Tag Archives: writing about writing

My Favorite Dinosaur is the Thesaurus Rex


I found myself reaching for a thesaurus the other day.

Well, “reaching” is not the right word; I went to www.thesaurus.com, which was quicker than finding an actual thesaurus and had the benefit of not requiring me to stand up in the midst of my writing session. Then I went into a dumb thought-spiral, because of course I did, when I remembered a little nugget of writing advice that goes something like:

“Never use a twenty-five-cent word when a five-cent word will do.”

Did I butcher it? I may have butchered it.

I take that advice to heart. I almost never use a thesaurus. Reason being, I figure if a word isn’t in my immediate lexicon, odds are it’s not in the average reader’s lexicon either, and it’s no good busting out fancy words just for the sake of fancy words if only a tiny minority of readers are actually going to understand them on first read. (And sorry, for the most part I don’t hold truck with writing that has to be read multiple times for the meaning to sink in. I have things to do. And so do the rest of us.)

Anyway, there’s another writing quote I like a lot, which starts off something like “writing advice is bulls***.” This is true, inasmuch as for every bit of writing advice you can find out there (and you can find a lot, if you go looking), you can find countless examples of writers — and writing — that flat-out breaks those rules. Good writing, even! “No prologues?” Surprise: lots of books have them. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs?” You may be somewhat shocked to learn that even this meager sentence has multiple adverbs! “I before E except after C?” Who cares, that’s why God invented spell check.

So you can ignore most writing advice. Except that the second part of the second quote (“writing advice is bulls***) is that “bulls*** fertilizes.”

What’s this to do with my thesaurus? (Sorry, my thesaurus.com?)

Well, you *shouldn’t* replace a five-cent word with a twenty-five-cent word when the five-cent word will do. But thesauruses (thesauri, my English-teacher brain screams but I cannot make myself say aloud) don’t just have twenty-five-cent words in them. They have loads and loads of five-cent words. And sometimes you want to tear your hair out when you realize you’re using the same five-cent word too much.

Sometimes you have to reach for the nickel term. Probably you don’t want the quadrant morpheme.

Point is, it’s just another tool like any other tool. Use it where it’s useful. Circumlocute it when it’s dyslogistic.


I Should Probably Just Quit


Every now and then I get to thinking (as many writers do, maybe?) …

Man, I dunno if I’m cut out for this.

It’s just so hard… to find the time in the day, to make the words come, to face the editing monster, to spend time thinking on all these ideas…

Life would be a lot easier if I just gave it up. Just quit worrying about writing, stop stressing about my stories, give up grinding over grammar (okay, that one was a stretch. I’m a former English teacher, grammar is in my blood.)

And that’s not Writer’s Block talking, or laziness, or any other cop out. That’s 100% true. I have a full-time job, I like getting up early in the morning to run, I like having weekends to hang with the fam, and oh yeah, there’s my whole extracurricular program at the school, too…. life would be easier if I weren’t trying to write stories too.

I entertain these thoughts.

But then I think of the stories I’m in the middle of, of leaving them unfinished. (Not even unread by an audience’s eyes, but just “unfinished by me”.) And I’m appalled. To not polish them up and get them ready to leave the nest (whether they ever do or not)? Seems like a crime against humanity … a crime against all the time and work and strife I’ve put into them.

And I think of the ideas I’ve had for stories I haven’t told yet…. stories that may come to nothing, that may never have their first word written, that may start with tons of gusto and then never go anywhere. And I can’t handle that thought either, the thought of never bringing these stories into the world, half-formed and imperfect as they no doubt would be.

In short, I can’t picture a life when I’m not writing or creating something, no matter how hard it is and no matter how much I might rather live that way.

Writing has become as natural and necessary as sustenance, as exercise.

So even though I don’t do it as much as I should, and even though my projects take forever to finish … I’m gonna keep writing.

I just don’t see any other way.


Beta is Better


You need space from your work if you want to perfect it.

I know this, because I am only the tiniest bit obsessive about my work and I can still spend hours and days fine-tuning paragraphs and pages and finding new things to fix far beyond the time when the fine-tuning is actually improving the situation.

This is a problem, and it’s not a thing you can simply “turn off”. While you’re in the thick of it — editing, in my case, or whatever your chosen discipline does to self-correct errors in the first drafts — you can’t detach.

You reach that point where you have to let the thing sit for a while. Let it mellow. Let the dust settle. And if possible, have somebody who isn’t you have a look at it in the meantime.

Coming back to my novel after letting it lie for a month? The edits are coming fast and … well, I won’t say easy (because editing is never easy). But paired with notes from a couple of faithful readers whose input I believe in, the editing process feels about 90% less painful than when last I left it back in January.

Moral of the story: let your project rest for a little while.

And get some beta readers.


Self-Published at 8


My kid wrote a comic book the other day.

He does this from time to time — the impulse just strikes him and he wants to tell a story, and he’ll grab a bunch of white paper and sharpies and markers and go on a writing and drawing spree for a couple hours, then come away with this concoction of hastily-scribbled, choppily-illustrated wonder.

This one, being in a holiday frame of mind, was about Santa Claws.

That’s not a misspelling, you see — in addition to being creatively inclined, the kid also has an affinity for the macabre.

“You thought Christmas was a happy season?” The book begins, ominously.

In his story, to summarize, Santa Claus is attacked by a Clawster (what that is, I have no idea, and upon further discussion, I’m not sure the kid does either). This infects him with a deadly virus that turns him into Santa Claws, who goes on a Tarantino-esque roarin’ rampage of revenge, attacking elves (tearing one in half!) and savaging his reindeer (poor Rudolph!) before being attacked by a SWAT team. (“PREPARE WAR”, Santa Claws says, in a quote from the book.)

This does not deter Santa Claws, however, because his claws are able to slice ‘n’ dice the bullets they shoot at him. The SWAT team comes up short, so it takes the army to subdue him, at which point they learn that the Clawster was from the Civil War, somehow.

Merry Christmas.

(I’d take a picture, but he gave it to my dad as a birthday present — because after hearing him read it to me, I told him his grandfather would love to hear it. )

I tell you all that not to try to brag that the kid’s story is awesome or anything (I mean, as a parent, I’m over here gushing about it. Objectively? …There are some plot holes.).

I tell you that instead to point out just how awesome it is to be a kid. Here I’ve been agonizing over this writing thing for years. One finished novel (unpublished), one drafted but un-edited novel (trunked), and a third in late-stage edits (out for review with some trusted critics). Endless revisions. Long-Dark-Tea-Times-of-the-Soul wondering whether my drivel is any good or will ever come to anything.

This kid has an idea, tosses it off in a couple hours, and starts shopping it around the same day — and then doesn’t think about it again.

Funny that from my self-doubting, self-flagellating self could come such a font of unabashed abandon, such impervious confidence.

I need some of whatever he’s having.


Out, out, damned line


The more I write, the more I think about the craft of writing, and the more I think about the craft of writing, the more I think about how badly I screwed up by not thinking about it more when I was just starting.

Of course, when I was just starting, I hadn’t thought about it all that much, so I couldn’t have done otherwise… and yeah, thoughts like that are ultimately pretty useless.

The point of this is that I’ve got this story idea that I’ve been kicking around for a few years now and I’ve just started actually putting words to paper (or, y’know, words to pixels or whatever, you know what I mean) on it, and … I mean, the idea is nifty and all, but… okay, I have to digress further.

With my other stories, it sort of felt like, from the premise, the story just wanted to get up and go. Like the conflict started up and took off immediately, like a cat startled out of slumber by a zucchini squash.

netflix and chill GIF

With this one, there’s less of that immediate impulse to action. So it feels like the story needs something. It needs guidance. Or, I dunno, maybe it’s not fully formed yet and it needs more time to incubate.

So I spent my session today doing something I’ve never done — in advance, anyway — for a story: outlining it.

That’s right, I went back to high school and I made an outline.

The outline sucks, it’s vague as heck and it reads like every action / spy / thriller movie you’ve ever heard of, but y’know, it’s an outline. And once I had it down, I started fleshing it out with possibilities.

And man, it’s weird. Because in my other work, I usually don’t plan all that much. I just strap a lead on the story and try to hold on while it rushes off to wherever it’s gonna rush off to. But what I noticed is that, in my other stories, they end up wandering around, feeling lost in the middle.

I don’t want to get lost on this one. So I’m trying something new.

Will it work? I don’t have a clue.

Anyway, here’s another cat gif, because cat gifs are awesome and it’s Friday and that’s awesome.

cat attack GIF


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