Generally Miserable

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Every once in awhile I read advice from a published author on how to write, just as a refresher course on what I should be doing. Neil Gaiman has good advice. Margaret Atwood does too. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is a fabulous book, and I’m not sure why I don’t own it yet. I love to remind myself of common rookie mistakes  so I can feel good about avoiding them. But today’s advice made a specific repeated error so glaring on the page that it hurts to read my own manuscript.

My adverbs are killing me.

My professors would be appalled. I searched for “ly” just to get an idea of the extent of the infection, and it made me want to cry. I stopped the search after chapter two. I won’t tell you how many there were because I was too ashamed of myself to count them. But it was more than two (which would also be too many).

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. This is an unfinished rough draft, and I have at least two or three drafts to go before it resembles the finished product. But right now, it’s plain awful.

Michael Crichton once said, “About two hundred pages in, I decide the book’s no good, and it was a mistake ever to begin it. And I think there is no way to fix it, and I am generally miserable…”

I’m right there with him. The book is no good, and I am miserable.

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Haiku Thoughts

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Americans love words. We really adore words, written or spoken. We devour them from the internet, books, TV, radio, and blogs. Ironically, blogs are one of the best examples of our obsession with words.

We’re also a very “wordy” people. We like hyperbole, adynata, purple prose, and adjectives. Lots of adjectives. Where one word would be appropriate, we use seven or twelve.

My roommate in college used to say that I could say in three pages what she could say in fifteen. I’ve always been a concise writer, especially in my academic writing. I’ve read works by several Asian writers, and it always impresses me how vividly they write despite such a spare writing style. I hope to write like that, but I have a long way to go.

One of the best examples of a simple writing style is a haiku. The idea is that you try to capture a thought or image as vividly and beautifully as possible in only a few syllables. I wrote a haiku a few years ago.

Day-old Ramen molds
Yellow mixed with furry green
Maybe it’s still good…

Yep. I’ve got a long way to go.