Tag Archives: 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.


(Lack of) Style Points


Writer’s style is like …. it’s one of those weird things that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s this sort of indefinable quality we all have to our writing, and it’s hard to point to single passages and say “see, this exemplifies this author’s style because of this thing and that thing and also that other thing over there, and therefore their style is x”.

It’s one of those things you *feel* more than you quantify.

And styles change over time, too, just like people change. But I wonder about style in my own writing a lot, to the point I’m probably hyper aware of it. I write a passage, and I’m like, “does this sound like me?” Or more often the question is, “what does this even sound like?” Or even more often than that, “this is just totally boring and I hate the way I wrote it.”

It’s this weird hangup that has only really gotten worse with me the more I’ve written, which is weird, because everything you see everywhere about everything seems to suggest that the more you do a thing, the better you should get at it, but that doesn’t seem to be true for me and my style. I second-guess the hell out of myself and my style these days, and I never did back in the day. I could blow through over 1000 words in a session on my novel, then hop over here and fire off an 800-word blog post and never think a second thought about what I’d written or how I’d written it; all the words were good words.

Now, though? I’m afraid to even look back at what I wrote when I was starting out. Not because of the subject material — I’m sure that’s as cringey as anything I ever write under any circumstance. No, I’m terrified to look at my style back then, because I’m mindful of it now, and I fear that since I wasn’t mindful of it then, it’ll be a mess. (It’s there. I could look in the archives of this very website. But I dare not.)

Have I tied myself in enough knots? As if it’s not hard enough just to write the words down.

And it’s no use pretending not to care now that I do. You say “I don’t care what my writing sound like,” it’s as bad as the guy who purposely gives himself a bedhead, rumples up his shirt, and wears ridiculous shoes saying “I don’t care what I look like”. Like, yeah you do, man… you purposely cultivated that look to *look* like you don’t care.

It’s like one of those Magic Eye things. The image is entirely invisible to you until you finally see it, and once you see it, you can never not know it’s there.


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.


Creating Should Be Fun


We all have that image in our mind, right? The haggard writer, stooped with their spine bent over the keys, tumbler of coffee (or something stronger) clutched in spindly fingers, red-rimmed raccoon eyes staring at the page.

Tortured. Tormented.

And you know the thing about stereotypes: there’s always a grain of truth. Sometimes more than a grain. We think of that because we’ve all been there — as you fight to get the story just right, as you push and pull and strive and struggle, you smile less, you agonize more. You hate the work some days and other days it feels like the work hates you right back.

But creating can’t be like that *all* the time. I mean, if the writing is like that *all* the time, why are you doing it?

On a good day, the writing is like turning on the hose on a hot summer day — it’s crisp and it’s clear and it flows without end. It’s almost like magic.

I haven’t had enough good days with my writing lately, and I wonder if it’s not because I was trying to make the wrong project happen. I switched gears today and I recaptured a little of that magic. So if you’re like me — struggling for days, weeks, months with your writing — maybe do yourself a favor and give that project a break. A *little* one, at least. And let your brain work on a project it wants to work on. Let it stretch its legs.

Find that magic again. And if you can’t?

Create new magic.


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