My Buffalo show with Payton Taylor @paytontaylor129

I will be on stage tonight following Nashville recording artist Payton Taylor in Buffalo. It’s exciting stuff, but the winter weather warning does not predict a nice drive to Buffalo.

These pics link to her site, where you can hear some of the great stuff she’s putting out there. Check out the vids, too. She obviously LOVES performing!

10003907_660656140659951_1973119348_n PaytonTaylor-August2013-12

I don’t complain a lot, but… (aka Are you frigging serious?)

419LyhlTksL._SS300_

I decided to spend a little bit of time today practicing some blues piano and organ. The day is cold but sunny, and I feel the hope of spring in the air, coming soon hopefully. I had that feeling that I think we all get every once in a while, the feeling that the world is so full of possibility and opportunity that you are almost obligated to do something constructive. (At least, I hope everyone feels that way.) So I bought a blues backing track on Amazon, plugged my computer into my mixing board, and mentally drooled as I prepared to play some awesome notes.

(A backing track, for those of you who don’t know, is a recording of a band playing with no vocals or lead instruments, so that the listener can fill in the solos. Basically, I can play piano along with a great band, without actually having to find a great band. It’s a spectacular way to practice, and I recommend it to anyone.)

I hit play on my music player and was immediately and viciously attacked by a twenty-five second commercial for the website that produced this track. A loud, obnoxious voice told me where I could go to find out what notes to play and what chords the band was playing. I rarely write reviews on Amazon, but I think I’m going to start.

Here’s what I wrote:

Are you frigging serious?

First of all, I have to say that the actual backing track was pretty good quality, and enough dynamic changes to actually feel like I was playing with a band. So for it’s own purpose, it’s pretty spectacular.

I don’t think I’ve ever given a one star rating for anything but:

I can’t just loop this thing and play it because there is a 23 second advertisement for a website at the beginning of the track. A really annoying car-dealership-commercial sounding advertisement. So on an mp3 track that I just purchased, I have to put the thing into Audacity and cut off the first 23 seconds, save it as new mp3. That is mind boggling and annoying. And there was no warning for me, because there were no reviews.

I would love to give the Play Along Jam Band MORE money for MORE tracks, if I were guaranteed that I wouldn’t have to listen to an advertisement.

And I’ll be honest, if the ad were three seconds, I wouldn’t be complaining, I would just be giving four stars and moving along.

A refreshing draft. For taking notes, that is…

800px-BintangBeer

Not this kind of draft. (This is a very rough draft)

I have discovered a new way to save my ideas for blog posts. I used to keep a folder in Evernote where I would jot down an idea to look up later. But I only blog here, and WP has its own medium for remembering ideas. If I think of something that I’d like to write about someday, and I am at my computer, I add a new post, quickly write my idea in the post title, and then save it as a draft. Then when I am out of ideas, I go to the “All Posts” section of my Dashboard, and then click where it says “Drafts”. This shows me only my drafts, and I see a virtual smorgasbord of my ideas, and I can proceed to choose one and start writing.

drafting 

Ahh… enjoy remembering what you wanted to write about!

On reading

portrayal-89193_640

So many books, so little time

Stephen King reads more than 80 books a year. I thought I was ahead of the game attempting to read 50 books a year. Since I started keeping track:

2010 – 10 books (It was a bad year in many ways) (9 fiction, 1 non-fiction)
2011 – 32 (14 fiction, 18 non-fiction)
2012 – 33 (24 fiction, 9 non-fiction)
2013 – 37 (24 fiction, 13 non-fiction).

I felt rather chastised after reading King’s book On Writing because he is reading all the time (even waiting in line at the post office, etc). His advice is basically that writers must immerse themselves in books in order to improve writing skills. I agree with this. And as I am writing fiction, I feel like I haven’t been reading enough fiction.

This year I decided to read more fiction, and I started the early months off wonderfully. I read 11 books by the first week in February. But I am not Stephen King, and there was a backlash…repercussions. Since that first week in February I have been reading strictly non-fiction (except for some of the blogs I keep up with). I went far too long without getting my dose of reality. My interests are far too varied to keep my nose buried in novels when there is so much I have to learn and know about everything.

And as far as the 50 books/year goes, well – I will keep that goal, just so that I am constantly moving forward and improving myself. And even though I feel bad sometimes that I haven’t made that goal yet, I don’t think that is a bad thing, considering that I don’t take into account the thousands of words of news I read daily, or my subscriptions to The Economist, YES!, Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Entertainment Weekly, Family Handyman, Mother Jones, Urban Farm, Grit, Reason, and a couple of others I may have missed, plus my local newspaper. Yeah, I feel satisfied that I read the equivalent of at least 100 books a year, if not more.

So maybe I’m not learning as much about how fiction writers write fiction. But I’m sure that my varied interests and all of my learning will somehow reveal themselves in my own fiction, and even though my books may not become NYT bestsellers (although there’s always a chance), at least they will be unique, different, and mine. Stephen King* can read all the fiction he wants, I just can’t do it.

471px-Stephen_King,_Comicon*Before anyone gets the wrong idea, King is one of my all time great idols. And I only have a few all time great idols. He is a hero to me. It is because of my respect for him that his statement in the book bothered me enough that I had to write about it and justify, if only for myself, why I don’t follow in his footsteps in this area.

 

Analyze your writing with Expresso

glasses-272401_1920I have seen text analysis engines before, but these engines generally are used for text mining, or data mining of text. I have never seen an app that analyzed a writer’s style. Until today. I just found Expresso, and I am incredibly impressed.

Before I get into the details, I need to say that this is one of the cleanest, purest, uncluttered apps that I have ever seen. It is beautiful in its simplicity.

From the website:

Learn practical techniques to improve your writing style

QuoteWhile good writing style is hard to master, there are several simple yet powerful techniques which many writing guides and coaches focus on. They can quickly improve the quality of your texts. Expresso teaches these techniques by applying them directly to your writing.

I picked a random post from my blog, and copied a random paragraph from that post, and pasted it into Expresso.

Expresso

Now as I click on each stylistic “problem” from the metrics on the right, it highlights the related portions of my text, and I am able to determine whether or not to make a change. I can also change the text in the app and analyze it again if I want to.

Here I have highlighted all instances of “passive voice” (green) and “modals” (blue):

expresso2

Having just discovered this internet gem, I’m sure there is a lot more to discover, and if it proves to be a really helpful tool, there is no doubt you’ll be hearing more about it. But go ahead and give it a try. Just remember, it’s not a writing god, it’s just an app, so before you go ahead and change that beautiful sentence of yours, remember:

… don’t blindly optimize metrics in your texts

Quote

Writing metrics employed by Expresso can be powerful but they are not a “magic bullet”. They highly correlate with good writing but are not the cause of it, just like umbrellas correlate with rain but, of course, don’t trigger it. Therefore, there is no benefit in optimizing the metrics blindly. For example, constructing short nonsensical sentences out of several common short words — “it”, “get”, “all”, etc — will result in a low readability grade; however, the text will be unintelligible. Instead, use highlighted metrics to identify weak areas and to get ideas for possible edits.

Good writing style remains an art, not a science…

My view from the stage

IMG_7123 IMG_7127Somewhere in Ohio, sometime last year.

What do you desire? Go and do THAT!

There’s not a whole lot more I can say about this – the cartoon speaks for itself (or, for Alan Watts) very well. Enjoy, and be inspired!!!What-do-you-desire