Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

Making a list February 28, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — itsy @ 5:50 pm

I was browsing around looking for inspiration and a way to dig myself out of this rut I’ve fallen into when I came across Hit Those Keys, a site by Lisa Firke.

Among her suggestions for clearing writing blocks:make a list for your character.

Cute, I thought. And useful. Thinking about what your character might have on his or her agenda will spark thoughts like, “Gee, he does have to do that. Maybe I should write a scene where that happens.” Furthermore, it makes your character more real, and that certainly can’t be a bad thing.


sensible advice on grammar

Filed under: style — itsy @ 4:35 pm

I’ve been reading Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams. It’s the most honest book on style I’ve read yet. Furthermore, he presents grammar as a choice (who would have thunk?). By following different levels of convention, you align yourself with a certain level of readership. Some rules none but the strictest readers will notice if you break. Others, many readers will notice something is not quite right. The problem with following grammar to the letter and rule is that you risk losing clarity and grace. The most grammatically correct sentences aren’t necessarily the easiest, or most pleasant, to read.

He divides rules into three categories: rules that define the fundamental structure of English, such as article placement (“the book”, not “book the”); rules that distinguish standard English from non (“I don’t know anything”, not “I don’t know nothing”); and rules grammarians have invented that they deem should be followed.

I like the last category the best. Williams points out there is no logical need for some of the rules grammarians impose. Included are rules such as “Don’t split infinitives” i.e. to leave quietly, not to quietly leave, and “Don’t use which for that in a restrictive clause” (a rule which, incidentally, dates as recently as the 20th century). None of these rules, however, are consistently used the the best writers. So what are we to make of them? Some of these “rules” are little more than folklore or the opinion of a small posse of grammarians.

We must think about this matter of precision precisely: We must write correctly. But if in defining correctness we ignore the difference between truth and folklore, we risk overlooking what is important – the choices that make prose wordy and confusing or clear and precise. We are not being precise when we merely get straight all the whiches and thats, mend every split infinitive, eradicate every finalize and hopefully. Many who obsess on such details are oblivious to the more serous matter of imprecise thought and expression, and it is that kind of substantive imprecision that will allow obtuse prose to become the national standard….

It [Adhering strictly to the rules] is an impulse that we ought not to scorn, but only so long as it is informed and thoughtful, only so long as it is not used as a pretext for invidious discrimination, and only so long as those who choose to follow all the rules all the time include in their concern the more important matters to which we now turn- the choices that define not what is correct, but what is clear and graceful.

Thanks for the reality check, Williams.


paling in comparison February 27, 2007

Filed under: insecurities — itsy @ 10:55 pm

I do this to myself all the time. I read about successful authors. I berate myself for not being one of them. And then I just get depressed, and I write nothing. After talking myself out of throwing my lap top onto the ground (it’s pretty sad already – missing keys and all – but it’s all i can afford right now) I scurry off to my room, duck under the covers, and press my eyes closed, waiting for the bogey to go away.

Eventually I come around. Eventually, I remind myself of all the reasons I want to be a writer, which really have nothing to do with getting published.

The thing about fiction is that you can’t compare yourself to any one. Sure, Christopher Paonini might be 18 (19?) and already has signed deals with major movie companies, and everyone absolutely seems to adore George RR Martin, but the problem is, you can’t write like they do. You can only write like you do, and you can only do it as well as you can. It might not seem very comforting, but it is. Only you have that unique voice inside of you. It’s up to you to figure out how to get it out.

See? I feel better already.