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Stupid Ideas That Don’t Seem So Bad Now

The brain is a magnificent organ that encourages lots of bad ideas. (image via wikimedia)

When I was a teenager decades ago, I saw a lot of smart adults do stupid things.  For example, my boss at a fast food place would leave the restaurant for hours at a time.  That was a bad idea because the teens running the place when she was gone stole a bunch of money from the cash registers (I never did, but I suspected it was happening).

My high school teachers were usually smart, but sometimes they did stupid things too.  One of them would often leave the classroom to make copies and would always act shocked that her room was destroyed when she returned.  Another teacher would invite students to her apartment after school (she sincerely was helping students though), and that was stupid because it gave her a bad reputation even though I don’t think she ever did anything inappropriate (except invite students to her apartment in the first place).

Another teacher always showed his son tests ahead of time, and that was dumb because the kid sold the answers to desperate students.  The son didn’t even charge much.  Looking back, all of that stuff was dumb, and it doesn’t look any better now.

But there was one high school English teacher who did something that I thought was really stupid, and now I’ve changed my mind.

His name was Mr. Randall, and he was okay, but every week he’d give us a pop quiz over a story in the our literature book.  That might sound reasonable, but he never told us ahead of time what the story being tested was.  It wasn’t a pre-reading test or a pre-test that didn’t count.  The pop quiz actually was a grade that he kept and counted.

“It isn’t fair,” a brave student complained to him early in the school year.  “You never assigned that story to us.”

“Anybody can pass a quiz if he or she has read the material,” Mr. Randall said.  “It takes true talent to excel when you don’t know ahead of time what is being tested.”

I thought this was a stupid idea, especially since it was hurting my English grade.  I was used to getting great grades in English during previous years, and it had always been easy.  Now I was struggling.  I couldn’t believe Mr. Randall was counting the grades.  I told my mom and dad, expecting them to take my side.  I thought maybe my parents would call the school and complain to them about Mr. Randall.  Instead, my dad laughed.

“You’d better read everything in that literature book then,” he said.

I failed a couple more quizzes about stories from the literature book, and the grades always counted.  When my first term grade was a B+ (the pop quizzes weren’t the only grades, and I got 100s on everything else), I knew I had to change strategies.  One weekend, I skimmed over all the stories in our literature textbook.  It took a while, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

My teacher “surprised” us with a pop quiz that week (I think it was “The Tell-Tale Heart.”), and I scored a 100.  If you knew a little bit about the stories, the quiz questions weren’t that bad.  After that, I was a straight A student in English.  At the end of the year, I was one of only a few students with an A for the year, and other students (who were probably much smarter than I was) were angry that they got a B+.  I just imitated my dad and said “You should have read the literature book.”

Maybe it was a poor teaching technique, but this pop quiz idea doesn’t seem so bad now.  Maybe I’m biased because I had an A and a bunch of future Ivy League students were pissed off at the B+ that each of them had earned.  Maybe this just proves that you can rationalize any bad idea if you try hard enough.  I see a lot of people rationalizing a lot of really bad ideas.

This experience prepared me to be flexible in my professional life.  For example, several of my bosses have recently adopted the meeting policy of “Five minutes early is on time, and on time is five minutes late.” At first, this policy seemed like a jerk move, especially when it was delivered in a smarmy tone of voice, but I know what these bosses mean.  When you’ve sat through years’ worth of meetings like I have, you know how late people can slow everybody else down.  Even if they’re on time, people need five minutes once they get to a meeting to prepare themselves.

While everybody else complained about the new policy, I just got to the meetings seven minutes early.  When five minutes early is on time, seven minutes early is still early.

Maybe Mr. Randall didn’t mean to prepare me to be mentally flexible.  Maybe he liked to torment students by giving pop quizzes over stuff that hadn’t been assigned yet.  Being surrounded by kids all day can warp a person’s mind, I guess.  Either way, when I look back, this idea doesn’t seem as bad as it did when I was in high school.

That’s easy to say now.  I don’t have to take pop quizzes anymore.

*****

What do you think?  What ideas that seemed stupid when you were a kid seem to make more sense now?

Why Writing Used To Suck (but doesn’t anymore)

 

“Suck” is a crude word, but it’s appropriate sometimes.  (image via Wikimedia)

Writing can be a frustrating experience.  One imperfect word can mess up an entire sentence.  Readers can interpret something you wrote literally when you thought your sarcasm was obvious (or vice-versa).  Writers block seems to hit at the worst moments.   As maddening as writing can be, it’s much easier today than it has ever been.    Here are a few reasons why.

  1. Writing used to be physically difficult.

In the past, authors had to hold a pencil or a pen and physically write out each word on a sheet of paper.  Even worse, back in the really old days, writers had to dip quills into ink, and then they’d get beaten by monks if they made a mistake.

Using a typewriter could be even more frustrating than holding a pen/quill.  Before computers and word processing, if you weren’t a good typist, you spent more time making corrections than actually writing.  The most frustrating weekend I ever had was during my senior year in high school when I had to type out my own term paper for English class.  An entire Saturday was spent making corrections with white-out or retyping pages altogether.  My mom, who typed 70 words a minute, said it taught me a valuable lesson, to always have a few spare bucks lying around to pay somebody to type my essays in college.

Writing with a computer/tablet is much easier than using a typewriter, pencil, or quill, and we don’t get beaten by monks when we make mistakes.

  1. Writers used to get ignored.

Without the internet, it was really tough for a writer to get readers.  20 years ago, if I wanted an audience, I had to join a writer’s group, and even then, I had to wait until the next meeting (which could have been a week, two weeks, or even a month away, depending on the group) before I received any feedback for my writing.

When I was sending manuscripts out to literary agents and publishing companies back then, I’d rarely get meaningful feedback.  I usually received form rejection letters, and I wondered if anything I wrote actually got read.  The only feedback I could get was from family or friends who told me I was great.  I can’t blame them.  If they offered any valid criticism, I’d fume.  Looking back, I was probably too sensitive.

Things have changed.  Today, writers can get instant feedback. With blogs, Twitters, Instagrams, ebooks, and much more, writers have a bunch of choices of how they want to write.  As long as writers are patient, we can eventually get an audience.

With a blog, I get much more feedback more quickly than I used to.  Even the negative feedback is positive.  When I received my first “You suck!” comment a few years ago, I knew I was finally doing something right.  I’d rather get a “You suck!” comment than a form rejection letter.  Maybe literary agents and publishing companies should just send out “You suck!” notes.  It might make everybody involved in the process feel better.

  1. Self-publishing used to be almost impossible.

Before the internet, if writers wanted to self-publish, we had to deal with shady companies that sent us cheap looking books that we had to sell in parking lots.  Even if you sold your self-published book at a book store, you lost your credibility when you badgered customers in the parking lot and pulled the copies from the trunk of your car.  When you reach for something in the trunk of your car, nobody knows what you’re reaching for.

It was frustrating to writers.  Even if we thought we had something publishable, too much was out of the writer’s control.  Unless we had connections or were willing to send money to a shady outfit to print our books for us, we were most likely never going to be published.

Now, instead of dealing with small unknown shady self-publishing companies, we can use Amazon.  At least Amazon is not small or unknown.  I published my own ebook on Amazon, and I didn’t have to deal with anybody else.  I didn’t have to spend any money either.  I mean, I know it shows that I didn’t spend any money, but that’s okay.  If I had spent money without good results, my wife might have gotten ticked off at me.  At least now I’m having fun.  And my wife isn’t mad at me.  That means a lot to me.

As long as my writing doesn’t cause my wife to get mad at me, then writing does not suck.

A High School Classmate Just Got Arrested

The mugshot wasn’t flattering. (image via wikimedia)

A high school friend of mine sent me a link to a news story about a classmate of ours getting arrested for doing something stupid.  It was kind of a domestic dispute, and the guy is too old to still do dumb stuff like this, but we weren’t surprised.  With social media, when you do something illegal/stupid in public, everybody is going to know, even people you haven’t seen in over 30 years.

The thing is, the guy who got arrested is mentioned in one of my ebooks The Writing Prompt.  It’s a true story about a few days in my high school life decades ago, and our high school classmate makes a cameo appearance in it.  I changed his name (I changed my name too), but it’s still him (he?).

This kid wasn’t the type to get arrested in high school, but if he had, everybody would have laughed.  He was obnoxious, but you can’t arrest people for that.  I heard rumors that he got a swirly once during our junior year, but he denied it, so I’m not sure (but it probably happened).

I thought about telling my friend about my ebook since our obnoxious classmate is in it.  My friend would probably get a kick out of it.  I’m paranoid about telling people about my blog and ebooks because I have a decent job with no freedom of speech.  If my personal writing ever became an issue, I could get fired.  My employer would never admit that they fired me because of my writing.  They would find another excuse.

A couple years ago, a guy where I work got fired for making a negative comment about the actor James Franco.  One of our bosses claimed to be a college friend of James Franco (he offered no proof), and he got mad when our coworker made fun of him (Franco).  We couldn’t prove that the coworker got fired because of it, but we’re pretty sure.  I’ve written a couple bad things about James Franco’s books on this blog, so I’m not safe either.

Anyway, I don’t tell people that I write anymore.  Back in the 1990s when I was futilely sending stuff out to literary agents and publishing companies, I talked about my writing to my friends and acquaintances, but I’d have to eventually admit that nothing was getting published.  It was disheartening to go to a gathering or party, knowing that I’d be asked a few questions about my writing projects when I knew the odds of getting anything published were pretty much dead.

Plus, friends often asked if they were in my books.  Back in the 1990s, the answer was no, but it was tough to say that.  I think most of my friends were disappointed that they didn’t make the cut in a book that wasn’t going to get published anyway.  I probably should have lied.  Now it’s the new millennium, and my old high school and college friends are in my ebooks and they don’t know it.

Maybe I should go back to The Writing Prompt and add a “Where Are They Now?” section to the end of the ebook.  I know what happened to me, and I know now what happened to the obnoxious guy, but that’s about it.  I don’t know what happened to any of my teachers or to the cheerleader with the really nice legs.  I guess I should have gone to my high school reunions.

*****

What do you think?  Have you told friends or relatives that you’ve written about them?  Have any of your high school friends gotten arrested?

The Literary Rants: The Oxford Comma

It’s called the serial comma, the Oxford comma, or even the Harvard comma. (image via wikimedia)

Punctuation can be boring, especially commas.  If I remember, there were a bunch of comma rules when I was in school (I’m pretty sure the comma rules haven’t changed since then), and they were tough to keep track of.

The comma made the news last week when some truckers in Maine won millions of overtime dollars because of the absence of a comma in a state law. It sounds boring, but a lot of money was involved, so that should automatically make it interesting.

WARNING!!!  BORING LEGAL GRAMMAR ANALYSIS!!

The truckers were demanding four years of overtime back pay, and the employer refused, claiming that Maine state law said that overtime didn’t apply to the drivers’ situation.  The law itself is long and gives me a headache, but this New York Times article (if you trust it) says-

Note the lack of Oxford comma — also known as the serial comma — in the following state law, which says overtime rules do not apply to:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Because there was no Oxford comma, the judge decided that the law was ambiguous enough to give overtime to the truckers, who were involved only with distribution, not “packing for shipments.”  With the Oxford comma, the law would have said:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment, or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

If that had been the case, the truckers might NOT have been granted overtime pay.

Then again, I’m not sure the comma should have made a difference anyway.

All the verbs in the sentence end with –ing (canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing) , and to me that makes distribution a noun which should be attached to the preposition for, which would give the preposition two objects.  That would make the entire phrase “packing for shipment or distribution.”

If distribution had been meant as a separate activity, it would have been phrased as distributing and that might have made the lawmakers’ intentions clear.

But no matter what, it still would have given me a headache.

END OF BORING LEGAL GRAMMAR ANALYSIS!!

You can stop yawning now. (image via wikimedia)

I don’t blame the judges, the truckers, or the company, or even the state law for this mess.  I blame the comma.

I was taught in school to use the Oxford comma, but it wasn’t called an Oxford comma.  It was called the serial comma, but that was in the late 1970s before there were so many serial killers (we just weren’t quite as aware of serial killers), and maybe some sensitive people don’t want to use the word serial in anything.

My wife does some business writing now, and she is taught NOT to use the Oxford comma.  My daughters’ grammar textbooks (they never open them) both say to use the serial comma.

The problem is the inconsistency.  I know that English is inconsistent.  Every rule has exceptions, but at least most grammarians agree what the rules are, such as “I before E except after C.”  All the grammarians should get together and put the serial comma to a vote.  I don’t even care if it’s a popular vote or an Electoral College vote; just put it to a vote and stick to the results.

If it matters to anybody, it makes more sense to me to use the comma, but I’m not going to argue about it.  I don’t want to get into a punctuation argument over a comma.  I’ve gotten into some really stupid fights before, and I’d feel sheepish later if I got into a yelling match over an Oxford comma.  After the vote, I’d want to change the term back to serial comma too.   You use the commas in a series, not in an Oxford, so it makes more sense to me.

*****

What do you think?  Are you a fan of the serial comma?  Were you taught to use or not use the Oxford comma?

Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: The Ugly 1970s

Maybe “ugly” isn’t the right word, but everybody knows what I mean. (image via wikimedia)

It’s tough to explain the fashion sense of the 1970s to my daughters.  Whenever they watch a movie from that decade, they cringe and say something like, “How could they wear that?” or “What made them think that looked good?”

Every decade has a reputation.  The 1950s were cool because of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and a bunch of tuff cars.  The 1960s had the counter cultural stuff with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and lots of drugs.  They were cool too.  But the 1970s?   That decade still had the drugs, but those came with ugly hair, bell bottoms, weird color combinations, and big collars.  None of that is cool.  And it was kind of ugly.

There was some good music from the 1970s, but you don’t look at music, at least you didn’t in the 1970s.  You didn’t really start looking at music until the 1980s.  There were a couple dance shows on television which played popular songs, but there weren’t many videos.  There was also some great comedy in the 1970s, but ugly fashion enhances comedy instead of detracting from it.

All that ugly 1970s fashion seemed cool at the time, and that’s a problem.  How could so many people get fooled into thinking something is cool when it is really very ugly?  It’s important to understand these things.  It may seem minor, but this kind of group think is how genocides happen.

A lot of ugly stuff was going on in the 1970s, so it makes sense that the fashions look historically ugly.  The Vietnam War divided this country, and President Nixon had to resign because of the Watergate scandal, and there were lots of protests going on, gas lines, economic problems, and it ended with President Carter’s national malaise.  Maybe the late 1960s were more intense, but the 1970s were pretty bad too.

Like most problems, ugly 1970s fashion starts with the kids.  Kids have always had bad fashion sense.  I can’t go back to ancient times and prove it, but when you give kids a choice, they’ll usually pick something stupid.  That’s why adults are supposed to make decisions for kids.  If kids didn’t have stupid fashion sense in ancient times, it’s because adults didn’t let them make fashion decisions.  Plus, survival was so hard that they didn’t have time to be fashionable.

Sometime after World War II, parents began letting their kids make more decisions, and that’s where bad fashion (and the destruction of civilization) began.  It was okay to give kids choices as long as the kids had to become adults at 18 and work.  The rule in my family was when you turned 18 you got kicked out of the house.  You could finish out high school if you turned 18 first, but only if you’d never been held back a grade.  That forced us to turn into adults.

Sometime in the 1960s, adults tried to hold onto their adolescence for as long as they could, and part of that was hanging onto ugly fashions.  1970s fashions wouldn’t have been as bad if adults weren’t wearing the crap too.  That’s why you see shows and movies from the 1970s with adults in ugly outfits and hairstyles.

The actress Mary Tyler Moore is a great example.  Compare her fashion sense from The Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s  with that of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s .  The 1970s made Mary Tyler Moore look bad too (okay, maybe bad is too strong).

1970s fashion sense hung around for so long because culture didn’t move quite as quickly back then as it does now.  If you liked news, you had to wait for a morning/evening newspaper or the evening news on one of three networks (PBS didn’t count).  If you liked fashion, there were a bunch of magazines, most of which came out once a month.  You could go to the movies, but most theaters had only one screen, so your selection was limited.  Because everything was relatively slow, once a fashion became trendy, it took a long time to get rid of it.

Fashions don’t last as long nowadays.  Today everybody stares at their phones, and fashion is so fleeting that nothing lasts long enough for anybody to care anymore.  Whenever elements of the 1970s come back, they disappear quickly again too.  That’s a relief to those of us who have pictures of ourselves trying to look good in the 1970s.  We know it’s almost futile.

The 1970s were so ugly that even Elvis didn’t look good in it.  You know a decade is ugly if Elvis looks bad too.

*****

What do you think?  Were the 1970s really that ugly?  Or were the 1970s awesome and my family is too shallow to appreciate it?

Why Is Damn a Bad Word?

(image via wikimedia)

Of course, damn is a bad word.  It’s not the worst of the profane words, but most people wouldn’t want to say it in public.  It’s four letters, which is a sign that it’s a bad word, and it means that you’re cursing somebody or something to Hell.  Hell is also thought of as profanity (though I disagree), and when a bad word implies another bad word, then it’s really a bad word.

For one thing, it’s pretty bad to curse somebody to Hell.  Hell is a horrible place to go, and it’s for eternity, so that should be reserved for only a select few.  If people said damn occasionally, then I wouldn’t be so concerned.  But people damn each other for stuff like minor road infractions, and I don’t think anybody should suffer eternal damnation in Hell just because of a rude traffic incident.

Putting God in front of damn is the worst of the worst of profanity.  I haven’t ranked profanity from worst to least offensive, but God in front of damn would be in the top one or two.  It’s one thing to damn somebody yourself, but when you invoke God to damn somebody, that’s serious.  I’ve done it a few times in my life, and I’ve always regretted it, and I’ve always privately asked the higher power not to take my earlier request literally.  I think God understands.  If not, a bunch of people are screwed.

It’s okay to damn inanimate objects.  If I stub my toe on a table or hammer a nail into my thumb, it’s okay to damn the table or hammer or nail.  They’re nonliving things, so they don’t care.

If a table ends up in Hell for eternity, the table doesn’t care.  Maybe the tortured souls down there need tables, nails, and hammers too.  Maybe part of their eternal torture is to stub their toes and hammer nails into their thumbs for all of eternity.

What do you say in Hell when you stub your toes or nail a finger?  If you say “Damn!” or “Dammit,” it’s too late because everything down there is damned already.  It’s probably too late to say “Heaven help me.”  Then again, some religions say it’s never too late for “Heaven help me.”  I hope I don’t need to find out.

Damn isn’t the most fun of the curse words to say, but it has some fun variations.  Damnation is fun.  Dammit is fun to say quickly.  A junior high teacher years ago used to say “Hot diggety damn!” whenever he got excited, and that was fun, but I never did that in public.

Decades ago, some of my friends pronounced damn with two syllables so that it came out “day-um.”  That usually meant that they were impressed with something.  They could also do that with “shee-it.”  Extending a four-letter swear word into two syllables is the best.

It’s easy to replace damn with a fake word that doesn’t bother anybody.  It’s okay if you say “Darn it!” or “Dang it!” in public.  You can even halfway invoke God by saying “Dagnabbit!” or “Goshdurnit” or “Guldernit.”  Oddly enough, I’ve never heard anybody say “Durnit!” or “Nabbit!” by themselves.  Maybe I was born a generation late for that.

Like most bad words, damn has been around longer than most people think.  According to the dictionary, the first usage of damn can be found in the 13th century, and its Latin roots go much further than that.  I’d guess that when you consider Latin roots, damn and Hell are the oldest of the English swear words.

Even though it’s not as bad as a lot of swear words, I wouldn’t say damn in front of my parents, at least, not without the word Hoover in front of it.  When I was a kid, I was willing to take a chance with hell or crap or even b*tch, but not damn.  If you’re a kid, don’t do it.  It just isn’t worth the risk.

*****

What do you think?  How bad do you think damn is?  What is your favorite variant of damn?

The Introvert’s Guide to Partying

Somebody in this picture isn’t having fun. (image via wikimedia)

Partying does not come naturally to a lot of introverts.  Getting wild and crazy in public seems easy for an extrovert, but staying in a loud, crowded environment for a long period of time can be a burden to an introvert.  I should know.  I’m an introvert, and I despise parties and social gatherings.

Since I don’t want to become a recluse, I’ve had to develop a game plan for parties.  It’s taken time, but I can now manage going to parties without getting bored or stressed out. Keep in mind that I began developing these strategies decades ago. Things have changed since then, especially technology.

When I started going to social gatherings, it was considered weird or rude to read a book, magazine, newspaper or anything while you were at a party.  If you stood alone, you were a wallflower.  Now if you stand alone, you can still seem normal as long as you’re staring at your phone.  It doesn’t matter what you’re staring at on our phone, as long as it’s on a phone or tablet.

If I’d had a cell phone when I was younger, I would have gone to a lot more parties. But when staring at your phone isn’t an option, here are a few tips to get you through it.

 Don’t stay for long.

As an introvert, I don’t have much social energy.  I’m good for anywhere between 5-30 minutes, and then I feel an overwhelming need to recoup.  It’s better to leave early than stand around.  Whenever I’ve stood around (Donald Trump would have thought I was low energy), people would keep asking if I was having a good time.  That’s a lot of pressure for an introvert.

Most people don’t understand that staring blankly is a good time for some introverts.  I love to stare blankly for hours at a time.  The problem with staring blankly in public is that other people think you’re weird or they’re worried you’re not having a good time.

Bring food and a vague excuse.

It might seem rude to leave after (or before) 30 minutes, but you’re doing everybody a favor.  You don’t want the host to think you’re bored.  All you need is a vague excuse and an expensive snack/drink.  If you’ve brought a food/drink item that everybody appreciates, you can leave whenever you want.

Just make sure that your excuse for leaving is not specific enough to be verifiable.  An easy excuse is that a bunch of stuff has come up unexpectedly.  If anybody asks for details, just say the details are boring.

Drive yourself.

I don’t mean that you should be a designated driver.   I mean, drive yourself to the party so that you can leave whenever you want.  If you let an extrovert drive you to a party, you’re stuck.  If you drive an extrovert to a party, however, make sure that extrovert has another way to get home, especially if that extrovert is a drunk.

Make yourself useful.

We introverts quickly lose interest in being social for the sake of being social, so having a purpose at a social gathering can help.  Be the keg master (if parties have kegs anymore).  When the host runs out of pizza, offer to go pick it up (that saves the host a delivery fee and tip).  You don’t have to clean up the vomit or fix the toilet clog, but there’s usually something that needs to get done at a party, and the introvert is often the right person for the job.

Hang out in the quietest location.

Some introverts have quiet voices, and that makes talking extra work.  I hate repeating myself at parties.  It wipes out my social energy, and nothing I say comes out right the second or third time I say it.  My witticisms can only be delivered properly on the first try or they fail to evoke the proper response, so I despise loud environments.  If you’re like me, stand outside the loud party or in the quietest location and try your conversations there.

Act drunk.

Introverts tend to go unnoticed, but acting drunk can get you a lot of attention.  You don’t need to sexually harass the gender of your choice or pick fights or throw up.  Just stagger around, slur your words, and wave a drink around.

If you’re bored at a party, acting drunk is kind of fun, as long as there are no consequences.  People who usually ignore you will talk about you, and you’d be surprised how differently people treat you when they think you’re drunk.  Just don’t do this if acting drunk gets you fired.

If none of these tips work for you, stare at your phone.  But put your back against the wall.  You don’t want to get conked on the head while staring at your phone.  That can happen to you anywhere, even at a party.

*****

What do you think?  What advice (besides “Don’t go”) do you have for introverts at a party?

Famous Writing Quotes That Nobody Knows About

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is…” Aw, you probably know this one already. (image via wikimedia)

There are a few quotes about writing that almost everybody knows about.  Stephen King (“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”), Mark Twain (“Write what you know.”), and Ernest Hemingway (“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”) all are given credit for famous quotes about writing that even non-writers know about.

But what about the famous writing quotes that nobody has heard of?  There are plenty of useful quotes that should get more attention too.  For example:

 “Writing is easy.  All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”  Mark Twain

Just like Ernest Hemingway’s more famous quote, this one sarcastically suggests that writing is easy.  If you’re going to come up with a famous quote about writing, start off by implying it’s easy.  And be a famous writer already.

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”– Terry Pratchett

Everybody hates writers block, but hardly anybody knows about this quote, maybe because a lot of people live in California and the quote implies they’re bad writers.  If the author had made fun of Texas, then all the writers in California would have loved this quote.

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”- Elmore Leonard

That may be true, but some readers don’t like people (or characters) who talk too much.  Plus, too much exposition through dialogue can be painful to read.

“The adjective is the enemy of the noun.”– Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

Authors always complain about the overuse of something, but it’s usually adverbs or exclamation points.  I don’t get it.  What’s the point of having a part of speech and then not use it again and again?

“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex.” – Anthony Burgess

This is why the public thinks writers are a bunch of perverts.

Literature is about relationships. Sex is merely one part of a relationship. And even if literature is mostly about sex, authors should never admit it.

“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs

This sounds like something James Patterson might say.

Putting potential readers through 100 bad stories just to get to one good one seems wrong, but I see a lot of writers try it. Edgar Rice Burroughs managed to get a bunches and bunches of stories published in the days before Amazon.  Today, anybody can self-publish a bunch of bad stories if they want and hope one becomes popular, but I wouldn’t try it.

“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.”—Annie Dillard

This quote was probably written  before the age of the sequel, trilogy, and series.

“Write garbage… as long as you edit brilliantly.”- C.J. Cherryh

This is an awesome quote!  When we write a piece of junk, we can just claim we haven’t finished editing yet.  In fact, I don’t think I have finished editing anything yet… ever.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”- Mark Twain

Applying this advice to a writing assignment is a good way to get kicked out of school, but at least you can sound like Holden Caulfield.

“Easy reading is damned hard writing”- Nathaniel Hawthorne

The original quote was “Easy reading is very hard writing” until Hawthorne read Mark Twain.

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These are a few famous quotes, but there are definitely more out there.  What famous writing quotes do you think don’t get enough credit?

What’s Your Favorite Blog Post?

(image via wikimedia)

Blog posts aren’t like kids; you’re allowed to say which one’s your favorite. (image via wikimedia)

After writing a blog for a while, it’s natural to go back and reread old posts.  Some are so embarrassingly bad (from the author’s point of view) that it’s tempting to delete them.  I rarely do that because bad writing is part of the process, and it’s important to see how writing style and quality progress over time.

I have a few posts that are my favorites.  I return to them every once in a while just to read them for enjoyment.  I hope I’m not the only person who does this.  I mean, I don’t spend hours every day reading old stuff of mine.  I just do it every once in a while, and I think right now…

This blog post is my favorite!

It isn’t my best or most well-written post.  It’s not my most popular.  Nobody has read this post in months, but it’s still my favorite.  When I read it, I always find some words and phrases that I want to change, but I don’t mess with it.  I think it catches the feeling and tone of that particular moment, and it makes my point.

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What’s your favorite post or article on your own blog?  Post it in the comments below and explain why it’s your favorite.

The Literary Rants: Sensitivity Readers

(image via wikimedia)

Authors never know who is going to read their books. (image via wikimedia)

Sensitivity reader is a term that seems appropriate for our time.  A lot of people get offended quickly nowadays, so book publishers have been using what are called sensitivity readers to try to get rid of stuff in future books that might tick off readers.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a sensitivity reader is:

“a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

In a way, this makes sense.  Boycotts happen quickly, and very few books make substantial profits anymore.  Why would a book publisher want to get stuck with an unintentionally offensive book (especially in a children’s or YA book) that could hurt sales for the rest of the company?

Even though authors can be empathetic and imaginative, everybody has astonishing gaps in their knowledge, and our perspectives are limited by our experiences.  For example, I’m not the most worldly person in the world, so I try to stick to stuff that I’ve had personal experience with.

As an aspiring author (I might not be considered a real author yet), if I were writing about a subject that I didn’t know much about, I’d do research first.  I wouldn’t want to put a publishing company in a position where it felt like it had to hire a sensitivity reader.  I should be able to document my research and interviews to show that I have some background to back up what I write, even if it’s fiction.

If a publisher feels like it needs a sensitivity reader, either the author didn’t do his/her job or the publisher might be too sensitive to readers’ potential sensitivity.  Fiction and literature are supposed to evoke emotions, and some people are going to be offended, no matter what.

At least one sensitivity reader seems to have a bad attitude about the job.  According to the Chicago Tribune article, one sensitivity reader said:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery. Why am I going to give you all those little things that make my culture so interesting so that you can go use it when you don’t understand it?”

My advice to this person (if this quote is accurate) is to maybe not be a sensitivity reader.  And the term “cultural thievery” seems a bit strong.  For one thing, that sensitivity reader was paid, so it’s not quite thievery if you get paid.   Plus, one complaint about society today is that too many people live in a metaphorical bubble and aren’t exposing themselves to new ideas and cultures.  How can people appreciate diversity when it’s given such a negative term as “cultural thievery”?

If I were the author whose book was corrected by this particular sensitivity reader, I might have some doubts about the suggestions I received.

I avoided a potential sensitivity issue a few years ago when I wrote a blog serial about an ex-girlfriend of mine who wasn’t white (I’m a white male, by the way).  I didn’t want it to be an issue in the story, so I simply never mentioned which demographic group(s) she belonged to.

I thought about clarifying her non-whiteness a couple times, but the ex-girlfriend did a few things that are seen as stereotypical and I didn’t want to be accused of stereotyping, but she also did things that are seen as the opposite of what (some) people might expect and I didn’t want readers telling me about how somebody of her demographic persuasion wouldn’t behave like that when I know she did because I saw it for myself.  I left clues about her non-whiteness, but I never specified it.

Maybe that was a cop-out.  And it’s about as tame as an example as I’ve dealt with as a writer because I usually write about my own thoughts and experiences.  If I were writing about (as the Chicago Tribune says), “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues,” I’d definitely do some research myself or interview some people who know more than I do before I had it published.  I wouldn’t want the publisher to have to do it for me and hire a sensitivity reader.

There you go.  I hope nobody got offended with my thoughts about sensitivity readers.  I’d feel bad if readers got offended because of my opinion about sensitivity readers.  I don’t like to be insensitive.

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What do you think?  Whose responsibility is it to make sure readers aren’t offended?