Rules of the Road
I enjoy driving, except for those time when some numptie ignores traffic rules. Whizzing through red lights, flying through stop signs, speeding, texting, ignoring yield signs all certainly disrupt the smooth flow of traffic, often catastrophically. We good drivers know that those who chose to ignore the rules are the bad drivers—or failed ones. While I have the choice to take defensive action in traffic and avoid most collisions I find I can’t defend against, avoid or ignore writers who chose to ignore the rules of grammar and punctuation. I’d rather just close the book or delete it.
I’m not a grisly grammarian or a pedantic pedagogue (redundant?) – really! It’s that I love our beautiful language and I love to read, to immerse myself in the lyrical flow of words well written and a story well told. I admit there have been times I wished I carried a big read marker so I could correct an egregious misuse. “Hunters please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walk trails” being one example that gave me really itchy fingers. I was laughing too hard to be incensed, though I did worry a bit about getting shot.
The rules of the written word are like the rules of the road, a map to smooth sailing. Correct punctuation guides the reader, unconsciously and effortlessly, to get where she wants to be; lost in the story. Commas tell the reader to take a breath, or make instant sense of a string of adjectives or a list. Commas are what show the meaning, cadence and flow of a character’s voice. A semi colon or an em-dash tells the reader to yield just a touch then get onto a related point. Quotation marks show who is speaking and for how long. An ellipses indicates a pause or shows that a thought has trailed off. A period brings our reader eye to a full stop.
The rules of grammar set the reader free of confusing nests of conflicting definitions. Does “Their on the way to the concert” mean ‘The goose/uncle/cockatoo belonging to the characters is headed to the concert and the object of the sentence just got left out? Or is the dialog meant to suggest there is the way to the concert, or did the writer intend a sensible contraction, they’re? Sneaky homophones.
I’m disappointed when an intriguing story is riddled with errors of grammar and punctuation. I really want to hear the tale but I’m forced to puzzle out meaning and narrative flow – even if it only takes an instant to understand, that instant is too long. It just isn’t necessary. The only time the rules of grammar and punctuation are unimportant is during the process of creating. Who cares if draft #1 is a grammarian’s nightmare? Or drafts #2 – 4 for that matter. What’s important at that stage is getting the story down, then making it work, then making it sing—no matter how many drafts it takes.
Once the story pleases the author there is no excuse to launch it into the world without a proper proofing. If a writer feels a full edit isn’t needed, that’s their choice but believe me when I say every published work should first be proofed. There are hundreds of editors—including myself—who offer that professional service at a reasonable price. A thorough proofing is worthy of the energy put into creating the book and respectful of the language and the reader.
Whew! A rant. Thanks for listening.
Eighteen and Eight
Since the Postal Service has been in the news recently, especially with the removal of high-speed sorting machines, I thought I would tell you all about the Jurassic days of casing all our mail by hand.
Working at Mack Trucks was great. I made a good wage, only had to work Saturdays if I chose to do so, and after thirty or more years, I could collect a pension, including health care. I had a sedentary job for most of my thirteen and a half years, and only did physical work near the end of that short career, working on the line in Macungie.
First, I worked on the cab line where I put on door and window handles on the driver’s side, the aluminum step, and squirted sealant into the grommets and all open holes in the firewall, a not too difficult job, if one kept up, or even a little ahead.
My second job, after being bumped off my gussie, by a more senior employee, was to help another guy install the windshield of a cab, working above my head most of the time.
My third and final job, before being sent back to Allentown, was to install mufflers. I spent my working hours on a creeper under the truck as it moved down the line, picking up the muffler, bolting it to the frame, and then keeping it up by installing U-shaped hooks and attacking them to the frame. It was so tiring that most times I just laid on the creeper for my two six-minute breaks. Lunch was twelve minutes, and I would crawl out to eat my sandwich and drink a soda.
I knew that I was going to lose my job soon, so I applied to take the exam to become a postal worker. Several weeks before the exam, I took a four-hour course where I learned the shortcuts I would need to ace the test.
Casing mail is all about speed and accuracy, and the exam tested one’s ability to perform this task. It was a two-part, eleven-minute test. Part one was about ninety-five questions, if memory serves. On the left side column was a list of addresses, on the right-side column was another list.
I had approximately three seconds to determine if the side by side addresses were exactly the same, or somewhat different. The most difficult part, after making my determination, was to completely blacken the answer circle with my number 2 pencil. That concluded the speed part of the test.
Part two dealt with memory and accuracy. There were five address blocks, with five different addresses in each block. On the test, you would see one specific address and had to answer which block it was in, A to E. I think we had eighty-eight questions in this section, and had to answer and mark your circle in about five seconds.
I scored ninety-six out of one hundred, plus was awarded an additional five points for being a veteran. Disabled veterans received ten additional points to their score.
I was hired and my first day on the job was December 16th, 1986. I was thirty-nine and a half years old, a rookie, when most employees my age were midway through their careers.
The next task I had to pass was my ninety-day probation period. My supervisor would judge my performances during the Post Office version of Basic Combat Training. As a recruit in BCT, I was fat, and out of shape, and now I was also old.
Most of my days were spent delivering routes. A carrier would case the route, pull it down, and I would grab the loaded satchel, and either be transported or walk to my first delivery point. Generally, when a professional carrier cased the route, there were few errors, and having to be quick, when we delivered, we rarely had time to check to see if we were delivering the correct mail. As long as we delivered to the correct address, we rarely got into any trouble.
The accepted method of handing the mail was to rest the flats, which were large pieces of mail and magazine sized mail, in the crook of your arm, and hold a bundle of letter-sized mail in your hand. Using your free hand, you would peel letters for a specific address off the pile, and then peel of the corresponding flats, collating both piles together to deliver to the mailbox, or slip through the door slot.
Finally, I was given the opportunity to case mail, so before leaving work the day before, I walked to the route to check out the case. A mailman’s case consisted of two or three five row metal boxes with every address, or two addresses in a section, marked off on the case and split up by metal separators.
The job at hand was to grab a handful of letters and begin sorting them into the proper divider, your eyes and hands moving all around the case until you would finally recognize where to put the mail piece from memory. It was sort of like the game Concentration.
After casing the letter mail you were going to take out, you would pick up a handful of flats and rest them on your arm. The flat case was a series of cubicles with multiple address labels—remember the test—where you would throw the flats into the proper bin, and then when finished you would have to sort them into delivery order on your desk.
Doing the job properly, and speedily, the speed that was required was eighteen letter pieces a minute, and eight flats. I think I used to case close to thirty letters and fifteen flats a minute once I got the hang of it.
Today’s mail sorters now ‘case’ about thirty-five thousand pieces an hour, and in delivery order. I had been retired once they began using flat sorting machines, and I know literally nothing about them.
Note: If you want to learn more about Larry, read his interview A Time Traveling Man
So, what about reward systems? Do they work for you? And if they do, how do you set yours up?
A solid reward system can work for so many things. Years ago, when I homeschooled my two younger boys, I made a reward chart for them. They got stickers for completing each task during the day, and they loved getting the stickers, but when they reached a certain number of stickers they got a small ‘prize’. It might be doing something special with Mom or Dad, getting to pick their favorite lunch out, extra video game time, or a small toy. When they collected a larger number of stickers, they earned another larger prize, usually a field trip somewhere special such as the local aquarium, or the zoo. This tiered rewards system was very motivating for the kids, and the rewards were really for both of us. We spent time together that wasn’t school related, and we had new experiences together.
Some of you know that I’ve recently lost a substantial amount of weight. In the beginning, I was rewarding myself for every 5 lbs. with a manicure, of course, the pandemic has changed that, and to be honest, once I hit a certain point, the weight loss itself became the reward, as well as fitting into smaller sizes! Not to mention, how good I feel, and the increased mobility that I have.
When it comes to writing, of course, finishing the book and having people actually read it is the ultimate reward, but sometimes you need those little incentives to get you to THE END. I used to reward myself with food, a piece of See’s chocolate for completing the day’s word count, dinner out for meeting a larger goal. I also justified dinner out by saying that it gave me more time to write. Obviously, in recent months I’ve learned that those rewards had created a different problem, and I needed healthier incentives.
But, I have another passion that I don’t get to indulge as often as I’d like. Sewing. And that has become my new reward. If I meet my writing goal, I’m allowed to sew, and when I finish the book, I get a new sewing toy! With my weight loss, I need new clothes desperately, so I better get writing! And I may even add new clothes (that I didn’t sew) to my rewards.
Oh, and sometimes a writing class or workshop with someone like Angela James is a reward! A reward that can make your next project even better.
How do you reward yourself for your accomplishments? What are your favorite treats? Or do you feel the accomplishment is reward enough?
Happy September. I’m pretty sure you already know what I’m going to say…I can’t believe we are nineteen days away from the first day of fall.
Hope this makes you laugh. I was all set to talk about my experience with the review program at Hidden Gems. It wasn’t until I found my misplaced copy of my August post, did I realize that’s what I talked about last month. I had written three hundred plus words which I had to scrap. Now I’m stuck with either rehashing an old post or writing something new. I’ve opted for the latter, but find myself clueless.
The crazy that is going on in the world has sort of zapped my creative energy. I never expected I would still be working on my book. A few weeks into 2020, I had a writing plan or production schedule. I also inflicted a little self pressure to complete and publish it by a certain date.
Now that we are almost six months into the pandemic and shelter in place order, I find myself dragging. I love the subject of my book, except for the hole I think I plugged. It’s challenging continuing a series. Now that the book is complete and I’m doing another read- thru, I find myself referring to the other two books, when all I had to do was keep a series bible. Add series bibles to the long list of things I need to do.
Week before last, I reluctantly emailed my editor asking for a new editing slot. I’m pretty sure that was a given seeing I’d already missed the date.
This has been a challenge moving on to the next project. In my mind I’m already writing the next book, but that will have to wait until this one heads to the editor.
I really think what’s happening is I’m not sure this is the best time [or year] to release book with an alpha billionaire. Or is it? Maybe I’m overthinking that readers don’t want to read. Maybe readers really want to read romance where there are no health boundaries [i.e., Covid 19]? Maybe they want to escape to a world where things were like they used to be. I feel confident in admitting I haven’t got a clue how to write a romance with masks and gloves. Social distancing would be easy. That would involve traveling back to a time where manners and courtship were the basis for romance.
I believe it’s time for me to get out of my head and get my butt in the chair and write. I need to tell stories that make people feel good. So they can escape the crazy around them and fantasize about what was and how it might possibly be in the future.
Here’s my new plan as I head in to the fourth quarter. Send The Good Girl Part Trois to the editor by the end of this month. The second goal is to put the book up for pre-order on all platform except Amazon. This is a plan I can still live with.
Stay safe and see you next month,
Bethlehem, PA has a werewolf problem.More info →
Something is rotten in the town of Widget, and Rags-n-Bones knows it's all his fault.More info →