Another AI Grammar Checker

I recently learned about another online grammar checker, ProWritingAid. I was curious as to how it compared to Grammarly, so I’ve been using the free versions of both for the last several chapters of my upcoming book. They both catch basic punctuation errors, extra spaces, misspelled words, and point out unnecessary wordiness. But there are also differences.

Grammarly dings me a lot on tautologies. In writing, a tautology is a phrase that uses two words which mean the same thing. For example: his own, widow woman, red color. In each example, one of the words in the phrase is redundant: own, woman, and color don’t explain anything and don’t add any new information.

Tautologies are easy to correct, but sometimes I’m using them for added emphasis. Such as when I’m trying to point out an idea or concept that had some significance to us. For example, the idea of Dan purchasing a tractor trailer to become “his own boss.” I think that packs a little more punch than either becoming “his boss” or “his own.” (Which begs the question, his own what?)

ProWritingAid ignores tautologies, but constantly points out my frequent use of passive rather than active verb construction. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here’s an example from my writing: I wrote, “the old chimney was removed” (passive voice). Active voice would be, “he removed the old chimney.”

Apparently, passive voice is extremely annoying to some readers, hence the suggestions to change. I understand that, but since I’ve just picked this up in the last chapters, I think I’ll just have to leave most of it this go-round, especially since I’m not sure how to write active voice in past tense. I’ll have to research that in the future.

The thing that I dislike about both programs is being given a percentage grade and compared to other writers. That does not help me. That does not motivate me. I don’t want my writing to be on par with others, I want it to stand out with unique appeal. Neither program has impressed me on that score. I want my writing to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to sound like everyone else. If everyone accepted all of the recommended changes, then everyone would sound the same. No, thank you.

Another problem with grading my writing is when a chapter contains a quotes from other works. The quotes are from published books and have already been edited by a human. Yet AI wants to correct quotes and count those “errors” toward my writing “score.” The lesson learned here is not to include the quotes when I paste in the text to be proofread.

Actually, working with AI is similar to working with human editors. Each brings their own perspective to the table, and different editors focus on different things. Because I write non-fiction for a niche audience, I understand that the person doing the editing may or may not understand how I’m using particular words. I use the language of homesteaders, although I always take care to define unfamiliar terms for readers without a homesteading background. This has been why having last-say in my writing is important to me. I don’t want the meaning of my writing changed because the phrases and idioms aren’t understood.

Of the two AI grammar programs, I’ve had to learn how to use them. I’ve had to drop the tendency to feel like a scolded school child for low scores and take control for myself. It’s my writing, so I’m free to accept or reject their suggestions, and never mind what everyone else is doing. I am trying to do this with great care because I sincerely want to improve my writing. I just don’t want to lose my own voice, my own style, my own personality.

There. Three tautologies in a row, and I feel pretty good about it.

New Year’s Challenge: Daily Haiku

My husband gave me a very nice journal for Christmas. Since I use my homesteading blog as a record-keeping journal, I want to do something special with this gift. I would like to try something more creative thought I’d like to learn how to write haiku.

The following notes are from writing websites: Masterclass, The Writing Cooperative, Shadow Poetry, and The Write Practice. These will serve as my guidelines. I’m sure there are finer points, but this is my start. It’s enough for now and I hope to take in more as I practice the art.

What is it? A traditional Japanese form of poetry. It contains three lines of 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, 5 in the third, describing a single moment in the present tense.

Traditional themes. Seasonal nature themes.

Traditional structure. Two parts:

  1. the first line describes the setting (often as a sentence fragment)
  2. the second part describes the subject and action (often as a phrase).

Contains a kigo, which is a word that places the haiku in a particular season.

Frequently uses a kireji or “cutting word,” i.e. a word that creates a pause or break in the rhythm. A common feature in traditional haiku, it is often used to juxtapose two images.

Typically, does not contain similes and metaphors.

How to write

  1. Choose a subject. Observe with your senses. Note small details. Describe in simple terms.
  2. Use short phrases that evoke strong images. Consider a kigo.
  3. Use a kireji to break the rhythm. Punctuate as needed to clarify.

So that’s my challenge to myself for 2020. It’s not a resolution, just something I’d like to do. I don’t know if I’ll post them all here, but probably at least a few of them from time to time.

Lamenting the Loss of the Pronoun “One”

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I lament the loss of “one” as a pronoun. It’s still around, understood to be a generic impersonal pronoun which can function in the first, second, or third person. Unfortunately, its use nowadays is considered to be too formal for common use and has been replaced with the more informal “you.”

Grammar experts recognize that one, you, we, and they are all generic impersonal pronouns, meaning they refer to a person or people in general. But since “one” seems too formal for today’s casual society, it is increasingly replaced with “you.”

And that’s the crux of my complaint. In my experience as a blogger, using “you” is all too often personalized by the reader. Instead of understanding that I’m applying my ideas to people in general, the pronoun “you” is interpreted to mean I’m pointing at the reader. Unfortunately, readers can easily find that offensive and take issue! The potential for an interesting exchange of ideas is hijacked with an assumption of something I never intended in the first place. The exchange becomes one of trying to clarify (often to no avail) my point. I never have this problem when I use “one” instead of “you.”

In the first person, I’m just as happy to say “I” to refer to myself as “one.” For the third person, however, I think we should seriously consider a return to using “one” instead of “he,” “she,” “s/he,” or whatever we’re trying to do nowadays to not offend anyone. “One” perfectly fits the bill.

If we are trying to communicate useful and meaningful ideas, what purpose do distractions in the form of pronouns serve? Especially when they offend someone or make them defensive. Why derail intelligent conversation when we can easily encourage it with a simple indefinite, gender-neutral pronoun no matter how stuffy it sounds?

Care to join me in my return it its use? The more often people read and hear it, the more common–and acceptable–it will become. I think it’s a simple step in the right direction.

Writing Workflow

I’ve always liked to consider myself an organized person. For example, I use the geologic filing system for all important papers. Everything is on my desk in a pile with the oldest material on the bottom, the newest on top. This actually works quite well, until I tidy things up and put everything someplace where I will remember where it is. (Ha!)

Computers are supposed to make organization better. That may be true in theory, but I can’t seem to get my practice in line with that. I usually end up with documents, links, and other bits and pieces of information spread out all over my computer. It takes just as long or longer to find things on my computer as it does on my desk.

When I’m working on a writing project, that won’t do, especially when it comes to numerous rewrites and edits that occur during the creative process. It took awhile, but I finally worked out a simple way to keep track of where I am.

I keep a folder on my desktop named for the book I’m working on. Inside that folder are subfolders: chapters, cover, end matter, front matter, images, research, and Zim files. Zim is a desktop wiki which I find invaluable for notes, outlines, deleted cuts, and keeping track of links.

The folder I access most often while I’m writing is chapters. Like most writers, I tweak a chapter every time I read it. I’ve discovered, however, that days later I sometimes don’t like my tweaks as well as my original. If I’ve been continually overwriting a chapter, the best I can do is hope my memory can get the words back.

I’ve learned that the easiest way to keep track of what I’ve written in the past is to save the chapter under today’s date as soon as I open it anew. I have a series of the same chapter, all dated according to when I worked on it. All available to go back to compare and pick and choose what best says what I want to say.

Simple, I know. But sometimes it takes awhile of experimenting with systems to figure out that simplest is always the best.

Outline For Chapter 6

5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel

F. Ch. 6. Food Self-Sufficiency: Feeding Ourselves
   1. Production
	a. garden
            1) downsizing garden
	    2) year-round
		  a) fewer annuals
		  b) more perennials (permaculture hedgerows)
	    3) soil building - never enough compost and mulch
		  a) chipper - mulch
	    4) permanent no-till (but not raised) beds
	    5) hugelkulture swale beds
	    6) continue diversity with companion group planting
	    7) planting by soil temperature
	    8) cover crops for resting beds
	    9) hoop house 
	    10) greenhouse (future)
	b. orchard
	    1) pectin
	c. field crops 
	    1) wheat
	    2) corn
	    3) other: cowpeas, cushaws, mangels, sugar beets (shared with critters)
	    4) goal - try rice				
            5) challenges 
	        a) not pushing the soil 
		b) soil building (discuss in  ch 10, "Resource Self-Sufficiency")
		    i. cover crops
		    ii. carbon
            6) no-till
	d. perennial foods 
	    1) herb garden
	    2) permaculture hedgerows
	e. eggs, milk, meat
	    1) eating seasonally
	    2) challenges with eggs
		a) storage
		    i. dehydrating
		    ii. water glassing
	            iii. liming
		    iv. see Prepper's Livestock Handbook for more
	    3) challenges with milk
		  a) year-round milk for kefir
		  b) cheesemaking in a hot climate
		  c) brine and oil packed cheeses
	    4) challenges with meat
	f. honeybees (fail)
	g. mushrooms        
        h. miscellanious            
            1) smoke flavoring
	i. hay (discuss in ch 7, "Food Self-Sufficiency: Feeding Our Animals")   
    2. Preservation
        a. less preservation / more year-round growing	
        b. canning / freezing / dehydrating / lacto-fermentation
        c. dry pack vacuum canning	   
    3. Storage	
        a. challenges - heat, humidity, insects
        b. eat more fresh (year-round garden)	
        c. rethinking storage goals 
        d. root cellar
        e. solar powered pantry (discuss in ch 8. "Energy Self-Sufficiency")
    4. Miscellaneous
        a. apple pectin
        b. smoke flavoring (canned or frozen)
        c. hops for homemade yeast
        d. leftovers frozen soup mix
        e. foraged foods
            1) greens
    5. Challenges
        a. diet fatigue
        b. diet diversity with limited foods

Proposed Outline

I’ve been in something of a quandary over which project to put some serious focus toward. I have several potential additions to The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, including a revision of  How-To Home Soil Tests. I’ve been learning so many interesting things about carbon and soil building lately, that I seriously want to update that eBook. On the other hand, I am drawn toward working on my sequel for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. Inspiration is starting to come to me, so that I have to stop whatever I’m doing and go write it down. Here is the first skeleton of an outline.

I. Front matter

A. Title Page
B. Copyright
C. Dedication
D. Table of Contents
E. Acknowledgements
F. Introduction

II. Body

A. Ch. 1. The Dream: is it still alive?
B. Ch. 2. Evaluating Our goals
C. Ch. 3. Priorities: Staying on Track
D. Ch. 4. Analyzing the Master Plan
E. Ch. 5. Transition
F. Ch. 6. Food Self-Sufficiency: Feeding Ourselves
G. Ch. 7. Food Self-Sufficiency: Feeding Our Animals
H. Ch. 8. Energy Self-Sufficiency
I. Ch. 9. Water Self-Sufficiency
J. Ch. 10. Resource Self-Sufficiency
K. Ch. 11. Distractions
L. Ch. 12. Discouraging Things
M. Ch. 13. Toward Keeping a Balance
N. Conclusion: Lessons Learned

III. Back matter

A. Bibliography
B. Appendices

1. Resources
2. Homestead Recipes

C. Index

If you’ve read 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, you can see that the chapter titles for The Sequel parallel those.

I’ve omitted a few things, and everything is subject to change of course. However, I feel like I’ve now got a solid starting point.

Finding the Time to Write

Nothing profound is going to be said here. No suggestions, tips, or ideas for organizing one’s time or how to put it to better use. One can’t find the time to do something when there is more to do than time to do it. Such is the reality of the homesteading lifestyle and that’s just the way things are; especially when the harvesting and food preservation season is in full swing. These can’t be postponed or put on hold. If they aren’t done as needed, then the crop is a waste.

I’m not complaining, mind you, because this is what I chose. But I am lamenting that there isn’t a little more time available to be creative. Now that late summer has arrived with autumn soon to follow, things will start to slow down a bit and I’ll feel like I’ve got a little breathing room with my time. The fall garden must still be planted (if it isn’t too hot), and there is a long to-do list. But the to-do list is ongoing, so this time of year is when I start to look for chunks of time to spend writing.

I have several things composing in my head, and I even find a few minutes here and there to jot down ideas. But I need a good chunk of time to let the words flow. I get snippets of inspiration, but organizing them into something sensible needs mental preparedness and concentration. Writing is work.

I’ve toyed with the idea of participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but hesitate. 50,000 words in 30 days is a big commitment. Then too, am I really a fiction writer? I have ideas, but …

Anyway, looking forward to cooler days and less to do. Looking forward to my writing season.

I’m a Bad Author Blogger

A very bad author blogger. I’ve written many a post in my head, but none of them have made their way to this blog. Maybe it’s because it’s the busy outdoor time of year, or because I spend my computer time writing posts for my homesteading blog, or because I lost so most of my current writing project when my old hard drive died. Or maybe because there’s no pressure to keep fresh content before my slim Building A Book readership. (Thank you to those who do take the time to read and comment!) I should have at least posted about Prepper’s Livestock Handbook being available!

That’s my biggest news, that Prepper’s Livestock Handbook is now in print! As excited as I am about that, I confess that it was a lot of work, especially as we got close to the deadline. It was a relief to get it done and switch gears for awhile to focus on other things. Those other things have mostly been the garden, the goats, building the new goat barn, and making a rotational grazing plan. Also a little time to pursue the odd hobby or two. Even so, I’m always writing in my head.

Other good news is that fellow homesteading author Anna Hess has asked me to write a sidebar piece for the second edition of her The Naturally Bug-Free Garden. I’m truly honored to be doing so and have always appreciated Anna’s help in the promotion of my own books.

Mental work has begun on my next book. I’d like to do a sequel to 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. Dan and I have learned so much since that book was published. We’ve been steadfast in working toward our self-sufficiency goal, and in ways I never dreamed possible when I first published 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. As one might expect, there have been ups, downs, and learning curves, and I’d like to share them all with others on the journey. I’m just in the outline stage, but hopefully I’ll have that figured out soon so when the garden harvest slacks off in autumn, I’ll be ready to hit the keyboard.

eBooks. New volumes to my Little Series of Homestead How-Tos have pretty much been on hold for the past year as I’ve worked on Prepper’s Livestock Handbook. Then when I had problems with Paypal, I unpublished all of my books on Smashwords, because Paypal was how I was paid my royalties. However, I recently changed that payment option, so they are available there once again. I have ideas for several new additions to this series, so stay tuned for that.

In other eBook news, I have permanently unpublished my Critter Tales Series eBooks but will continue to keep the Critter Tales paperback on the market. Turning it into an eBook series was something of an experiment, but for the interested reader the paperback is the better bargain.

I think that about wraps up my author update. Hopefully I won’t be so long with the next one.

10,000 Words Too Many

I was so relieved to return my manuscript to the publisher with all the corrections they had asked for. I’ve been tied to my computer with this project for months now. And while I love the project and am happy to be part of it, it has taken a lot of time. As a full time homesteader, there isn’t that much time to spare on other things! It isn’t like self-publishing where one can say, ‘there’s always next year.’

So about a week or so after I returned the corrected document, I get it back with a note asking if I could please trim it down by about 10,000 words. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because I knew I was over my word budget. The contract calls for 40,000 to 50,000 words and I had given them 60,000!

I have no complaints about my editor. This was the third go-through and all previous suggestions had been helpful. She had more suggestions this time and also told me that she had a few more ideas for reorganization of the material, but she wanted me to see what I could do first. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. If I can economize on words myself that’s good, but being able to keep it in my own voice is even better. I’ve worked with editors in the past that by the time they were done, it didn’t sound like it was written by me! So I appreciate being given the chance to keep the work “mine” as much as possible.

So I’ll be tied to my computer at least through the middle of next week when I’m supposed to return the manuscript again. Not sure when publication is supposed to take place, but hopefully we’re getting close.