As a semi-professional writer—I get paid to write stuff I don’t care about and can’t make a living writing what I love—I have amassed some solid skills:  a decent ability to bring much needed snark when it’s needed (3/4 of the time it’s needed ALL the time), amazing propensity for listicles (it’s like a list, but its an article), and an absolute love affair with parenthesis (I’ve got nothing).  But I also have a shameful secret.  Something dark and hidden within my very soul—I can’t spell worth a damn.

Recently, I was writing a thank you note to a friend.  It was in pen on personalized stationery—because I’m a classy guy.  I was writing a sentence in which I thanked the recipient for picking where to eat.  After I’d finished, I noticed that something was off.  I had spelled restaurant with only one “a”.  I then had to rewrite the letter, checking each word in the dictionary before I committed it ink.  Later, I was working on an article that was close to being past its deadline, when I noticed a simple typo yet no red squiggly line underneath it.  Somehow the spell check in Word had been turned off and after I activated it, my draft became a lit in red squiggles highlighting each and every mistake.  “Oh man,” I said, “I can’t spell worth a damn.”

Now, whenever something tragic like this comes out, there is always the search for who is responsible.   How could someone make it through grade school, high school, college, and graduate school and not be able to spell the word “restaurant” off the top of his? Who is to blame for this?

You know who’s at fault?  Modern technology.  If there’s was no spell checker in word processing programs and web browsers (including that blessed autocorrect that somehow managed to know by writing  “collegue” I meant “colleague”) I would have learned to do it on my own.  And I’m not the only one.  The Internet is littered with evidence of people who suffer from similar intellectual deficiencies, either posting a Facebook status message or writing a sign.  Could it be that having spell check, like when an overuse of antibiotics creates a stronger drug-resistant bacteria, is too much of a good thing?

It’s not that I don’t appreciate spell check (oh, I do), I just wish that having it around didn’t mean when I write something it looks like it as written by a dyslexic 10-year-old.  But what can I do? Spend my free time reading the dictionary and going through flashcards for SAT vocab words?  I’m twenty-six, I think it may be a little too late to learn how to spell “onomatopoeia” without having to look it up through Google.  I think my only course of action is to double check everything though the computer and just be thankful that I’m not so bad that I use texting abbreviations.  K, Thx.

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kill_your_tvSo I don’t own a television.  Actually, I haven’t had a television for over a year now.  And before you go jumping to any conclusions, it’s not because of the recession.  I can afford it…I swear!  I honestly just don’t want one.  It’s a point that I have to constantly reiterate to people once they find out I don’t own a TV. Most keep offering to sell me their old one at a steal and more than once someone has flat out offered me a free television set.

And it’s not because I don’t like TV.  I love to watch TV.  When I owned one, I would spend hours just flipping through the different channels until I found something to watch, either nothing in particular or something I’d seen a million times before.  That’s why I don’t own a television.  If I had a TV in my apartment, I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. Hell, I don’t think I would be able to write anything….ever.  It’s 10:30 at night, I’m pretty sure I could find something to watch.  Aren’t the Emmy’s on tonight?

Now, just because I stopped owning a television doesn’t mean I don’t watch TV anymore.  Sure, I’m reading more and I’m getting more writing done. And gone are the hours mysteriously lost to Law & Order reruns on syndication.  No longer am I distracted by some last minute TV watching, losing track of time, and thus am almost always running late.  But I still watch television shows.  We are living in a golden age in which networks are airing smartly written shows with plot, character development, and profound dialogue.  I couldn’t resist storytelling like that.  I have a select few shows that I keep up on via Hulu, but nothing near the amount that I used to follow (you know you have an addiction to TV, when you hate shows like “Bones” and “CSI” but watch them anyway).

What’s really interesting is that watching TV used to be one of the most anti-social things I did—just staying in my apartment and watching by myself—but now it’s one of my most social activities.   I look forward to my weekly date to watch “Mad Men” with Kate at her place.  I go to other people’s apartments for season premieres and finale’s.  Next month is the MLB post-season and I’ll catch the games at my neighborhood bar.  It sounds strange, but since I quit owning a television, I have a lot more fun watching TV.

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Hey guys,

I just want to let you know about a friend-of-a-friend’s blog and book about writing, Bang the Keys.  I’ve posted here before about my own lessons that I’ve learned (as recently as yesterday in fact) and Jill Dearman’s got a lot of good advice and exercises to try out.  I highly recommend you check it out.

-Wordy Ninja, Over and Out.

writingThe title of this post is a Latin phrase that translates to “no day without a line.”  It’s generally attributed to Roman writer/philosopher/historian Gaius Plinius Secundus, also known as “Pliny the Elder,” who himself credited the Greek artist Apelles for coining the expression.  It’s meaning is pretty simple: create something, anything—no matter how minuscule, everyday.  For a writer, it should be a commandment to live by—write at the very least one original sentence everyday.  I have a note card with the saying taped just over my computer.

To be completely honest, I’d had this quote around for years, but never truly lived by it until very recently.  There was always the advice given to me, and seemingly every young writer starting out, to “write everyday.” But the reason I think that I didn’t take it to heart, the same reason I’m assuming everyone else ignored that great pearl of wisdom, is because it turns the act of writing into work.  When you first realize that you love to write, it comes in spits and spurts, these sudden and quick fevered moments of creativity that sit you down in front of the computer, typewriter, or paper and pen.  It’s a fun addictive rush, but you can’t dictate when it happens. And if you try to write without it,  the process is daunting and not that much fun.  Unfortunately, it’s the only way to ever finish anything that you start writing.

Now, no matter what I do, I always make sure that I write something everyday. It can be anything from a blog post (yeah, yeah, I know I only posted twice last week… Lay off!) to an addition on a current draft of short story, even facebook status or something on twitter.  As long as it’s creative and original, I’ve done my daily writing duty.  Of course, one or two snarky sentences posted online isn’t exactly what Pliny (or Apelles) had in mind, but it gets the job done—and trust me when you’re curled up, hungover, on the couch watching the Empire Strikes Back for the umpteenth time on Spike, tweeting “Han Solo is an intergalactic pimp that the ladies love and he knows it,” is tough.  The point is that it’s like exercise; even a little bit is better than nothing. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the better you get.  You not only find that you can write something pretty decent without those surges of creativity, but that a lot of those times you make yourself sit down to write, you get inspired and they come along anyway.   Living the rule of “no day without a line” has opened something up inside of me and made me a better writer.   I’m glad I finally started following  it.

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I have a confession to make: I’m always pushing against my deadlines.  As a semi-professional writer (I write articles for my day job but don’t get a byline…I think the phrase best describes my situation) this is never an ideal trait to have.  And with the blog to keep somewhat regularly updated and various freelancing projects, I’ve always got a piece that’s either in the pipeline or due.  Most likely due.

I don’t have any problem coming up with the ideas for stories, doing the research and legwork, or even actually writing; I just can’t seem to do all that in a perfectly timely matter.  I’ve ranted and raved here before about my habit to procrastinate, even written about not having anything to post because of it.  But this is a little different.  It’s not that I don’t get my articles/essays/fiction in on time (every now and then I do blow a deadline), it’s that I tend to get my stuff in at the last possible minute.

I wish that I could just plan ahead, write something, and turn it in well before it’s due.  Instead I’m always working on a piece literally within minutes of its deadline, and thus not getting a proper head start on the next project—so the vicious cycle continues.  On deadline day, I’m usually running around, muttering “Why do I always do this to myself?!’ while a certain colleague/friend who has already turned his stuff in and posted on his blog (twice!) will cry out “I’m so boooorrreed.”

But there is an upside to it.  I’ve found that pushing hard up against a deadline prevents me from going off into diatribes, fussing over clause packed sentences, or packing too much detail into a description, giving my under-pressure writing a concise and clean feel.  It’s also an adrenaline rush.  There’s nothing quite like turning those feelings of panic and desperation into fuel for manic productivity and the following sense of accomplishment.  And it’s addictive.  But lately, I’ve been thinking about what else I could accomplish if I just managed my time a little better.

I think that the reason that I’ve never REALLY tried to fix this problem is because I was always able to pull it off.  Not matter what, I turned in that paper I started the night before it was due and got at least a B or finished the short story in time for my workshop.  I never had the push to change my ways in a moment where it all came crashing down and I completely failed to get any of it done.  Maybe the fact that I want to change this habit without hitting rock bottom is a sign that I’m growing up.  Maybe this can be the beginning of something new.  Maybe I can move past the thrill seeking and concise writing benefits of running up against my deadlines and finally be the get-things-done-in-advance writer I want to be.

This my Monday post for the blog and I’m finishing it up on Sunday night.  We’ll see how it plays out from here.

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