Wordy Writing

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very.’ Otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C.S. Lewis

Wordy writing — we’ve all been guilty of it: We are carried away with a description or an idea and before we know it, our prose become pudgy and overstuffed. What to do? What to do?

The next time this happens, I’m going to turn to Gail Radley, an English teacher and the author of 23 books. In “Cut the Fat: How to make your writing lean and mean,” an online article, she offered some helpful tips:

Don’t cut prematurely: “Targeting and removing excess is an essential revision activity — but worrying about it as you compose can choke the flow of thoughts.”

Cut in Waves: “Because we are used to speaking, seeing, and writing excess, it usually takes multiple passes to notice and cut the fat from a manuscript. These passes are best done over several days, so each scan feels fresh. If you can set aside the manuscript for a month, all the better.”

Adhere to a word count:  “Having to adhere to a strict word count is helpful as it forces you to question each word and phrase (So, by the way, does writing poetry; I recommend it as an exercise even if it isn’t your preferred genre.)”

Cut strategically and incisively:  “Cutting excess may allow for more ideas. Even if you don’t have a word limit, challenge yourself to cut 300 words from a manuscript of 1,000 without losing content.”

Use words, not phrases:  “Make it a rule to substitute a word for a phrase.” Example: Change “You and I see the same movie” to “We see the same movie.”

Revision is challenging, but the leaner our prose is the easier it is for our readers to absorb our ideas and keep moving through our stories. Write on!

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Writerly Wisdom

Writerly words of wisdom I wanted to share with you today:

“Let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition.”         William Osler

“As we approach an experience that should be fun, we should remain open to its possibilities. We should not let ourselves be adversely influenced by what others say or by what we say to ourselves about it.”   Stewart W. Holmes

“I have never understood why ‘hard work’ is supposed to be pitiable. True, some work is soul-destroying when it is done against the grain, but when it is part of a ‘making’ how can you begrudge it? You get tired, of course, often despair, but the struggle, the challenge, the feeling of being extended as you never thought you could be is fulfilling and deeply, deeply satisfying.” Rumer Godden

“Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely, have commentators.”     Albert Camus

“No one who can write decently is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence …. E.B. White

“Writing is a matter of craft and know-how, yes, but also a matter of tenacious faith. And closely related to faith — perhaps rising from it — are all those virtues of courage, hope, steadfastness of intention, caritas, for the process, the journey itself.”   Joanna Higgins

“…It is the business of the writer to hide the fact that writing is his business. Readers are not interested in the mechanics of authorship.”   A. A. Milne

“If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise. Attack it an an hour when it isn’t expecting it.”   H. G. Wells

“Thinking is the activity I love best and writing to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”   Isaac Asimov

May these writerly musings inspire and inspirit us today as we all write on!

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Beautiful Sound

A story: A young writer was interviewing a symphony orchestra conductor from Eastern Europe. The conductor had just been released from years in isolation in a prison because of his political view.

The reporter asked the maestro a series of questions about economic and political matters, then turned his attention to music. “What in your opinion,” he asked, “is the most beautiful piece of music ever written?

The conductor pondered the question for some time silently. The reporter pressed him for an answer by asking a different question: “While you were held in isolation what did you want most to hear? What music would have come to mind then as the most beautiful?”

“In the whole world?” asked the conductor.

“In the whole world!” the reporter answered.

“In the whole world,” the maestro said with tears in his eyes, “the most beautiful music is the sound of another voice.”

What a moving story! It reminds us all of the importance of staying connected, even in these difficult times. As writers who often spend a lot of time on our own, this is especially important. Sharing our thoughts and dreams and even our discouragement with fellow scribes and caring friends can help us stay motivated and on track.

So why not reach out to a fellow writer today? And why not give someone a call. “The most beautiful music is the sound of another voice” — how true this can be for all of us. Hearing the sound of a cherished voice may give you just the boost you need as we all write on.

Please help KWD grow by sharing: https://karinwritesdangerously.com/

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Perfectly Placed

“In truth, I’ve found that routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit seeping into the oyster’s shell that makes the pearl…”
Stephen King

In On Writing, his wonderfully candid and helpful guide, Stephen King devotes a surprising number of pages talking about a familiar writer’s quest: the search for the perfect conditions in which to create. He puts it this way: “God, if only I were in the right writing environment, with the right understanding people, I just KNOW I could be penning my masterpiece.” 

Stephen’s been there himself. We all know the feeling. In one of my drawers, I have a file into which I’ve tucked brochures and even applications for about writers’ retreats that I fantasize about. Hey, I may even make it to one some day, but I’m not holding my breath. And as Stephen, who’s no slouch in the writing department, points out, all this fantasizing about having the perfect conditions for writing just gets in the way of… you guessed it: writing. 

So let’s take a tip from a master storyteller: “You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this book or any other book on writing….You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself. These lessons almost always occur with the study door closed.”

Let’s do what we need to do: get our butts in the chair and write. Runners run, dancers dance, and writers write. That’s the long and short of it. Why waste our energy trying to create perfect conditions around us: they’re waiting for us right on the page. Write on.

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Scribe Tribe

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Epictetus

On the wings of Thanksgiving, it seems right to spend some time today reflecting on those people who lift us up and bring out the best in us. They are the wind beneath our wings — the source of hope and encouragement. They do so much for us!

They give us ideas and spark our creativity. Sometimes, just a chat or an email can ignite a whole new train of thought for us. What a gift!

They may send us articles or information that can enrich the work that we are doing. They provide fuel for our work and keep it flaming.

They give us a boost when we are feeling low — they help lift us up by reminding us of our best qualities and what we have to offer the world.

They celebrate our victories with us and soften the defeats by letting their light shine upon us come rain or shine.

Scribe tribes — what a blessing they are and how much we need their support. And how much they need ours as well. As we move into the holiday season and the end of a year of so much change and confusion, our friendships are more important than ever.

Why not make it part of your holiday gift-giving to reach out and check in with some of the people who’ve helped you on your writer’s journey? Why not let them know how much they’ve meant to you?

What better way to end the year than by lifting someone up who’s done the same for you? Write on!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

As we launch our holiday weekend, may your life be filled with joy and gratitude, now and always!

God’s World
Edna St. Vincent Millay

“O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide gray skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, world! I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known the glory of it all
But never knew I this,
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart. Lord I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me — let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.”

Have a safe, peaceful holiday as we all write on.

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Igniting Inspiration

“Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us get up and go to work.” Chuck Close

Chuck is a highly respected painter and photographer. I have his statement tacked up on the wall in my office, because it really grabbed me when I first came across it. And over and over again, recently, I’ve been reminded of how true this is based on the experience and comments of accomplished artists in a range of fields. 

A biography of Stephen Sondheim by Meryle Secrest, for example, highlighted one of his professor’s beliefs in this way: “Instead of waiting for inspiration, Barrow taught that music is a matter of craft and technique like, as it turns out, all art, and the fact that art is work and not inspiration, that invention comes with craft.”

Mmmm…there are definitely some ideas worth pondering here. The good news is that we don’t need to sit around waiting to be inspired, we simply need to get to work: to bend our time and energies to developing our craft and technique. The bad news: art is work. It requires discipline, effort, sacrifice, and a consistent investment of intention and attention. At first glance, this seems to strip away some of the mystery of the artistic process, doesn’t it? And yet, we have that redeeming thought: “invention comes with craft.” 

Craft is the open sesame: it’s the door to invention and inspiration. In order to find and mine invention, there’s one path we have to follow: we have to sharpen our writing skills, hone our craft. And that means focused, consistent practice. 

For some writers, that means devoting an intense few hours every day to their writing and then leaving their desk and letting their unconscious mind kick in. For many others, it means taking a businesslike approach to their calling. 

Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim’s mentor, has written some of the most beloved lyrics in musical theater: songs as inventive and moving as any around. He achieved his success and his lighthearted touch by taking his writing seriously and treating it like any other demanding job. He worked from 8:30 to 4:30, with a break for lunch. Sometimes it took him three weeks of intense work just to write a hatful of lyrics. But what magic he wove!

Whatever approach we take, it’s commitment that counts. It also helps to remember that the muse shows up when we do. Write on!

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Day-tight Compartments

In a speech called “A Way of Life,” which Sir William Osler, a famous Canadian physician, gave at Yale University more than 100 years ago, he explained a simple yet powerful technique he’d adopted: “living for the day only, and for the day’s work … in day-tight compartments.”

In his speech, Dr. Osler said that his “compartment” idea came to him while he was riding on an ocean liner. A warning light went off and all the watertight compartments suddenly slammed tight below the decks. Observing this, he had a revelation: By concentrating solely on one day’s work and shutting out all other thoughts and distractions, it would be possible to get a day’s work done without “mental distress” or “worries about the future.”

Draw a circle, Dr. Osler told his audience, around one 24-hour period of time. Determine what you can do in that time and make a decision not to bother your mind with worries about what you need to accomplish outside of that circle.

An example: A tourist was visiting a cathedral where an artisan was working on a huge mosaic. Seeing a vast empty wall looming before the artist, the tourist asked, “Aren’t you worried about all the space that you need to fill up and how you will ever finish it?”

The artist replied that he knew how much he could do each day. Each morning, he marked out the area of the wall he would complete and he didn’t let himself worry about what lay outside the space he’d marked. He just took one day at a time, knowing that one day he would be done.

A lot of the obstacles we face in our writing are like that Great Wall. We can worry about the bigger picture and fritter away our energies. Or we can simply draw a circle around the day and focus totally on completing the work at hand. Write on!

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Something Wonderful

From a Railway Carriage
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart runaway in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:

Each a glimpse, then gone forever!



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Contest Alert

As we all move forward into frostier days, it seems like the perfect time to pull out some stories we love, polish them and submit them. With this in mind, here are details of  a Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Total word count: 1500 and under. Deadline: December 14, 2020:

One First Place Winner will receive:

  • $3,000 in cash
  • Their short story title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s September/October 2021 issue
  • A paid trip to the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, including a Pitch Slam slot

The Second Place Winner will receive:

  • $1,500 in cash
  • Their short story title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s September/October 2021 issue

The Third Place Winner will receive:

  • $500 in cash
  • Their short story title published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s September/October 2021 issue

Fourth through Tenth Place Winners will receive:

  • $100 in cash
  • Their short story titles published in Writer’s Digest magazine’s September/October 2021 issue.

How to Enter

  • All entries must be submitted online.
  • All entries must be in English. Only original unpublished work (at the time of submission) in print, digital or online publications will be considered. Self-published work in blogs, on social media, etc. can be submitted. Writer’s Digest retains one-time nonexclusive publication rights.

For full submission details, visit: https://www.writersdigest.com/wd-competitions/writing-competitions-preparing-your-entry

It’s always fun to throw your hat in the ring — write on!

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