Blog

Why Blog?

Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks is a small corner of cyberspace I get to call my own and I look forward to visiting it often. Blueberry fields and haunted houses have formed the backdrops for DIY posts I get to shape and edit in any way I wish. Through this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to take on new projects, try things I’ve never done before, learn new skills, be as silly as I want, and make over 850 friends who are kind enough to follow me. No—I’ve never made a dime from blogging, but it has given me the chance to develop a voice, share ideas, and make some great friends I’ve never met in person—but I’d know them if I did, just by the tone of their voice and the topics they might choose to talk about. So, if you’ve ever thought about creating a blog (or weblog) of information on virtually any topic you find interesting—or about your daily life—there are plenty of benefits beyond the monetary promises you may have heard are associated with blogging. Here are a few of the benefits I’ve experienced since I started blogging in February of 2017:

1) You don’t need any money to start a blog. Many sites exist free of charge and you can get started right away. If you want to upgrade in order to gain more room for videos or audio, there are plans that can cost between $50-$300 per year. However, you don’t have to upgrade to make or post videos or audio. Sites such as Youtube allow you to create for free and you can place the link in your blog—free of charge as well. For instance, Blogger, Squarespace, WordPress, and Wix are just a few sites that offer free plans and customer service/support for bloggers.

2) If you have a business or side business you could use a blog to help promote your products and tell stories about them. Paypal can even be added to your blog’s website for free and there are no monthly fees or startup fees. However, a small amount is automatically deducted from each transaction for which you receive money from a customer online.

3) Make new friends and follow other blogs to create stimulating, creative, and dynamic interactions.

4) If you are a writer, student, photographer, artist, or athlete/performer, you could showcase your work in a blog online and provide the link to your site for potential patrons, recruiters, and readers.

5) Gain access to restaurant reviews, recipes, reviews of gadgets and kitchen tools and technology, pictures of nature, short stories, and travel writing. Other bloggers write about fascinating subjects and have recommended products I now use. I’ve discovered interesting books, movies, and music/music genres—including K-Pop—all through blogging.

6) You get to control the comments on your blog—or prevent them altogether if you wish.

7) Other bloggers who have visited my site, and who have left comments, have been incredibly kind and supportive. Writers, artists, and people from all walks of life face rejections often, so it’s helpful to find other bloggers who offer encouragement and helpful advice.

8) Blogging is an excellent way to practice or keep up with a foreign language. Blogging draws people together from all over the world. One way I’ve been able to keep up with my Spanish is to follow blogs in Spanish and leave comments in Spanish as well. If you are new to a foreign language, you might not understand every word on a page, but you might be able to get the main idea and learn a few new words. You may even be brave enough to post something in your new language and get a reply. Just resist the urge to hit the “translate” button.

Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks then, is my humble contribution to this “wild, wild west” of space that spins with an abundance of fantastic images, videos, and text. Creating a blog has also helped me adapt to a new place. When I first moved to the Greater Seattle area from Ohio, I found myself in completely unfamiliar territory. Making new friends and joining new groups suddenly seemed intimidating, but reading blogs about my new surroundings spurred me to get out and try new restaurants, visit museums, and explore. Then, I’d return with pictures of forests, beaches, tulip gardens, and mountains, and I’d begin to fill my corner of the world with these images and the new stories I wanted to tell.

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Do you want to create a blog? There’s still time to sign up for my blog writing course this summer at the Art Schack in Everett, Washington. To register, click here: Blog Writing.

Steps for Timed Argumentation Essay Writing

Sweeping up tiny grains of rice that have somehow escaped from a container during dinner preparation, to me, is equivalent to what it was like to write essays under time constraints when I was a student. With the exception of a math assignment, (I was no good at math) nothing could reduce me to panic like a timed essay test. It seemed like I was chasing after pieces of information that would suddenly get away from me. How was I supposed to take something I just spent a few minutes reading and transform it into a well-written response in 50 minutes or less? I’m pretty sure I was offered strategies, but somehow I either never used them or they just escaped me in my aim to make sense of chaos. However, after spending many years as a writing teacher in both English and Spanish, I think I may have a few steps to pass on to future students and hopefully they might find them useful. They’re not the most unusual steps students have ever seen. Many might look familiar, but I’ve listed them here below for your consideration:

1) If the essay prompt is asking you to read a selection and make an argument, you could first skim through the selection and identify the author’s thesis or main point. Sometimes it’s at the end of the opening paragraph, but not always. Sometimes it appears in the second or third paragraphs, or it could be in the concluding paragraph. An author might not necessary say, “I completely disagree or agree with . . .” Instead, he or she may use key words such as “dangerous” or “unnecessary” or “should be/should not be” to give recommendations and opinions. Looking for these kinds of key words could help you identify the author’s main argument.

2) After reading the selection, you could ask yourself, “Do I agree with the author’s statement? Why or why not?” When answering the question, “Why or why not?” you could provide three reasons, which could eventually become three points for the body of your essay later on.

Fictional Example: I do not agree with B. Author’s argument that self-driving cars will be disastrous to society because self-driving cars can provide transportation to people of all abilities, reduce accidents, and increase the economy.

When I come up with three reasons why I disagree in this case, I think about all the various people or segments of society that might be affected by this topic. In this way, I can find three different and perhaps strong reasons to convince readers to take my side.

3) Most readers want to see some kind of “hook” in the first sentence to gain their interest, but you might not have time to invent a clever one on your own. One trick you could use is to begin with the title of the article or text, the name of the author, and the argument. Sometimes authors choose titles carefully and the word choices can pique a reader’s interest. If a title is particularly interesting, you could place it in quotation marks (if it’s an article or a work in an anthology) and go from there.

Example: “Losing Control: Self-Driving Cars and Society’s Loss” by B. Author argues that while self-driving cars may be convenient, they will shut down important brain functions people have developed over the years as a result of learning to drive.

The title above has some thought provoking words like “losing control” and “self-driving cars” that might draw a reader in, so I use them to my advantage in my opening sentence. You might try a similar strategy as you begin to practice writing essays “on the spot.”

Then, you could explain some key concepts from the article and transition into your thesis statement. In this case, I might write the following statement: However, I do not agree that self-driving cars will be disastrous to society. They can provide transportation to people of all abilities and reduce accidents. They may even help increase the economy.

4) The three points from the thesis statement can become topic sentences for each subsequent body paragraph. After each topic sentence, you could provide examples from the text or from your own personal experience (if allowed in the prompt) to back up your points. So, if my first point states that people of all abilities can benefit from self-driving cars, I might give examples of people who would previously rely on buses or other transportation because a disability may have prevented them from driving.   I could make the case that more people could achieve independence and happiness to more freely pursue worthwhile goals and jobs if they had self-driving cars. Then, once I’ve provided at least 2-3 examples and explanations, I could provide a sentence or two at the end to show readers how all of my ideas relate to and support my thesis statement.

5) Finally, I could conclude with a paragraph that summarizes all of my ideas and leaves my readers with one more idea or overall thought. Sometimes identifying one last striking quote from the reading can help provide that final thought or impression.

Of course, remembering and following all of these steps takes time and plenty of practice. As you move about the world and do the things that make you happy, you might spend some time reflecting on your experiences. If you happen to see an advertisement on social media or read a headline in the news, you could stop and think about whether or not you agree or disagree with what you see. Then, grab some paper and take each step above slowly and carefully until you gain momentum and the pieces, rather than scattering about uncontrollably, fall into place.

If you need help with timed essay writing, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to lend a hand: ckennedyhola@gmail.com

 

 

 

There’s Still Time To Sign Up For Summer Writing Classes: Horror, Blogging, and Scholarship Writing

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–Horror in a Flash: Horror Flash Fiction Writing. Stormy nights are yours to write, slash, and boil down to 1,000 words or less. May 24th-June 14th, Thursdays: 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Ages 16+ For registration and course details go to http://www.schack.org/classes/horror-in-a- flash-horror-flash-fiction-writing/

–Blog it Out: Creating Your Personal Blog. Enter the creative and dynamic world of blogging by sharing your story. June 22-July 20 (skipping July 6th). Fridays, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Ages 16+ For registration and course details go to http://www.schack.org/classes/blog-it-out- creating-your-personal-blog/

–The Art of the Scholarship Essay. Are you applying for college or graduate school? Is a personal essay part of the application process? If so, this course will help you craft a “winning-chance” essay that makes your personal experience shine. June 27- July 25 (skipping July 4th) Wednesdays, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Ages 16+ For registration and course details go to http://www.schack.org/classes/the-art-of-the-scholarship- essay/

Creative Writing and Scholarship Writing Workshops I’m Offering This Summer

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–Horror in a Flash: Horror Flash Fiction Writing. Stormy nights are yours to write, slash, and boil down to 1,000 words or less. May 24th-June 14th, Thursdays: 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Ages 16+ For registration and course details go to http://www.schack.org/classes/horror-in-a- flash-horror-flash-fiction-writing/

–Blog it Out: Creating Your Personal Blog. Enter the creative and dynamic world of blogging by sharing your story. June 22-July 20 (skipping July 6th). Fridays, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Ages 16+ For registration and course details go to http://www.schack.org/classes/blog-it-out- creating-your-personal-blog/

–The Art of the Scholarship Essay. Are you applying for college or graduate school? Is a personal essay part of the application process? If so, this course will help you craft a “winning-chance” essay that makes your personal experience shine. June 27- July 25 (skipping July 4th) Wednesdays, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. Ages 16+ For registration and course details go to http://www.schack.org/classes/the-art-of-the-scholarship- essay/

Blending Quotes in MLA Format

When a large chunk of fruit somehow finds its way into my strawberry smoothie, I’m temporarily distracted. I’m certainly not disgusted because the fruit is an ingredient I intentionally added to my smoothie recipe, but it definitely stands out because it doesn’t blend into the rest of the ingredients. My experience isn’t ruined, exactly, but I do notice the larger pieces I now have to slow down and chew.

In a similar manner, readers can become distracted when direct quotes are not blended properly into sentences. They have to slow down and read the words again or fill in if something is missing. Blending direct quotations into a sentence then, can help you cite your sources in a natural manner that won’t take away from the overall message you intend to deliver.

Fortunately, several techniques exist in MLA format for blending your quotations and adding in-text citations. Here are a few examples:

1) If you have already mentioned your author or your source in the sentence you’re writing before the direct quote, you could write a phrase that leads into the quote and add just the page number in parentheses, if one exists.

Fictional piece of text I want to quote directly:

–“Ingredients can function as variables that can be blended in creative and surprising ways.”

–Fictional author, source, and page number: B. Bobble, “Making Smoothies” (article title), and p. 45

Sample: In B. Bobble’s article, “Making Smoothies,” “ingredients can function as variables that can be blended in creative and surprising ways” (45).

In the sample above, I introduce the full name of the author and the article title. Then, I continue the sentence with the direct quote and place the page number in parentheses after the quote. A period falls outside the parentheses to show the reader I am done with this sentence. I also don’t use any abbreviations or punctuation within the parentheses, since I’m following the rules for MLA.

2) If you haven’t mentioned the author in your sentence, you could place the last name of the author and the page number in parentheses after the direct quote—if a page number exists.

Sample: When making smoothies, “ingredients can function as variables that can be blended in creative and surprising ways” (Bobble 45).

In the example above, I add a signal phrase to introduce the direct quotation. Otherwise, a direct quote by itself might seem abrupt, as in the example below:

Incorrect: Smoothies are fun to make. “Ingredients can function as variables that can be blended in creative and surprising ways” (Bobble 45).

When readers encounter the sentences above, they might not know how the first sentence relates to the direct quote that follows it. Adding a signal phrase that blends the two ideas together could make for a smoother transition.

Correct: Smoothies are fun to make because “ingredients can function as variables that can be blended in creative and surprising ways” (Bobble 45).

3) Consider using only part of a direct quote in order for the subjects and verbs to make sense in a sentence.

Fictional Example: “Since our world has become so predictable, smoothies make life spontaneous and flavorful again.” –from B. Bobble, page 52

Incorrect: Smoothies are fun to make as B. Bobble notes, “Since our world has become so predictable, smoothies make life spontaneous and flavorful again” (52).

The sentence above is incorrect because it creates a comma splice. Whenever you have two or more complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own and still make sense, a comma won’t be strong enough to separate those ideas. In the sentence above, the two complete thoughts that could stand alone on their own are:

1)   Smoothies are fun to make as B. Bobble notes.

2) “Since our world has become so predictable, smoothies make life spontaneous and flavorful again” (52).

To fix this cited material, I have to make the first part an incomplete thought that blends logically into the direct quote. I may even have to cut off part of the direct quote in order for the first part of my sentence to make sense and fit in.

Possible Solution: In a predictable world, smoothies are fun to create since, according to B. Bobble, they “make life spontaneous and flavorful again” (52).

In the solution above, I play around with the quote and summarize part of it while introducing an incomplete thought: In a predictable world, smoothies are fun to create since, according to B. Bobble, they . . .

Then, I shorten the direct quote to find a place where I can continue the sentence naturally: “make life spontaneous and flavorful again” (52).

As you look back through a draft in which you’ve used direct quotations then, you might ask yourself the following questions:

1) Does the sentence make sense when I read it back to myself?

2) Does the entire sentence, with the direct quote, have clearly identified subjects, verbs, and one main message?

If the sentence does not read smoothly or clearly as one “unit,” you could play around with the introductory phrase and the direct quote to find the perfect match. This method offers you a chance to fully understand your sources and communicate a consistent and clear message without any distracting lumps or bumps along the way.

For more help with blending quotes and MLA citation, contact me at ckennedyhola@gmail.com I’m happy to lend a hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a Theme in Literature

A rainbow-colored unicorn might be easier to find than a theme in a work of literature. At least these fabulously mythical creatures would certainly stand out, if they existed. A theme, on the other hand, might be more elusive. If I could personify a theme—give it a voice—a conversation in the woods with it would go something like this:

Me: Excuse me, are you a theme?

Theme: Why, yes. How did you know?

Me: I didn’t really, I was just looking at that tree and something moved—and you were the same color as the tree and blended in—but then I looked closer and realized you weren’t exactly invisible, but you didn’t quite stand out either.

Theme: Well, I get that a lot. What can I do for you?

Me: What kind of theme are you? I’m thinking I can’t go wrong with “love,” so I’m guessing “love.”

Theme: That’s kind of vague now, isn’t it? If I’m “love,” what kind of love am I?

(Theme now scampers wildly about the forest.)

Me: Oh! We’re playing charades! I love charades! Okay, so you’re running about, but I can’t catch you. How about unattainable love?

Theme: Getting warmer. What happens when you try to catch me?

(Theme runs harder and faster, but I trip on a tree root in the forest and fall.)

Theme: There! What just happened, right there?

Me: I fell and I’m kind of not happy about it. I don’t want anything to do with you now.

Theme: So, if I’m unattainable love, what happens when you chase me?

Me: Nothing good, that’s for sure.

Theme: Bingo! In this case, if I’m “love” and “love” is unattainable, but you try to catch me anyway, nothing good can come from it.

In the conversation above, my first response to Theme’s question is vague. Many writers try to convince readers that the theme of a novel or poem is “love” because it’s an emotion universally felt by lots of people, but it’s also vague. “Love” is hard to picture sometimes because it takes many forms. So, a theme might have something to do with a universal feeling or emotion many humans share, but a theme isn’t always just that feeling or emotion. In a work of literature, the universally shared emotion or feeling can also be attached to a specific lesson learned and a result that follows.

So how does a writer find a theme?

Step 1: Read with an open mind. The first thing I do when I read is to just enjoy it with an open mind—highlighting passages I like—that “speak” to me in some way. I may not love everything I read, but I can always find something useful or meaningful. When I do, I make a note of it and read it again out loud to myself to hear the effect of the words written on the page. Then, I’ll ask myself, “Why do I like this?” Sometimes it’s because I like the word choices the author uses or the melody the words make when I speak them out loud. I’m not even looking for the theme at this point. I’m just looking for things that I like. In fact, in the conversation above, I was looking at a tree when Theme emerged. Sometimes that’s how discoveries happen. Writers are looking at something else before the theme finally appears—maybe several hours or days later. So, if you are looking for a theme, let yourself be distracted.

Step 2: Get distracted by “shiny things.” In a poem, a short story, a novel, or a movie, I look for things that repeat—just for fun. By “things” I mean concrete objects—objects I can see, taste, smell, touch, or hear—not abstract “things” like love or power or oppression. I also like to make a game of it, which goes something like this: I ask myself, “How many times will Character X spot a crow from his window in this chapter?” The crow, in the window, might mean something, but I’m not even worried about the meaning at this point, because this crow keeps popping up several times and I find that interesting. So, I’ll start making a list of how many times the crow appears and what happens or is going on in the plot of the story when it comes into view.

Step 3: Pause to think about the connections between the “shiny things” and the emotions felt as a reader. I’ll never forget the first time I read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. That snake! And the Prince’s reaction! The Prince just nonchalantly talks to the snake, knowing he is dangerous, but he’s also just having a matter-of-fact conversation. This poisonous snake could certainly kill the Prince and the Prince knows it, but accepts it. When I closed the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about this scene. That snake, in this scene, more so than the stars or the rose, for some reason, is my “shiny thing” from which I can’t turn. So, at that moment, I asked myself, “What am I feeling?” I felt some comfort, knowing the Prince knows what he’s getting himself into, but I also felt sadness, when I realized that something inevitable in this story does come: Death.

Step 4: Link the emotion felt to a broader, universally human experience, then add the lesson learned. From Saint-Exupéry’s story, I felt sadness when I witnessed the snake and the Prince talking about death. I know that death and life are universal, human experiences—just like love, fear, oppression, revenge, power, conflict, struggle, survival, identity, isolation—and many other themes. However, in this scene, in this work, there is a very specific lesson I’m beginning to grasp. The conversation is so calm and “normal,” that even though the snake does represent death, he also represents a way of life for the Prince. In the Prince’s case, death is a very necessary part of his life and vice versa.

Step 5: Check to make sure the theme can be applied to other parts of the story. If I decided, from my one scene in Saint-Expuréy’s story, that the theme is: Death is not the enemy of life, but a very necessary part of it, I would have to apply this idea to the narrator who tells the story as well. So, I’d ask myself, “How does the narrator learn this lesson?” To find the answer, I might turn to more “shiny things,” like the stars he gazes at each night.

Finding a theme then, is a process, so if you’re having trouble spotting one right away, don’t despair. Sometimes it seems like a theme is just supposed to pop out of the pages of a book or poem, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Spending time reading and reacting to the actions and word choices in a work of literature is not wasted time at all. It can lead to great discoveries hiding in plain view.

If you need help identifying themes in a poem or work of literature—or help coming up with a thesis statement for a literary analysis paper—I’m happy to lend a hand. Contact me: ckennedyhola@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating a Hot Dog, an Orca Jumped Out of the Water and Surprised Me, Or: The Tale of a Misplaced Modifier

Hot-dog eating orcas are elusive creatures that sometimes only appear when writers create them unintentionally. In the title above, I’m probably the one eating the hot dog when an orca suddenly jumps out of the water. (In real life, this has never happened to me, but I do hope to see an orca someday “in the wild.”) However, the sentence I’ve originally created for my title makes it sound like the orca is eating a hot dog. As a result, readers will think my sentence is strange or laughable.

Yet, is this kind of mistake the worst “sin” a writer can commit? Definitely not. Grammar and spelling mistakes happen and most writing instructors believe that larger issues such as thesis statements, using sources correctly, organizing paragraphs effectively, and communicating new or important ideas take precedence over things like commas and semicolons. Only after a draft is completed and revised a few times, should writers concern themselves with sentence-level issues.

As a writer, I typically follow the practice of looking over larger issues first and then diligently correcting smaller grammar problems, but even writers make mistakes and I definitely made one just recently in my DIY blog, “Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks.” The mistake I made falls along the lines of the “misplaced modifier” that might make the meaning of a sentence silly or ridiculous. So, without further ado, I present to you the title I used in my blog: “Spritzing with Lavender and Awards.” Luckily, my blog is humorous in nature so, if readers found the title funny, they might have thought I did it on purpose, but the truth is, I just slapped a title onto my blog post after I finished writing. Then, I hit “publish.”

In my post, “Spritzing with Lavender and Awards,” I explain a recent trip to Friday Harbor to splurge on lavender-infused products after some kind and talented bloggers nominated me for blogging awards. (Letting loose in a lavender store is how I “roll” when I win awards nominations, apparently.) The lavender-infused product I buy, in the post’s description, is a “spritz” bottle of distilled water and lavender, which can be used for cleaning the house. In envisioning this post, I wanted to combine 1) a DIY cleaning project that used the lavender water and 2) the answers to the questions that came along with the awards nominations. In choosing the title for the piece, I shoved these two ideas together into one place, but they just didn’t quite work out. After encountering my title, readers would probably have the following questions:

1) Who or what is “spritzing” with lavender and awards?

2) How do awards “spritz?”

3) Who or what is being spritzed?

I should have written the following headline instead: “Spritzing the House with Lavender-Infused Water to Celebrate Blog Awards Nominations.” However, I didn’t. I could correct the error now, but then when I hit “update,” my hundreds of followers would get the same article again in their mailboxes, which could be annoying. So, I guess I’d rather be “wrong” in this case, than annoying. And, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to write less nonsensical titles and posts in the future.

With more formal writing though, I have a few tricks that I use to help ensure that I don’t make these kinds of mistakes, but I only employ them after I’ve tackled the thesis statement, arguments, sources, topic sentences, and overall organization:

1) Read the paper out loud slowly. When reading the paper out loud, I stop after each sentence and ask myself, “What is the main idea I’m trying to get across? What is the simplest way to get that message across?” If I see words I can cut, I do it. If I see sentences that contain too many ideas or adjectives or clauses that describe other parts of my sentence, I break them apart. Then, I re-examine the sentence to make sure it makes sense logically.

2) Let the paper sit. Typically, I try to draft papers or more formal projects early so that I can look at them again and again with “fresh eyes” in order to spot things I didn’t notice before.

3) Temporarily enlarge the print and imagine that my document will be posted publically to a billboard. This method helps highlight any sentences or phrases that might have glaring and/or embarrassing errors. Sometimes seeing my work “in the light of day,” so to speak, helps me notice the things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I certainly wish I had employed this method with my “Spritzing with Lavender and Awards” title for my blog. Interestingly though, the minute I hit “publish,” I realized my mistake. Perhaps copying and pasting the entire piece over into a Word document and enlarging the print could have simulated the “publishing” moment that would have helped me catch the confusing nature of my title.

With writing though, even the most “perfect” documents that don’t carry any grammar errors or “mistakes” can still be improved, changed, and edited. Writing can be a way of documenting or making something “permanent,” but it’s also a way to enter into a conversation with readers who interpret and respond to the words we place before them. In that sense, the acts of writing and reading are fluid, dynamic, and ever changing. Hot dogs and orcas, after all, are only variables whose placement depends on the effect the writer wants to create: laughter or a sense of wonder.

For more help with finding and fixing grammar or mechanical errors in writing, I’m happy to lend a hand. Contact me here: ckennedyhola@gmail.com