I carry on a nearly continuous internal deliberation on the praxis and poetics of writing. This meta-commentary is mostly prolix and rambling, but it periodically coheres into an aphorism, the gelled distillate of an idea, small enough to be fit into a spoon and swallowed.
Last month I began posting these to my Twitter and Facebook streams, because I was curious what response they might elicit. While there has been little true commentary, there has been evidence of support in the unvoiced enthusiasm that's peculiar to these media. Here are the posts from August.
O N R E A D E R S
- Writing is one of the most intimate and beautiful of acts, because it changes another's mind.
- If you're not interested enough in the story to work on it, don't expect a reader to be interested enough in the story to read it.
- When a writer starts wandering off into the rooms of his own head, he sometimes leaves his reader at the foyer, wondering.
- A common mistake is to assume your readers automatically care about your subject. They don't. You must give them something to care about.
O N S Y N T A X
- Your character might use slang, but you should not. Your syntax must be flawless so the character's voice comes through.
- If you write on behalf of a business, you are the person who gives that business a voice. Tone matters. A lot.
- Let's bury—forever—the word "incent," and throw "incentivize" into the hole, too.
- Let's move beyond "gift" as a transitive verb.
- It's inadvisable to hoe a road. Roads are very hard, so you might hurt yourself. If you really want to hoe something hard, please hoe a row.
- Use contractions. Otherwise, you'll sound pedantic, and you don't want that. "Otherwise, you will sound pedantic, and you do not want that."
- If the score at the end is Grammar 1, Syntax 0, you have failed.
O N E D I T I N G
- Editors inveigh against redundancy, but sometimes you need to say it twice—and even more simply—to get the point across.
- The writer's hand is visible; the editor's hand is not. When you read good writing, you're likely also reading good editing.
- Many editors aren't. Caveat scriptor.
O N N A R R A T I V E
- To write, you must first have an idea. Remarkably, this step is often skipped.
- Having been raised by wolves makes a great story, but you'll still need to learn how to write it.
- Chronology doesn't always make the best storytelling. Play with time, mix it up; make your reader stitch the story together for herself.
- Sage quotes by others are all very well, but at some point you must devise a few of your own.
- Tell a story nobody else can tell.
- Be authentic. There isn't anything else.