Lesson From NaNoWriMo; Challenge is good. Fear is good too!

Wro Title

That’s it. The curtain falls on the last day of November, and with it comes the end of the great journey that is NaNoWriMo.

And some good news this end, as I managed to win! Wahoo! Finishing 88 words over the 50,000 target, a weighty tome of life, love and laughter (and rock n roll and travelling) awaits. Watch this space, it will be available to read after some editing and a bit of down time for the author.

When I started out 30 days ago, I had no idea how much I’d do, and how much I’d have to dig deep to get it done. 50,000 words seems like a pretty small amount (most stories are more like 60k+), especially when broken into daily chunks of about 1,660. But by the end of the first week, I already knew it was going to be a lot tougher than I anticipated.

Life has a habit of throwing things at you in bursts, and so it was for my November. I’ve been ducking and diving through my other commitments, and yet somehow I still managed to finish a novel. A god damn novel! It’s god awful, I’m not lying. But there’s something there. Something horribly unpolished and woefully rushed. But it’s there for me to look at and pat myself on the back for. It’s there to hold, to stare at, and to edit and re-edit.

Like any experience, it’s what you learn from the act of doing it, not just the feeling of it being done, that makes it special. And NaNoWriMo is no different.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to share the reasons why I found it so useful.

imagerymajestic

“Great!”

It’s nice to do something hard

Life isn’t easy. Then again, I’m not sure it is meant to be. Having something to focus on for the past thirty days has made me acutely aware of how much I can get done if I prioritize my time. I’ve not had to make huge sacrifices, and have missed out on little (I took a five day trip to Hong Kong and Macau in the middle of November), but I’ve managed to add to my out put for the month.

Could I do it every month? Woah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This was still hard work. But that was nice. I work hard all day in my job for someone else. It’s nice to work hard for myself when I get home too.

Ambro

“Workin’ hard, or hardly workin’?”

I’ve broken through Writer’s Block

Multiple times in fact. There were a few days when I sat staring at the empty page and felt more than a little despondent that ideas were not forthcoming. Especially when, through discussions with other NaNoWriMos, I realized this isn’t the case for everyone.

Yet I managed to dig deep and find my own ways through these veritable Mines of Moria, and that was refreshing to know. I’m sure I’ll come up against a void of inspiration again in the future, but hopefully I can be buoyed and spurred on by the thought of knowing I’ve overcome this particular demon before.

vectorolie

“God dammit, not again.”

I wrote… a lot

Not just the finished product, but a lot of other things to get me going, such as using Copy Work as a way of warming up (see an explanation of what Copy Work is here). It gave me the chance to delve back into some of my favourite writers, before switching into my own work (and seeing how far off the benchmark of quality they have set I am).

Not only that, I saw for myself how easy it is to adjust your daily routine to fit in some writing. After all, if you don’t make time for your passions, you’re selling yourself short. You can fail at something you hate, so why not give failing at something you love a try?

fantasista

Don’t ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done, or that you can’t be something

I fell into ‘the zone’

Writing everyday got me into a place where ideas, when they came, were coming thick and fast. From the past thirty days I’ve had enough bad ideas to keep me writing for the next decade, easy.

A few of those, with a little more thought and a little more focus, could grow into something. What, I don’t know, but something. I guess we’ll see, but it’s exciting, right?

Ambro

Ahem, moving on

I conquered fears

Sometimes the fear of starting gets in the way, but I replaced this with a fear of not finishing. One stops you beginning, the other propels you forward. Manipulating your fear, or rather ‘re-imagining it’, is one way of taking back the mind-space and energy fear requires and utilising it in a positive and productive way.

Fear Harnessed

What did you learn from your November? If you didn’t get a chance to do NaNoWriMo, what do you think you might gain from it? Have you challenged yourself to do something recently and taken something away from the whole experience? I’d love to hear about it…

NaNo Stats

Special thanks to Ambro, fantasista, imagerymajestic & vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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The Art of Writing; Practising Plagiarism (or rather, Copywork)

copywork logo

Let’s begin by re-assessing the nature of the title. Of course, this is not going to be an article from a writer condoning the use of another’s material so as to further your own financial and critical success.

Wikipedia defines Plagiarism as: “…the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication”of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”

We are not here today to try to claim that the above would be good behaviour, not least the behaviour of a true gentleman/gentlewoman! In fact, we are more interested in the practice part.

The method is called Copywork. In its purest form it is just copying or writing out by hand from a written model. The focus is on improving your own writing by imitating other writers who you deem to have a style or ability worth trying to emulate.

Once upon a time in America, this was the way that children were taught to write. Even though it has now been replaced by more productive and child-specific methods, there is still very much a place for it in the advancement of writing ability in people of all ages. Before the invention of the computer, or even the printing press, anything that you wanted to keep, you would have to copy by hand. This meant that many great authors were forced to copy work, regardless of choice. Therefore many greats, as we shall see, were champions of copy work long before it was in vogue.

“Why should I do this?” I hear you cry. Well, I think you might be surprised. Here’s the Itchy Quill run-down of the benefits of Copywork, from children to adults.

Don't start kids too young though...

Don’t start kids too young though…

Demonstration of Structure

Many different styles have been introduced throughout the long history of the English language, from Gothic to Post-Modern, Romantic to meta-fiction, and they all have their own unique traditions and subtleties that can sometimes not appear obvious. The best way to learn is by doing, and so transcribing examples of them will give you a much greater understanding of the relationship between form and Lexis in a specific writer’s work, so that the mysteries of literary customs will be yours to harness. Will you use this new found power for good or evil?

Evil... Always evil

Evil… Always evil

Stylish Pro’s(e)

If you have the drive and motivation, there really is no limit to what you can try to copy. With a wealth of wonderful prose in the English language, you are positively drowning in a vast ocean of words and stylistic whales.

For a greater understanding of the ‘Western canon’, you could try your hand at imitating some Austen. Are you more of a 20th century reader? Dabble in some Woolf, Kerouac or  Vonnegut. Prefer contemporary fiction? King and Adichie are but a start. Some writers write with simplicity, some are long-winded and majestic, some just blunt and crude; yet they all have their merits and their conventions.

The point is that each author has a style that fits a greater period of writing, and to truly understand the subtle intricacies of such a writer and the style they set themselves in you can take a punt at mimicking their wordplay. We always encourage that you should try to find your own ‘voice’ in writing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an understanding of another’s voice beforehand. Politicians the world over utilise tried and tested speech-giving techniques to make themselves seem more caring, passionate and in control. They imitate others, often citing great speech givers like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther Kind Jr. and attempting to emulate their most effective mannerisms. Rarely would we connect politicians with positive life choices, but in this context they may be onto something. Take that mentality to your writing, and watch your words burst forth as you become a prose pro!

Politicians = Trustworthy

Politicians = Trustworthy (citation needed)

The Devil in the Details

This forces you to pay attention to details. Perhaps it is the original author’s use of a specific element of punctuation that you aren’t sure about the use of (such as the pesky semicolon), or even their ability to cite academic works in their text (a la Malcolm Gladwell). Forcing you to focus gives you great practice at using yet more elements of the English language in a context that will help you to produce it again at a later time.

“Oh right, you mean ‘figuratively’ a devil… I see”

Self-Directed

The whole purpose of this exercise is to make it as easy to check as possible. After you have finished transcribing a piece, it takes a few quick minutes to see how much is accurate and correct. It should really become a ritualistic event, much like keeping a journal, but that doesn’t mean you need to dedicate more than about 20 minutes a day to start seeing the results. It is important though that it is done by hand, as there are a lot of studies linking handwriting with cognitive recall. It’s like magic.

I'm a bit of a Potterphile, my wand is my pen... I wish I was magic... Expelliamus!

Expelliamus! Only joking. Come back…

Launchpad

Every great writer has a technique to help them get the pistons firing in their head before settling down to enjoy a productive session of writing. Think of them like warmers, small activities designed to get your brain functioning in the correct context, and giving it focus on the area of itself it will need to utilise in the near future.

Blast Off!

Blast Off!

Literary Legacy

It is claimed that this technique is nearly as old as education itself, with clay tablets discovered in what would have been Mesopotamia showing evidence of scribes copying down proverbs and sayings. This tradition continued into the Ancient Egyptians and was also practiced by Jewish kings of old, as they were expected to “make their own hand-written copy of scriptures” according to wonder.riverwillow.com‘s introduction to copywork.

It is also true that many of the historical greats of written English would practice this technique, as before the invention of the printing press, much of what people wanted to create a copy of had to be hand-written. William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens are some key examples, and Benjamin Franklin even taught himself to read and write by utilising copy work techniques!

Reading is fun

Reading is fun

Vocabulary and Grammar

That’s right; it can help you level up your V & G game. Even those of you already operating at a near Wordsworthian height can benefit from seeing both of these elements of written language in context.

I’m sure many of you have at different times thought about expanding your vocabulary, whether it be with a word a day app/calender, wider and more diverse reading or even just using a thesaurus when writing. A wide and varied vernacular is crucial for a writer, and to help understand some more advanced texts to be read for pleasure. Different genres often have their own specific lexical sets too. This technique gives you real time vocabulary seen in context, and produced in such a way by yourself in parroting that you  literally see the word fall in it’s correct place in a sentence.

The whole ‘place in a sentence’ thing is extra crucial when we consider grammar. IQ has many grammar gnomes we keep locked away in our basement ready to proof-read our posts, but not everyone can be so lucky to rely on the bookworm-readiness of fantasy creatures.

English is capable of some truly bizarre grammar rules and structures, and a great way to learn these naturally (and not with mind-numbingly boring grammar books – unless that’s your thing, which is fine) is to use them in context. A whole industry of English teachers exist around the world, qualified by and large by the fact that they know the native use of language by heart, without any real formal training. It’s this ability to ‘feel’ what is right that will be one of the greatest benefits of copywork.

The great masters of literature perfected their grammatical cohesion and word choice; let their example set you free!

“I’m so (adjective)! I (verb) (nouns)!”

Need further motivation? TheWritePractice.com has a wonderful blog giving advice on further reasons why imitating your favourite authors will help with your own writing.

This doesn’t just have to be for the fiction writers out there; copywork can be hugely useful for anyone studying or practising law, medicine, history, or any of the other writing heavy subject areas, especially those with specific academic jargon (I’m looking at you, law).

Visit TheArtOfManliness.com for their blog post on copywork, with instructions on different ways to attempt copywork, from smaller work to larger, more intricate texts.

Go forth and imitate. It might be the best thing you do today!

Special thanks to bulldogza, digidreamgrafix, Feelart, hyena reality, imagerymajestic, khongkitwiriyachan and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

✏Idiomics – The History of More of Your Favourite Idioms 🌏🎓

title version 2I was discussing recently the idea of innate intelligence. As in, what separates us from each other in terms of intellectual ability. I am intrigued by the question of whether there is even a way to truly rank people in regards to intelligence, especially when it often appears that there are so many types of intelligence. As Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So imagine my dismay when the person I was discussing this with asked me if I had heard about the ‘super IQ’ test invented by Ronald K. Hoeflin. I, of course, had not, and was perplexed how this was supposed to answer my initial enquiry. My friend then said he knew one of the questions, and so proudly asked me, “Teeth is to Hen, as Nest is to … what?”

“Quick Jerry, hide your fangs. They’re onto us”

I stared at him, baffled. Cuckoo? On account of them not making nests (I was supposing). I was, of course, guessing wrong. “Mare,” he said, matter of factly, before turning to walk away. A mare’s nest, it turns out, was a term common in literature from around 1650 to 1850, and so only those who were well read would be able to know and recognise this. Both ‘hens teeth’ and ‘mare’s nest’ have similar meanings; something is extremely rare (rare as hen’s teeth), or an illusory discovery (a mare’s nest). Essentially, something so rare as to be non-existent. My friend had merely perpetuated an archaic approach to intellectual appreciation, and fallen into the age old trap of undermining another with the use of a tricky, niche intelligence question designed to alienate and promote hierarchy. That said, I wish I’d known the answer… So, proof idioms could save your life? Not quite, but proof they can be very interesting, and could also help you gain a mega IQ score of 180+ without needing to study? Perhaps.

“erm….”

We have already explored the history of some idioms in a previous post, but here we expand on this information with a few more for your reading pleasure, courtesy of recommendations from bloggers such as Quilt Musings.   Dark Horse The word ‘dark’ found a lot of use in Victorian England to describe anything mysterious or unknown, hence it became a popular term used to discuss any outside horse who was able to surprise the order and win a race from around the 1830’s onwards. Interestingly, this idiom translates almost exactly into many languages, from Finnish (musta hevonen) to Chinese (黑馬). Still… horses are not to be trusted, dark or not.

“Always up to something”

Raining Cats and Dogs

This is one of those expressions that people often wish had a literal origin, but alas it does not. The real truth behind this saying is much darker than merely the cute idea of furry rain. England in the 1700s was, to put it bluntly, pretty disgusting. Many houses didn’t have toilets, and you would normally throw your faeces straight out of the window and into the street. After time, as you can imagine, the streets became a place for all kinds of rubbish, and many people would dump many different things into the streets along with the faecal matter. This included the dead bodies of animals! Now, we are all aware that England is a drizzly land of rain. It is often named as the place where rain was invented (citation needed) and this rain would often lead to storms and minor floods. In such floods, it would not be uncommon to see the corpses of pets and animals floating in the street. The earliest reference of this can be seen in the poem ‘A description of a city shower’ by Jonathan Swift, first published in Tatler magazine in 1710, where he refers to dead animal bodies floating in the streets, along with other gross things. Urgh!

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

To see it in it’s current form, we have to look a little later to a book by Jonathan Swift titled A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation. It was released in 1738 and contains the line: “I know sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.” See the quote and a picture of the man for yourself here at izquotes.com

Like this but smellier and deader... more aargh than aww

Like this but smellier and deader… more aargh than aww

Turn a Blind Eye

For this particular idiom, we must journey back to the battle of Copenhagen in 1801; a navy tussle between British forces and a combined opposition of Norwegian/Danish ships. Admiral Hiratio Nelson was leading an attack with a fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Now, it was common at that point in history for ships to communicate between each other using semaphore and flags. During the heat of battle smoke and general fighting could distract and disrupt messages, and it was not unheard of for some to be misunderstood completely. Nelson, it should be noted, was a man who already contained a rather rebellious disregard for orders when they contravened his innate desire for success at all costs. The ambiguity of flag signals only seemed to play into his already heightened sense of disregard for key orders at key moments. Nelson = Badass.

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

As Nelson was leading a charge again Danish broadsides, his position started to look a little weaker from the distance. Parker, fearing that Nelson was only charging in further to battle to save face and not be seen as a coward, offered Nelson an ‘out’ by signalling the order for retreat. Nelson had previously lost the sight in one eye during a campaign in Cadiz in Spain before, after shrapnel sent sand and stone at his face. Upon noticing the flag command coming from Admiral Parker, Nelson turned to his flag captain (Foley) and said: “Foley, you know that I have lost an eye, and have a right to be blind sometimes.” He then raised the telescope to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal”. Find the quote here. And so a hero and a rather apt idiom was born.

Still turning a blind eye, even now

Still turning a blind eye, even now

The story of words and how they have come to find use is fascinating, and I hope you enjoyed it too. As always, comments are valued and appreciated. Is there an idiom you really wish had made it in this time? Let me know below.

Special thanks to phrases.org.uk for the wonderful information

Another special thanks to Habbick, James Barker, koko-tewan, papaija2008, stockimages, Tina Phillips and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

✒Idi…ummmm; The history of some of our favourite idioms (and OK) ✏

Idioms logo

The English language; a diverse and ever-changing beast. As a teacher, I am often confronted with how perplexing our great language can be, and how some of the words that inhabit its planes of communication are far from the lands of sanity. As a mish-mash of various languages, English is very much a patchwork quilt of Latin, French, Germanic, Greek and Polynesian origins. And that is just the start. Trace the history far enough and you will find many more influences too.

Even in our contemporary world, English still insists on ‘loaning’ words when a better one doesn’t already exist in the language, such as Karaoke. New words find their way into our language too from popular culture and general life around us. Anyone who has ever seen The Thick of It will be familiar with Malcolm Tucker’s classic ‘omnishambles’. A word which is only as old as that show, invented to describe a “situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations” according to Oxforddictionaries.com.

This wonderful flexibility is arguably one of the reasons why English is such a popular language, and spoken so widely. But, don’t you ever wonder where some of the sayings come from?

Specifically, I like to look at the history of idioms. An idiom is a figure of speech used to mean something other than its literal meaning. In the English language it is estimated there are over 25,000 idioms in use!

That would be a seriously long-read if we tried to define them all! So, let’s start small. Here is the meaning for five famous idioms (and for one famous phrase that isn’t an idiom but has an interesting history).

“Mum, your flan was an omnishambles”
“Aaaargh!”

Always a bridesmaid, never a Bride

Lets start with an easy one, the meaning of which is exactly what it says; someone always being present at other people’s weddings but never having their own. It is often used by old, cruel mothers to mock their unwed female offspring… generally to make single women feel that they are unwanted or cannot find love 😦

It was first used in the Victorian dance hall song Why Am I Always a Bridesmaid by Fred W. Leigh. The phrase gained popularity after being used in a comedic Listerine advert. It shows a picture of a woman named ‘Edna’ under the slogan ‘always a  bridesmaid, never a bride’. She stares forlornly into the distance as she contemplates how her halitosis prevents her from finding love. The solution? Buy Listerine mouthwash and watch the suitors pile in!

Of course, it can't fix everything

Of course, it can’t fix everything

Ride Shotgun

Who remembers their days as a kid/student/adult/parent, scrambling with your friends or siblings for the honour of riding in the passenger seat, next to the driver? Of course, “I called shotgun” is the way of letting all others know you have earned this mighty privilege without the need for bloodshed.

This saying comes from the ol’ Wild West, a time and place where life was much more dangerous than today. If you were sitting next to the driver you would be expected to wield a shotgun so as to defend the stagecoach (the transport of the day) from bandits and looters. More pressure than merely map reading!

“I’m just here for the free ride”

Basket Case

This is a phrase often used to describe someone who is mentally unhinged. It was also the name of a big hit for Pop-Punk trio Green Day in 1994.

This is supposedly a term from World War I, used to describe someone who has lost all their limbs. The first recorded use of the term in official use was by the US government in denial of this practice. In 1919 The US command on public information issued this statement:

“The Surgeon General of the Army … denies … that there is any foundation for the stories that have been circulated … of the existence of ‘basket cases’ in our hospitals.” according to all-that-is-interesting.com

“Yeah, none at all”

Hold Your Horses!

This means ‘wait a moment’, and is often used to calm someone who is showing overt keenness or exuberance.

It is believed to come from around 800BC. A line in book 23 of Homer’s Iliad is commonly translated as “Antilochus – you drive like a maniac! Hold your horses!” That is, apart from the original translation in 1598 that has it as “contain thy horses”. I’m not sure why I prefer if I’m honest. Either way, this Antilochus fellow sounds like a bit of a bad ass. Those horses though…

“Contain this!”

Close, But No Cigar

This is another way of saying that you only just missed out. It was a near miss!

There was a time, many moons ago, when cigars were the preferred choice by fairground stalls as their prizes instead of the large, fluffy plush toys you will find yourself winning these days. One can only imagine if the cigars would also be over-sized and cheaply made… That said, winning was much more impossible than it is now, with games often rigged to make them even harder! The first time it was written down was in a script for the film version of Annie Oakley in 1935,  appearing as “close Colonel, but no cigar” according to phrases.org

From then on it gained popularity and appeared in newspapers from 1949 onwards.

So, it comes from con artists, tricking you into playing a game you were destined to lose. Can you trust anyone?

“We’re out of snake oil, but why not enjoy some of this lovely air. Yours for only $99!”

OK

This, of course, is not an idiom, but it is an extremely popular expression that also has a rather random history.

Used initially in American, then global English, OK is now a staple in many different languages all across the world. It can mean ‘I understand’, or it can mean something is not very good, as in “the karate film was ok”. It can mean I am fine, and can even be a friendly way of saying hello, as in ‘Hey guys, you ok?”

So, onto its origins. There are myriad explanations for where this expression comes from: it could come from the Greek olla kalla, from German alles korrekt or Ober-Kommando, from Finnish oikea, from the Haitian port “Aux Cayes”, from Latin omnes korrecta, from Chocktaw okeh, from a Puerto Rican rum named “Aux Quais”, from Scotland och aye, from Louisiana French au quai, from Wolof waw kay, from Mandingo O ke. There are countless other stories too, increasing the legend of OK; initials on biscuits, branding on cattle, ‘Old Kinderhook’ being the nickname of president Martin Van Buren, ‘0 killed’ being the report of the night’s death toll in WWI or American Civil War, ‘Orl Korrect’ military reporting indicating that troops were in good order, or even ship builders marking wood for the ‘Outer Keel’.

The truth appears to be much more simple than any of that, however. In 1963 a famous etymologist named Professor Allen Walker Read published a book called American Speech. In it, he draws the conclusion that OK effectively started out as a prank.

On March 23rd, 1839, the editor of The Boston Morning Post published a humorous article about a ridiculous organisation named the Anti-Bell Ringing Association (ABRS). They were campaigning to have the laws of dinner bell ringing changed, and OK was used in this article as a shortened version of ‘Oll-Korrect’, or ‘all correct’. At the time it was not uncommon for abbreviations to change the spelling of words, such as ‘KG’ meaning no go (know go) and ‘OW’ meaning all right (Oll Write).

These witty abbreviations are essentially the old world’s LOL and BRB.

“ROFL!”

So, that’s us for this post. Any phrases you think have an interesting story but you didn’t see up here today? Or perhaps you have a phrase you would like us to look into? As always, feel free to leave a comment. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Thanks to mentalfloss.com, all-that-is-interesting.com and phrases.org.uk for the inspiration for this post.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, num_skyman, olovedog, stockimages, Tina Phillips and Sira Anamwong @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015