Filling in Space

Journalism: an ability to meet the challenge of filling the space.

– Rebecca West

Have you ever written to fill in space, keeping your words to an exact limit for a print publication? It’s not just the amount of words but the actual space on the printed page so you need to edit the words you use for the amount of letters in them if it gets tight. Try it sometime.

Stupid about Passwords

Password must be between 6 and 30 characters long and must contain letters in mixed case.

It is annoying enough to be told you can’t comment without registering for a site. Usually that is where the journey ends for me. But I wanted to leave a comment this time. So I’m registering for what is likely to be a one time comment, even though I do keep up with this blog fairly often.

But, doesn’t it go a bit more than too far for them to tell me what I have to do for the password? I use the same password for almost everything, especially for something like this where I don’t feel a need for a secure login. (Or any login). It is annoying to have to use something else now. Something I won’t remember because it won’t be the standard password I use.

Unlofting Your Big Goals

It’s kind of easy to have a high and mighty, lofty goal in the future. It seems so far ahead of us, almost out of reach. Makes it easy to set the big goal on a pedestal, on the backburner, procrastinate and possibly lose sight of it completely.

Do something each week to acknowledge your big goals, even if they are too far ahead to do anything towards achieving them right now. Keep them active in your mind, where they don’t get lost in the clutter of everyday things, smaller goals and all the steps you are taking to the big goal.

Little things can mean a lot. Post a note about your big goal on your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, somewhere you will see it regulary and make sure you actually read it rather than becoming blind to it. Put your goal as a label on a penny jar and each time you add your pennies to the jar, see your goal posted there. (When the jar is ful spend the pennies!)  Reorganize the books on your shelf to spell out something related to your goal when you use the first letters of the titles. You get the idea, it doesn’t have to be something too crazy, just keep your big goals as something real versus something lofty and out of reach.

Type in Your Own Style

In writing we use fonts far more than we actually think about them. What font are you reading right now? Do you know for sure, me either. I could check the HTML and find out but I don’t need to. I know it’s working and it’s readable.

Still, there are endless fonts of every style imaginable. I hunt for fonts when I want to make a new banner or header. Sometimes I have a fairly good idea of roughly what I want. I can almost see it, the shape and size of the letters. Have you ever thought about making your own font? It’s really quite interesting, typography. Try drawing an alphabet, not writing the letters but drawing them.

Here are three links about making your own fonts in case you are more than just curious.

I Love Typography: So You Want to Create a Font

BitBox: How to Make a Hand Drawn Font

Chank: How to Make Your Own Fonts

Slate: You Type – The Strange Allure of Making Your Own Fonts

Last of all, you can use FontStruct to make your fonts. It is free web software. You can create your font and save it to use on Mac or Windows.

A Love Letter from a Gentleman

You find an old hope chest from Great Aunt Daisy. It’s stuffed full of old linens, china and letters from her lifetime. Reading the letters is a trip back through time. One is a love letter from a man you know was not Great Uncle Edwin. It’s lovely, written by someone who very much cared, with romance, passion and not at all overly mushy or slutty.

Have you ever written a real love letter? How would you begin it and how would it end?

Girl Band Drummer God

You’re the drummer in an all girl band. Life is great with fame and fortune and fun. Fan letters from guys, all claiming to be in love with you and the icky ones you just ignite in the fireplace and ignore. Best of all as a drummer with all that upper body regular work out, you have boobs of steel! You’re only 20-something and having the greatest adventure in your life.

The only problem is the band. The other girls have had enough and want to quit, break up the band and go off and have babies and husbands and houses. Whatever order they end up with. You want at least one more year of being the girl band drummer god. It’s just too soon to give it all up now. How can you convince them to stick with it, at least one more year?

Letter Writing

When was the last time you wrote a letter? A real letter to a friend or family with news and other idle chatter? Letter writing is a skill. These days it’s becoming quaint, old-fashioned as email and typed notes take over.

There is a little formality to letter writing. You start with the date and then add a greeting. It’s easy to forget the date and it may not seem important when it’s a casual, personal letter. But, the date gives it relevance for when they read it later. Even now, it shows when you wrote the letter and how long it took to get through the mail.

The greeting is also known as the salutation. It’s a fancier word for hello. Standard salutations for letters start with Dear. But, that’s quite old now. I think even Emily Post would be ok with an update there. You could write Hello, just the person’s name or something else which would mean the same to the person you are writing to. After all, this isn’t a formal business letter, it’s allowed be personal, friendly and intimate.

The body of the letter is freewriting. Write news, updates about past news, how your day is going, what you’re thinking about, the town you live in, what you did on vacation, whatever comes to mind. Keep it in paragraph format. That just makes it easier to read. Everyone likes a break in reading now and then. Add a double space between paragraphs. Not everyone does this and it’s only become the standard since letters started being typed. But, I think it’s a very practical practice. The clever use of white space can only add to the presentation whether it’s a magazine layout, a website or a family newsletter.

At the end you sign off. This is a time to be really creative. You can wind down your letter with comments about hope you write back soon, hope you are well, how was your vacation, etc. Or this could all be included in the body. But, there should be some sort of wind down to the closing. Still, every letter ends with some version of good bye: “Take care, Laura” That is my standard close to a letter or an email. It’s polite, slightly formal and works for just about anyone I’m writing to. But, I don’t have to stick with that and either do you. Be informal, be memorable or just be personable, it’s up to you. Don’t forget to sign your name though. I once had a letter from a penpal who didn’t sign their name, didn’t mention who they were in the letter and didn’t add a return address to the outside of the envelope. I guessed who they were; the postage was a help since I was writing to people all over the world at that time.

So we come to the last part of writing a letter, the envelope. If you have used fancy stationary you may need to choose the best spot to write the addresses and stick the stamps. Some stationary doesn’t leave space in the right places. The post office likes everything done just the same for their machines to read the letters. This also gives your letter an edge in delivery time. If the machines can handle it all the way it goes through the system faster. If humans have to take over it will be delayed. Anyway, the standard is to put the stamps in the upper right corner, which I’m sure you know well by now. But, did you know they actually like the address and postal code on the low side? I’d usually write them in the middle of the envelope so that the whole address was centered. But, I found that the postal machines are set up to read lower on the envelope, they pick out the postal code and sort it that way. (At least that’s what I was told when I asked here, if someone works for the post office let me know if I’m mislead about this). Don’t forget a return address. You can write it across from the stamp on the front of your letter, the upper left corner. Or you can write it on the back of your letter where there is more space. However, if there is a chance your letter won’t reach your intended destination write the return address on the front. This makes it easier for the letter to be returned to you.

I feel like I’ve just written the Martha Stewart guide to writing a letter. Though this is simple stuff to most people I expect there are some people who have never written a personal letter. You’re missing out on something. Letter writing is a great way of keeping in touch with people and with yourself. When you write about yourself, your life and your feelings you let go of some things and hang onto others that are good. At times it’s like getting to know yourself. It’s therapeutic and it’s almost free.

Also, as writers, we can always use more writing to practice our skills with grammar, punctuation and spelling. More than that, we practice our skills with communicating in words. Letter writing gives you feedback in a way you miss out with writing articles, stories and such. People will reply to letters but you will seldom get feedback from any other writing you do. Another plus, letter writing feedback is tempered with good attitude and their comments about your grammar goofs will be meant well and given from a friend rather than a human dictionary who seems to just live to correct others. Don’t you hate people like that? (Not that I mind learning from my mistakes but spare me the attitude).

One other excellent thing I found about writing penpal letters was how much I learned about the world and the people in it. Other cultures, lifestyles and values are at your pen tip. I always think it’s a shame that some people cut themselves off from the world and live in a very small space inside their own head. There is so much out there in the world around us. Even if you never travel you can be an armchair traveler through your letters. Ask about things, find new ways of thinking, seeing and doing things. Make your life an expedition into the world, even if it’s only through the paper of your letters.

Frankenstein with Words

I was downstairs, getting some cereal and looking at the breakfast dishes my Mom left when my brother came to take her to the airport this morning. I was thinking how we imbue (there’s a 20$ word for you) inanimate objects with feelings, thoughts and ideas. I mean, it was just a coffee cup, but it made me feel a twinge of sadness. Funny how that cup is still exactly where she left it, as if waiting for her to finish her coffee. Meanwhile, she is on the plane, flying back down to Florida, right now.

Anyway, that’s how the idea started. It got me thinking that we do the same thing when we write. After all, words are just flat letters on a flat page or computer screen. Whatever life they have, whatever feelings they have, are life and feelings that we give them. Not just in fiction writing where you have to make readers care or have an interest in reading about your characters. But, in non-fiction too where you appeal to reader’s curiousity, make them read on, hear what you have to say. Make them want to read about and consider your ideas.

So, writing is in fact like being Dr. Frankenstein – giving life to inanimate objects. Though the writing isn’t a dead thing being brought back to life it does compare as the same words and letters have been used over and over for so many generations of writers and read by so many generations of readers. Words can be a dead thing if no one gives them that spark of life.

That spark is what lifts writing off the page.