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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #328

R.I.P. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

While we relaxed this past weekend, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first woman EVER to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

It seems totally bizarre to type those words in the year 2020 – the first woman ever!

Like, no woman deserved it prior to 2020?

For those of you not familiar with the U.S. government, and really with our U.S. society, change comes slowly in this county of 330 million. I have seen some monumental events during my seventy-plus years, but some of those events were like “what the hell took so long,” you know? It turns out, writing “with liberty and justice for all,” is much easier to do than actually implementing it.

So we say goodbye to a pioneer and a giant in this country. She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery (an honor she richly deserved), the battle over a new Justice will begin, and life will continue, one small change at a time.

God bless America – God bless the World!

Let’s do this mail thing, shall we?

The Mail Room!

The Mail Room!

Converting Written Word to Word Doc

From Rinita Sen: “Hi Bill. Thanks for the response, but I guess I wasn't clear about my question. I wasn't looking for a speech to text software. Rather I was looking for software that converts words written on paper with a pen into a Microsoft word document. If you or anyone else knows anything, would be helpful. Thanks again and glad that the sky is looking better.”

I completely dropped the ball on this one, Rinita! You worded it correctly; I saw your question incorrectly.

And, to make matters worse, I have no clue about any software that does what you are asking for. So I did some research.

What you are asking for is an OCR software program. I found this on a site by The Guardian:

“There’s also CharacTell’s SoftWriting ($49.95), which the company says is for students taking notes in class and professionals taking notes in meetings. But it also says it is designed “for recognizing non-connected handwriting and machine-printed text” (their emphasis) so I wouldn’t bet on it reading your handwritten notes.

Like most if not all the programs in this field, SoftWriting has to be trained to recognize your handwriting. When it is processing a document, it will present you with words it doesn’t recognize, so that you can tell it what they are. If you have 250 words on a page and the program miraculously gets 90% of them right, you will still have to correct 25 words.”

And this from my friend Zulma: “This may help with your research. iskysoft may be just the thing you’re looking for.”

The problem with all of these software programs is cursive writing. They perform much better when you print characters rather than using cursive. Bottom line on this: what you are asking for has not been perfected yet, but it does exist.

Describing Colors

From Uriah: “I find myself in a self-made trap. I settle for the easy descriptions of colors in my creative writing. The blue sky, the red carpet, the green grass, that sort of thing, and I’m boring myself to death. Seriously, do you have suggestions to keep me from yawning at myself?”

Oh Uriah, I always have suggestions. Ask and you shall receive.

Actually, your question/problem is common for all writers. There are times when we all slip into an old easy chair and get too comfortable. Your problem is shared by probably every writer who has ever picked up the proverbial pen. So let’s see what we can do about that.

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One technique is to compare the color in question with something in the character’s world. Red could be “poppy red” or a gray sky could be “a porridge sky,” or a blue sky could be “robin’s egg sky.” Just be certain, when doing this, you choose a description that most people are familiar with. I might be pushing the envelope a bit by saying “robin’s egg sky” since many people may not know what a robin’s egg looks like, but you should, at the very least, understand what I’m trying to say.

Another technique is to see the color through the eyes of the character’s point of view. If you have a cook, colors may be associated with the colors of different spices. A soldier might see reds only in shades of blood, while a botanist might see junipers and lilacs.

Make sense?

Can you describe the colors in this picture?

Can you describe the colors in this picture?

Using Fewer Adverbs

From Marie: “I know you have warned us before about using too many adverbs, so I was wondering if you have any suggestions for describing things vividly without the use of adverbs?”

Well, first of all, Marie, I think adverbs have their time and place. I just think they are overused because, well, they are easy to use. “He hurriedly ran to the store” is, in my opinion, sloppy and lazy writing. “He worked hard” can be written by a ten-year old. What I believe is that writers have a responsibility to dig a little deeper into the tools of the trade. Stephen King, in fact, is quoted as saying “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” so let’s not disappoint The King.

Let’s look at a couple examples.

“He ran quickly to the store.” In that sentence, ran is the verb and quickly is the modifying adverb. It is grammatically correct, but it is also lazy writing. Instead, let’s consider “He sprinted to the store.” This is a much tighter sentence, don’t you think? If you are running, you are supposedly running quickly, so “sprinted” eliminates a useless word, which is always a good thing in writing.

Or let’s consider this example. “’Why don’t you come over here and stand by me?’ she asked flirtatiously.” Oh, the horrors of this sentence. How about we change that to “’Why don’t you come over here and stand by me?’ she asked, batting her eyelashes.” This may not be the greatest sentence ever written, but it is far better than the first attempt. Visual clues show a reader what is happening; adverbs tell the reader what is happening. Big difference. As writers we should always seek to show rather than tell.

“It’s a hot day” is fine by itself. Writing “it’s a very hot day” does nothing to add to the narrative. And then you can always go the extra mile – “It’s hotter than Hades,” or “You could fry eggs on the sidewalk that day.”

Having said all that, I fall into the same trap, so you are not alone. It’s something to be aware of, and it is something to try to improve upon, but don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally trip over an adverb or two. It means you are human after all.

Can you describe the beauty of this scene without using adverbs?

Can you describe the beauty of this scene without using adverbs?

Nothing Else Today

We can only do what we can only do. Three questions, three responses, and my work is done for this Mailbag. Thanks to those who tossed out questions. If you have something on your mind for the Mailbag, drop your question in the comment section below, or email the question to me at and I’ll include it in the next Mailbag.

Thanks for dropping by.

Yes, change happens, and sometimes change does not happen as quickly as we would like. That’s just the real of it in any society. We march for change, we shout for change, we fight for change, and at the end of the day, if we’ve moved that mountain just a smidgeon, we will have experienced a worthwhile day.

Go in peace, all of you, and remember to do all things with love.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2020:

Perfect, Rinita. Thanks for coming back and sharing that with us all. Much-appreciated!

Rinita Sen on October 20, 2020:

I came back to say that I found an OCR solution I can probably work with. It's Google Docs. It's not perfect but does the job with 80% accuracy. Of course, it all depends on how legible your handwriting is. Here are the steps if anyone wants to try it out.

1. Capture an image of your handwritten note (I used my cell phone camera)

2. Convert that image into a PDF (there are many free PDF converters available)

3. Upload the PDF to Google Drive

4. Right-click the PDF file on Google Drive and click "Open With Google Docs"

5. The handwritten note appears on the screen as editable text now.

That's all.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 19, 2020:

You are very welcome, Brenda! Thanks for taking the time to comment and show your support.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 17, 2020:


I found your descriptive words to be right on target.

It is so simple and easy to just use the common words, but it makes for a much better read being more descriptive.

Colors..well that too implies being descriptive.

Thanks for the information and as always I enjoyed the read.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 01, 2020:

And I'm very happy to hear that, Rajan! Thanks for always stopping by, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 01, 2020:

You are very welcome, Linda. RBG deserves an endless array of tributes.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 01, 2020:

Thank you Dora! It's foggy right now, but sunshine on the way, and I plan on having a wonderful remainder of the week. I hope the same for you.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on September 30, 2020:

Liked your take on using adverbs and describing colours is useful, my friend. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I always leave your mailbags a little more educated each time. Thank you.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 30, 2020:

Thank you for the tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill. I found the section about adverbs especially interesting in this edition of the mailbag.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 30, 2020:

I love your introduction on Ruth Bader Ginsburg and also your answer to the question on adverbs. Enjoy what's left of the week!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 30, 2020:

Thanks Shannon! Ain't that amazing, the first woman? What the hell????

I like that color for color blind people...great writing exercise there.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 30, 2020:

Thanks John! As for adverbs, we are all guilty of it. This is just a gentle reminder for all of us, me included.

Happy Wednesday to you, buddy!

Shannon Henry from Texas on September 29, 2020:

Wow, I hadn't thought about the fact that there'd never been a woman to lie in state before.

Guess I'm a day late for this mailbag. Happy belated Monday. LOL

The question about colors and the video reminds me of a question I like to ask when I do interviews: how would you describe your favorite color to someone who is blind/color blind? It stumps some people for a minute or so and then most come back with interesting answers.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

And I wish you a good day as well, Chitrangada Sharan. Thank you so much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Exactly, Venkatachari M. Trying to change the world, a bit by bit, is a daunting task, and bravo to those who make it their life's work.

Thank you my friend! 2020 will end soon and hopefully 2021 will be better.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

It's weird about handwriting, Bill! I think that's the norm for all of us as we grow older. I wonder why that is?

Anyway, I hope the rest of your week is satisfying. Stay safe, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

You are very kind, Devika! Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

I don't even try to write any longer, Flourish. I have nerve damage in my writing hand, and fine motor skills evade me whenever I try. Thank God for keyboards.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

MizB, I gave up predicting the weather in these parts long ago. I think my track record is a perfect 0 for whatever. lol

POTUS....I have nothing good to say about that man, so I'll leave it at that.

Have a brilliantly-happy Tuesday, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Your writing would never make me cringe, Alyssa. Rest assured, we all slip into the adverb trap from time to time.

I hope this finds you doing well. Have a superb Tuesday.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

William, it's good to see you back active here and on your blog. Thanks for finding the time to comment. I look forward to that childhood memoir challenge article.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on September 29, 2020:

Short but sweet mailbag this week. R.I.P R.B.G.

Thanks for the prod about the overuse of adverbs. I am often as guilty of that as anyone.Also, great tips about describing colours. Enjoy your week, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

No it isn't, Meg! We all slip into that "telling" mode from time to time. As much as I wish the process always flowed, that is not the case for me.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Thank you, Miebakagh! I hope this finds you well and happy! Take care, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. I hope I didn't bore you too much in English class this time around. :) As for RBG, may she live forever!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Ann, I'm trying to drink more tea, but I'm afraid I'm not "wired" for it. It's just a blah experience for me. Now a good mocha is to die for!

Happy Tuesday my friend!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

What an interesting question, Mary. I had never thought about that before but yes, most definitely, the Latin languages do emit emotions. More on this next Monday. Thank you my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Pretty powerful indeed, Sha!

I, too, find myself slipping into the mundane. It's only natural. Good writing requires work and determination, with a sprinkling of talent, of course. The joy is in the journey, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

We all have something to work on, Rosina. And you are never late to the Mailbag, so no apologies necessary.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Perfect timing then, Mary! You ask and I deliver. Very cool!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 29, 2020:

Denise, that should be the watchword for all of us writers. We will never be perfect, but we can improve in increments.

Blessings to you always


Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 29, 2020:

Hello Bill!

My tribute to the great woman, RBG. Have read a lot about her.

Your advice with regard to the description of colours, or using adverbs, is helpful.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Wish you a good day.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on September 29, 2020:

A nice mailbag with interesting questions. I appreciate your tips regarding the description of colors and the use of fewer adverbs.

Your tribute to that Lady, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is touching to the heart. I salute such great personalities with great admiration and respect. Here too I see some noble people, both women, and men, trying to change the world a bit by bit.

Hope good days will come.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on September 29, 2020:

Nice mailbag, Bill. RBG certainly opened doors for women in this country and we should all be thankful for her service.

My handwriting seems to have deteriorated over the years to the point where I’m not sure anyone could decipher it but me. I liked your answer about colors and adverbs and I need to do a better job of this.

Have a great week, Bill.

Devika Primic on September 29, 2020:

Great words from you and such an amazing person.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 28, 2020:

I’m confident no software could decipher my handwriting. The longer you spend in school the sloppier one’s handwriting seems to become. I also have extensive note taking (fast and sloppy) experience from investigations and contract negotiations. Accurate but indecipherable to anyone but me.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on September 28, 2020:

Bill, I misunderstood Rinita's question, too, and I really have been thinking about speech to text software. I still do a lot of my notes on the yellow note pad because one look at that bright blank screen wipes out my mind. I don't think I want to try OCR software to translate my cursive. We tried some OCR programs to scan old legislative printed texts and I went OCD. Never again. Now editing and proofreading is a different story. I prefer to do it electronically.

I think we will mourn our friend Ruth Bader Ginsberg for many years. Her loss was tragic, and any appointee our POTUS brags on turns out to be fuel for his ridicule in a couple of months.

Cool weather is here, and I'm ready to turn off the AC. In a couple of days we are supposed drop 20 degrees. I wonder if it means a cold winter. Have a good cool rest of the wee, my friend.

Alyssa from Ohio on September 28, 2020:

Happy Monday, Bill! Another fantastic mailbag edition :) I appreciate your advice on adverbs.. and I'm now a little worried that I am one of those people. *cringe* I'm going to keep your notes in mind in future writings. Thank you! Have a wonderful week my friend! :)

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on September 28, 2020:

Was that an above average little Mailbag, or are my muse and I just back in a writing mode? I love how you added the neat images and the questions that fit together... simple me can even understand. P.S. Just finished a draft of my Childhood Memoir Challenge article. Hope to have it up shortly... a little late, but wonderful challenge... keep them coming. Cannot respond to them all, but great to think about... and do, most! ;-)

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on September 28, 2020:

We have all heard the "show not tell" advice but I like that saying about adverbs "telling" what happens, while visual clues "show" what happens.Sometimes, it isn't always easy to recognise when we are telling, rather than showing.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 28, 2020:

RBGinsburg RIP stately. Another Trump's first! Who says Pontus is not working? This mail bag is interesting. Calligrgphy, descrptive writing, and much, we're right back for a revision. And good for our progress. Thanks Bill. And, have a nice time.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 28, 2020:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a woman to be admired and she certainly deserved to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

You three questions were good and I kind of felt like I was in English class again. :) I did really like the adverb and color questions. Your examples were good and I appreciated them.

Stay safe and healthy. Have a great week, Bill.

Ann Carr from SW England on September 28, 2020:

I don't need any excuse to drink coffee - great! Don't ask me to drink tea though - ugh!

Thanks for letting me take my time - sometimes I just need to think more. Not sure if that's a good idea though!

Keep safe and well, bill.


Mary Wickison from USA on September 28, 2020:

Hi Bill,

No software could ever read my handwriting. I have had people tell me it looks like four people have written a letter I've penned. Perhaps I missed my calling and should have been a forger.

This mailbag is interesting because today I've been thinking of the ways different languages express themselves. When I listen to a speech in Portuguese, (and I would assume it's the same in other Latin languages), they are full of emotion. Compared to my writing which sounds like an instruction manual. Is this something you've noticed with translated books you've read?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 28, 2020:

Bill, your reminder to show, not tell, is one that should be embedded into our creative brains. I know I sometimes find myself taking the mundane or bland route when it comes to describing colors. I need to put a sticky above the computer in my home office as a reminder.

Same with adverbs. Your example of "sprinted" versus "ran quickly" is perfect. Sprinted actually paints a picture in the mind, making it much more effective.

Thank you for the video about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After hearing her comment about what will happen if Trump becomes president, I'm surprised he allowed her to lie in state at the Capitol. Regardless, she's still an advocate for human rights even in death. That's pretty powerful!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

Thanks for your thoughts, Peggy! I'm afraid this appointment to the Supreme Court is going to be a painful one for many. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

Happy Monday, Ann! And tomorrow is our National Coffee Day, which is a "holiday" I will gladly celebrate. :)

Adverbs are so easy to abuse. Sneaky little buggers they are. I'm constantly laying out traps trying to gather them up.

You? Procastinate? I find that hard to believe, my friend. You'll get to the challenges when they rise in priority for you. :)

Have a fabulous week, my friend.


Rosina S Khan on September 28, 2020:

Sorry I am late, Bill. I didn't have an internet connection for a good many hours. Today's mailbag was interesting regarding describing colors and using fewer adverbs. I guess I have to hone on these skills if I wish to continue to write. Have a great Monday!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 28, 2020:

Funny that before I opened this I searched for examples of showing not telling in writing and here you are giving me examples. I often use really in every thing I write. I have been teaching myself not to.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 28, 2020:

Show not tell are good words to live by. Unfortunately, when I'm in the midst of writing a narrative, I don't think of them. I hear my own voice in my head and end up writing the way I talk. I figure that makes me a conversationalist and not a good writer. Oh well. Seeking to improve is my watchword. Thanks for another good mailbag.



Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 28, 2020:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be sorely missed. She helped to nudge that mountain you mentioned just a bit, but her decisions were essential steps in the right direction for many people. Let's hope and pray that what she helped accomplish is not blown out of the water by the next jurist taking her seat on the bench.

I enjoyed your discussion regarding the use of adverbs. Take care, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

Those three words, Nithya, show don't tell, should be tattooed on the forehead of every serious writer. :) Thanks my friend!

Ann Carr from SW England on September 28, 2020:

Love your explanation of improving colours. There is such a wide spectrum of shades, it seems a shame not to use them, or, as you say, use different perspectives - the occupation idea is a great one.

I'm not so hot on omitting adverbs - they are usually the words I have to edit! Your voice is always in my ear on those!

I'm suffering from procrastination regarding challenges - must get on with it!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

The question is a good one, Eric, and I don't think I've answered that before. As for my scrawny butt, it's expanding, thank you very much, as is my waistline, dammit!

Being like Mike is acceptable; being like Bill is all mannter of problematic.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

Good morning Dinosaur Linda! lol

Thanks for the question. I have no idea, but I'll find out. In the meantime, think of colors associated with cooking and baking and herbs and spices. Nutmeg is a great color, is it not?

Just a random thought! Happy Monday, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

I'm with you, Mr. Happy. I don't think I've ever written a sentence like that. Quickly is not a word I use often anyway, for whatever reason.

Cheers indeed! We are less than forty days away from our election, and I'm feeling more and more confident that the Trump nightmare will end soon.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

Nicely done, Heidi! You are so efficient this morning. I am duly impressed. And thanks for the suggestion on Good Notes5. I hope Sinita reads your comment.

My handwriting is worse than yours!!!!

As if it's a contest!

Happy Monday, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 28, 2020:

I'm glad I could help a little bit, Rinita. Good luck and yes, please let us know if you find any which works well.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on September 28, 2020:

You have given clear examples of how to use fewer adverbs. As writers we should always seek to show rather than tell-totally agree, thank you for sharing.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 28, 2020:

Your answer/treatment of adverbs is helpful. I will try to be more attentive to it.

Now please tell me about that chair in your photo that looks like a machine for torture. Do you really park you scrawny but on that thing for hours a day?

Of course that is the lead in to asking about a writing environment. Many self appointed gurus tell us all the tricks, but what works for you because I want to be like Mike.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on September 28, 2020:

Good morning Bill, and you've reminded me of what a dinosaur I am. In another life I was a stenographer. All those dots and squiggles on paper actually mean something, and I used to be one of the best. Of course they have to be interpreted and turned into English. Not what Rinita was asking about, but it popped into my little head.

I also find myself struggling to come up with descriptive words. Is there a website that can help? Not a thesaurus but say you want words that describe one of the 5 senses. Floral aromas or baking aromas.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on September 28, 2020:

Okay, so here's my concern regarding writing: "“He ran quickly to the store.", as supposed to writing: “He sprinted to the store.” My question is: how do You speak? I would never say: "He ran quickly to the store." Maybe I did when I was seven years old. Some decades later I would say: "He dashed to the store", or like You said: "He sprinted to the store". We know more words after decades of living, reading, writing ... so, "ran quickly to the store" is just inadequate in speech as it is in writing (for an older person). I often write very much as I speak - not always, of course but many times. (I do change my speech as I change my writing when/if needed.)

"remember to do all things with love" and moderation!

Cheers! : )

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 28, 2020:

G'morning! Am I the first one in the Mailbag? Wow.

Re: Handwriting to Text. There are a number of OCR apps, programs, and devices (but who wants to pay for another device?) out there to do this. My husband uses Good Notes 5 app for Apple devices & Mac and loves it. He just writes on the iPad and it converts.

Me? I can't not type. My handwriting is atrocious and slow. I think through my keyboard.

Mailbag? Check. Happy Monday and have a great week!

Rinita Sen on September 28, 2020:

Thank you for doing some additional research, Bill. I'll check out the one mentioned by Zulma, but I guess you are right about the technology being quite nascent. I tried out a few but they couldn't read anything from my handwritten notes (and I have tolerable handwriting if not a beautiful one). Anyway, will inform you if I find success with this. Thanks again.

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