Practicing Writing

rogersgeorge on April 7th, 2016

I had a conversation recently with someone who expressed interest in writing (Hi, Mia!). One thing that came out of the conversation was the value of having someone read what you write. Here are a few sites where a writer can post something they write and have others read and comment. The internet has a pile of places like these but here are seven that I looked at and they seem to be okay, with good terms of service. Free, too. The sites generally have extensive forum sections.


I’ve posted a handful of poetry here over the years. They encourage positive comments. Like about everyplace else, they have a paid membership option; well, two. Six dollars a month and 15 dollars a month. The free membership has unobtrusive ads and a requirement that you comment on the work of others. The site has a nice look and lots of options for managing your account.


This site just revamped their interface, and it looks nice. It’s aimed at more or less finished work, but you don’t have to have much experience to put something on the site. The ads are unobtrusive and all publishing related. It includes a forum section for discussions. I didn’t see a way to pay for a membership.


This one is for people interested in fantasy and science fiction, and it caters to both writers and artists. What caught my eye was a Tutorial menu with an item named How to Write. As far as I saw, the tutorials give background information, such as types of space vehicles, not grammar or story construction.

I can’t resist making a comment about language. I saw this in their FAQ page:

If a story violates one of the criterias in the Elfwood terms of service it may be removed. This includes language that is racist, abusive, deceptive, profane, slanderous, offensive, or inappropriate, including explicit pornography. All stories that are removed are left with a comment.

Note the word criterias. “Criteria” is becoming a singular! You know that criteria is a plural, and the singular is criterion. At least they didn’t write “criterions.” Sigh.

Critique Circle

This one has a complicated free membership setup in which you earn credits by making critiques of other people’s writing. Earn three credits and you can post your own. You can also buy memberships and get credits faster.


A well-designed site that has completely free membership, apparently. At least I couldn’t see a way to send them money. No ads that I saw, either. You do have to register to make submissions, and they have lots of categories of fiction and poetry.


Flashy front page. Lots of pictures of covers for the contributions (to make them look like books) and about three dozen categories for contributions. You have to sign up to be able to post stories. They encourage you to invite others to join, and you get badges for degrees of participation. The contribution page is a basic word processing window; I presume you can paste previously-written text into it. I didn’t see anything involving money.


This one has lots of ads, but I’m including it because of the tutorial section. One of the types of tutorials (tutorial is one of their writing categories) is “Writing.” Judging from what I looked at, they look pretty good. The site apparently expects you to create your contribution on your own, then upload the file. It looks like the only place you can get critiques on your writing is in the forums.

Well, there you have seven possibles out of many. Google something like “sites for beginning writers” to find a lot more.


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More writing rules

rogersgeorge on May 12th, 2012

These rules are from a fellow I had never heard of, David Ogilvy. I found these on a site called Brain Pickings, in an article by Maria Popova.  The site is pretty interesting—go check it out. Here’s the list of writing rules:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

I put in a link to the book in rule 1. If you click the link and buy the book, I’ll get a pittance from Amazon. If you go Brain Pickings and click their link, they’ll get the pittance.

Be careful with rule 2—people talk messily, and good writing is a product of reflection. I wonder if my word “pretentiousism” fits in rule 4. Rule 5: Mr. Ogilvy was writing in a business memo context, I think. I can’t imagine that he would be against books, plays, and complete instructions. Rule 6 is just plain being responsible. You can generalize rule 7 to anything you write. That fish poem I wrote a couple posts back went through a good twenty revisions over at least four days. I like rule 10. Not being there in person one a minor problem of distributed teams: We can’t go stand over someone who is slow to respond.

David Ogilvy

Absolutes and ranges

rogersgeorge on March 16th, 2010

Have you ever seen a help-wanted ad for a sales job that said something like “make up to $50,000 or more the first year!” Here’s a cousin to that ad: “…and save at least 10 to 20% of the energy demand and costs…”

How can you have up to something, and then have more? Semantically, you can’t.  Sure, an expression like what’s in that job ad sounds good, but if you’re trying to tell the (ahem) truth, don’t write like that.

Expressions such as “up to,” “at least,” “no more (less) than,” and “as few (many) as” are all absolutes. They describe the end of a range. And the end, dear fellow mathematicians, is a point. So don’t put a range there.

Or don’t use an absolute—stick with the range. That want ad could have said “our best salesperson (note the choice of non-sexist term) made $50,000 last year, but he could have earned more.” (Or less truthfully perhaps, but also semantically correct, “our salespeople frequently earn more than $50,000.”)

How about the energy savings? Write something like “the low average of energy saved is in the 10 to 20% range.”

Getting absolutes and ranges right is a slightly advanced technique because you have to think about what you’re saying. The next post will mention a slightly more advanced technique. You’ll have to think harder.

What do you think? Make a comment, or if you don’t know what to think, take a look at the free document mentioned in the sign-up form on the right.

Those little horizontal lines matter

rogersgeorge on November 18th, 2009

We commonly use three little horizontal lines in English: the hyphen, the N-dash, and the M-dash. Some people say we use hyphens and dashes, but I prefer the increased precision of saying two dashes. They’re named for how wide they are, by the way; the width of a capital N or a capital M.

Everybody knows what a hyphen is. You use it for compounds (see the two preceding posts), and to divide a word at the end of a line if it doesn’t fit. And a few other minor places, such as in telephone and social security numbers. You get a hyphen by pressing the key just to the left of the equals sign on your keyboard. You get an identical symbol by pressing the minus key on the numeric keypad. Technically the minus sign and hyphen are different—the  code sent by the keyboard to the computer is different for the two keys, and some fancy-dancy typesetting systems (Tex and BookMaster come to mind) distinguish between them. That’s probably more than you need to be told about hyphens.

N-dash. An N-dash is a little longer than a hyphen. Use it when you describe a range of values, such as when a store is open: 7–9. To get an N-dash: hold the Alt key down while you type 0150 on the numeric keypad, then release the Alt key. Use an N-dash, and you class up your document, and your readers won’t even know what hit them.

M-dash. An M-dash is a little longer than an N-dash. Use an M-dash to show a break in thought. In the olden days you got the equivalent of an M-dash by typing two hyphens in a row, but you can get a real M-dash with the Alt-key trick, only you type 0151 instead of 0150. Use of M-dashes is a handy indicator of sophistication in typography, and they make your writing easier to understand.

Here’s a hyphen, an N-dash, and an M-dash: -, –, —. Easy to tell the difference, eh? (I’m feeling Canadian right now.)

All this discussion leads to a gaffe in a recent headline in an article published by Ziff-Davis, of all people, that beautifully demonstrates the importance of using the correct punctuation mark. Here’s the headline:

Google Voice-Free Calling Has Arrived

Now, doesn’t that look like some way to make a call without using your voice? Read the article, however, and you discover that Google Voice is a way to make a call for free—a much different meaning, and one that certainly makes more sense. They should have written “Google Voice—Free Calling Has Arrived.”

If you want people to understand you, remember that a hyphen ties things together, an M-dash separates them.

Care to quibble or add to these short lists of what each mark does? Comment. Want to learn more about writing clearly? Get the free document on the right.

In which I rant on about hyphens

rogersgeorge on November 10th, 2009

Harrumpf! I’d expect a notable scientific  journal like the Daily Galaxy to get these things right. Especially after I so recently described how to do it. (I’m sure they read my missives regularly…)

When you have a phrase that’s used as an adjective, you hyphenate it. That way you know the first word in the phrase isn’t modifying the second word, but the words together are modifying the noun.

Here’s the example. They get it right the second time, one paragraph later, so I suspect careless proofreading.

“…we have a much better idea of how to find and recognize Earth like planets (Emphasis mine. This should be hyphenated.) outside our solar system…” said Enric Palle, of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias.

“Many discoveries of Earth-size planets (correct!) are expected in the next decades and some will orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars.”

Side note: I see they capitalize “Earth.” A century back, when I was in sixth grade, Mrs. Clemens taught us to capitalize all the planet names except earth.

Don’t get me wrong—I read their articles regularly and find them interesting and informative. But carelessness like this frosts me. If they had read and followed the little freebie I offer (see the form on the right) perhaps they would have been more careful. I recommend you take a look at it.