Tag Archives: writing

Inspiration

In a concert Mary Chapin Carpenter once introduced her song, “The Last Word,” as many songwriters do, by telling the audience what inspired her to write it. She observed that often writers are inspired by the beauty of nature or an overwhelming feeling of love. “I wrote this one,” she said, “because I was pissed off.”

Today, all mankind is on my nerves.

Years ago, a loved one made me laugh when she shouted, very seriously, “What is everybody’s problem?” Today I can relate. Surely it isn’t me. (I know, it’s I.)

The experts say that making a list can be a good first step in addressing the source of one’s anger. So here goes.

  1. When people who borrow my books write in them
  2. When texters walk in front of moving cars
  3. Rush Limbaugh
  4. Rush Limbaugh
  5. Rush Limbaugh
  6. When people expect the Earth to revolve around them
  7. When people over-post on Facebook
  8. When people spew venom on Facebook
  9. Facebook
  10. When The Washington Post doesn’t know who from whom
  11. Me, for over-consuming and under-producing — and getting pissed off.

Thanks. I feel better.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Music, News, Politics, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

Tools of the trade

A friend of mine—a Renaissance man of sorts—writes a blog about fishing.

His latest post, entitled “The Right Stuff,” examines the equipment people need for their various hobbies and professions. Also a musician, this man likened fishing rods to guitars, as far as the selection of equipment based on one’s goals and skill levels goes.

While I know as little about casting a rod and reel as I do about playing the guitar, I found his post thought provoking. He discusses why a beginner shouldn’t begin with the most advanced—and often, most expensive—equipment and what considerations go into proper selection.

I know a fair number of golfers and have overheard my share of debate over the need for expensive equipment. My husband, a marathon runner, spends what he considers a lot of money to buy shoes and enter races and participate in running clubs. A cyclist friend pours his spare change into bikes and flying to Hawaii to watch the Ironman triathlon up close.

My friend’s blog got me thinking about my own hobbies.

In 1977 I got into crocheting. I spent about half of the $2.35 an hour I earned at the yarn store on acrylic yarn. Once I spent an exorbitant sum of $6.99 on a complete set of crochet hooks, which I still have but no longer use.

That’s it. Except for a couple of style guides, I don’t spend anything on my hobby. Perhaps it shows.

I suppose I could take up more hobbies, and then I could blog about those. Golf is out, as plaid does not become me. We’ve already established I lack musical and athletic talent, so neither a violin nor a tennis racket is an option.

I don’t care much for stamp collecting (sorry, Dad) or bird watching or scrapbooking.

As I look back on some of my most popular blog posts, I notice (and WordPress confirms) that the best stories came from travel experiences and mishaps.

Therefore, would it be reasonable to conclude that I’d be a better blogger if I had a bigger travel budget?

As I see it, my choice is either to buy more style guides (and new bookends!) or a plane ticket.

With any luck, things will go terribly wrong.

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Filed under Sports and Recreation, Technology and Social Media, Travel

Seemingly stilted

Few would argue, in this technological age, that we often interact with one another more via electronic media than face to face, even voice to voice. We’ve talked about this here before.

Isn’t it interesting, when we communicate with someone over a prolonged period via only technology—without ever meeting or even speaking—how our impressions are shaped, based solely on e-mail or social media interaction? What happens, then, when we later come face to face with these same people? How do they match up to our expectations, and we to theirs?

I’m currently working on a writing project for a client (actually, a client’s client), with whom all interaction has been via e-mail. Until Friday, when I visited her work site.

Her name is Bea. I’d gotten to know Bea over the last month or so, passing ideas, comments and drafts back and forth. And, presumably, she has gotten to know me.

My mind had sketched a picture of Bea, based on the only Bea I’d ever known—Aunt Bea, from The Andy Griffith Show. I imagined Bea to be roly-poly, with a bouffant do, speaking in a shrill, quivering voice. (I suppose she could have been more of a Bea Arthur, but that Bea never sprung to mind until this moment.)

I arrived onsite Friday afternoon as a woman greeted me. She was about my age, with my length hair, maybe a little shorter, a little darker, same basic style. Dressed casually. Normal voice.

We shook hands, smiled, said things like, “It’s nice to finally to meet you in person.”

I could see that was puzzled by my appearance.

She commented, “For some reason I pictured you as being English, about 65, writing by candlelight,” as she made a writing gesture in the air. Pen-writing, not keyboard-writing. The gesture was as though her air pen had a quill on the end of it.

Wow. She had formed an impression of me, based on my writing, in my e-mail messages and in the copy I produced, and basically come up with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the content that elicited my stilted style. Or is it simply the way I write, admittedly more formally and politely when addressing a client’s client?

Now I ask you – those of you who don’t know me personally – based on what you read on this blog, how do you picture its writer? And no fair peeking at my Gravatar.

Go ahead, I can take it.

4 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Movies, Television and Radio, Technology and Social Media

Part-timers disease

Now then.

More than two months ago, I announced here that I’d be letting out a little slack in the blog, to free up mental energy for a busy work season. I was buckling down to pressing obligations and, until those were tended to satisfactorily, there’d be no time for frivolous writing. Big mistake.

If you’re wondering how my September 23 resolutions turned out, I indeed completed the work, meeting all deadlines. To top that off, I pulled off the largest closet cleaning in 20 years.

Then, I erected more barriers. Believing I couldn’t clear my head enough to get my blogging groove back if obligations remained, I addressed, signed and stuffed 230 Christmas cards and finished 95 percent of my shopping. I even have most of my out-of-town packages ready to go in the mail.

But every time I sat down to tap out what used to be a free-flowing daily ditty, my skin itched. My teeth clenched.

Oh, sure, I’ve sneezed out a handful of posts this month, but they’re not my best work. And they’ve troubled me all the more for their awkward sparseness.

In an attempt to reverse my blog atrophy, I spent yesterday afternoon re-reading my blog posts of last November and December. I didn’t even recognize the writing.

This setback has proven the validity something my father once said. Over the last few years, people asked if he had considered shifting his writing and performance schedule into a lower gear. His answer was always that part time doesn’t work. The frenetic schedule kept him sharp and productive and able to maintain the rhythm. I see now that he was absolutely right.

(To give equal time, my mother suggested that, if I cleaned out my closets, things might flow more freely in other areas of my life. She too was right.)

Today is the first Monday of the season of Advent. Yesterday our priest encouraged us to take up renewed discipline—of the spiritual kind. I do intend to do that and, now that I’m ahead on many of my Christmas preparations, I might even have energy left to artificially resuscitate my inner Erma Bombeck, William Safire, Roseanne Roseannadanna, or whoever else I feel like being this season. Maybe even myself.

Did I really begin with “Now then?” That makes no sense.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays, Marketing/Advertising/PR, Technology and Social Media

Fancy schmancy

A reader contacted me this week to help water my dry spell and to seek my views on the question of pretentious writing.

She offered four examples of what she believes are showy words used by “stuffy” writers; some, she claims, are without meaning. The word samples she offered were penultimate, eponymous, jocund and diktat.

Of those, I knew two.

I saw a Facebook or Twitter post  recently that said, “Never use a long word when a shorter one will do,” a quote I believe is attributed to George Orwell.

It’s a good piece of advice, but I’m not sure I buy into it 100 percent.

Sure, I believe it’s always good to use simple language to get one’s point across. Often the fewer syllables the better. At the same time, I delight in learning new words—and using them. I was once told by an employer to quit using phrases the average Joe wouldn’t know right off the bat. I’m still a little grumpy about that.

My everyday stainless steel flatware, which I bought at Sears in 1984, still works just fine. But every now and then, I enjoy getting out the Reed & Barton silver. It’s as ornate and showy and unnecessary as any fancy language thrown about in The New Yorker. But it’s there and it’s beautiful. Why not use it?

My reader cited The New Yorker’s review of the movie Larry Crowne as she pondered the necessity of diktat, which I learned is a harsh penalty. The review said, “During Larry’s midlife crisis, the world is little more than an extended version of the cheerful diktat that disaster is merely opportunity in disguise.” I think that’s a stretch. Perhaps I misunderstand the definition. I’m going with the reader on this one.

Jocund is a nice word, though I’ve never used it. I might try it out, the next time I need to describe someone who is marked by lively mirthfulness. Come to think of it, I might prefer lively mirthfulness.

Eponymous, giving one’s name to a tribe or place, isn’t a word for which I’ve ever had a need. You?

Penultimate means next to last and I remember the day in college when I first learned it. I find it quite descriptive and know of no synonym. I’m keeping it.

However, I would vote penultimate most misused.

The note from the reader got me thinking about words people misuse when they’re being pretentious; I have a couple of examples. To these people, never use a short word when a longer one will do (even if you use it incorrectly).

I’ve heard people use penultimate as if it meant super-ultimate, or the very best. I once heard a person say, “They have the penultimate thick crust pizza.” That might be true, if there is one left in the oven.

A colleague once apologized to me for putting me in “an awkward juxtaposition.” 

I bet you have some funny examples of your own, or responses to my reader who wants to know, why all the fluff?

In the meantime, I come back to silverware. It’s okay to break out the fancy knives and forks for the right occasion, as long as you put them in the proper places on the table. And provided you’re not using them just to show off and make your guests feel uncomfortable.

15 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading

Blocked

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I seem to have hit a little slump.

There have been days recently when I didn’t post a blog entry, in part for lack of time and in part for lack of inspiration. Also, lately, I feel that my writing lacks the energy it used to have and I don’t want to subject readers to lethargic dronings.

I’ve been at this blogging project for 16 months now, having written 385 pieces. Inspiration used to rush at me faster than I could mash it into the keyboard. Lately? Not so much.

Over the weekend, I tackled a small writing project that gave me the same sense of paralysis. Eventually I found the energy to hand in to the client what I think was good work, but not without teeth-grinding anxiety.

This isn’t like me.

As I researched punctuation for Friday’s post, I came upon an interesting perspective on writer’s block. Then another one. Both jumped to the same conclusion: Essentially, quitcherbitchin.

Here’s what author Philip Pullman said in 2006 on the subject of writer’s block:

“Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

A bass player named Paul Wolfe wrote a piece recently on his blog, which worked from the same premise—that there’s no such thing as writer’s block—also using the plumber analogy. It’s worth a glance if you can relate.

So if there is no such thing as writer’s block, what has gotten a hold of me?

When I approached my recent client project, you would have thought I had decided to try skydiving. Profound fear consumed me.

I moved my computer from my office to the dining room table so I’d have room to spread out and to breathe. I set my papers out neatly. I took a shower. I returned to the computer. I straightened some knickknacks. I sat up straight, put my fingers on the keyboard and took a deep breath. I opened a six-ounce box of SweeTarts, sifted through the candies and ate all the purple and orange ones. Then I arranged the blue ones along the edge of the box, then the red, then the green. By this time my stomach was in my throat and my heart was racing. Utter silliness. This was easy stuff, nothing complicated. As soon as I typed the first word, the others came, but it took me more than eight hours to finish. It was touch and go there for a while.

So it goes with the blog. I don’t wake up with ideas and words to support them the way I used to.

The bass player says if you believe in writer’s block, then it wins. Pullman doesn’t believe in it either.

So maybe it’s just an old fashioned case of jitters.

Maybe I ought to lay off the SweeTarts.

Or maybe it just boils down to this bumper sticker:

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Filed under Marketing/Advertising/PR, Technology and Social Media

Got to dash

Is there any particular punctuation mark that you tend to use as a crutch? You know, that one written widget you rely on when you’re not sure what to use?

Everyone has one. My husband uses the ellipses with reckless abandon. In lieu of a comma, colon, semicolon, even a period, those three dots heavy-handedly pepper his text.

Mine is the em dash—hands down.

Laura Hale Brockaway of Ragan’s PR Daily dubbed the em dash the most chivalrous punctuation mark of all time. I’ll tell you why in a moment.

For those who don’t recognize it by name, the em (as in the letter m, also used as a measurement of print space) dash is the longer of two kinds of dashes, formed in type by typing two consecutive dashes on the keyboard, without any space on either end. In most word processing programs, it doesn’t appear until you type a space after the word following the em dash. It’s fun; try it. (Brockaway cautions her readers to not do it this way; however, my attempt at her suggested computer command fails.)

In most instances, in English anyway, the em dash is longer than—and has a different purpose from—the en (n) dash, its shorter single cousin, with a space on either side.

I like the em dash because it steps in—with with class and strength—when other forms of punctuation can’t quite stand up to the challenge. Brockaway calls it chivalrous because Eats Shoots and Leaves author Lynne Truss calls it “a courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling.”

Used in lieu of a comma, a set of parentheses or, I dare say, a semi-colon, an em dash introduces an interruption for the purpose of a side explanation or a pause for emotion, as well as many other utile functions.

Here, read her piece about this mighty mark—she tells you everything you need to know about the em dash. If you enjoy a bit of drama, scroll down and read the comments. Someone accuses the em dash of bullying the semi-colon while another feels the en dash has been dissed. Good stuff.

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Filed under All Things Wordish