Manuscript Editing Now Available At Paper/Rock Writing Consultation

Dark landscapes, romantic settings, and futuristic plots are all welcome at Paper/Rock Writing Consultation.  I’m expanding my services to include manuscript editing. If you have a novel, short story, novella, or memoir you’d like to revise, I’m more than happy to read it and suggest edits/changes. With a literary analysis background and more than 20 years of writing/teaching experience, I can help you craft and refine your story. Specifically, I can help identify weaknesses in the following areas:

–Word choice

–Inconsistencies

–Development (plot/characters/setting/conflict/climax/resolution)

–Transitions

–Overall structure

–Grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure

Of course, I’ll also tell you exactly what I like about your draft—and I’ll help you build on your strengths.

So, if you have something you’d like to revise, please contact me today for a quote.

Cheers!

Cecilia Kennedy

(ckennedyhola@gmail.com)

Tracing the Edges of Clouds: Brainstorming Methods

The tail end of a bumpy cloud passes over Mount Baker as I drive into town and I think I see the shape of a dragon. The cloud moves, shifts, changes, and becomes something else by the time I wait for the light to change. This process—of watching shapes change in clouds—of distinguishing features and lines that seem unrelated to one another—is much like the process I use for brainstorming almost any kind of writing I do. I find the edges of things—of almost anything around me—and I discover a way to relate them to the topic at hand. Traditional forms of brainstorming a topic then, never really worked for me—except for “freewriting” or making lists. Sometimes those methods of brainstorming help me along. However, methods like cubing, clustering/mapping, or using charts or diagrams just seem to lead me to dead ends. If you find that you’re having trouble with traditional forms of brainstorming, you might try some of the following methods:

1) Looking at photographs you’ve posted to Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or other forms of social media. You could describe these photos systematically in detail—from left to right or from top to bottom or center out. To get the creativity flowing, you might even give yourself a few minutes to come up with “serious” or “funny” captions for each photograph. Then, you could ask yourself, “How might this image or picture apply to my topic?” Answering this question could lead to a list of steps or approaches you might take to move from the description into your topic.

2) Play a board game like Catch Phrase or Pictionary. Sometimes word and board games can lead to interesting ideas and word choices for a topic or for an introduction.

3) Each day, create a list of headlines or stories from the news that catch your attention. In this way, you have several topics on hand if you ever need to come up with an idea for an essay or a project. You could write these ideas down in a “thought diary” and keep them in a notebook or in a file on your computer so that you can access them readily.

4) Take walks through nature or through your neighborhood and ask yourself, “How does what I see relate to my topic?” Or, you could listen to conversations around you and try to write them down. Sometimes, beginning an essay with an interesting piece of dialogue or conversation can catch your readers’ attention and help them anticipate the thesis statement or topic you will present.

5) Draw. If you enjoy drawing or painting, you might try sketching out your topic. Asking the question, “What would this problem or idea look like as a sketch or drawing?” could lead to interesting angles or ideas others might not have thought of before.

When using any of the methods outlined above, you could still follow the “standard rules” for brainstorming: Don’t dismiss any idea that pops into your mind because it may be useful. Upon further reflection, you might catch the edge of a cloud, which could lead to a new discovery.

 

 

Bowls of Cereal and Comma Splices

Bright specks of fruit-flavored cereal, in various colors, showed through the plastic containers a marketing researcher lined up on the desk before me. I was in the sixth grade and I was about to take part in a product testing at my school. Thinking I could just dive into the tempting rainbow colors of the cereal, I picked up a spoon, sat down across from the researcher, and reached for a container. She quickly stopped me so that she could tell me the rules first. She explained that the samples should be tasted in a certain order and, between each one I had to take a few sips of water in order to cleanse my palate. In other words, the sips of water would act as a strong break between each variety of cereal, so that I could accurately taste and reflect on each product. In a similar manner, separate thoughts in an essay need strong breaks in between in order for readers to fully understand them. If a sentence contains two or more complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense, a small break, such as a comma, won’t be strong enough to separate them. Using a comma between independent clauses—or complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense—is a called a comma splice. Comma splices can be confusing to readers who have to figure out the different parts of the sentence. Fortunately, there are several ways to fix a comma splice. Here are a few options below:

1) Use a period between the complete thoughts. The easiest way to fix a comma splice is a to use a period between the independent clauses or complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense.

Example of a Comma Splice to Fix: The elephant in the room won’t go away, it will remain there until someone does something about it.

In the example above, there are two complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense:

A) The elephant in the room won’t go away

B) it will remain there until someone does something about it

Placing periods after each clause will fix the comma splice:

Revised: The elephant in the room won’t go away. It will remain there until someone does something about it.

2) Use a semicolon between the complete thoughts. Using a semicolon is another easy way to fix a comma splice. Semicolons can help show relationships between complete thoughts or independent clauses—as well as provide a strong break.

Example of a Comma Splice to Fix: When I moved the green leaves of the plant aside, I could see bright red strawberries, they were perfect for picking.

Revised: When I moved the green leaves of the plant aside, I could see the bright red strawberries; they were perfect for picking.

In the revised version above, the semicolon separates the two complete thoughts in this sentence. It also helps readers understand that the appearance of the strawberries leads the writer to conclude that they are ripe for picking.

3) Use a conjunction after a comma, if a complete thought follows. A conjunction is a word that can connect the parts of a sentence. Examples of conjunctions are: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. (Many grammar and textbooks use the acronym FANBOYS to help students remember these conjunctions.)

Example of a Comma Splice to Fix: It was raining outside, we went to the movies.

Revised: It was raining outside, so we went to the movies.

In the example above, the combination of the comma and the conjunction (so) helps readers understand the two separate thoughts. Because it was raining, we went to the movies.

The methods for revising comma splices, listed above, are only meant to be used after a draft is completed. Comma splices occur when writers try to get their thoughts down on paper and the ideas start to flow into one another. This stage of the writing process is creative and productive. Interrupting this process to look for grammar issues could lead to a draft that that might be grammatically correct, but that also lacks adequate reflection, analysis, or insight. Instead, writers could first look for opportunities to get a draft done. Later, they can go back to find the places where the breaks between could be stronger—the places where they want their readers to fully note the subtleties of each idea.

 

 

 

 

Online Tutoring Options

The cat snoozes on the window ledge behind my desk as I quickly type away on my keyboard to return essay comments to students. My “tutoring center” is not a room full of cubicles and desks, but rather just one room and one desk: mine. In this space, I can be just as effective as one in which students might meet with me face-to-face. Online tutoring options, in my opinion, are just as valuable as in-person services. Sometimes, they can be even more efficient because I can compose my thoughts, organize them, and send them back to students without a lot of empty phrases, such as “hmm. . .” or “well . . .” or “let’s see” in between. While many different kinds of online tutoring options may exist, here are a few “low-tech” and “higher tech” options that I like to use:

1) Email submissions, followed up by phone calls/discussions. Email submissions are my “low-tech” option for students who have access to a tablet or laptop or computer with internet/email capabilities—and/or a Smartphone. Students can send me their drafts—and the assignment instructions—and I can mark the drafts up with in-depth comments and suggestions for revision. Typically, I like to spend about an hour with each draft—even if only a paragraph is written. Even with just a paragraph, I can help students brainstorm the rest of their paper and ask questions that might help them think of new ideas. Using the assignment instructions that students also send, I can remind them about techniques and strategies for approaching the kind of paper they are writing. After I return the marked up sample, I can then follow up with a phone call to discuss questions or any other concerns.

2) Video conferencing through free software such as Zoom. Zoom is a product that was introduced to me by a friend and it doesn’t cost anything to download. This program allows me to share my computer screen, documents, and tutoring materials such as videos, audio recordings, and Powerpoints. Students and I can talk to each other and see each other through the use of our webcams on our computers, laptops, tablets, or Smartphones. If students send drafts of essays ahead of time—along with the assignment instructions—we can go over them in “real time” through the video conferencing software. There is even an option that allows me to record the session for students so that they can go back and review if they wish.

With either option above, students still receive personalized feedback in language that’s human, encouraging, and confident. If driving to a tutoring center or an instructor’s office is time-consuming or simply not an option, students can rest-assured that online tutoring can be just as satisfying and helpful. It may even prove to be a better choice for those who prefer to compose their thoughts and reflect in spaces they can call their own.

Summer Writing Practice

In the light of the summer sun, ideas become clearer and inspiration shines in the shimmering blue waters of the local pool. I savored my summers when I was a child—and even now as an adult. They are the perfect time to focus on just one or two projects or goals and slow down just a bit to enjoy a trip to a new place or to sip iced tea on the back porch. Whether poolside or traveling, I always take a notebook and a pen or pencil with me in order to practice writing. Writing then, doesn’t have to take a summer vacation—but it needn’t be painful, either. The following list contains five different activities you could do throughout the week to practice writing skills within a one-hour or thirty minute session five days a week in the summer months:

Day 1: Find a factual article online or in print that introduces an interesting or new idea. Present an argument that tells readers three reasons why this new idea should or should not be embraced.

Day 2: Check out a book of short stories or poems from the library—or treat yourself to buying a book of short stories/poems. Choose one short story or poem and identify the theme. Then, choose three images or literary devices that draw out that theme and explain why they’re important to know.

Day 3: Find an essay or opinion piece online and identify the author’s purpose for writing. Discuss how the author uses rhetorical elements of pathos (emotion), ethos (ethics), or logos (logic) to argue his/her points.

Day 4: Keep a journal of thoughts and ideas and/or feelings/emotions. Writing can be therapeutic as well as a way to argue points and communicate effective messages. This journal could also serve as a place to generate ideas for papers that might crop up during the school year.

Day 5: Find writing prompts online or make up your own in order to create poems, stories, plays, or video game scripts—just for fun.

The activities above don’t have to interfere with your regular schedule. They can be worked into those moments in your day when you’re waiting for an appointment or traveling on a plane or in a car. Or, you could treat yourself to a “coffee shop moment” surrounded by soft music—or in the beauty of nature—collecting your thoughts, writing them down, and gaining confidence in the quiet and more relaxed spaces that summer can bring.