Feedback Friday – 9/9/16

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Welcome to the first installment of Feedback Friday, where I’ll answer your writing-related questions. If you want your question featured here, just leave a comment anywhere on this blog with the words “Feedback Friday” somewhere in your question or you can shoot me an email at thirdaxe at gmail dot com. Please, make sure you put “Feedback Friday” as the subject line.

Our first question comes from Heather in South Carolina, who wants to know the primary differences between a comma, a full colon, and a semicolon so that she knows when to use each one correctly.

In the written language, commas are intended to create a brief pause, mostly in order to separate ideas in the reader’s mind. For instance, if you have a series of three or more items such as a pen, a piece of paper, and an idea, use commas to separate out each of the items so they don’t run together and create confusion. You do not need a comma to separate two items joined by a conjunction, like Jack and Jill, because there is no need for a pause. The conjunction takes care of that.

You should also use commas to set off any kind of an introductory clause. For example, this is one type of introductory clause that needs to be set off with a comma. Because commas are the most misused piece of punctuation, I will eventually have a video in the lecture series dedicated just to their usage. Notice how at the end of the “because” statement, we need a slight pause to show that the introductory element is ending and the main sentence is beginning. Using commas after introductory statements increases clarity and decreases the chance of misunderstanding.

You also need commas to separate two full sentences joined by a conjunction. For instance, I want to make sure that you understand the basic fundamentals of when to use a comma, but I also don’t want to insult your intelligence by making it too simple. To that end, I’ll provide examples embedded throughout this post to illustrate when you should use them, so you can absorb for yourself the rhythm of when you need that pause.

There are many more rules for when you should or should not use a comma, but for now, let’s just focus on those three as the most important fundamentals.

To understand the semicolon, you must understand not only the comma but also the period. If the comma creates a pause, the period represents a full stop. You use periods to indicate to the audience that that thought has concluded and are now transitioning to a new thought. The semicolon is somewhere between a full stop and a pause. Typically, there are two primary instances when you should use a semicolon:

1) If you have two complete sentences that you want to link together, BUT you do not want to use a conjunction because you want to show a connection between those two thoughts, the semicolon links them together. Friendship is the most valuable gift in life; it can heal almost any wound and makes each day a little brighter. Notice how the semicolon joins those two complete thoughts. A period or a conjunction would slow down the reader too much and lose the connection between the sentiments. A comma is too weak of a pause, so the semicolon is the perfect happy median between the two.

2) If you have a complex series, you need to set off the main elements with semicolons to make it clear where each one begins and ends. For instance, in this blog entry we are covering commas, which create a pause in written language; periods, which create a full stop; and semicolons, which fall somewhere in between a full stop and a pause. If we only used commas to separate those three main elements, that phrase would be nearly unreadable because it would be too cluttered. The semicolon shows perfectly where the major breaks should occur.

Finally, we have the full colon. Typically, the colon is used to introduce a series/list or further clarify some thought. If you noticed earlier, before my series of two points about semicolons, I used a colon to introduce that a list was to follow. We can do that in a sentence, too. For instance, a good sentence contains several key elements: a clear subject, a strong verb, and proper punctuation for starters.

You can also use the  colon to further clarify. This falls under two primary subcategories: 1) introducing a concluding explanation and 2) introducing an appositive (if you’re unsure of what an appositive is, that could be the next Feedback Friday segment). For the concluding explanation, consider the following example. A homemade meal nourishes the soul: it involves time, preparation, and attention to detail. While you could argue that a semicolon would serve here just as well, in this particular example, the colon more definitively shows that the second sentence more clearly explains the first. For introducing an appositive, think about this example. Homemade meals taste better for one simple reason: love. In both of these examples, the colon is used to set off an element that provides more explanation or clarification for what preceded it.

So there’s your explanation of the primary differences between a comma, a semicolon, and a colon. Hope to see you back here next week for our next Friday Feedback.

Vocabulary Wednesday – September 7, 2016

My apologies for my absence from the blog. I’ve been working on the videos, typing on a couple of side manuscripts that I want to release, and writing on book five, so something had to give. Unfortunately the blog is what got neglected.

From now on for the vocabulary entries, I’m only going to offer ten new words each week because twenty just takes too much time to create. I’d rather deliver ten quality words a week than not get the entry completed. So without further ado, here are you Vocabulary Wednesday words for this week:

Badinage – (n) playful banter.  (v) to banter or tease with. [origin is from the French  word badin – to joke. First appeared in English in the the mid-1600’s] Usage: Having been friends for over 30 years, we have developed a badinage that is both predictable and comforting.

Baleful – (adj) menacing; pernicious; obsolete; wretched; miserable. [origin from Old English bealofull. First appeared about 1000 AD] Usage: His baleful stare caused the onlookers to back away slowly.

Bastinado – (n) punishment by beating the feet with a stick; the stick used. (v) to punish in this manner. [origin from the Spanish word bastonada. First appeared in English in the late 1500’s] Usage: The magistrate ordered bastinado for the five protestors to be carried out at sunrise.

Billet – (n) a sleeping spot for a sailor or soldier; an assignment/job; ticket/note; a stick of wood. (v) to assign a sleeping spot. [origin from Middle English bylet or billett. First appeared in English in the late 1300’s] Usage: After two days of non-stop drills, we collapsed on our billets and slept the sleep of the truly exhausted.

Blandish – (v) to coax by flattery or caresses. [origin from Middle English blandisshen. First appeared in English in the mid- to late-1300’s] Usage: This dance was one we had danced many times, her blandishing me with all the right words and me caving in as I knew I would.

Brassard – (n) a mourning band worn on the arm; a badge worn on the arm. [origin from the French word bras – arm. First appeared in English in the early-1800’s] Usage: As was custom in the village, the mourners donned their brassards before moving to the chapel for the receiving of friends and family.

Brigand – (n) a robber; a bandit. [origin is a variant of Middle English briga, Middle French brigand , and Old Italian brigante – companion, member of an armed company. First appeared in English in the mid-1300’s] Usage: The brigands rushed forward from their hiding places and attacked our company without warning.

Brocade – (n) a rich silken fabric with a raised pattern. (v) to weave with a raised design or figure [origin Spanish brocado and Italian broccato – embossed. First appeared in English in the mid-1500’s] Usage: The brocade table napkins were an elegant touch to the ceremony.

Bucolic – (adj) pastoral; rustic. (n) a poem dealing with simple country life. [origin from the Latin būcolicus and Greek boukolikós – rustic. First appeared in English in the mid-1500’s] Usage: With the clucks of chickens and the brays of donkeys, the farm was the ideal bucolic setting.

Burin – (n) an engraving tool for cutting furrows in metal. [origin from French and Italian burino -graving tool. First appeared in English in the mid-1600’s] Usage: The craftsman handled the burin deftly, developing a stylish pattern within minutes.


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My apologies for no updates on the blog recently. I’ve been working like crazy to get the writing process videos finished for the beginning of the college semester, and there just haven’t been enough hours in the day to get everything done. Hopefully next week I can get rolling with all the new segments on the blog and online classroom. Until then, you should totally subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Vocabulary Wednesday – August 9, 2016

In 1989, I suffered a head injury (you can read about it here). One of the long-term consequences I’ve dealt with is some minor damage to one of the vocabulary centers of my brain. As a result, I sometimes struggle with word recall and constantly forget words if I do not use them regularly (one of the great ironies of my life is that I’m a writer who can’t think of words). Therefore, I have to work on relearning words perpetually because a strong vocabulary is the foundation for any writer.

For me, the easiest way to study words is with flash cards. I take a standard index card and write the word on one side and the part of speech and definition on the other. Then, I can exercise both learning the definition and recalling the word itself, both of which require diligence on my part because of the injury. You may want to try different techniques to find the right fit for you, but I do recommend trying the flash card method first because it’s simple and effective.

Each Wednesday, I’ll share 20 new words that I think are important for you to know as a writer or are just cool words. If you can learn these entries, by the end of the year you will have improved your vocabulary by 1,040 words. Keep that up for a few years, and you’ll have a world class vocabulary. One note on my word choices, because I have to constantly relearn words, some of these choices may come across as elementary to you, and if so, please accept my apologies. Now, without further ado, here are the first 20:

Abattoir – (n) a slaughterhouse. [origin is from the French word abatt – to slaughter or fell. First appeared in English in the early 1800’s] Usage: The abattoir sat down in a secluded dale, and a peculiar smell clung to it like a drenched cloak, the smell of blood and entrails and death.

Abdicate – (v) renounce or relinquish an office, power, or right. [origin is from the Latin word abdicātus – renounce. First appeared in English in the mid-1500’s] Usage: As his faculties began to decline, the company president decided to abdicate his position in order to protect the company’s best interests.

Acquiesce – (v) to yield; to submit; to agree; to consent. [origin is from the Latin word acquiēscere – to find rest in. First appeared in English in the early 1600’s] Usage: Once he realized that his position was hopeless, the general acquiesced to the terms of surrender rather than needlessly sacrifice his soldiers.

Acrid – (adj) sharp or biting to the taste or smell; pungent; severe. [origin is from the Latin  ācr- (stem of ācer)  – sharp, sour. First appeared in English in the early 1600’s] Usage: The acrid ale nearly made him gag, but he drank the full tankard, not wanting to offend his host.

Adulate – (v) show feigned devotion to; flatter servilely. [origin is from the Middle English < Middle French < Latin adūlātiōn- (stem of adūlātiō) servile flattery, fawning. First appeared in English in the late 1700’s] Usage: Sycophants will adulate rather than share a hard truth and risk expulsion from the inner circle.

Alacrity – (n) cheerful willingness. [origin is from the Latin word alacritās – lively. First appeared in English in the early 1500’s] Usage: The captain’s alacrity to take on any assignment was contagious to his subalterns.

Anathema – (n) denunciation; solemn curse; something accursed. [origin is Latin and Greek. First appeared in English in the early 1500’s] Usage: As the smoke of battle cleared and she saw the wreckage of bodies, the doctor whispered an anathema at all who saber rattle and call forth the horrors.

Antipathy – (n) dislike for something. [origin is from the Latin word antipathīa and the Greek word antipátheia – aversion. First appeared in English in the late 1500’s ] Usage: Like most night owls, my antipathy for morning and morning people is quite acute.

Apogee – (n) the point of greatest distance from earth in an orbit. [origin is from the French word apogée. First appeared in English in the late 1500’s] Usage: As the satellite reached its apogee, mission control breathed a sigh of relief that all had gone well.

Apoplectic – (adj) of or related to apoplexy (see next entry); angry or furious. [origin is Late Latin apoplēcticus < Greek apoplēktikós pertaining to (paralytic) stroke. First appeared in English in the early 1600’s] Usage: The combination of poor diet, lack of exercise, and extreme stress had made him the perfect candidate for an apoplectic event.

Apoplexy – (n) loss of consciousness or mobility due to sudden blood loss to the brain; to suffer a stroke. [origin is Late Latin apoplēcticus < Greek apoplēktikós pertaining to (paralytic) stroke. First appeared in English in the early 1600’s] Usage: The apoplexy left her face paralyzed on the left side, which curled her mouth into a perpetual sneer.

Apotheosis – (n) glorified personification of a principle or idea. [origin is Late Latin and Greek. First appeared in English in the late 1500’s] Usage: Michael Jordan is the apotheosis of a competitor, as his desire to win and be the best has encompassed every facet of his life.

Ardent – (adj) fervent; intense; passionate; burning; fiery; glowing. [origin is Latin. First appeared in English in the mid-1300’s] Usage: She had an ardent desire to create, to push boundaries, to make the world more beautiful than it was yesterday.

Ardor – (n) intensity of feeling; zeal; passion; fiery heat. [origin is from Middle English ardure – to burn. First appeared in English in the mid-1300’s] Usage: As he gazed upon the completed project, his eyes sparkling with delight, his ardor for his work was evident.

Arrogate – (v) assume, demand, or claim unduly [origin is from  Latin arrogātus – appropriated, assumed, questioned. First appeared in English in the mid-1500’s] Usage: Our politicians have been arrogating more and more power for themselves for decades, eroding our civil liberties and trampling the Constitution in the process.

Ascetic – (adj) extreme in self-restraint or self-denial [origin is from  Greek askētikós – subject to rigorous exercise, hardworking. First appeared in English in the mid-1600’s] Usage: As he trained for his upcoming fight, the boxer lived an ascetic lifestyle, denying himself even the most basic luxuries like air-conditioning.

Ascetic – (n) a hermit; one who practices spiritual self-denial. [origin is from  Greek askētikós – subject to rigorous exercise, hardworking. First appeared in English in the mid-1600’s] Usage: The ascetic lived alone, far from the commotion of civilized life, and each day, he reveled in the simplicity of existing.

Asperity – (n) harshness of temper; severity [origin is from late Middle English asperite. First appeared in English in the early 1200’s] Usage: As with most bullies, her asperity could explode at any moment, erupting for even the most trivial of issues.

Assiduous – (adj) diligent; attentive; unremitting [origin is from the  Latin word assiduus – to sit near, beside,dwell close to. First appeared in English in the mid-1500’s] Usage: An assiduous attention to detail is imperative for polishing a manuscript into a publishable novel.

Atavism – (n) a reversion to distant hereditary traits; a throwback. [origin is from  the Latin word atav – remote ancestor. First appeared in English in the mid-1800’s] Usage: The atavism of his agrarian ancestors shone through as he tilled the soil and wrought sustenance from the land.

Atavistic – (adj) of or pertaining to atavism; reverting to or suggesting characteristics of a remote ancestor or primitive type. [origin is from  the Latin word atav – remote ancestor. First appeared in English in the mid-1800’s] Usage: An atavistic instinct overcame her as she battled the assailant, and a primal rage surged through her as she pummeled him bloody.

Because of the couple of repetitions, you get off easy this week and only have to learn 18 words. Next week, we’ll move beyond the A’s. Happy learning.

Introducing Professor Write


Welcome to Professor Write: Your Online Writing Classroom. This site will serve as your place to sharpen your writing skills, explore your imagination, and most importantly find your voice.

The central focus of this website will be the Professor Write Video Lecture Series.  Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow the series as we cover the essentials for developing your writing skills. Designed for college students and aspiring writers, the videos will cover the fundamentals for honing your writing skills at your own pace and on your own time. Each Monday, I’ll add links to the new videos.

Wednesdays will be devoted to vocabulary with 20 new words added weekly. I’ll cover definitions, etymologies, and usages so that you can build a world class vocabulary.

On Fridays, I’ll answer writing related questions that I receive through the week. You can leave a comment anywhere on the blog, and I’ll attempt to answer your writing-related question as honestly and clearly as I can.

On Saturdays, I’ll share a book review of a book you should be studying if you are an aspiring writer.  From Anton Myrer to George R.R. Martin, I’ll share my take on what you can glean from these literary masters.

And from time to time, I’ll still post one of my ramblings on some topic that sparks my interest. So please, check back often for all of these exciting new segments, and if you know someone who needs to improve their writing skills, send them to Professor Write.

About Time

I fully admit and accept that it’s rather cliche for someone who has been incarcerated to wax poetic about time, but in my experience on this earth, nothing brings it into such sharp focus quite so well. There is our measurement of time–the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years we use to mark its passage. This artificial system, though imperfect and dynamic according to the laws of physics, serves it purpose of keeping our minds grounded in the present while still allowing us to consider the past and future. We need this system, else many of us would slip into madness as time flowed forever onward. But the system is not the thing itself, merely our tool for counting it.

Then, there is our perception of time, an inconstant and capricious master that drives our every waking moment. During joyful moments, time seems to fly as the old saying goes, while during the difficult experiences it can seem nearly to stop. In jail, one single night can feel like a veritable lifetime as the seconds crawl along. Much more so than our system for measuring it, our perception of time is dynamic and pliable to the whims of circumstance. But still, our perception is not the thing itself.

Time itself flows forward, inexorable and implacable as it goes. Time cares nothing for circumstance or systems of measurement. It merely is, and whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not, time moves in one direction, only in that direction, and only at a constant rate. You cannot recapture yesterday, and you cannot fast forward to tomorrow. If you are alive on this planet, you must endure the relentless flow of time one moment to the next. Learning and accepting this fact can be the most important thing you ever do for yourself.

Regardless of my circumstances or what I choose to do, today will slip away. If I’m mired in an unpleasant situation, I can choose to sit by passively and wait for it to pass, and it will, though what about my circumstances have really changed? Have I learned anything? Grown as a person? Changed my perception? Or am I merely allowing time to flow by as I hope for something positive to happen?

If time is going to pass regardless, then I will use my moments to pursue actively those things I desire. Do I really want to lose weight? I can find 30 minutes in each day to walk if I choose to. Do I truly want to improve my vocabulary? There is time if I take advantage of the moments. Am I stuck in a suffocating relationship? What will change if I don’t utilize time to my advantage and find a way out of those circumstances? Whatever it is, the time is going to pass whether I take action or not, so I am much better off using time to improve something about myself, and if I make small incremental changes every single day, over the course of weeks and months, I will see the benefits of those choices.

That is what I’ve learned about time.

You have a voice! Let's find it.

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