Friday, July 31, 2015

The Freelance Writer Is . . .

The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.

"The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps."
— Robert Benchley

I've been feeling this a lot lately. Not that I have a lot of large invoices out there waiting to be paid, but every check represents bills paid, meals eaten, and a mind at peace.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Uncommon Spelling Traps 1

Some words get misspelled all the time. An online search for "commonly misspelled words" yields over 150,000 results. If you run into some of those common spelling problems, you have a wealth of resources at your command. I'm not going to repeat those here.

I'm more interested in uncommon misspelled words — words that are rarely used but easily misspelled. The following six cases are not-so-commonly used pairs of words that are related etymologically and are spelled nearly identically.

These are the words that even the best editors and proofreaders have to look up while they work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Word Wednesday: tumulus

A tumulus is more tumorous (or even tumescent) than tumultuous, so there's no reason to raise a ruckus about it. These days, we don't have much call for tumuli, as the plural is spelled, but a good Christian might cause a tumult if a loved one is caught under a tumulus (or in one, depending on your perspective).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Writing prompt: A Bad Order

Egad! I forgot to post a writing prompt yesterday!

Well, here it is. Use the whole week to build a good story if you like.

Write a story or a scene that begins with a waiter or waitress bringing you or the main character the wrong order.

All Good Writing . . .

All good writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Thinking About Your Legacy

Scottish poet and essayist Alexander Smith once wrote, "I would rather be remembered by a song than by a victory. I would rather build a fine sonnet than have built St. Paul's." I've spent time — and I hope you have, too — thinking about what I want my legacy to look like. How do I want to be remembered?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Word Wednesday: louche

Imagine, for a moment, that you're a 40-year-old editor, and you enter an adult spelling bee. Why not, it's for charity. You are the twelfth of fifteen spellers. The first speller steps up to the mic and is given the word potato.

'Oh, this first round is gonna be easy,' you think. You listen to eleven more words given and spelled correctly — nothing difficult. You could have spelled each of them without a moment's hesitation.

Then you step up to the mic, and the esteemed pronouncer looks at you and says, "Your word is 'LOOSH.'"

Monday, July 20, 2015

When Crap Is the Best You Can Do

Sometimes, when you feel like your writing is crap, you just have to tell yourself that writing crap is okay and then move on to the next thing. Everybody writes crap, but if you want to be a writer, you have to keep writing anyway.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Writing Prompt: Fictionalizing Your Earliest Memory

Everyone at some point in his or her life is asked the question, what's your earliest memory? It's one of those annoying questions that someone (usually your mother) asks when no one else can think of anything to talk about.

As annoying as that question is, I want you to think about it now.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thanking Stephen King

Last month, I thanked Kurt Vonnegut for the large part he played in leading me into this life of writing. But before I was a writer, I was a reader.

This was a given in my family. My mother was a high school English teacher, and she and her two sisters — my aunts — were constant readers. When we all got together for holidays and birthdays, the three of them were always gabbing about what books they had read, and the would swap hardcovers so that each could share in the others' discoveries.

So becoming a reader wasn't really a choice for me. It was practically genetic. But what kind of reader I would be was up in the air.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New Word Wednesday: naumachia/naumachy

Naumachia (or naumachy) is an old pastime I would love to see leave the nightly confines of my bathtub and find popular, public, and less sudsy interest.

Fans of debate might recognize the -machia/-machy half of the word from logomachy, another name for a war of words. That -machia/-machy comes from the Greek machē, a war or battle.

Monday, July 13, 2015

On Fear and Hope

Stephen King once wrote, "The scariest moment is always just before you start." Too often, though, that fear can keep us from actually starting.

We don't start that novel because we fear we'll never finish it. We don't talk to that pretty girl because we fear humiliation. We don't ask for that raise because we fear rejection.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Witing pwompt?

Write a scene or story in first-person from the point of view of a young child. Some of the things you need to keep in mind are
  • The child's vocabulary.
  • The child's lack of experience, and his or her personal explanations for things he or she doesn't totally understand.
  • The child's motivations and desires.
All these will be different from what you would expect from an adult character.

Friday, July 10, 2015

One Story, Infinite Meaning

Writers write for different reasons. Readers read for different reasons.

The words on the page are only part of any story. Everyone brings their own experiences, needs, shortcomings, worldviews, and biases to complete the story. The story that the writer creates is only her version, the story she needed to write for herself.

With every new reader, the story is completed anew and in a different way.

Try to remember this the next time someone doesn't like a story you've written. They're experience of the story is different from yours and will be different from the next reader's.

Don't let one person's opinion keep you from your work. Remember why you write (it's not for them) and keep at it.

"Stories are the vessels I use to interpret the world to myself."
—Pat Conroy, My Reading Life

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New Word Wednesday: mucilaginous

Even if you've never seen the word mucilaginous before, you can probably come pretty close to understanding what it means. Think of something slimy and sticky — like egg yolks, rubber cement, or the fluids that cling to body-snatchers' bodies when they emerge from their pods — and you're thinking of something mucilaginous.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Are Adverbs Really Evil?

Many a writer, editor, and wordsmithing guru has warned of the damage adverbs can cause to one's writing. Theodore Roethke once said1, "In order to write good stuff, you have to hate adverbs." Graham Greene noted2 how well Evelyn Waugh avoided "beastly adverbs — far more damaging to a writer than an adjective." And, of course, Stephen King famously stated3, "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs."

With such widespread anti-adverb sentiment, one might wonder why we have adverbs at all if we are not supposed to use them. Are adverbs really so evil that using one will, like a bad apple, spoil an entire sentence?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Abandon the Idea That You Are Ever Going to Finish

For most of his life, John Steinbeck avoided interviewing with The Paris Review. In his later years, though, he had a change of heart. Unfortunately, by that time he was too sick to work on it.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Writing prompt: Indecision

Write a scene or short story in which the main character can't make up his or her mind. What are the consequences (especially the otherwise avoidable negative ones) of indecision?

And more importantly, what's the real meaning behind the lyrics of Rush's song "Freewill"?

Friday, July 3, 2015

George Orwell Takes On Human Resources (Sort Of)

I direct you this morning to an excellent and fun essay, by James Gingell at the Guardian, about how George Orwell might have viewed human resources and the proclamations that come from it.

"The HR industry misuses language as a sort of low-tech mind control to avert our eyes from office atrocities and keep us fixed on our inboxes."

English: Picture of George Orwell which appear...
George Orwell, HR Representative
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I particularly enjoy the idea that George Orwell himself might have established the whole HR enterprise as "a never-ending, ever-expanding live action art installation sequel to Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four."

I bet there's a novel in there somewhere.

Anyway, enjoy "George Orwell, human resources and the English language."

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Word Wednesday: ort

Ort is one of my favorite short words. It's almost a rebus. A visual onomatopoeia. It looks like someone took a bite out of short and this little crumb of a word dropped down onto the page.