We're just going to ignore that little break and pretend nothing happened, right?
Remember back in June when I told you to not ever be an editor? How it would kill your writing? I'm back today with another little bit of advice for you. If you want to be an editor, don't ever be a writer.*
You'll notice, if you've been checking in, that I haven't written a blog post since July. I swore when I started this that I wasn't going to be one of those bloggers whose every other post was an apology for not blogging, so I'm not going to say I'm sorry. THOUGH I AM.
Round about the time I wrote my last post, I was starting a summer writing class. It went well, maybe too well, because after that, I enrolled in TWO fall writing courses. I couldn't decide, so I decided to do both. It felt great to knock the rust off, and I came away from it with some pretty good work.
But my oh my did I neglect business! I'm thankful for my regular clients who didn't forget about me, but I met exactly none of my goals for networking, continuing education, and business development.
Now that it's well past the time when you can rightfully be wishing people happy new year, I'm back on track. I've filed my taxes, paid my membership dues, found a couple of additional client sources, and started networking again (Is there a word for re-networking?) It's been paying dividends already, and I feel refreshed after my unintentional break.
And I wrote a good story this weekend!
*Please don't listen to this advice. Please write. A lot.
I should probably call this series more like "Passage Crush," but that sounds like something horrible that would happen to multiple vehicles in tunnel. I mean this little section of my blog to show off neat little tricks I've stumbled across in my reading.
In my very first-ever writing course, one of our weekly assignments was to submit work by other authors that really impressed us. The catch was, we had to say why. I was tempted to just plonk Ray Bradbury's entire catalog on the professor's desk, mic-drop style. My early assignments were pretty much that. "This poem is GOOD." "This book is FREAKING AWESOME." "I mean, if I knew why it was awesome, I'd do it myself, and then people would be turning in my work."
Turns out that was the point. After a few weeks of the professor pushing and asking questions like, "How exactly does the author make this work?" I started to see what was happening. Oftentimes, we'd break a passage down into sentences, then into individual words, teasing apart the layers until we understood just where the magic was hidden. It was then that I realized that all English writing, from Goodnight Moon to War and Peace is a combination of 26 letters and a few symbols. There's nothing at all that even my most revered literary idols could do that wasn't available to me. I just had to figure out how they were doing it.
Of course, you can look around your local bookstore and see that I haven't figured it out yet. But, I still do this exercise, and it's helped me immensely as a writer and an editor. It also helps to counteract the fact that, as I told you last week, I'm often wrapping myself in errors.
So who better to kick off our author crush series than Joyce Carol Oates? Currently, she's still filed under "FREAKING AWESOME." I'm still trying to pick apart how she does what she does. But I'm working on it. The following is from her very short story "Photographer's Model," in her collection The Assignation.
It sort of dulls the impact putting these three passages one right after another. But, it struck me in the early part of this story how Uncle Billy's name evolves and how it paces with the evolution of the protagonist. In the first passage, he's simply "her uncle." In this passage, she, too, is hardly anything: no name or character, just a niece in pictures. Later we will learn that Billy is an amateur photographer, so it stands to reason that he took pictures of her before she became anything through his pictures.
In the second passage, he becomes "Uncle Billy." Our protagonist has gone to live with her uncle because her father was "always injuring himself outdoors" and "they were always poor." As soon as we learn of her moving, we also learn that she's not at all romantic about her childhood home, and very quickly distances herself from her family. Her relationship with Uncle Billy is expounded, and we begin to learn how his photographs of her set the course for her life.
In the third passage, he's "Billy." Not her uncle, not her Uncle Billy. She's coming to the understanding that there is something that sets her apart from other girls, something "special." The protagonist is establishing herself and her agency and place in the world, and Billy is now not her uncle, not the photographer who actualizes her role, but simply another character in her story.
(Later in the work, the protagonist recalls a scene from her childhood, and Billy again [though briefly] becomes "Uncle Billy," counseling her about dealing with her fractured family relationships.)
This is a small, small, small part of a great (FREAKING AWESOME) little story. It could easily be lost in the pile of other expert moves that Oates makes. A less careful author would likely alternate between calling him "Billy" and "Uncle Billy" and no one would even notice to call it error. But with an extremely precise author like Joyce Carol Oates, and in an extremely short story like "Photographer's Model," you can bet that every single word is pulling double-duty. Most readers will probably never even notice, but it adds to the overall feel of the characters and the story as a whole, that feel that leaves you wondering, "How did she do that?"
Ages ago, I got really into great, evocative foreign words and phrases with no English equivalent. Words such as Kummerspeck, the German word for the weight you gain from emotional eating. Phrases like l'esprit de l'escalier, the French phrase for "staircase wit," the moment when you think of the perfect reply or comeback only when it's too late to use it.
I got to thinking about all of the neglected states that don't have their own translation (that I'm aware of) in any language. Let's bring awareness to these poor, forgotten feelings that everyone knows, but no one knows how to say.
I'll be posting these states regularly, in the hopes that one of you might be able to give them names, English or otherwise. Without further delay, our first state:
The emotion of being resigned to the imminent death of a loved one who then survives.
How can I be a better writer? How can I get better at grammar? Here's the advice everyone will tell you: Read a lot. Write a lot. Practice. Subscribe to grammar websites. Buy Strunk & White.
The real best thing you can do for your writing is to never start editing. I love my job, don't get me wrong. I feel - called is too strong and religious a word - drawn to the art and craft of word-wrangling, and the help I can be to all of my clients.
Confession time: Being an editor has KILLED my writing. I mean, I can still write. Any rust on the cogs of my ability to construct a storyline or lay down compelling dialogue is no one's fault but my own and the fact that I've chosen not to give it the time that it deserves. But my spelling. My word choice. My grammar. It's horrible! Just yesterday I re-read an email I'd written (a professional email! to a CLIENT!) in which I said "there were know further issues." KNOW FURTHER. He's a long-time client of mine, and I can only hope that the work I've done for him is evidence enough of my abilities, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised if I never get another project from him.
I never used to have problems like this. I blame editing. You know the advice above to read a lot? The idea is that by constantly reading good, correct prose, you'll learn by osmosis. You'll absorb what sounds right, and all of the rules will start to fall into place. I, however, deliberately surround myself with incorrect writing. My entire focus is to find where an author wrote "their" when she really means "they're." By focusing on error, I believe I've somehow solidified it in my own mind as the way my own writing should look. Why my mind has allowed a decade of editing to supersede three decades of reading is another question ...
See how I've suffered for you, clients? Does anyone know a good editor who could help me out?
When I was little, my grandmother was the only person I knew to have a pantry. It was a tiny, doorless closet to the right of her oven, and it always smelled faintly of fresh tomatoes and onions from her garden. This year marks ten years since her passing, and longer still since the passing of her cooking days, but even today whenever I read the word "pantry," I can see the neat stack of Crisco, and feel myself flipping through the little plastic file of Kool-aid that she kept for my cousins and me.
I've got my own pantry now. We recently bought our first home, a "century home," built in 1911. The house offers a stunning lack of storage space, but the previous owners helpfully closed up a corner of the dining room and installed custom shelving and drawers. It's a wonder of modern engineering and displays a House-of-Leaves-esque ability to accept the infinite boxes and cans I try to cram in there.
"Pantry" is an early-fourteenth-century word, coming from the Latin "panataria," meaning "the office or room of the servant who has charge of food (bread)." In the late middle ages, enough care and concern was given to the various stages and elements of food production that separate areas were kept for the storage and preparation of bread (pantry), meats (larder), and booze (buttery). If you were lucky enough, you had one particular person on your staff who controlled the pantry: the pantler. If you are having suspicions about the origin of the word "butler," you are on the right track!
I'm so pleased to finally have my new website up and running! In the past month, I've paid self-employment taxes, ordered new business cards, and am about to hire an accountant. Big things are happening for River Run, and now I've got a blog! Next up, my logo on the side of city busses. Anyone good at designing logos?
While having a website makes me feel very legit, I'm most excited about this blog. I've got so much that I want to share with people - thoughts about words, book and movie reviews, dumb stories from my daily life. I hate to always be posting these things on Facebook, so here we are, hanging out in my very own digital diary.
I hope you'll enjoy spending some time here with me. I promise to not go too long between updates. I promise to not get too serious. I promise only the occasional picture of my horribly mean little cat, Moses.
I'm glad to have you here! I'd love if you introduced yourself in the comments!