Saturday, April 10, 2010

A plea for simple language

A considerable portion of the professional and academic writing that comes across my desk uses really inflated language, a language intended to impress more than to communicate. In my Writing Improvement classes, I often give out the following list of common proverbs that have been written with such language. While it's a fun puzzle to sort out, my intention is really to encourage them not to use this kind of vocabulary in their writing. Happy decoding!

  1. t is fruitless to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers.
  2. Scintillate, scintillate, asteroids minified.
  3. Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.
  4. Pulchritude possesses sole cutaneous profundity.
  5. It is fruitless to become lachrymose over precipitately departed lacteal fluid.
  6. Freed from incrustation of grime is contiguous to rectitude.
  7. The stylus is more potent than the claymore.
  8. Eschew the implement of correction and vitiate the scion.
  9. The temperature of the aqueous intent of an unremittingly ogled saucepan does not reach 212°F.
  10. All articles that coruscate with resplendence are not truly auriferous.
  11. Where there are visible vapors having their prevalence in ignited carbonaceous material, there is conflagration.
  12. Sorting on the part of mendicants must be interdicted.
  13. A plethora of individuals with expertise in culinary techniques vitiate the possible concoction produced by the steeping of certain comestibles.
  14. Eleemosynary deeds have the incipience intramurally.
  15. Male cadavers are incapable of yielding any testimony.
  16. Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrous projectiles.
  17. Neophyte’s serendipity.
  18. Exclusive dedication to the necessitous chores without interlude of hedonistic diversion renders John one hebetudinous fellow.
  19. A revolving lithic conglomerate accumulates no congeries of small bryophytic plant.
  20. The person presenting the ultimate cachinnation possesses thereby the optimal cachinnation.
  21. Abstention from any aleatory undertaking precludes a potential escalation of the lucrative nature.
  22. Missiles of ligneous or petrous consistency have the potential of fracturing my osseous structure, but appellations will eternally remain innocuous.
  23. Persons of imbecilic nature divagate in parameter which cherubic entities approach with trepidation.
  24. Elementary sartorial techniques initially applied preclude repetitive actions to the square of three.
  25. Contingent upon primarily unfavorable termination, repetitively judicate anew.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Apostrophic abuse

For a while, I collected examples of the misuse of the apostrophe, which are rampant in our culture. I have long chalked it up to the relative educational level of sign painters and sign board "writers." In the old days, a sign painter took great pride in his work, making sure that things were carefully spelled and punctuated. He may not have had many years of education but the education he received was solid.

Today signs are seldom handpainted. They are either digitally produced by a print shop or put together by a minimum-wage employee. In the first case, the print shop takes whatever the customer wants and prints it, often without looking at it and certainly without editing it. And few store owners run out and edit the sign board their teenage helper put together advertising today's special. That's why you'll see: Taco's 2 for $1 or "Special on tomato's"

The rules of the apostrophe are actually fairly simple.

  • Use for contractions (I'm for I am; you're for you are; etc.) The apostrophe substitutes for the missing letter or letters.
  • Use for possessives with nouns representing human beings and animals. The cat's tail, the man's new job, Sharon's coat. If the noun ends in s and is plural, place the apostrophe after the s: the boys' father (several boys) as opposed to the boy's father (one boy). If the noun ends in s and is singular, use 's after the s: Jesus's disciples.
  • Use for the plural of symbols: He got all A's on his report card. $'s are less used today.
  • Don't use the apostrophe with possessive adjectives or pronouns: This is mine, that is hers (not her's). The cat licked its tail.
  • Don't use the apostrophe to make plurals of acronyms but do use with contractions. My PC's broken. He owns three PCs.

This kind of attention to detail is rapidly separating the better writer from the less careful. And it preserves some nuances in the language, always a good thing to my mind.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Making excuses about not writing

I've been having trouble finding time to write on my novel. I worked for several hours last Friday on a new scene between the heroine Ellie and the detective who's trying to solve her case and keep himself from falling in love with her and I felt really energized by the direction it was going. Then I had a busy weekend with a friend from out-of-town, which included giving a workshop on Saturday, and promised myself that I'd get back to the novel on Sunday for a couple of hours after she left.

But I turned my attention to two paid projects instead and the day went by and evening came and I wrote my two blogs and didn't want to be "good" anymore. I wanted to goof off and it was easy to convince myself to do "literary research" by watching a foreign film (it was great: a Danish film called After the Wedding). And the last four days, I've been busy with my life. Paid work has racheted back up after a big lull, more friends are here from out of town; this is the week that my groups meet. One thing after another. And all of those things are easier to do than sit down and write and so I do them and I don't write.

My creativity coach asked us this week to look at the excuses we give for not creating, then dismantle them, and turn that energy into creating "in the middle of things." One thing that writers and other creatives need to do is stop waiting for circumstances to align themselves up perfectly so that unlimited time opens up without other obligations. Creative work for most of us who don't have the luxury of endless free time must fit into the life we have, whether that be creating early in the morning (and sleeping less or going to bed earlier) or in around the edges in the few minutes that open up between obligations.

It's a kind of no-excuses creating that I find so hard to do, especially in this phase of my life when I am wanting to do less, not more. But if I want to find the time to write some part of my schedule or my attitude has got to give.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good blogs about writing

There are lots of blogs about writing, including this one. Each of us who's a writer or editor has opinions and ideas about the writing process. Many of us have shelves and shelves of books about writing, most of which we've read while we put off doing our writing.

The Internet is a marvelous source of ideas about writing: how to write better, how to write more often, how to get an agent, how to get a publisher, and then blog after blog about how hard it all is. I find all that rather discouraging and a huge sinkhole for time. But a friend recently passed on a list of helpful articles and I took a half hour and read them and appreciated their wisdom and some of the blog sites they come from. You might also want to check them out.

For the list, visit:">

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making plans

My creativity coach, Eric Maisel, asked those of us in his current class to come up with a plan for the month that would enable us to create more often and more deeply. As a recoverying overachiever and workaholic, I'm both excited at that prospect and wary as I tend to overcommit and force myself to fulfill on all those commitments.

Here's what my creative life looks like now:

Every day, I write in my journal, write two blogs, and most days I also put some color on paper (collage, watercolor, pastel, pencils, something).

Most weeks, I try to spend a few hours on my second novel or I go to a studio space and do a bigger pastel experience.

Most weeks, I find no time at all for marketing my memoir, or my first novel, which is ready to go, or my pastels. It's hard enough to find the energy to market my editing business.

So can I create more often or more deeply and still live a spacious, restful life and make a living?

I think this is a common question for us creatives. Few of us make a living from our forms of creative self-expression and those that do work it at a lot because they not only create but need to deal with all the business side of the work.

I've decided to try two things for a month. In addition to my daily practices, I am going to see what happens if I spend two hours each weekend (or in an evening) working on marketing my books and do something every day on the novel I'm currently writing. I don't know what that something would be (best case scenario is I spend a little time writing) but I can see what happens.

It's all about balance and doing what I commit to and not committing to do much.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Using transitions when you write

Several clients recently queried me about a list of transition words that they could use in business writing. In the teaching I do regularly, I've used the following list with students. You may find it of use.


That explain:
now, in addition, for, in this case, furthermore, in fact

That emphasize:
certainly, indeed, above all, surely, most importantly

That qualify:
but, however, although, though, yet, except for

That illustrate:
for example, for instance, thus, therefore, such (a/an), next

That add:
in addition; furthermore; also; moreover; then; first, second, third, etc.

That compare:
like, in the same way, similarly, equally important, too

That contrast:
unlike, in contrast, whereas, on the other hand, instead

That concede:
although, nevertheless, of course, after all, clearly, still, yet

That state a consequence:
therefore, as a result, consequently, accordingly, so, otherwise

That sum up:
to sum up, finally, in conclusion, at last, in summary

Other forms of transition:


He asked what that meant. We watched the hikers as they climbed slowly.


Community colleges are like the two-year colleges called junior colleges or “JCs.” Both schools prepare students for four-year colleges and universities.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I can never say quite as much as I know: A story

It’s hard to explain what happened to me that night. I hadn’t been myself all day. I know, that’s a curious expression. How can one not be oneself? But things had seemed off.

It wasn’t that I was scattered or irritable. That happens to me occasionally but that would have been familiar. No, this was something else—a distancing, a dissociation, something that split me in two, one of me curiously watching, the other sleepwalking through the day.

How drunk it is possible to be and still function? I don’t really know, never did any scientific research, but I certainly experimented a fair amount. But that day wasn’t about alcohol at all—even though there were very few days during those years when we all didn’t drink a great deal. Was I sick? No, physically I seemed okay. At least I was taking my body for granted in the way I think most of us do.

When I arrived at the dinner party, everything seemed too loud: the ice clinking in the glasses, the hoots of Bill Jacobi as he listened to Marv’s fresh batch of racist or sexist jokes. And of course there was the noisy preparations of the three best friends—that’s what we always called them—concocting the food.

Judy went on ahead to the kitchen to make a token offer of help and I put the salad we’d brought on the groaning board. I was reluctant to join the others—I felt out of place, a newcomer’s shyness taking me over even though these were my best friends, men and women I’d worked with, camped with, slept with, and drunk with for years.

I hung around instead in the dining room as long as I could, looking at the prints on the walls. I’d seen them a thousand times before, but I hoped a study of their detail might reveal a clue as to what I should do next.

I must have moved on into the great room and mingled. I know I fixed myself a glass of tomato juice and uncharacteristically refused all offers to stiffen it up. What few wits I had about me seemed too precious to dissipate. And somehow we all got to the table. I sat across from Judy as always and endured the odd snorting of Vivian on my right. The chair on my left was empty. I don’t remember now who was late or didn’t show. I know it felt odd to have that vacant spot next to me, not liberating and spacious, rather less cozy somehow.

The little side conversations mingled quite naturally with an occasional overriding topic. We were a large group, after all, and nothing could keep us focused or silent for long.

About midway through the chicken cacciatore, I turned to my left and a very old woman was in the chair. She sat tall, spine erect, in a fancy dress that was too large for her. She smiled quite sweetly at me, then reached over and touched my wrist. At the first touch of her fingers, I began to speak, my voice deep, resonant, sonorous. Everyone stopped to listen. For nearly an hour, I told story after story: old Hungarian folk tales, Chinese myths, episodes from pre-Columbian history, Aleutian anecdotes, each with the right accent and the right inflection. My delivery was flawless, spell-binding. At the end of the hour, I wound down like an old clock. People applauded and I turned to my companion on the right and of course the old woman was gone.

Marv wanted to know why I had been on holding out on them; my stories, though copious in the past, had never been so entertaining. I tried to tell Judy later about the old woman. I will say that she listened with kind interest but she doesn’t believe in channeling so I let it all go. It has never happened again.