Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made. Go ahead, fellow Toastmasters. Consult your manuals. Check the Toastmasters International site. No, you are not crazy. The real slogan still reads Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made. But I think most Toastmasters would agree that the organization helps us to grow in a great number of ways. We become better speakers, true leaders, and in many cases, real writers. If you google the topic, you will find an assortment of articles and podcasts about it and testimonials from individual members who have become published authors. It stands to reason that Toastmasters would be beneficial to those of us looking to publicize and promote our books. But I’d like to share with you a few of the ways Toastmasters helped me with the writing process itself and allowed me to take Once in Love with Lily from a fun, little National Novel Writing Month project to a published novel.

First, crafting speeches gave me an edge when it came to structuring my story. In the beginning, I struggled with the story arc. While the action was intriguing, it lacked the proper flow. Then one day, my editor, fellow Toastmaster Eileen James, said to me, “Think about how you put together a good speech. You begin by thinking about the end. Where do you want to go with this speech or story? What is the intended ending? Now, how do you get there? Remember to tie the ending back to the beginning to satisfy the audience’s need for cohesiveness.” A novel is a bigger project than a speech, but it still has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Once I started thinking of it that way, I was able to put together a story that was grounded, but showed growth, as the characters learned real lessons.

Second, through my experiences as an evaluator, grammarian, or ah-counter, I learned to become a good listener. This can be very helpful when coming up with ideas for stories. (Consider that fair warning that anything you say can and may be used against you in a future novel!) In addition, it helps to create realistic, natural-sounding dialog. I’ve become accustomed identifying patterns of speech, accents, verbal ticks, colorful quotes or phrases. I’m not that creative after all. I could never have come up with something like “He’s all hat and no cattle.” But bits like that are the things that make characters real and, I hope, make the dialog come alive on the page.

Third, as early as project four in the Competent Communicator Manual “How to say it” we are taught to look at word choice, to choose words that paint a vivid picture and convey the most accurate visual or explanation possible. If I hadn’t known “how to say it”, I might have kept descriptions simple with something like: “As she walked down the streets of New York, she couldn’t help but notice how crowded and noisy it was.” But thanks to my Toastmasters training, I came up with this:

She headed down 8th Avenue through the throngs of people already crowding the streets. “Ah, New York,” she thought. “The honking taxis, the charming street vendors with their poached sunglasses and purses, and the faint smell of homeless that lurks just off the main drag really give it a certain je ne sais quoi.” She crossed the street against the light along with the natives, leaving a gaggle of tourists in the dust. (Excerpt from Once in Love with Lily by Cathryn K. Thompson)

Which example did the better job of transporting you to the streets of NYC? Of course, the second example would be pretty wordy for a typical 5-7 minute manual speech, but in a novel there is room to elaborate.

I can’t say that Toastmasters has taught me much about romance. There is a code of ethics to contend with, after all. But it certainly has helped me to hone my writing skills, to tell a story with a goal or lesson, to depict true-to-life characters and conversations, and to choose the best way to say it when it comes to setting the scene or conveying emotions. I never knew I had an author in me. Maybe you do too. You never know when or where inspiration will strike. When it does, Fellow Toastmasters,  take advantage of your already vast experience. Write it down. Develop it. Tell your own story. Even if you have to publish it under an assumed name! Show the world what Toastmasters has done for you.  If you’re not a Toastmaster, visit a club near you and experience it for yourself. Toastmasters: Where Leaders… and Authors… Are Made.

Bitterman, Party of One!

Recently, a fellow I was following on Twitter (who shall remain nameless) posted a comment that went something like this: “To all of you Grammar Nazis out there…if you are going to bash an indie novel for typos you might as well criticize the big ones too.” He then included a link to his blog that detailed all of the errors that could be found in the Harry Potter Series. For example, in one chapter, the snake blinks, and that’s impossible because snakes don’t have eyelids. I instantly took issue with his concept and was forced to unfollow him. Why? If you haven’t already taken issue with it yourself, allow me to explain.

First of all, I will admit, that I am a bit of a grammar “Nazi” myself. I’m rather proud of that fact, though I do find the term “Nazi” to be offensive. Not only does it refer to a group of truly evil individuals, but the term, when applied to grammar, implies that anyone who actually cares about the proper usage is somehow evil or inappropriate.

In addition to being a stickler for proper grammar, I am a lover of words who tends to choose them carefully, so as to paint the most vivid and accurate picture possible. When you claim grammar, typos, and content errors are all the same, I think it paints a very clear picture of the type of writer you are. I’m just not sure it’s the picture I’d want everyone to see.

For the benefit of Mr. X, the following sentence contains a grammar error:

If I was you, I would not cast stones.

(The word “was” should be replaced by the word “were” as this is technically the subjunctive mood, even though pop artists don’t believe in such a thing. Just ask Clay Aiken who sang “If I Was Invisible.)

The following is an example of a typo:

If I wer you, I would not cast stones.

(I obviously mistyped the word “were”. It is a typographical error and is therefore called a typo.)

The fact that Harry Potter’s list of school supplies listed a wand as both the first and last items is neither of the above. It is a content error just like the blinking snake. And for that matter, how do we know Harry didn’t need a spare in case of a magic wand malfunction? And what if the mythical snakes created in a land of wizardry actually do have eyelids?

I’ll stop there before I even get started on the fact that none of info on Mr. X’s blog post was actually original except for the note at the beginning, unless of course Mr. X also wrote the entire Wiki page on Harry Potter errors himself. I imagine I may have made a few enemies with this post already and by now some of you are wondering what exactly my point was in the first place.

Here it is:

Like it or not, indie authors are held (and should be held, in my opinion) to same standards as any other by consumers. They do not get a free pass just because they chose to do the many jobs of the publishing house all by themselves. We still expect readers to pay for indie published novels the same as they do any other. As paying customers, they are entitled to their opinions on content and quality of writing. If you’re going to be bitter because you were given a one or two star review based on grammar and/or typos, you may wish to invest in a better editor prior to publishing. What’s more, if you don’t even know that there is a difference between a grammar error and a typo, my guess is you may have other issues with your writing that could also be cause for such a review.

Having said all of that, I want to make something very clear. I am an indie author. My novel is not perfect. I found a “typo” in it myself last weekend. I’m sure there are other errors that I have not found. I can only hope that after years of work and multiple editors they are not glaring or numerous. Still, if a reader doesn’t like what I’ve written, I must weigh their comments and decide if their negative opinions are due to something I can fix or prevent, or if they are just that: opinions. Literature is about creating a story that will take readers on a journey. A good story will evoke emotions, good or bad. If my readers are moved to tears, I want it to be because of the drama and not due to the egregious misuse of the English language.

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