without semantics. In other words, she suggests that nonsense poems, such as Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”, are ideal material for this approach – syntactically sound, yet virtually meaningless.

For me, this research underlines the importance of syntax, and word order in particular. The logical flow of a sentence should be such that the reader does not have to re-read it (consciously or unconsciously). I find that about 30% of my editorial tweaking tackles this issue.

I often recommend that people who want to improve their writing read as much good copy as they can, in order to internalise the language; read their own writing out loud, to hear how it works; lead the reader by the hand, making sure that the meaning stands out from the surrounding qualifiers; and assume that if their meaning can possibly be misconstrued, then it will be.

Links:
Audio: Study summary by Laura Batterink: http://bit.ly/13FRBmC
Institute of Neuroscience: http://uoneuro.uoregon.edu/ionmain/htdocs/index.html
Follow UO Science on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/UniversityOfOregonScience
UO Science on Twitter: http://twitter.com/UO_Research
More UO Science/Research News: http://uoresearch.uoregon.edu

Grammar Patrol

I am ashamed to admit that I found a copy error on the back of the  business cards I have been using for the last three years. When I started freelancing in 2010, I didn’t know how to use a colon. At worst, dodgy copy makes things downright confusing for the reader: at best, it makes you look like a numpty – especially when you are selling your writing and editing skills.

Here is the offending item:

business card

I’m always recommending that people don’t use a colon to introduce a list in this way. It is unnecessary and it often leads to confusing sentences. I think that must be the reasoning behind the fact that it is plain wrong. Nevertheless, this use is extremely common. If you want to go for an “A” grade, make sure that what precedes the colon is a proper sentence. Yes I’ve just re-ordered my cards with a rewritten blurb; that colon cost me £20.

So, having admitted one of my many faults, am I permitted to share a giggle over some other people’s, from my collection?

This invokes visions of staff swinging into the toilet, Tarzan style, on the disabled alarm cord (and possibly landing with a splash of toilet water).

27-WP_000416

Here is some classic apostrophe abuse, compounded by inconsistency. If there are Coffee’s, why aren’t there also Tea’s, Breakfast’s, Cocktail’s, Wine’s, Spirit’s and Beer’s?

IMG_0111a

I was very disappointed that I didn’t see any old vehicles being smashed at the museum in Alston; I wouldn’t mind smashing a few exclamation marks, though!

Grammar Patrol! Grammar Patrol ‘ten’SHUN! Turning to the right in threes disMISS! Carry on!

Improvised Word Salads: a verbal experiment

I’d like some feedback on an experiment that may grow into a project or turn out to be a blind alley.

I call these “Word Salads”. They are improvised lists of words, spoken with minimal expression. I think they should give rise to cascading imagery in the minds of listeners. Because they are improvised, they are unique phenomena, ephemeral, immediate and unpredictable.

The first example here is a “dissociated improvisation”. As with all sorts of improvisation, there must be some rule. We have all played the word association game, but this tries to be a solo word dissociation game. It is very difficult to do as I don’t think it is possible for the mind to work without association. There are probably really three or four rapid associative steps between each word. Sometimes I am aware of this happening as I grasp for the next thing to say.

Without any context, the words become quite strange, I think, but each one has the power to evoke something, like the edge of a fin appearing momentarily above the water before disappearing again.

The second example tries to tell a story of some sort. The rule of this improvisation is that a narrative is allowed to take shape, although it has not been predetermined in any way.

See what you think.

So …

Would these have any potential for performance? I think their improvisatory qualities make them exciting for the speaker if not the hearer. Are they evocative or just monotonous? Could I go anywhere with this or should I stop wasting my time?

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