A Farewell to Penna Scriptum

As of this month, Penna Scriptum is no longer in business. Thank you to my clients, and apologies to those who have requested quotes.

After trying my hand at self-employment for 18 months, I’ve realised that I’m making my health worse and my situation no better. Poor health and boundless optimism can be a dangerous combination. Still, I expect I’ll be up and trying something new before the end of the year. And this time, this time, it will really work out. Probably. Maybe.

A (Re-)Introduction to Plover Steno

Machine stenography is something I’ve been interested in for ages, but never got around to learning. A few years ago, I discovered Plover, and The Open Steno Project, and got myself the software, hardware, and self-paced lessons. Then I got distracted by other things, and (again) never put in the time to actually learn to use it.

I did learn the basics – the order of the keys, and how to make all the sound combinations, but without regular practice, I couldn’t get much use out of what I knew. Head-knowledge will only take you so far with steno; what I really needed was muscle memory.

All sound combinations for steno (Plover theory, English)

And that’s the goal for next week – to have run drills every day, and started to develop the same sort of ‘instincts’ with steno that I already have with touch typing.

Why Learn Steno?

I can already type, so why take the time to learn a different way of typing? Mirabai Knight makes a compelling case for steno in this series, but I’m mostly interested in two: speed and ergonomics. As a writer, I am in favour of anything that improves the thoughts-to-page flow, and as a transcriptionist it would be great to be able to work without having to constantly hit pause on the audio. But the ergonomic argument has to be my number one reason for wanting to switch to steno. Even now, at the tender age of 36, I’m starting to notice pain in my wrists and hands when typing. There is also a history of arthritis and carpal tunnel in my family, so you can see why I’m concerned. The best thing would have been for my to switch to steno five years ago. The next best thing is to switch now – and that means running drills every day for the next three months, and using steno for everyday typing as soon as I can.

This post was written using qwerty, and the next few will be, too. But I hope to be composing at least some my posts in steno by the end of this month.

If you would like to learn alongside me, check out the Open Steno Project. They have a Discord chat, a Facebook group, and a very learner-friendly forum. See you there!

Commonly Confused Words: Your/You’re

After ‘there/their/they’re’, the next CCW post has to be ‘your/you’re’, doesn’t it? It’s practically a law, and we grammarians love our laws. So, without further ado, I give you:

Your/You’re

‘Your’ means ‘belonging to you’. It goes with ‘our’ and ‘my’ and ‘their’.

Examples:

  • ‘That one’s yours, and these are ours.’
  • ‘You and yours.’
  • ‘Your house is tidier than mine.’

‘You’re’ is short for ‘you are’, and goes with ‘I’m’, ‘we’re’, and ‘they’re’.

Examples:

  • ‘You’re late!’
  • ‘Which one is mine?’ ‘You’re in number 42.’
  • ‘Where am I?’ ‘You’re in a room.’ (If you recognise this line, you’re probably a child of the ’80s.)

And, of course, this old favourite:

‘You’re back!’
‘What about my back?’

Boom boom.

Sidenote: Yore/Yaw/Ewer

There are a few more words that may, depending on your accent, sound a bit like your/you’re.

  • Yore means ‘the distant past’. Only really seen now in the phrase ‘days of yore’.
  • Yaw is a aeronautical term, and refers to one of the three axes of aircraft: roll, pitch, and yaw.
  • Ewer is an old word for a type of ornate water jug.

If you have suggestions for a future ‘Better English’ post, please leave a comment. And if you want more detailed, personal help with your writing, you can always request a quote.

50/90 Begins

It’s the fourth of July, and that means one thing: 50/90 has begun! For those of you who don’t know, 50/90 is the longer, summer-time version of February Album Writing Month (FAWM). Ninety days of songwriting fun, collaborations, rough demos, and flashes of brilliance.

I first joined the FAWM community in 2010, but I’ve not been active for a couple of years. This summer, I plan to get back to once again stretch my musical muscles. And, more importantly, enjoy the work of the other songwriters. The FAWM community includes musicians and lyricists from all over the world, some of whom are bona-fide professionals. While no-one comes to the forums to show off, if you ask a question you are sure to get at least one very knowledgeable and detailed answer.

Why Songwriting?

Not because I’m good at it, that’s for sure. Such talents as I have lie more with prose than poetry, and more with words than music. But I’m a storyteller at heart, and songs are a great way to tell stories. Also, the community atmosphere of FAWM and 50/90 make it a fun place to be. No pressure, no judgement, just songs.

In my everyday life, I try hard to get things just right. I don’t often succeed, but I try. With 50/90, although I still do my best, there’s no pressure. I don’t need to produce professional-quality, flawless songs. I don’t even have to write 50 songs – I can just have fun, and learn by doing. And that’s a welcome change.


If you want to get in on the fun, 50/90 runs from the 4th of July to the 1st of October every year. Head over to http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/ to check it out.

Grammar Rules?

Understanding English grammar is hard – not just because there are lots of complicated rules, but because there are lots of complicated (and conflicting) guidelines. There isn’t one, standardised type of written English for all Anglophone countries. Instead, there are some broad principles, a few absolute rules, and lots and lots of room for personal preference.

Some people take this to mean that there are no rules, or that the rules don’t matter. Others take the personal preferences of some one person or organisation and declare these to be The Rules of English grammar. Both these approaches miss the fundamental purpose of language.

We use language to communicate. When writing (or speaking, or signing) we want to convey a message. It might be simple, factual information (‘We’re out of milk.’) or it might be a complex, layered message, loaded with subtext and emotion (‘You put an empty milk carton back in the fridge. Again.’) But whatever the message, we need to use language to send it. And language needs rules just as much as it needs vocabulary. And then there’s the third element: Style.

The Art of the Edit

English is a rich and beautiful language, with lots of room for personal style. So, when is something ‘bad grammar’, and when is it a matter of ‘personal style’? I know, for example, that some people will be unhappy about my use of ‘so’ in that last sentence. Or should that be ‘previous sentence’?

And… this is where it gets hard. Because the answer is: It depends. Depends on the writer, the intended audience, the purpose of the communication, and much more besides. Understanding English grammar goes beyond learning a list of rules, not matter how complicated. Grammar is an art as much as a science, and using it effectively is a skill like any other.

Computers can learn the rules, but even the most sophisticated software struggles to understand context. An automated grammar-checker can give you options, but it can’t explain to you which of those options is appropriate for that exact situation. A human editor can make those judgement calls more accurately. A human editor can also talk to you: to explain choices, to ask questions and listen to your answers.

This is not to say that you need to hire a paid editor for everything you write. Your editor could be a friend, neighbour, or a member of your family. It could even be you, after you’ve taken a short break from your work. I’ll be doing a whole post on ‘editing hacks’ in the future.

Remember, the whole point is to convey your message clearly. The rules are there to be guides, not guardians.


Better English posts every other Monday, sharing tips and tricks for honing your own skills. If you’d like to get direct, personal help with your writing, you can request a quote.

Commonly Confused Words: There/They’re/Their

Welcome to ‘Better English’. As promised (way back in January) I’ll be posting tips and tricks for writing better English. Some of the posts will be general advice, and others (like this one) will be about commonly confused words or phrases.

This time, we’re looking at an old favourite: there, their, and they’re.

There belongs with here and where. It’s describing a place, a moment, or an abstract (like ‘it’).

Examples:

  • Where is it? It’s over there.
  • Where have you been? Oh, here and there.
  • There are three apples here. There are two oranges over there.

They’re is just short for they are. Like I’m, you’re, we’re, etc.

Examples:

  • We’re going, but they’re not.
  • They’re glad you’re staying.
  • Are they leaving? No, they’re staying here.

Their means ‘belonging to them’, like my, your, our, etc.

Examples:

  • Their car is bigger than mine.
  • My car is cleaner than theirs.
  • Is that your car? No, it’s theirs.

There, I hope that clears up a few things. Don’t overthink the examples, they’re just a bit of fun.


If you have suggestions for a future ‘Better English’ post, please leave a comment. And if you want more detailed, personal help with your writing, you can always request a quote.

Respecting Limits

Hello, fellow lifelong learners! This week quarter I learned a thing or two about my limits; where they are, and how far I can push them. Turns out, not as far as I could when I was a teenager. Who knew?

Ambition vs Sense

I’ve lived with chronic illness for most of my life, and you’d think that by now I would now what I can and can’t do. And that might be true if not for two things: the way my illness fluctuates, and my irrepressible optimism.

The fluctuations mean that I can’t predict my pain and/or energy levels ahead of time. The smart thing to do in response to this would be to assume the worst, and plan like a pessimist. That’s where thing two comes in. It takes a lot to dampen my optimism and ambition, so my programming tends to look something like this:

  • 10 Make a new plan, one that will really work this time!
  • 20 Peak activity
  • 30 Struggle
  • 40 Crash
  • 50 Recovery
  • 60 Go to 10

I need to get better at playing the spoons.

Spoons?

If you’re not familiar with the Spoon Theory, then I encourage you to go and take a read. Go on, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Good, isn’t it? What I tend to forget is that it’s not just physical things that cost ‘spoons’. There’s also mental and emotional energy, which means that a networking event can be exhausting! As well as physically attending, I need to be alert and make conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – I like networking. It’s fun, and I get to meet loads of interesting people. But it is exhausting, and I don’t give that fact enough weight when I’m planning my day. I’d like to say ‘lesson learned’, but I suspect it’s more a question of ‘lesson taught’. It will take a few more crashes before I really learn how to colour within the lines, but at least I know how to make sure I bear the fallout, and not my clients (mostly). And, after twenty years of this, I’m good at cycling through the ‘fail’ stage quickly, and stretching the ‘activity’ stage to maximum.

So, in conclusion, I’ve learned not to push myself too hard for too long. I’ve also learned that limits are to be respected, not feared. Pushing at them is fine; smashing into them at 90 miles an hour is not.

My Visit to the UK Games Expo 2018

UKGE logo

The UK Games Expo is an annual celebration of tabletop gaming held in Birmingham every June since 2007. This year, more than 300 exhibitors and 21,500 visitors enjoyed three full days of gaming and games-related entertainment, spread over two halls of the NEC, and multiple reception rooms of the adjoining Hilton Hotel. As you can imagine, I wasn’t able to see everything there – but what I did see was great.

Double L Games had a stand where they were demonstrating their first game, Build, which lets players run their own island nations. Rogue Artist Creations was featuring Top Hats & Tretchary, a game I was lucky enough to playtest back in 2016. Play Again Productions had Metro City Meltdown, a co-operative game about managing a city hit by disaster.

On top of all this there were merchandise stalls, tournaments, live events, and (of course) cosplay. My personal favourite was Rincewind, complete with Luggage and Librarian. I’d like to show you an iconograph of the costume, but my imp ran out of red.

My Game: ‘More Tea?’

While I was there to have fun, I also had a game of my own to pitch to publishers. Unfortunately, circumstances meant that I didn’t have a playable version with me. However, I got some interest just by describing it to people, so this week I’ll be emailing out the print-and-play version to the companies that asked for it. For everyone who didn’t ask, here’s the basic idea.

‘More Tea?’ is a card game that uses a board to keep score (like Dixit, or cribbage). Most of the cards in the deck represent a topic of conversation, and the game consists of a simple ‘draw one, play one’ mechanic that lets the ‘conversation’ flow freely around the ‘tea table’.

The aim of the game is to enjoy the discussion by having your favourite topics discussed, and your least favourite topics avoided. These ‘favourite’ and ‘least favourite’ topics are drawn at random at the start of the game, and each player keeps their ‘triggers’ hidden, so that half the skill in the game is working out what other people’s hidden trigger cards might be. When a card is played that matches one of your triggers, you move either up or down the board, depending on the type.

The real challenge of ‘More Tea?’, however, lies in using your ‘interrupt’ cards wisely. There are five different types, in varying frequencies, and they have the power to block, enhance, or redirect the effect of the topic card in play. Of course, the most common ‘interrupt’ card is the eponymous ‘More tea?’ card, that lets you derail the conversation by offering everyone refreshments. After all, who doesn’t like tea?

Current Status: Brewing

‘More Tea?’ has already had over two years’ worth of development, both from me and from Spiral Galaxy Games. SGG were initially planning to publish the game themselves, but are not able to follow through on that right now. To their credit, SGG avoided entering into a contract with me once they knew that their publishing future was uncertain, and they have encouraged me to take ‘More Tea?’ elsewhere. No matter where I go from here, Spiral Galaxy Games will remain an important part of ‘More Tea?’s story.

There are all sorts of fun extras in development, too – like a combo that lets you switch one of your secret triggers, and variations for younger players and/or shorter play. Watch for more news as it becomes available, both on this blog and on social media.

Introducing ‘Beyond the Script’

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Penna Scriptum’s writing services. The answer is, of course, not a lot. Penna Scriptum is currently a one-woman show, and that means that anything I work on has a place here. Writing, game design, CPD, and even my sideline as a distributor for Wikaniko – all these things will show up on this blog, and in my social media.

To help you find what you are interested in, and only what you are interested in, I’ll be splitting my posts into categories. These are:

  • Better English (BE): Tips and tricks for improving your written English. Posted every other Monday, starting 11-June-2018.
  • This Week I Learned (TWIL): A weekly natter about anything from life lessons to professional studies. Every Friday, starting 8-June-2018.
  • Beyond the Script (BtS): Posts like this one. Contains two subcategories:
    • Eco-Aware: News and ideas for living a ‘mid-green’ life. May occasionally contain product reviews for Wikaniko. Every four weeks on a Wednesday, starting 20-June-2018.
    • Creative Work: Exactly what it sounds like. News about my creative work, ranging from game design to songwriting. Every four weeks on a Wednesday, starting… well, today.

You can subscribe to any or all of these categories by using the RSS links in the sidebar. There will also be a monthly newsletter coming soon, containing a round-up of the month’s posts. If you would like to be notified when the first issue comes out, please sign up below.

Receive the Penna Scriptum newsletter

* indicates required



This post is a lot longer than usual, so thanks for sticking with me to the end. I’ll be back on Friday with my first ‘Life Lessons’ post. Something about setting reasonable goals, probably.

Y Bova?

Penguin throwing wing up in a shrug I mean, language is always eovlving, write? The way we Comunic8 is changing, and been *correct” only matters to stuffy grammar nerds and English teachers, no wot I meen? Jus say wat you gotta say and iGnore the h8rs, who R like sad and boring loosers NEwai.

If you are fluent in English, you could probably make sense of that opening paragraph. But was it easy? Did you have to work on it to get the meaning?

When we communicate with each other, we share a lot more than words. In speech we have tone of voice, speed, and volume to help out with our meaning; in writing we have spelling, punctuation, and layout. And then there’s word-choice, grammar, and all sorts of other things that we use to suit our communication style to the occasion.

Of course, we don’t have to write perfectly all the time – just like we don’t have to speak perfectly all the time. Letters and emails to friends and family will normally be pretty casual, and no-one’s going to care about the occasional spelling mistake or punctuation error (unless it changes the meaning of the sentence, but more on that another time). It’s a bad idea to get so hung up on The Rules that you can’t so much as write a shopping list for yourself without reaching for the dictionary. In everyday life, so long as the meaning is clear, it’s all good. But there are times when good writing is essential.

Go back and look at that first paragraph again. Now imagine it was part of a letter to a magazine, asking them to publish an article I’d written for them. How far do you think the editor would get before throwing the whole thing in the bin? What if I wrote like that on a job application? Or in a letter to my bank, asking for a loan?

When we talk face-to-face, we make judgements about each other. Leaving aside prejudices about age, race, accent, etc, there are several things we take in at a glance, such as body language, facial expression, style of clothing, and cleanliness. If the occasion calls for a smart appearance, you are unlikely to be impressed by someone who shows up looking scruffy, slouched, scowling, and smelly. It’s the same with writing.

If someone uses bad writing in a formal situation, they are telling you one of three things:

(a) they don’t think that this is a formal situation,
(b) they don’t know how to write well,
(c) they can’t be bothered to check their work, and they expect you to fix their mistakes for them,
or (d) all of the above.

And all this before you’ve read most of the message! First impressions in writing can make or break the reader’s willingness to listen.

In future posts, I’ll be covering various aspects of writing better English – especially commonly confused words and phrases. If you have an idea for a ‘Better English’ topic, please leave a comment.

If you want help with a particular piece of writing, then why not request a quote?

In Other News…

It’s Saturday, and that means a blog post. It’s also November, and that means NaNoWriMo. It’s the first Saturday in November, so it must be Double-Up Donation Day.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It was started in 1999 by a group of friends who decided to get together and write their novels in a month. The story of how that idea grew to become the international giant of today is very well told here, and is a pretty inspiring read in its own right.

There are also plenty of encouraging ‘pep talks’ donated each year by successful writers, on everything from character creation to what to do when your plot springs a leak. These are available on the forums, as well as being delivered to members’ inboxes each week.

Then, of course, there is the community. The forums showcase an amazing and diverse range of writers, from first-timers to old hands, and there is almost certainly going to be a thread that makes you want to say ‘I’ve found my people’. The forums are moderated, and the moderators are all active members of the community who are taking part in the challenge themselves.

What is Double-Up Donation Day?

Double-Up Donation Day is a big push for words and funds, aided by extra donor gifts, virtual write-ins and lots of forum activity.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year (or even if you’re not) consider taking a look at the special events planned for today. The fun starts at 0600, and goes on until 2100 (all times GMT-7). So no matter where in the world you are, you should be able to catch at least some of the action.

Why Should I Care?

National Novel Writing Month sponsors literary programs for children and adults all over the world. NaNoWriMo is their most well-known annual event, but there is also Camp NaNoWriMo, the Young Writers’ Program, and the Come Write In program to encourage literacy, creativity, and confidence throughout the year.