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Friday, August 28, 2009

Blogs as Research Logs

Most people think of blogging as writing a diary entry and then posting it to the internet so everyone else can read it.  The mundane happenings of one’s daily existence aren’t things that most people feel a need to chronicle, much less let complete strangers read about online. 

Blogging has come a long way in the few short years it’s been around and no longer is it just a venue for angst-filled teenagers and bored office drones to vent their frustrations to a public in the hopes that other like-minded people will find their page and empathize.  In fact, blogging doesn’t even have to use words anymore (Search “photo blogs” to see what I mean). 

Instead of using blogs for their “intended” purpose, think of how you can use them to suit your own needs.  Surely they’re useful for more than just being interactive journals.  While I was at Armadillocon, a panelist in the “Blogging and Podcasting” panel I was attending mentioned using blogs as research logs.

Post-it notes and notebooks can get lost.  Blogs can’t, which makes them wonderful candidates for holding information you have a vested interest in accessing later.  I don’t personally have a blog that I use as a research log to show you, but I do follow a person that does.

Dr. David from Teaching College English uses her blog to not only elaborate on issues affecting the college English community, but also to keep track of research she does for her articles.  To see how it’s done, take a look at her “Interrupted…Stockton and Sielke” post.  In it, she keeps track of the sources, relevant quotes from them, and her thoughts about the quotes/source.  You don’t have to go into such detail, though.  Including nothing more than a list of links you want to keep track of so you can go to them later when writing your paper is just as acceptable a way of “logging” your research.  See Dr. Davis’ “Composition Journals” post to see this form of research logging in action.

You might not be doing enough research to warrant using a blog to log it.  If that’s the case, what DO you do that you can do more easily using a blog? 


Photo credit: Claire L. Evan

Friday, August 21, 2009

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest

While I’m on the subject of writing contests, there’s a very famous one set up for amateur writers of short stories or novelettes of science fiction or fantasy that awards prizes every three months.  This contest is called Writers of the Future and it was founded by L. Ron Hubbard

While Hubbard’s religious beliefs might have been questionable, his devotion to and skill at writing were not.  His literary career is composed of more than 260 published novels, novelettes, short stories, and screen plays in every genre

His Writers of the Future contest is restricted to the genres of science fiction and fantasy, however.  If you’ve written stories in these genres (or think you’d like to try your hand at it), please consider submitting your work to this contest. It’s a great opportunity for new and aspiring writers to get their names out through a well respected contest, and potentially win a publishing contract.

The greatest part about this contest is there is NO entry fee.  The competition does have a set of rules that all entries must adhere to, of course, but nothing that is off-putting.  Read the rules for yourself to see if entering the contest is something you’d consider. 

As a last note, L. Ron Hubbard also hosts an Illustrators of the Future contest for amateur science fiction and fantasy artists.  If your writing skills aren’t quite up to par yet, but you’re not too shabby with a paintbrush (or whatever medium you illustrate in), consider entering this contest.


Photo credit: Andrix19

Monday, August 17, 2009

8 Minutes Anthology Writing Contest

I always have my eyes peeled for legitimate sounding writing contests and this past weekend at Armadillocon I ran across one that seems promising.  It’s called the 8 Minutes Anthology Contest.  The theme for the contest is “Something has happened to the Sun.  In 8 minutes, everything changes!”

The website offers up the following information about the anthology:

The Earth is 8 light minutes away from the Sun. Something has happened to the Sun. Maybe it’s gone nova, been transformed, been replaced or stolen or…? But in 8 minutes everything will change for life on Earth.

Restrictions: The story must take place on Earth or on the Moon, or on a human-built satellite, ship or station orbiting the Earth or the Moon. Story must include the 8 minutes between the time the Sun is affected and Earth feels the effects of it. Story may include prior to and subsequent after the 8 minute window.

Submissions will be accepted between July 1st, 2009  through December 31st, 2009 and may not exceed 5,000 words in length.  All entries will be judged by Mike Resnick, an established science-fiction author who has been nominated for numerous literary awards (Which is good because if your hard work is going to be judged, it might as well be by a professional in the field).

As a final note: this writing contest is NOT free. A $15 fee is charged for all entries. 

When entering a contest that requires a fee, keep in mind that there are bad people out there in the world who are trying to scam you out of your hard earned money.  Do your homework and find out everything you can about the company before you decide whether or not to enter their contest. 

This particular contest doesn’t appear to have anything in the fine print that is hazardous to your health, but PLEASE read the terms for yourself here as I am not an expert when it comes to legalese.

Even if you aren’t planning on entering the contest (I’m not, personally.  When you earn as little as I do, every entry fee has to be carefully considered in terms of 1. how lazy I’m feeling and 2. if the potential reward outweighs the cost), you can still use the prompt to fuel your own story idea. 

At any rate, it’s interesting to think about what could possibly happen to the Sun that would change life on Earth as we know it. 


Photo credit: Fr Antunes

Sunday, August 9, 2009

It’s “through,” not “thru”

I have been seeing the word “thru” pop up in quite a few of my students’ essays.  I wasn’t very surprised when I saw it appear in essays written by my ESL students as misspellings are rather abundant in them.  When I saw the word pop up in some of my best native English speaking students’ essays, I was bowled over.

There are many who would like to blame the misspelling on the relatively recent rise in popularity of text messaging (for example, take this article).  If that were truly the case, though, people would misspell more than just “through.”  The word “before” would be written as “b4,” “you’re” would be “ur,” and “know” would be written as “kno” or “no.”  That’s not the case in my students’ essays, however.  The only text speak that shows up in their writing is “thru.”

This anomaly leads me to believe that text messaging is not to blame.  The only other culprit that I can think of that can account for this misspelling being as common as it is is fast food.  In particular, fast food’s drive thrus. 

It’s important to note that spellcheck will not catch this misspelling.  That’s because “thru” is actually a valid dictionary entry.  Just because a word appears in the dictionary does not mean it’s acceptable for use in formal writing.  Because spellcheck can’t make the distinction between a casual note to your roomie and a formal letter to your dean of your college, “thru” is as correct as “through” is to it.  That’s one of the biggest flaws of spellcheckers: they can’t account for context.

As a rule of thumb, spell everything out fully when it comes to academic writing.  For why that is, Mignon Fogarty from Grammar Girl takes the words right out of my mouth in her 10th episode “Threw, Through, Thru”:

My impression is that using the spelling t-h-r-u is kind of equivalent to dotting your i's with little hearts: people will know what you mean, but they'll think you aren't a very serious person.

So unless you’re writing a report on drive thrus or textisms, keep “thru” out of your formal writing.

Photo credit: Donna Grayson

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One Word + 60 Seconds

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about freewriting.  Although I’m not a huge fan of this form of idea generation, many people are and find it successful for eliminating writer’s block.  In the interest of exposing you to every writing tool that I know of so you can decide for yourself whether or not it works for you, I present to you One Word, a site based on the freewriting method. 


I stumbled across this site almost a year ago and it’s  a testament to its likeability that I still have it bookmarked.  The basic premise of the site is to give you a word and a total of 60 seconds to write everything that comes into your mind when you see the word.  After you finish writing, you can see what other people have written (which is sometimes more fun than actually writing anything yourself).  For added usability, the site changes the word on a daily basis. 

There are plenty of other methods available for transferring ideas from your mind to paper, such as outlining, mind mapping, and list making.  When all is said and done, though, sometimes sitting down and writing anything and everything that pops into your mind is the best way to jumpstart a writing project that just keeps stalling.