Wheels of Words

As a beginner, or even sometimes as an experience author, you might be unsure on how to approach a new project. At those times, it’s usually a good idea to get back to the basics. There are several options to refresh and brush up your writing skills. You could go to your favourite author’s blog and check out her advice for starting out, or join the National Novel Writing Month – affectionately called NaNoWriMo in the community – or you could sign up for a class.

I actually like to go with a combination of possibilities: I’m signed up to Writer’s Digest (http://www.writersdigest.com/) and get their newsletters which sometimes yields just the right amount of motivation to get me back on my writing horse, especially if given writing prompts. After all, practice makes perfect, so actually writing something is always a good start.

In November, I am usually in full writing mode, because the NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) challenges me to put 50,000 words to paper in a month. The goal in NaNoWriMo is neither structure nor form, but to build up discipline as a writer. After all, as a dedicated writer, you should write at least one to two hours a day. If you are stuck on your novel, then write in your journal, for your blog or start a short story. Anything goes as long as you employ your writing skills in a productive way. Since it is not November, or more specifically NaNoWriMo month, every month I usually set my own word count goals for the rest of the year. 

And finally to get my head back on straight concerning process and basics without having to pay a lot of money, I look for online courses on creative writing. One of my recent finds is the “Writing Creatively: Fiction” course offered by the Open University via iTunes U. It is free and features interviews with best-selling authors talking about their experiences and motivation as writers. It’s a great opportunity for new writers to get their feet wet and ideal for reflection for the experienced writer. I really enjoyed the course. 

On that note, I hope you are ready to jump into your next writing adventure ;)

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Being of the digital generation scrapbooking goes beyond arranging pictures, art work and comments on the pages of an album. Next to high resolution photos, my travel and life experiences are also captured on HD film. Each holiday has its own travel mix stored away on my mp3 player, melodies and catchy tunes tightly tied into my memories. To capture the whole experience for my family and friends, I go one step further and create video scrapbooks. One of the easiest ways to combine music, videos and pictures in one format is the video editing platform animoto.com. While Windows Media Player is also an option, the choice of designs and the music as well as video editing is easier on animoto. The only offline programme I know which lives up to animoto’s quality standard is iMovie by Apple. However, that software is only available for Mac.

Compared to iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, which are software packages, animoto.com is an online video editing platform accessible by subscription. Yet, animoto allows you to create and download free 30 seconds videos, which is a great way to test their product. Furthermore, it is a cheap, but high quality video editing options for short personal or promotion videos.

Video Scrapbooking Made Simple

I will guide you through creating your first 30-seconds-video. For now, we will only use photos and comments. 


My project for today: My trip to Ireland in 2006.

Step 1: Sign up with animoto.com
Simply sign up for an account on animoto.com or sign in with your facebook account.

Step 2: Choose your video style
Click on Create Video and choose one of the design styles – take a look at the sample video to get an impression of the final product.

Step 3: Open the editing window
Click on ‘make a 30-seconds-video for free’ and the editing window will open.

Step 4: Upload your photos
Up to 12 pictures fit in a 30-seconds-video. However, each comment you add replaces one picture. You can easily rearrange the order of the photos by simply clicking and dragging them.

Step 5: Add your comments
By clicking on ‘Add Text’ you can add a slide with a 22-sign header and 30-sign text block which will be added at the beginning, end or after the photo currently marked in the editing window. You can once again easily change the position of the text slide by clicking on it and dragging it into the right position.

Step 6: It’s time for some music
Click on ‘Add music’ and select an appropriate background tune. If you can’t find anything fitting in the online library, just upload your own mp3 from your computer. This time I went for BELIEVE by Windsor Drive in the classical section, it put me in a chipper mood.

Step 7: Name your project
Simply click on the ‘Edit’ button next to ‘Untitled Project’ in the upper left corner and add your own title.

Step 8: Convert your project
Just click on ‘Produce Video’. This could take a minute or two.

Step 9: Check your video
You can re-edit the video, if you need, to by clicking on ‘My videos’ in the top bar.

Step 10: Download your video to your desktop and enjoy.

I hope you will have fun video scrapbooking the photos, films and music mixes from your next travel adventure, a party with friends, the biggest snowball fight of the winter or a family pick nick.

One last tip: 30-seconds-videos from animoto also make great greeting, Christmas or birthday cards for friends and family.

Have fun being creative!
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Time to make a contribution to the Wheel of Writing, too! Vivienne has asked me to talk about corpora - a tool for writers, language learners and certainly those who want to explore language and its many facets.

The word corpus derives from Latin meaning 'body'. Quite simply, a corpus is a collection of texts of written or spoken language. They give information about how language works. There are many different kinds of corpora and therefore there are many different ways of how corpora are used. Some contain texts of a particular type such as academic articles or newspaper editorials etc. and one can investigate this particular type of language. Others are called learner corpora as they contain texts produced by language learners. They can be used – among other things – to find out how the language of learners differs from the language of native speakers and what problems learners encounter when leanring a language. This information can be used for instance to improve textbooks. 
Why should we use corpora? For non-natives, they can be useful to see how native speakers use language in a wide variety of text. For instance, corpora can be very useful to explore aspects such as collocation. Collocations are common word combinations or words that regularly occur together such as vitally important or painfully clear. There are different kinds of combinations: adjective + noun (regular exercise), verb + adverb (whisper softly), verb + noun (make progress) etc.. Native Speakers intuitively use the correct collocations, but for language learners collocations can be difficult to learn because “collocations rules” don't really exist. But collocations will make the language sound more natural, and corpora are one way of finding out about them. 
I want to introduce two online portals which I found very useful: The Corpus of Contemporary American English http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/ and the COCA-based website http://www.wordandphrase.info/

Freely available to everyone, the Corpus of Contemporary American English contains more than 425 million words of text (can be transcripts of conversations, novels, magazines, newspapers, academic article and many more). 
At the most basic level, you can just search for specific words or phrases and check out a list of all matching strings, or a chart display that shows the frequency of the word in five areas (spoken, fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, and academic journals), or you can search for collocations. As this corpus is pretty complex and for those who have never used a corpus before possibly complicated, I recommend using the wordandphrase.info website first and I'll briefly explain how to use it. 
As an example, I typed in the word knowledge in the box and pressed search. What you'll then see is for instance a definiton of the word knowledge ('the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning') and below words that collocate with knowledge (eg. to acquire knowledge, to gain knowledge ...). You can also find out how often the word knowledge is used in particular areas (spoken, fiction, magazine, newspaper, academic). Out of a total of 54438 hits, the word knowledge is used 35257 times in academic context, and only 3607 times in spoken language. There is also an area where you' ll find synonyms of the word knowledge and probably the most important thing on the page: a chart with sentences containing the word knowledge. This chart is useful as one can at once see the words that regularly surround the words knowledge. 
Certainly, this was just a very brief introduction, there is much more to discover! If you need help, both websites provide Guided Tours through the site explaining the most important aspects and features. 
For those who wonder what writers can do with corpora, I think that Vivienne will have the answer for you in one of her next posts. In the meantime, good luck with your Corpus investigations.

By the way, as I have been talking a lot about language learning, in case you haven't come across it already: a great website for learners is the BBC Learning English portal, where you can learn and practise English:

Davies, Mark. (2008-) The Corpus of Contemporary American English: 425 million words, 1990-present. Available online at http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/. 
Hunston, Susan: Corpora in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002. pp. 3-23.

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Have you ever felt like the scene you were reading was practically jumping off the page?

I did, especially when the text passages invoked a string of images in my mind which set the atmosphere and make the character or scene more colourful, more realistic, more tangible. A lot of that vividness is achieved by a careful choice of words which introduce an underlying theme into a paragraph or action sequence. However, in order to pick the right words to create a theme, you need to have a big pool of vocabulary at your fingertips. 

Take the following passage for example:

Scalding heat seared through her body. In a gasp, dry air blazed its way to her lungs, setting her chest on fire. Trying to escape the scorching shock of agony, Myrna started awake. Ripping open her eyes, they burned with tears as she fought to make sense of the flames consuming her.

Example by Vivienne

The theme here is fire as a representation of pain. You find different word classes working together to conjure up the image:

Nouns: heat, fire, flames
Verbs: seared, blazed, burned
Adjectives: scalding, scorching

However, it has to be noted that sometimes one or two well-placed words are enough to set the theme. This example is aimed at demonstrating the possibilities and leans toward an overdose of fire-related words. Consequently, the impression of flames consuming Marla nearly overrides their association with burning pain in the reader’s mind.

Still, I think it is very important as a writer not only to research facts, habits, cultural intricacies and character quirks, but also the vocabulary that goes with those topics or images that are closely related to the scene you would like to set. In the end, it is these associations, made through vocabulary, choice that make up a big part of an author’s style in terms of descriptive writing. The vocabulary serves to invoke a vivid image in the reader’s mind, making a scene or character more tangible and imbuing it with its own flavour.

If you want to spice up your own writing synonym dictionaries like the Thesaurus can be a great help - www.thesaurus.com. Just try yourself out and play with your words! Another interesting option is the Urban Dictionary - http://www.urbandictionary.com/ - especially if you want to experiment with a character’s voice or bring some street-flavour into your scenery descriptions. When you write in a first person perspective such vocabulary choices can go a long way in drawing the reader into your world.

I hope you have fun creating your own images and worlds. And I’m curious, what’s the most memorable image you can remember? 


Photo Credit to unserkachelofen.at

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Today I want to talk about a film which I have seen recently and which has touched me deeply. I am talking about BARAKA by Ron Fricke, which was released in 1992. Baraka is a non-verbal film, so totally dialogue-free. Additionally, it doesn't have any actors, a plot, or a script. The focus is on the images and the music.

Filmed in 24 countries around the world (eg. Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey USA and many more) the images show some of the most stunning, but also most disturbing parts of nature and human life: On the one hand, we can admire natural landscapes, volcanoes, water falls, scintillating stars or indigenous people dancing. You can basically indulge in the beauty life has to offer. On the other hand, we see rapid urban life, images of poverty and are witnesses of destruction of nature. The visual power of each and every image is absolutely amazing as well as the detail in every shot.

Having read quite a number of reviews, I know that Baraka is not a film for everyone. While many viewers found the film an exceptional, humbling experience or even a spiritual journey and meditation, some were criticising the lack of dialogue, some found it boring, and for others the images were pretty disturbing at times, which is definitely true. They are thought-provoking images, but at the same time they make us think and talk about the topics they depict, which is a good thing.

Regardless of the many different views, the film was a great experience for me and I hope I can interest others to watch it, too.

If you want to find out more about the film, here's a link to the website:

An interview with director Ron Fricke can be found on the following page. Fricke, for example, explains why he chose not to include words in his film or what he sought to convey with Baraka:

If you have any thoughts about the film that you want to share please feel free to do so!

All the best,


PS. This image is taken from http://www.spiritofbaraka.com/
© Copyright 2001 - 2011 SpiritOfBaraka.com

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2011 is slowly coming to an end and we would like to take this opportunity to wish our blog readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We know that some of you might not celebrate Christmas, but we want to wish you a wonderful time, too, because we just cannot let this time of year go unnoticed ;)

Appropriate to the occasion Judith included a small clip, taken from the British sitcom “Yes Minister”, one of her favourite British shows. The section shows Sir Humphrey Appleby wishing his MP Jim Hacker Merry Christmas in his very own way. Here's the transcript, hopefully faultless. Judith gave it her best shot ...

“I wonder if I might crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by no means disagreeable obligation which has, over the years, become more or less established practice within government circles as we approach the terminal period of the year - calendar, of course, not financial - in fact not to put too fine a point on it, Week Fifty-One and submit to you, with all appropriate deference, for your consideration at a convenient juncture, a sincere and sanguine expectation - indeed confidence - indeed one might go so far as to say hope that the aforementioned period may be, at the end of the day, when all relevant factors have been taken into consideration, susceptible to being deemed to be such as to merit a final verdict of having been by no means unsatisfactory in its overall outcome and, in the final analysis, to give grounds for being judged on mature reflection to have been conducive to generating a degree of gratification which will be seen in retrospect to have been significantly higher than the general average.”

We wish you a wonderful Christmas season and a Happy New Year

Judith and Vivienne

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Last Friday I caught my first night train bound for Dresden. After 8 ½ hours in a cell-like waggon cabin and very little sleep, my family and I arrived bleary-eyed at the Dresden Main Station. Catching a tram, we rather quickly located our hotel, dumped our luggage, indulged in a cup of black milk coffee and were ready to start exploring just as the lazy winter sun peaked over the horizon. Perfect light to take pictures! As we strolled along the Elbe River, we admired the baroque skyline of Dresden in the first rays of daylight. 

The beautiful baroque-style buildings were cast into breath-taking relief as the glass dome of the Academy for Visual Arts and the impressive Frauenkirche reached into the sky. However, not all buildings are actually as old as their architecture suggests. A bombing by the Allied Forces in March 1945 destroyed great parts of Dresden, killing 35.000 people in a matter of hours. For days the city was on fire, firestorms of up to 1000°C razing through the streets. Rebuilding efforts after the war were slow as people were undecided on whether to restore the former baroque character of the city or to replace the ruins with modern buildings. Thankfully, the preservation committee won out and the baroque monuments were rebuilt or renovated. 

Consequently, Dresden boasts such architectural jewels as the Augustus Bridge, the Frauenkirche, the Taschenbergpalais, the Semper Opera House and the Residenzschloss. Each of these buildings holds its own unique history reminding visitors of Dresden’s glory times under Friedrich August I (1694-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, instead of the horrors of World War II. Nevertheless the fire of 1945 will never be forgotten. 

Of the sights we visited on the first day, I liked best the “Canaletto”-View which is a panorama point letting visitor’s see baroque Dresden through the same lense as Bernardo “Canaletto” Belotto when he painted his famous view of Dresden in 1765. However, simply strolling through the Altstadt of Dresden feels like a journey back into the 18th century with little indication of the fact that one is actually strolling through a restored 20th century baroque city quarter.   
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