…in the serial, oxford, or harvard comma. i don’t care what you call it, use it! it makes things clearer. it helps me know that what you’re writing is a list and what’s on it and where it ends.
…in making up words. maybe it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious that started it for me, but i often find the dictionary lacking. sometimes we need to smoosh. or snoogle. or even uncouple, consciously. do it. but know you’re doing it. if there’s a “real” word, but you just don’t know it, look it up. if no word out there will do, create it.
…in killing corporate-speak. the planet needs more value-add, turn-key solutions so we can all be on the same page and circle back on optimizing the UI like it needs more plastic bottles. say what you mean. nouns and verbs work. your boss will understand you better. and hey, maybe clear speaking will be contagious.
…in the compound adjective. because sometimes you need a texting-friendly nook or you spot a not-all-there dude and you just need to gather your hyphens to make it happen.
…in following annie dillard’s writing advice: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now… Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
…in stephen king’s advice: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” read, read, read, my friends. you will learn what to do, what not to do, you will hear different voices in your head and figure out how to do that, and amidst all that you will start to hear your voice, and that will be very, very exciting and good.
…in anne lamott’s notion of “shitty first drafts.” get them out and keep writing. (my writing buddy and i call them “doggy drafts.” because they are rough! rough!) the writing will get fresher, better, and way less shitty from there.
…in free-writing. pick a topic, set a timer for 10 minutes. go! (if you need a topic, try one of these: “i remember when…” OR “the worst day was…” OR “the best day was…” OR “strawberry jam” OR “my first time.” this alone will help you become a better writer. it will surface something deep and strange and beautiful. and if you do this with other people you will read out loud to each other and you will be blown away. just, blown. the only rules: KEEP YOUR PEN MOVING (even if you have to write “i don’t know” 20 times) & NO CROSSING OUT. go!
…in reading strunk and white’s elements of style. again and again. and embody that shit–omit needless words, use the correct words, use definite, specific, and concrete language, yadda. and then… write what comes. don’t omit so many “needless” words that your essay becomes a tweet. don’t be so concrete that you never use an abstract notion. which leads me to…
…grammar rules are learned to be broken. thank you, nia rockas, my high school english teacher, for making me diagram sentences. for making me cry. for having me say “i don’t get it” over and over. and then making me do it more. it sucks. i still don’t fully get dangling participles if i’m being honest. but i do know how to cobble together a sentence so that people understand it. and i know that sometimes it’s ok to end a sentence with a preposition–right on! and sometimes passive construction actually says the thing you want to say a little bit slower and backwarder. but learn those rules, and then break them for good reason, with control.
…in getting a writing buddy. writing is some lonely-ass business. find a friend you can be lonely with together. go to a café or a quiet corner of a house, set an egg timer (or a cell phone timer) and write. each of you, on your own thing. take a break when time’s up for a cookie and tea and, write again. 45-minute increments are good. but do what feels right. the rules here: NO INTERNET (unless you are very specifically researching what you are writing, not searching “what to say to oprah when she loves my memoir” or starting with “kitchen counters in 1970” and then trailing off to home decor blogs and buying sponges on amazon). NO PHONE, TEXTING OR SOCIAL MEDIA. (no excuses.) and do this often–make a monthly or weekly date and stick to it.
…in spellcheck. seriously, world. spellcheck. it won’t catch everything, but it will catch a lot. do it, please. now. thank you.
…in HAVING FUN. yes, i know, i am so there with you about writing being agony, and loving having written more than writing. but the only part that should truly hurt is NOT writing. the actual writing part, when you’re grooving and saying mostly what you want to say, that should be fun. or maybe you should re-think your approach–topic, tone, truth. are they feeling yummy? free-write a little to find out.
…in “no pearls before swine.” that great draft you just free-wrote and you feel expresses something so fabulous and personal and true? do not run out to your most “intellectual,” critical friend and read it. either a) keep it to yourself so it can build and grow and marinate or b) read it to someone who you know will love it because they love you and will feel your essence in it. maybe later, when you want more “pick-it-apart” feedback you send it to the person with a fuller brain than heart. but maybe not, too.
…in the semicolon. it is dying and we need it. it offers a harder stop than the dash, a softer stop than the period. it creates a little drama, a little PAY ATTENTION. one teacher told me it’s the yellow light of punctuation (love you, steve wright). you don’t slam on your breaks, but you engage them, you notice; some days we need the semicolon to look a little more closely at our words, and maybe our lives. also, what comes after the semicolon should be a complete sentence.
…in killing your clichés. you will do this post-shitty first draft. learn clichés (mostly by reading a lot), and then weed them. people in your writing can talk in them because people do (usually messing them up), but you are not allowed to offer pearls of wisdom or have something last from time immemorial or proclaim anything right on the money. at least not without very good reason for doing so, with awareness. (check out this awesome cliché finder if you’re not sure if something is hackneyed.)
…in inviting your inner critic(s) to leave the room. there’s no place for him or her or them in the writing process. they will fuck with your head and tell you lies. it’s their job. they are fired from the writing process. and possibly, maybe re-hired for the very end of the editing process. maybe. the best way to identify a mean critic from a good critic is this: when you hear her voice in your head, is this a loving voice? a voice you would use to tuck a baby in to bed? ha! no? then buh-bye. your inner voice, the wisdom that may occasionally offer writing suggestions, will do it kindly and with love and enthusiasm. “ooh, more about that–it’s good!” she’s hired to stay.
…in writing it down, now. you will forget that brilliant insight or piece of dialogue five minutes from now. use the notes app on your phone or carry one of those paper thingies with you.
…in writing by hand, at least sometimes. natalie goldberg writes wonderful stuff about how the hand is connected to the heart, so when we hand-write, we connect to the source. try it if you don’t already. especially if you feel stuck. step away from the laptop, get out a paper thingy and ink thingy and write. on… “my best failure.” 10 minutes. go!