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About Writing Right: The Blog


The question arose the other day as to whether or not someone can take public-domain photos, use them in an original piece pf art, and then copyright that art piece in the creator's name.


It's an interesting situation with an answer every bit as intriguing. But, first, let me preface this with a statement of fact: "Now, I'm no scientist or medical doctor." Nor, for that matter, an attorney.


However, with that out of the way, my understanding—and the only one that makes sense here—is that you can use copyright-free images anyway you like, which you already know. Toward that end, if you manipulate, combine, or otherwise morph those images into a finished product that's completely different from the copyright-free imagery with which you began, you can copyright your finished creation so that it can't be appropriated legally without your permission.


Think of a photomontage. That's a group of two or more separate photographs joined in some fashion into a single work of art through manipulation of one type or another, often via soft edges, overlapping, multiple exposures, warping the imagery, etc. Although the individual images may be copyright free (and, therefore, nothing you can copyright), if you create a brand new multi-image or manipulated-image creation from those original images, you're entitled to copyright your new work. It's unique, it's exclusively yours, and it can't be used by anyone else for commercial purposes without your authorization. The original public-domain photos would remain in the public domain, of course. You can't assume ownership of them. But you can assume ownership of your original, new creation based upon them. Read More 

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Someone the other day asked if it's allowable to have mistakes in grammar as long as your reader understands what you're saying. I was shocked at the overwhelming number of replies. I was even more surprised at the voluminous amount of misinformation people provided. Here's how I responded.

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I'm afraid that what some respondents to your question have overlooked is the very basic meaning of the word "mistakes." That was the crux of your question. Comparing authors who make grammatical mistakes with those who intentionally misuse grammatical references or structure misses the point entirely. Intentional use of incorrect or improper grammar is not a mistake; it's deliberate. Mistakes are the misuse of proper grammar by not understanding what constitutes proper grammar.


With that out of the way, the only answer to your question is a resolute No! The reasons are numerous, from making yourself sound like a complete, doddering idiot to conveying your lack of qualifications for writing anything at all. But, most of all, the reason for avoiding grammatical errors is that grammar usage rules were formalized eons ago to help people communicate with one another. Groups of people. Lots of people. People from all educational and social backgrounds. When one person learns why he should use "this" in a sentence while using "that" somewhere else, it's a given that everyone who has been similarly schooled in proper grammatical usage will understand that writer's meaning. There's less likelihood of misinterpretation. You know: fewer fistfights in the streets, fewer wars in the homeland. Read More 

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When an inexperienced novelist who was stuck midway through his book asked me that question recently, I thought the universe would be in lock-step with an answer. I was wrong. I keep hoping that, sooner or later, everyone who rushes forward with a response to writers in need will recognize a responsibility to answer with the truth. I'm still hoping. Meanwhile, here's what I ultimately wrote that writer in response.

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You've received two answers so far, and both of them are horrendous.


First, writing courses are not better than editorial work. Nothing beats on-the-job training and experience, if you're good enough to get it. Obviously, the respondent who suggested the superiority of writing courses to editorial experience wasn't.


Second, even if there are "a lots of" [sic] online schools now, that doesn't mean you'll learn anything from them. Including how to proofread your material before publishing it.


Third, a "good critique group" isn't hard to find; it's nearly impossible. Too many egos spoil the plot. If you find a "good" critique group and want to join, fine. But, it will never take the place of one-on-one mentoring and professional training. Read More 

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Well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, if you're asking that question, you'd best ignore advice from wannabe "experts" who advise you to choose that "electric" spot, or opt for that "creative" locale, or choose the place that drives your creativity. Even though, offhand, I'd say that St. Lucia sounds nice. Or maybe Bermuda.


Ahh, but, let's get back to square one. If you're asking that question, I'm guessing you want to know where other writers like to write so that you might get some ideas for yourself. Yes, no, maybe so? Regardless, I have some very distinct opinions on the subject.


First, I like to write wherever there's a computer with a word-processing program loaded on it (preferably, MS Word for several reasons, but we won't get into that here). That's numero uno. Outside of that, my writing locale can be indoors or out, at home or away, in a hotel room (five-star, please, with some Moet Chandon chilling in the bucket) or on the beach.


I know that may sound confusing. But, here's the real deal. I don't have an obvious preference because I'm a professional writer of more than five decades' experience. When I was a kid just starting out as a wunderkind novelist of fourteen, I had to write at home in my own little "space." There was no alternative. That's where my inspiration lay. That was the only place for me that would do. Read More 

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Every now and then, I get a question I can hardly believe. I recently had just such a memorable experience. Someone asked how much time your should devote to a horrendously boing book. Seem like a reasonable question at first glance, right? Here's what I replied, along with a couple other forum members.

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It's nice to see that at least two of the respondents to your question are clairvoyant. I'm not blessed with such a rare gift. So, I'm going to suggest that, in the future, rather than throwing a question out and walking away from it (and a question with no real answer, by the way, because you're asking something about yourself to which only you can reply), you think your questions through more thoroughly, word them more precisely, and review them more carefully before posting.


Now, how much time you should give a devastatingly boring book depends upon you, of course. But it also depends upon whether you're talking about reading it or writing it. You never say.


If you're asking about reading it, and if you were asking me how much time I'd spend on it (which you're not), I'd say a page-and-a-half max. Life is too short to waste on crap, no matter how worthwhile the subject matter might be. If you're asking about writing it, and if I were the author, I'd say the answer to that would depend upon how much promise I feel the book has and how much patience and talent I possess to turn it into a great work of literature, either fiction or nonfiction. Again, you fail to specify, and that might well make a difference. Read More 

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Somebody ask me this question awhile ago, and I thought it interest enough to delve into. Here's my response:

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Now, you have me thinking back to when I actually did have a favorite time for writing. That was quite a few decades ago when I first began pounding out (on an old Underwood typewriter) my first novel, and I'd start about ten at night and write through the evening until my father woke up to go to work at six the following morning and stared at me, amazed. "What time did you get up?" Of course, I glowed in self-admiration at being able to tell him that I didn't and that I'd been working through the night on my novel. Having discovered me working through the night, I thought, made him realize how serious I was about this whole writing deal I had recently discovered. It also made me believe I was cut out to be a famous, long-suffering novelist and artiste. I was fourteen.


I gave up that nonsense sometime before I reached the age of maturity, which for me was around thirty. Or, more likely, when I got my first real writing job as a suburban Chicago newspaper stringer. That's when I learned the reality of having to write under the pressure of unyielding deadlines. Writing on demand, in effect. That realization was enforced during my years in college where I majored in journalism. An instructor would set up a story, pull out his stopwatch, and tell us to "Go!" Fifteen minutes later, he'd tell us to "Stop!" What we accomplished in between pretty much determined our grades for the semester.


What I'm saying in a round-about but oh, so endearing fashion is that professional writers don't have a favorite time of day to write. Or even a favorite way of spelling "favourite." (Oh, you Brits, always adding extra letters when you should be subtracting them.) Professional writers don't wait until the spirit moves them, until the hands on the clock reach a certain position, or until someone shouts "Go!" They write when they need to, which includes (of course) when they want to. Read More 

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Here's something I came across on the Internet the other day. Someone had actually created a "cheat sheet" for writing. Why? "For myself," he said. "All the information is available via Google and or classes. My goal is to create a reference go-to-document." Then, he listed the cheat sheet URL, which I'll spare you. Here's my response.

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From what I see, your "cheat sheet" isn't about writing; it's about writing Deep Point-of-View, which is a substantially more limited subject than your question implies. Also, the examples you present in your "cheat sheet" aren't well written. Not at all. Many of them are good examples of how not to write. Also, your explanations of the examples you give aren't always very clear, pertinent, or accurate. (And, of course, you need to clean up your typos.) I don't think any of these tips are things you should be impressing upon other writers, particularly less experienced and knowledgeable ones. Apart from that, I have a question for you.


What on earth are you doing to yourself as a writer? Or, rather, what aren't you doing? You sound as if you're an academician whose goal is to compartmentalize certain aspects of writing "rules" for regurgitation to a few dozen students in a classroom at some point down the line. If that's the case, I can see why you'd value something such as your "cheat sheet." Otherwise, I can't. In fact, I can see it doing more harm than good for serious beginning writers. Far more! Read More 

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