Category Archives: Rants about Writing

If you can’t improve your health, improve your writing

 

Hypertextbook.com says that an average educated person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 words in a week. Most sources say that the English language contains between 600,000 to over 1 million words depending upon how you count.  (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)  Not only do most of us use less than 3% of available words, we employ them poorly.  And when I say “we,” I mean “me, myself and I.”

As a charter member of the Failed Writers Society, I recognize my repetitive, trite speech and writing patterns especially when I come across informative reading matter.

A recent article from The New Yorker entitled Alone in the Alps by James Lasdin described the connection between the Via Alpina trail in Europe and its rich culture as follows:

“That sense of multiplicity is still strong. The Rockies may offer wilder wilderness, but you don’t experience the pleasure of sharp cultural variegation as you move from place to place…   It’s there […] in the freshly incomprehensible road signs, which is Slovenia are clotted with consonant clusters, as if vowels were an indulgence.”

This description of a consonant-rich Eastern European language is the best I’ve come across since a Car Talk episode called Vowels to Bosniahttp://www.cartalk.com/content/vowels-bosnia

So what’s the connection between not improving your health and improving your writing? Well, if nothing else, not improving your heath will give you less time to improve your epitaph* when that inevitable day comes.

[*Dr. Language Guy wishes to point out that he word “epitaph” comes from the Latin epitaphium, which, in turn, comes from the Greek epitaphion, meaning “over or at a tomb.”  This is derived as epi (“on” or “over”) + taph(os) (“tomb”).]

Here are some better examples.

In a London cemetery:

Here lies Ann Mann,

Who lived an old maid

But died an old Mann

Dec. 8, 1767

 In a Ribblesford, England cemetery:

The children of Israel wanted bread;

And the Lord sent them manna.

Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,

And the Devil sent him Anna.

In Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona:                          

Here lays Butch,

We planted him raw.

He was quick on the trigger,

But slow on the draw.

 Also in Boot Hill:                          

Here lies Lester Moore

Four slugs from a 44

No Les

No more.

 Of a hanged sheep thief, in Lame, Ireland:

Here lies the body

Of Thomas Kemp

Who lived by wool

But died by hemp.*

 * A witticism from Cervantes’ Don Quixote states:  “One does not speak of hemp in the house of the hanged.”

A lawyer’s epitaph in England:

 Sir John Strange

Here lies an honest lawyer,

And that is Strange.

 In Newbury, England (1742):

 Tom Smith is dead, and here he lies,

Nobody laughs and nobody cries;

Where his soul’s gone, or how it fares,

Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

 In a Welland, Ontario cemetery:

Here lies all that remains of old Aunt Charlotte,

Born a virgin, died a harlot.

For sixteen years she kept her virginity,

A marvelous thing for this vicinity.

 

And finally, in Hollywood Forever cemetery:

Improveyourwriting

 

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The Penis from Venus

 

I was reading articles from a recent issue of The New Yorker and came across Eight Short Science-Fiction Stories (including the Penis from Venus) by Paul Simms and Omission, choosing what to leave out by John McPhee. In my tangled, warped mind, I combined them into a stream of conscientiousness (or, in my case, a swamp of conscientiousness) about writing and blogging. McPhee is a favorite author of mine: I have enjoyed Assembling California, Basin and Range and The Curve of Binding Energy, among others. McPhee has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965, has published twenty-eight books and teaches a course in Creative Non-fiction.

McPheeJohn McPhee

McPhee emphasized that “creative non-fiction is not making something up but making the most of what you have.” On occasion, an article has to be shortened in order to fit the available space but most of the time any post, article, short story or novel can use judicial editing to improve the work. Editors, a sadly neglected and all but abandoned lot, would agree. McPhee stressed his point by using the analogy of Michelangelo as a sculptor “with six tons of Carrera marble, a mallet, a point chisel [and other tools]: ‘I’m just taking away what doesn’t belong there.’” So prose writing is as much about what is NOT written as what is.

It got me to thinking, what should I leave out of any of my posts when blogging?

  • The penis from Venus – Yes, but then I would not have gotten your attention.
  • The dream where I was dancing nude at my school reunion – Definitely.
  • Any health issue that involves the description of one or more orifices – Most definitely.
  • How to build a thermonuclear bomb from six common items found in most kitchens – Not a good idea.
  • Using hot lead enemas as a means of corporal punishment – Um, yes.
  • A discussion of the effect of 2,4,6 acetyl dichlorobenzene on the anechoic chamber of the rat – Yes.
  • My Congressional Medal of Honor, my Nobel Peace Prize and my Pulitzer – Oh, wait, it’s creative NON-fiction.
  • The moaning sounds and the God-awful smells that emanated from a dumpster near 43rd Street the last time I visited New York City – Maybe.
  • Alien anal probing and sex with animals – See the penis from Venus, above.
  • OOGA horns – No, there is always room for OOGA horns. http://www.ahooga.com/ahooga_wav.shtml

McPhee also quoted Hemingway saying “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” With that thought in mind, here are the other items to omit “as though I had stated them:”

Did you cover all of them for me?

Oh, and what does any of this have to do with Eight Short Science-Fiction Stories? That’s where the swamp of conscientiousness comes in.

Fifty Shades of Grumpy Reviews

 

I really got excited about turning my idea for Fifty Shades of Grumpy into a novel.  It could even become a major motion picture!

Fifty Review1

I already had the basic formula sketched out.  I then turned that sketch into an outline.  Finally I set to work on a preliminary draft.  Before going any further I thought it best to send the draft to selected reviewers to get input.  I got back some of their comments and I see that I need to do a little more work.

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I have never read anything like it and hope I never do again.                            –New York Times

 

If you only read one book this year, don’t make it this one.                  –Washington Post

 

This is a book for which the words “out of print” will be a blessing.           –Chicago Tribune

 

Spectacular!  Sexy and erotic!  Brilliant!  A sensational read!                             These are the words I would use to describe some other book but not this one. –Los Angeles Times

 

The book should be made of toilet paper so that it would at least be useful for something.                                                                                                                    –Barron’s

 

Thinking of all the starving children in the world is preferable to reading this nonsense.                                                                                                                             –The Wall Street Journal

 

This book sucks!                                                                                                                    –Rolling Stone

 

Mixing the book with sewage would improve it.                                                         –The New York Review of Books

 

Yet another indication that America never mastered the English language. –Guardian (UK)

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The critics have spoken, the bastards!

Fifty Shades of Grumpy,                                                                                               NOT coming to a book store near you anytime soon;                                             NOT to be a major motion picture.

Sigh.

Fifty Review2

Blogging at the Three Year Mark

I was responding to a post by nursekelly on the trials and tribulations of blogging.  It piqued my interest and resulted in a post of its own.  As of this January, I have now been blogging for 3 years (on and off) and I make the following observations:

BloggingThree1

It was very hard to start.  I was fearful of saying something stupid or wrong and of not getting any response.  Over time, I found it easier to post, although finding new topics is still difficult and seems to come in spurts.  Saying stupid things comes naturally to me so I got over that quickly.

I picked a theme to find “my voice.”  Being a curmudgeon-at-large wasn’t that hard. Even though there were and are others with the same idea, my innate warped sense of humor gave me focus.  Can you blog successfully without a focus?  Well, Jerry Seinfeld made millions of dollars with a comedy show “based on nothing,” but most of us need a focus.

Building a set of loyal followers takes time but it only takes a few who have a rather large following and an interest in your blog to increase activity.  Commenting on other peoples’ blogs also helps (but does not guarantee) to increase activity on your own and, quite frankly, I need to do more of it.

I have not encountered “super bloggers” (100,000+ followers) but I have noticed several who get a very large number of likes and comments even though the actual post seem inane or lacking content.  I still don’t know why this happens.  I find more revealing those bloggers who write well or have a creative view, have a sizable audience (100’s or 1000’s, not 100,000), get a sizable number of comments and still have time to reply to most.  These bloggers are dedicated to interaction and exchange of ideas.  Personally, I would prefer to be the latter rather than the former.

I have several fellow bloggers who are writers – no surprise that many bloggers are writers – who unabashedly use their blogs to advertise their books.  Not one (so far) has asked for a contribution and I believe it fair to use a blog for marketing promotion.  If you like the way the blogger writes, then you will be more likely to be interested in their books.

Bloggers come and go.  Some get exhausted; many run out of ideas; some have reached their primary goal (sobriety, end of a bad relationship, fear of writing, etc.). While I still read and follow many that I started with, others have, regrettably, stopped blogging.  The upside is to encourage looking for new ones.

Obscenity and vulgarity – I don’t mind it and I use it occasionally for emphasis but I’m not good at it.  Besides, there are already too many “fuck you” rants posts as it is.

I try to read as many different types of blogs as possible, from the creative, inspirational and poetic to those that others might find offensive, weird or unusual.  I want to stretch my aging brain, not restrict it.  While I have written posts about subjects like elderporn, alien anal probing and sex with animals, I would hope that no one takes me seriously.  (Sorry to disappoint you, Fido.)

So, what’s your blogging view and experience, whether newbie or veteran?  Is it up, down, sideways, ever-changing or static?  I await your reply with bated breath.  (Does bated breath leave a taste in your mouth?)

Did I Read That Right? – Part 2

Once again, I am saved by a “friend of a friend” with a whole new set of weird newspaper headlines:

MESSIAH CLIMAXES IN CHORUS OF HALLELUJAHS

– The Anchorage, Alaska Times

THANKS TO PRESIDENT CLINTON, STAFF SGT. FRUER NOW HAS A SON

– The Arkansas Plainsman

CLINTON PLACES DICKEY IN GORE’S HANDS

– The Bangor, Maine News

STARR AGHAST AT FIRST LADY SEX POSITION

– The Washington Times

TEXTRON INC. MAKES OFFER TO SCREW COMPANY STOCKHOLDERS

–  The Miami Herald

MARRIED PRIESTS IN CATHOLIC CHURCH A LONG TIME COMING

– The New Haven, Connecticut Register

GOVERNOR CHILES OFFERS RARE OPPORTUNITY TO GOOSE HUNTERS

– The Tallahassee, Florida Democrat

EGG ROLL INCLUDES GAY PARENTS

– The Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard

(In that case, we’ll have the won-ton soup…)

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There are more but without attribution:

GRANDMOTHER OF EIGHT MAKES HOLE IN ONE

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TWO CONVICTS EVADE NOOSE, JURY HUNG

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SAFETY EXPERTS SAY SCHOOL BUS PASSENGERS SHOULD BE BELTED

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QUEEN MARY HAVING BOTTOM SCRAPED

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IS THERE A RING OF DEBRIS AROUND URANUS?

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DR. RUTH TALKS ABOUT SEX WITH NEWSPAPER EDITORS

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DEALERS WILL HEAR CAR TALK AT NOON

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NEVER WITHHOLD HERPES FROM YOUR LOVED ONE

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3-YEAR OLD TEACHER NEEDED FOR PRE-SCHOOL – EXPERIENCE PREFERRED

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DRUNK GETS NINE MONTHS IN VIOLIN CASE

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OLD SCHOOL PILLARS ARE REPLACED BY ALUMNI

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Did I read that right?