An unexpected follow-up to “Book Ideas”

Just the other day I wrote a post asking for book ideas

In that post I mentioned Brian, a friend from rehab in end 2009 to 2010, with an amusing anecdote about him being covered in butter after I accidentally dropped a large container in the rehab kitchen. After hearing my stories there, he wanted to help me write and market a book. (This was long before my blogging and before I knew about any talent whatsoever for this.)

Brian went home to the UK after that stint in rehab here in South Africa, and now we’re in contact again. If you are a struggling addict in the UK, you can use his website to try finding a rehab.

He still swears his idea of combining our talents will work, and with my writing about our combined experiences, together with his marketing and publishing skills, we can publish a best seller, targeting 17 million addicts in the UK alone…

I remain doubtful, but it is something to think about. Anyway, if you are an addict who needs help in the UK, please do check out his website.

Book Ideas?

This week, another person told me I should write a book. This was in light of my blogging and as an idea for something to make money. I wish it were that easy.

The first time someone suggested I write a book was in 2009. It was this fellow named Brian, in rehab. He wanted to be my publisher. He seemed to think I could write a book about my life and recovery from meth addiction. “Too soon?”, I thought. I was right.

Sadly, the only other memory I have of Brian, and this is the one that lingers, is of him covered from head to toe in butter. Literally. Covered. I was working in the kitchen, and following instructions from the resident expert on how to soften butter. I can’t remember exactly what that involved, other than adding something to it and stirring in a large metal container. Unfortunately I was carrying the container from one counter to another in the kitchen, with actual butter fingers, when Brian walked by at the moment it slipped from my hands. He was truly a sight to behold, because when that container hit the floor, the butter exploded upwards right at him, covering him. Had it been possible to aim at him, I don’t think I could have been that accurate. Later he even showed me the butter he’d somehow missed behind his ears, after his shower.

Anyway, I don’t think I can count on buttercup Brian as my publisher. His idea seemed good at the time, but I don’t really want to write yet another book about recovery, unless I can say something unique from my perspective that I feel is helpful to others. Also, my life is boring. No, really, it’s not that interesting. I spend most of my time at work, writing c# code and solving programming problems that while interesting to me, would bore the shit out of most people. Not everybody gets excited about, for example, writing a generic reusable method that uses serialization and deserialization to relay XML or JSON Http POST requests from one WCF service to another. See? I bored you already, but this stuff is exciting to me.

I write this blog for fun. It’s not about money so there isn’t any pressure. Also, I write it mostly in autopilot these days. Much like when I’m in the zone programming and think about the application, with the actual code and all the classes and objects that seem to write themselves, it usually feels like the blog writes itself. I sit down with an idea and just write. There’s no need to stick to any particular topic because I write whatever happens to be on my mind. Blogging is easy.

It would not be so to write a book. Books need continuity. Ideas must flow from start to finish, growing into chapters that build on one another and complement one another, all while maintaining the interest of the reader. I don’t know about everybody but I hold books to a higher standard than blogs or other articles. If I lose interest on page two, or page ten, or even page two hundred, I put the book down and never pick it up again. I am not confident that I can write well enough for my own standards as a reader, and that’s the bottom line. Maybe I should write about self doubt?

But it would be nice to write a book. Something to cross off my bucket list if I had one and didn’t hate that term. Would my dry and sometimes subtle wit, as from the previous sentence, even work in book form? I certainly wouldn’t be able to pepper my prose with the word ‘fuck’, as is my wont here. A pity.

But what to write about? Recovery? Atheism? What? Fuck knows. All I know is that if I write a book, it has to be something I’m proud of, something I believe in, something that drives me to exclaim to everybody I know and some that I don’t, “This is my book!”. I don’t feel ready yet. Maybe I’ll never be.

This blog is now more popular than my other one… Thanks to you!

It sounds cheesy, I suppose, but I think it’s cool.

Wow… My recovery, atheism, and skepticism (and everything else on my mind) blog has finally overtaken my programming blog, in terms of daily views.

It’s taken a while to get here, considering the first post was on 19 April 2015.
The first post on the other blog was on 10 January 2013. (Yes, when I was using meth.)

It’s been a little weird competing with (some pretty good) posts written by the old me while tweaking on meth – I mean the older ones on the programming blog of course, and it’s good to see that the sober me is now more popular than the high me.

This blog:

The other one:

Also, this blog now has more content – 275 posts, compared to the programming one at 155 posts.

It’s been weird and sometimes frustrating to see that posts on the programming blog remained more popular than this one for a long time, despite the fact that I put a lot of effort into these, and very little into the programming ones… often it would be so for months at a time, even when I wrote nothing on there.

Then there’s that embarrassing header image on the programming blog… I tweaked for many hours in Photoshop to come up with it… Too many. Plus the actual name of that blog is a stupid pun… I was the king of stupid puns and senseless rhymes when I was high.

To be clear, I used to put effort into that blog, back in 2013 when I started it while still tweaking. But like most everything back then, it was a matter of misdirected priorities and putting effort not where it needed to be, but where my obsessive nature led me for no particular reason… All that makes it a grim reminder of how much time I wasted. (Although there is plenty of content written on there since I cleaned up. I still add new posts there, but nowhere near as often as here.)

Neither of these blogs have become as popular as the other one (that I removed). But I’ll get there eventually…

It’s funny… over the years quite a few people have flattered my writing and my writing ability, and suggested I get into it more full-time. This kind of writing, I mean the usual subjects here, comes easily. It’s easy to write about something that I either am an expert in (like how to fuck up your life using methamphetamine) or something I am passionate about, such as skepticism or atheism. But I wouldn’t have a clue how to write fiction. How to build up a world that’s convincing, characters that are believable and a protagonist that’s likeable… My analytical brain can pick that shit apart when it’s written by others, but I don’t know if I could do it myself. Maybe one day…

How bad is my grammar, anyway?

This is not about any of my usual subjects. It’s not about addiction, recovery or my sceptical criticism of 12-step addiction recovery programs, and it’s also not about atheism in any way. No, today I’m thinking about grammar.

I stumbled onto these 5 tips for editing your own work. I do like the meme used at the top of the page, because I identify with hating that feeling when I use the same word twice in succession, then need to think of a synonym to avoid the obvious repetition. (But I only try to avoid it within the same paragraph.) But otherwise, it is unclear what the purpose of the article is until you read it. (Bad form. The preview displayed the meme, not the purpose of the article.) It seems to be about tips and tricks to prevent making common grammar mistakes. Since the article’s preview misrepresented what it was about, I feel obliged to criticize. To summarise briefly:

  1. Let your writing rest for a few hours or days.
  2. Read your writing in a new format.
  3. Read your writing out loud.
  4. Read backwards. (The paragraphs, presumably.)
  5. Use Grammarly to find and avoid mistakes. (And then they mention a few common errors, minus the one I truly despise: the split infinitive.)

Let your writing rest for a few hours or days

That’s the only one of those tips that I kind of apply. Kind of, not really. When I have an idea, I like to write it while it’s fresh. That means banging it out quickly… literally banging as I am hard on keyboards. Then I like to publish online immediately. But my posts aren’t always publically visible right away, so if I have free time I edit them online. And sometimes I do find terrible errors, like the other day when I substituted inert for innate. It’s one hell of a malapropism, thanks to the difference in meaning between the two words. That one really embarrassed me.

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and when you start writing (for example a blog – assuming you are like me and not a professional writer), you will make mistakes. That’s normal. But with practice, i.e. just by writing without actually trying to be a better writer, the number of mistakes are reduced. You shouldn’t have to proof-read and reread everything you write, or delay your publishing it online just because there may be one or two gaffes. Write more slowly if you must, but the aim should be to write quality first time without having to revisit everything. I like to reread a paragraph immediately after writing it, and move onto the next only when I am happy. Then if I want to improve it and have time later, doing so is a choice, not a necessity.

(Some days and some pieces of writing are easier than others. Sometimes I write it in one sitting; I’m happy and I publish. Sometimes, like this awkward post, it doesn’t work that way. It’s live, publishing tomorrow, currently on revision 15. After I finish adding this line, it will be revision 16, and I hope I’ll be happy then. To be clear, those revisions were not corrections – they were improvements – a rephrasing here, an addition there…)

Read your writing in a new format

That’s way too much trouble. I see past the format anyway. It’s just words on the screen, and I may choose to switch to HTML view in my writer application because I want to insert a line-break in the middle of a line for effect. Or maybe, though rarely these days, I may want to insert some custom inline CSS around a paragraph – change the font, the alignment, the line-height, the indentation, the justification and so on. Since I don’t host my own blog and don’t have access to the style sheets, inline CSS is the only way I can do that. But when reading, I just see words, not format.

Read your writing out loud

Why? I don’t need to read it aloud to see that it flows properly, or discover that I edited a clause too much until it evolved into something other than initially intended, but left a fragment of incomplete sentence in the process, or started a long run-on sentence and then got side tracked into never finishing it. Besides, I read horribly out loud.

While reading aloud may point out where the words don’t flow so smoothly, there is another aspect to my writing (and maybe yours too): Sometimes I break the flow on purpose. When I decide that some point I made is important, there’s more than one way to emphasize it. Italics work in some cases, but sometimes, parenthesis breaks the flow in just the right way to force you to read a fragment more than once. (It’s not nice and I try not to do it too often. Note that this use of parenthesis does not break the flow. It introduces an additional point.)

Read backwards

Fuck off.
Just fuck off.

Not you, dear reader… Often, but not always, my paragraphs are meant to be read in the right order. Sure, reading the paragraphs backwards or in some random order might draw my attention to errors that I gloss over as I read what I intended to write rather than what I actually wrote, but that’s way too much trouble.

Also, if I read backwards, I may decide to improve the choice of words used, forgetting that the selection was deliberate relative to previous paragraphs. I don’t do that a lot, but I do sometimes… For example, begin or end successive paragraphs with exactly the same line in order to create humour (a running joke) or maybe a sense of urgency. I haven’t done that for ages, but still…

Use Grammarly to find and avoid mistakes

That might be useful, but it wouldn’t find malapropisms, my most common error. And they don’t mention split infinitives, which happen to be one of the errors I hate reading in others’ writing. What about the rules of concord? People fuck up verb/object agreement all the time and nobody seems to care. (I do.) However, the rules of concord are tricky when you have complex clauses combined with subjects that are singular yet appear to be plural (We all get those wrong), and the rules have exceptions. I wonder if their grammar engine can detect all the possible errors, or if they omitted that functionality because of the potential for false positives? I also found this page listing common errors. (They’re all trivial errors that I’d expect a young teenager to learn avoiding. Do people really make those mistakes? I don’t.)

Aside: Regarding the common errors, when did dangling/misrelated participles get renamed to “dangling modifiers”? I liked the old name… years ago there was even a Mad Magazine joke that played on the name, the original name, not the new one. And since when is passive voice an error? It’s a choice; sometimes the object deserves more attention than the subject.

Lastly, grammar rules, just like all other rules, are made to be broken when breaking them works. I don’t choose to do so often, but sometimes rules need to be ignored completely. I can’t remember when last I did deviate from the rules deliberately, but I have done so. (Actually I think it was a split infinitive, ironically one of the rules I hate seeing broken. I liked the way the words flowed and chose to break the rule… maybe because it involved alliteration or a wordplay that would have been less effective had I followed the rules.) I also sometimes write sentences that are too long when it works and suits the tone of the piece of writing.

I happen to care about getting grammar right. (English is my first language, and the only language I really care for, so I take pride in the way I use it.) But I don’t care to take much trouble in doing so because I am lazy… If you struggle with common errors, maybe you need to read more. It’s not that difficult. Or am I wrong and my grammar is not as good as I think it is?

It’s cool that online tips and tricks exist for so many subjects. They exist even for subjects that are impossible, like how to project your spirit (which probably doesn’t exist) out of your body, and how to develop psychic powers, even though psychic powers are not real. But when the tips and tricks seem to be a list of exceptions to the norm rather than the norm (like those grammar tips and tricks which I find will mostly not be useful to me), what is their use? They’re like contrived motivational messages, which seem to impart wisdom until you really think about them. Who is the target audience anyway? If you’re writing anything much, you should have a good enough grasp of grammar to be able to break the rules for effect occasionally. If you don’t know the difference between there and their, then and than, or you’re versus your, no amount of tips and tricks will help you, and you have no business writing anything anytime anywhere anyhow anyway.