Category Archives: On Writing

En dash, em dash, hyphens—how to use them and how to create them in WordPress

How many of you writers differentiate properly between the usage of the hyphen, the en dash and the em dash? Not yours truly! Until today, that is. I hereby vow—well, not exactly, of course—to explain to you how to use these three little beauties properly in your writing and to then use them properly myself.

Photo source
Photo source

According to this piece on Get it Write Online

The hyphen is used like this:

Twentieth-century
or
Well-being

The en dash (which is the width of the letter N) is used like so:

7:00PM–9:00PM
or
August 17–September 2

And the em dash (which is the width of the letter M) is used like this:

I went to the store—the one on Keren Hayesod—and I bought the damn apple.
or
The apple turned out to be rotten—or so I believe.

Now how do you create en and em dashes in WordPress?

Aha! This is the second most exciting part of this post. Turns out WordPress is all ready to go with en and em dashes. I learned from this post that if you simply write two hyphens next to each other, without spaces, you’ll get an en dash and if you do the same with three hyphens, you’ll get the em dash.

- this is a hyphen
— this is an en dash
— this is an em dash

Finally…

All this being said, is this whole topic passe or do you think it really is good for writers to make sure to use these punctuation marks properly?

P.S.

According to this piece, the official way to create en and em dashes is like this:

In any software program that handles text, the em dash can be typed on an enhanced keyboard as Alt + 0151—that is, hold down the “alternate” key and type, using the numerical pad on the right side of the keyboard, the numbers 0151. The en dash can be typed as Alt + 0150.

Why you should stop reading your readers’ comments

A very famous blogger (if only I could remember who) doesn’t allow comments on his blog. If someone wants to share their thoughts (or passionate attacks) about a piece, they can do it on Facebook, he said, in order to keep it more controlled and to keep his website clean.

Continue on, my friend. (image source)
Continue on, my friend. (image source)

Assumptions assumptions. It is assumed that having a conversation going on your blog is some great ideal. And that it’s important to interact with your readers, replying to most/all of their comments. Why? And talk about freakin’ exhausting!

I keep speaking to popular bloggers who are emotionally worn from comments left them by their faithful followers. Sometimes it’s the same reader every time who pushes the writer’s buttons. Sometimes it’s trolls (whatever that is). But does it matter? Every time, these writers spend countless joules figuring out:

  1. How to internalize the comment – what to think and feel about it.
  2. Whether or not they should reply to the comment of question.
  3. What to reply.
  4. Whether or not they should continue a conversation with the reader.

Ugh! Aren’t we writers? How did we become socializers instead?

Now, this is not only a problem because it takes up so much time and energy. It’s also a problem because of how it can affect a person’s writing.

Having to deal so much with readers’ comments has three potential negative repercussions.

  1. A feel good picture (image source)
    A feel good picture (image source)

    It could have the writer calculating what/how/how much to write too much based on the readers. This could be misguided based on one or two verbal people who have nothing better to do than try to get your attention. It could also be based on not getting comments, the thinking being that if I didn’t get comments, it must not be a good piece or maybe I’m just not a good writer.

  2. It could make the writer obsessive about what comments she’s getting and how many. It could have her returning to a post many times on the day it’s posted in order to see how it’s doing. This activity is supposedly based on the above-mentioned assumption that it’s of utmost importance to read your readers’ comments and interact with them. But this what writing is supposed to be about? I don’t remember reading about the importance of obsessing over readership/commenting in On Writing by Stephen King.
  3. It almost definitely creates a situation where the writer becomes dependent on external feedback – writing passionately after getting good feedback and hiding miserably in a corner after negative feedback. And when you’re bombarded with feedback (silence is feedback too), it’s a creativity-sucker (or a muse-muter).

I think one of the great challenges for writers is figuring out how to tap into our own feedback system and decide selectively who is worthy of our listening ears. From whom am I truly interested to hear what they think and continue developing my writing accordingly? This is a question not to be taken lightly!

For now, this piece is dedicated to the talented bloggers I know who periodically curl up in a corner because of the interactions they need to deal with online. When I hear about it, I feel like giving them a virtual slap and saying, “Don’t you see that you’re writing is good? Continue on, my friend. Continue on.”

The dark secrets of my writer’s block exposed

Oh, I love to write. So why do I keep not writing? Considering this conundrum I realized if I can’t write, I may as well write about not writing.

Here are 11 reasons I don’t publish way more considering how much is going on inside my head and how much I love writing. I am not sure if there are many more or, maybe, there is actually one reason standing behind all of these.

  1. She's a lefty!
    She’s a lefty! (Photo source)

    The tools: I don’t love using a computer. I don’t like the electronic feel and it hurts my hands and eyes. Also, because I do all my work and a bunch of “socializing” on the computer,  it’s hard to separate between them and my beloved hobby, writing. This is a huge psychological issue, with me often finding it difficult to focus. And as for hand-writing, I do it quite a lot; the first draft of this post took place in my handy dandy notebook. But my hand starts hurting from writing (many of us lefties were not taught how to properly hold a pencil) and it’s sloooow which doesn’t work with my…

  2. Impatience: So much importance is put on productivity today that it has made me hyper-aware of time ticking by. I might feel the need to stop and think, to contemplate, to formulate but it’s so hard for me to allow myself to give my attention how I need because the productivity devil makes me give up and often, ironically, do the most unproductive thing of all – Facebook. Or any other…
  3. (Photo source)
    (Photo source)

    Distractions: We are bombarded with information (which is often presented as utmost important) probably way more than any king or emperor was until 100 years ago. I am quite convinced it’s a big challenge for our brains to decipher between important and less important distractions. It’s very confusing. Not to mention that distractions are a perfect excuse to stop trying to finish the piece that anyway will probably be…

  4. One in a million: Because we’re so exposed to “the rest of the world,” it’s hard to continue feeling unique. Every time I come up with a piece, even write a large portion of it, I get down on myself for being like all the other people who are currently expressing themselves publicly and are, in my mind, writing the same stuff I’m writing. Also, knowing what else is out there often makes me feel the need to heed to…
  5. Convention: Because I see the big world, I see how people typically write and when my writing doesn’t fit convention – for example, often I feel like writing posts that will be very short (like, 1-2 paragraphs) – I get self conscious and stuck and instead of continuing writing whatever I want, I convince myself that it’s…
  6. A waste of time: If a piece is going well I start thinking that it doesn’t need my attention anymore and I focus on something else. If it’s going badly, I get emotional about it and push it aside. I also get stuck because of…
  7. Inhibition: I’m so careful about people’s feelings which makes it almost impossible to ever write 100% what is on my mind. This bums me out. Particularly when I notice…
  8. This is my laundry! (Photo source)
    Check out my (and my closest friends’) dirty laundry! (Photo source)

    The more verbal writers: They seem to be much more lenient about #7. I get busy resenting them – judging them for being insensitive and being angry for all the attention they get, feeling like it’s attention being taken away from me. Meanwhile I am also aware that, in fact…

  9. I’m often not interested in other writers’ writing: There is supposedly some kind of writers’ culture going on but truth be told, I’m not interested in most bloggers’ writing. So why should mine be of interest to others? And what if this is a sign that…
  10. I’m going to fail: Of course there is the fear of failure. The concern that I won’t get across what I want to get across how I want to get it across. The feeling that I’ll finish the piece and feel like it’s lacking (much like I feel right now as I write this piece). And all of this, of course, makes me think of…
  11. (Photo source)
    Smooches to me. (Photo source)

    Narcissism: So I’m going to publish my writing for the world to see? What is that?

There. I said it. What are your dark feelings and thoughts around the “thang” you really want to be doing? And if you don’t have any dark and difficult feelings, I don’t really want to hear from you. Thanks. : )

Inspiration for my 35th year from Augustus, The Oatmeal and a 90-year-old skydiver

That’s it. I’ve entered my 35th year (that makes me 34).

And I need a change, I know it whenever I get this urge to chop my hair off (I’m not joking).

The good and bad news is that none of my problems are new. The things that are bothering me are issues I’ve been talking/writing/thinking about for years.

The advice from a rabbi in 2007

I’ve been going through some old diary entries. For the most part, they bore me. They are repetitive and a little whiny. (Thank God I didn’t publish that stuff!) But the good thing is that after all these years, I am now able to pinpoint (the?) two major issues in my life:

  1. I’m scared of my life, the future and failure.
  2. I’m almost never writing as much as I want to be.

One of these entries, in January 2007, wasn’t too boring because I wrote about the advice I got from a rabbi. This is approximately what he said:

Your bad feeling is self inflicted. You cut yourself no slack. You aren’t responsible for everything. Not everything in the world and not everything in yourself.

When you start being negative about yourself, say: “Sorry, I don’t have time for that right now. I’m busy.”

Contemplate things at the end of the day. Slowly, through giving yourself love, you will begin to really love yourself.

Most of what he said is true. I inflict pain on myself. I’m too hard on myself.

Besides reading old, embarrassing diary entries, I’ve also been doing embarrassing self-help research online about success, birthdays, why 30s are great, how to make a truckload of money from writing and how to totally change my mindset and become an entirely different person.

Well, I didn’t mean to research the last one. It just happened.

Here are some of the interesting things I found out:

My creative source is not finite! by The Oatmeal

As is often the case, The Oatmeal “verbalizes” what I’ve been thinking all along. And so now I know that I’m not the only one who is always convinced that the next piece I write will be the last because I will never have another idea again. The Oatmeal wrote:

“I used to fear that my ideas were drawn from a limited pool and that at any moment this pool would dry up.”
“I used to fear that my ideas were drawn from a limited pool and that at any moment this pool would dry up.”

Wait. So, it isn’t true? Well, who knows. Maybe I really won’t ever have another idea, but either way, I should push myself to put out that supposedly last piece. 

Read the whole comic

Some motivational talks make me shrivel up inside. That doesn’t make me a bad person.

Often we think there is something wrong with us because of how we react to things when really it might just be faulty expectations about who we are.

I came across a post about the characteristics in highly successful people. It’s supposed to be motivational but it made me cringe. The writer lists all these traits that make an ordinary person extraordinary but the ideas are so lofty that it made me laugh just reading them. Like, that nervous kind of laugh.

The terms include:

  1. Definite aim, vision and purpose (ugh, kill me now)
  2. Expertise and excellence (waaaa!)
  3. Focused (squirrel!)
  4. Positive attitude and perseverance (“l’ll NEVER get it. NEVER!!!! I’m sorry Ludwig!”)

The amount I’d need to change in order to fit those descriptions, let alone the other 26 (!) mentioned in that piece is probably plain impossible. Maybe I could get a personality transplant but that’s probably expensive.

But I’m sick of believing that being an extroverted, go-getter, fast-working, multi-tasking, power house is the only way to succeed. I’ve been introduced to the book about introverts by Susan Cain which I’m itching to read and I’m going to work on seeing what environment I need in order to succeed. I being a slow, creative, thoughtful, detail-oriented person.

What Augustus did at the age of 34

Even though 34 is so young, we’re used to thinking that it’s already “older” and if it’s older, then maybe my chances of fulfilling my dreams have passed.

And so I looked up what others succeeded in doing in their 35th year. Here is one small success by Augustus:

After defeating Antony and Cleopatra’s forces in a naval battle, Augustus became the master of the Roman world.

Not quite as great as me but nobody’s perfect. I guess I could still try to do something with my life. :)

I’m not over the hill yet

And then I wondered what some really old people have succeeded in doing despite (or because of?) their serious advancement in years. This was with the purpose of inspiring me to go and do what I want.

One cool woman skydived for her 90th birthday. There is no video of it but here is a woman who did it at the age of 74:

And it all comes down to pushing! (Once you know what you want to be pushing yourself to do.)

Out of everything I’ve read or seen over the last few days, there was one piece that really stuck out for me more than the others. It truly inspired me.

Maneesh Sethi wrote so honestly about how he actually sometimes pays someone to sit next to him and slap him whenever he goes on Facebook. A professional slapper. Or he promises a friend lots of money if he doesn’t finish an article when he says he will.

What a breath of fresh air. I could have used either of those tactics the whole way through school. I often need a good slap to get myself going and focused (sorry motivational writer). I often know what I want to be working on but my unproductive inner voice makes me into a bum.

Sometimes you don’t have to psychoanalize that voice, sometimes you’ve just got to give it a good smack and do your work. Because doing your work in itself is what will help get some sense into your brain.

I love honesty and real-ness. Thank you, thank you Maneesh.

Just just just just just

Really none of this is a big deal. I just need to accept who I am and push myself to succeed in whatever I lay out for myself.

This is the song I “wrote” to express my exasperation at the way people always seem to use the word “just” for the hugest of tasks!

My one-week experiment

OK, easier said than done. But I really think that to a large extent, the heavy feeling in the mornings is due to the fact that I often have an idea of what I should be doing and my fears, etc., stop me.

My current theory is that if I push myself to do more of what I want to be doing, then that feeling will improve.

And so, in honour of my birthday and my life, I’m running an experiment.

For the next week I’d like to force myself to do stuff when I know what I want to be doing (which is often the case). 

I know it’s possible it won’t make me feel better but at least I’m testing the theory. And if it does make a difference, amazing! And if it doesn’t, at least I’ve disproved that theory and can move on to the next.

Happy birthday!

Meanwhile, happy birthday to all. I hope that my new year is great for all of you, my dear readers. :)

Misunderstandings online

I have found over and over again that misunderstandings and miscommunication are abundant on the Web. It’s a great place to communicate with people and yet to a certain extent, you’ve gotta wonder when it has more of a negative effect than a positive one.

Are there more misunderstandings on the Web than in other writing modes of communication? Not that many others really exist anymore. And none are comparable to the Web.

I think that it’s important to know when to draw the line and say, “This should be discussed by phone or in person.” The Internet is such an awesome tool for communicating with people all over the world but the moment it contains too much miscommunication, it defeats the purpose.

Figuring out your perfect schedule

In Stephen King’s book, “On Writing”, he writes about his daily schedule. When he works, eats, exercises…

When you decide to work on your own, you are no longer given your working hours and then you have to figure out for yourself what the best working schedule is.

There are a few things I’ve figured out but I feel like I’m still far from figuring it all out.

I know that getting to work immediately upon awakening is good for me. Work a couple of hours and then go to eat breakfast, maybe take a shower and get dressed…

One second! Dressed?! But what about staying in PJs all day?!

Truthfully, I am finding myself staying in my pyjamas on many days. But I see that I usually need to get dressed and out for at least a short while every day. But yes, I am quite content staying in my pyjamas for many hours of the day. For example, right now it is 4:20pm, I have even taken a shower already today, and yet, I am in my PJs. (For those interested, today I even did the unheard of act of showering and getting straight back in my pyjamas.)

OK, now that that’s cleared up… So, the beginning of the day is probably the only part that I’ve sort of figured out. The rest of the day, I just don’t know. I am finding that I waste a lot of time. I hate that I’m wasting so much time. I also find that I am barely exercising, another thing that makes me unhappy.

All in all this is a very challenging experience. I wonder how long it takes people to find a schedule at home that is as efficient and healthy (same thing) as possible.

It’s a good idea but it’s being so stubborn!

As part of my writing course, I interviewed someone. The interview is about a fascinating experience he had. Actually, about a sequence of experiences he had as part of a really interesting trip to Ethiopia over Pessach (Passover) this past year. He had so many amazing experiences there. Saw such different things than any of us have ever seen. But I can’t for the life of me figure out how to make it into an organized article. And I for sure don’t want it to be just a few stories pulled together. I want them to be nicely weaved together.

Ah!!!

Natural time-line

You can’t work faster than you can work. You can’t work more hours than you can work. Rushing things will inevitably slow them down.

I am so stressed! Why do things in life work so slowly? And then I feel like I’m not doing anything because what do I have to show for my hours of work?

And, the worst is that when I feel aggravated at the slow “natural time-line”, I stop working altogether and just procrastinate.

Such is life. Sunset (at least in most parts of the world) is gradual. You can’t even see the actual change. A flower blooming is the same. Suddenly the sky is dark or the flower is opened but the process itself was too slow to be able to discern within the regular speed of things.

I feel so stressed by time, lack of time and the amount of things I really want to be getting done.

Oy!

P.S. I hope that ending posts with “oy” doesn’t become a trend for me!