Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Le Mot Juste

The Right Word

On this date in history, June 26 1963 to be exact, this faux pas registered:

US President John F. Kennedy gives his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" (intended to mean "I am a Berliner", but may actually mean "I am a doughnut") speech in West Berlin.

There are many examples of how much the right word in the right place at the right time makes all the difference. This example is not a weighty one. Hey, it’s summer, the sun is shining and I want to keep light.

But speaking of shining, I have always found the writerly edict to make sure every word shines to be absurd. Impossible, for one, and subjective to boot. It makes writers work themselves into a tizzy, often messing up perfectly good narrations.

Searching for just the right words is part of the process. This, especially when something nags at the writer that it just “isn’t right.”

One well-known trick is to click on the word and look at the scroll-down menu for “synonyms.” Still not quite right? Replace with a closer one, and click on its synonyms. I’ve done this in quadruplets. At a certain point, either the right one shows on the menu or the wee brain has an epiphany. Maybe it’s not the word, maybe it’s the sentence. Or maybe the paragraph or, goodness, the whole story.

Usually the right word settles, and once resting comfortably among the others, it’s sweet. Doughnut-sweet.

Or as we now write in the former colonies, donut. The spelling has to be "juste" right as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Welcome, SUMMER*

{June 21st 9:07 AM, PDT}

So, we are just about to enter official summer.

I was never fond of Summer, until I moved to the SF bay area.

Growing up in Jerusalem, Summer was HOT. I mean, too hot.

Later, in upstate New York, it was hot and muggy, thank you very much.

Growing up, Summer meant a long school-break. It was also a long time of missing my classmates and my home-away-from-home, which is what school was for me. Not a happy thing.

Swimming pool weather meant sunburns. Later, in adolescence, it entailed being self-conscious about my figure and the growing attention it got. I never felt all right about having someone look at my body who didn't bother to look at my face first, or make conversation. This happened a lot more in summer.

So Summer and I were not friends.

Now we made peace, Summer and I. I’ve passed the point of others gawking and I live where the Summers are gentle. I've grown up, and Summer has definitely matured into a mellow fellow. 

©Shelagh Duffett

Welcome, Summer. Happy to be with you again. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Favorite bit of Advice...

Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.
(Lev Grossman)

Yes, that.^
Including my advice. Including my advice to consider Lev Grossman’s advice. Seriously.

One of the tell-telling signs of an insecure professional is how they treat professional advice. They will typically heed it blindly, with reverence, swaying in contradictory breezes this way and that. Or they will reject advice willy-nilly.

Once a certain competence sets in, these extremes fade into the gray zone. Advice considered, not treated as holy writ, and then accepted/modified/rejected.

Lev Grossman is a writer and critic at the top of his game. His simple advice, to “not take too seriously,” is an efficient articulation of that gray zone. It isn’t a NO, it isn’t a YES, and it modifies the word “seriously” with a nifty qualifier.

I listen, consider, and move on. I wholeheartedly applaud you for doing the same with anything I ever wrote, or will write, in this blog.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

How About NOT Killing Your Darlings?

Kill your darlings.”
William Faulkner paraphrasing Arthur Quiller-Couch’s ON THE ART OF WRITING, 1914

It’s a jaunty saying that has resonance, so it stuck. In writerly lingo this means that, upon revising, a writer should consider how her favorite lines/paragraphs may be a product of vanity and do not serve the story.

Okay. Sometimes it’s the case.

But good writers are made of very good readers, and very good readers who like a turn of phrase or an aside that’s clever/different/intriguing, are usually right on.

The cliché knee-jerk notion is now the very saying to “kill your darlings.”

Here’ a novel idea— let your darlings be. They are there for a reason. Your judgement is sound, and without trusting in your judgment, you’ve got bupkis. That’s another (now cliché) saying that means your writer’s soul is bankrupt.

Love your darlings, sweetheart, and let them live.