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Thursday, April 4, 2013



What’s the Best Part of Writing? Writing. What’s the Worst Part of Writing? Writing.
 
       I recently received a letter of critique from an acclaimed Jewish female novelist. I do not know her personally. My brother shares a mutual friend with this author and when meeting her said “My sister is an aspiring writer, perhaps you can take a peek at her writing samples and guide her a bit?” Thank you, dear brother.
      I was willing to send this writer (let’s call her Madame W) a few college thesis papers to evaluate. Well-researched and analyzing Bronte, Faulkner, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales, my college essays are certainly more refined and *ahem* grammatically correct than my fashion-centric blog posts.  Or so I hope.
      Yet unknown to me, Madame W had already glanced at Wear Your Invisible Crown with the austere, Judge Judy-ish eyes of a creative writing professor. Oy vey. 
       Her e-mail was the first one I saw in the morning. My right pointer shakily clicked on the tab, while my other hand clutched a coffee mug for much-needed soothing.  Once I opened the e-mail, my eyes frantically jumped from terms like “writerly self-consciousness” to critiques like “misuse of punctuation” and “language exuberance.”
 
       Pitter. Patter. Thump. Thump. My heart was having an energizing field day—and not the good kind. I took a sip of my mucky instant coffee and breathed in deeply. I read the e-mail again. Okay, Dilemma 1: “Writerly Self-Consciousness.” What the heck does that mean? Okay, next—Dilemma 2: “Misuse of Punctuation.”
Oh, Grammar, how I hate thee.
      I certainly realize that my punctuation can use polishing and honing. In fact, I’m convinced that my current syntax is hate-fodder for Grammar Nazis worldwide. What can I do to alleviate my spiteful relationship with semicolons, colons, and G-d knows what else? I ought to pick up a “How To” grammar guide from the library. Apparently, studying English Literature for three years hasn’t done the job.
      Dilemma 3: “Language Exuberance” Now, this dilemma is one acrid pill that still needs to be swallowed. Supposedly, my speech is a bit too florid and overdone. I tend to choose words like “kaleidoscopic” instead of “colorful” and “don” instead of “wear.”
 
       Can I make a confession though? I can’t help it. It’s like I have this malady that makes me cling on to posh and possibly pretentious-sounding vocabulary. I think they call it “Fancy-word-culosis.” In fact, my love for the English language (excluding its annoying grammatical rules of course) is what made me want to be a writer. I love how words like “grandiloquent” and “myopic” sound on the tip of my tongue. I swish these words around in my mouth like a cupful of Listerine. Gurgling them and allowing them to cleanse my palate from the vapidity of terms like “nice” and “thing” always feels good. But according to Madame W, I should quit using this particular brand of mouthwash and switch to a simpler, organic one.
       After reading this e-mail—three, four, five times—I felt distinctly hollow. For the rest of the day I was a languishing shell of a girl. What’s the use of writing? I pouted over and over again. The only compensation is a barrage of criticism from authors and editors. (Madame W, if you are reading this, I am thankful for your critique although it may not seem like it).
 
       Madame W signed off her e-mail with this line: “I expect that this is not what you wanted to hear but welcome to the writer’s life. It’s a tortured profession. Sometimes I wish I was better at math and science so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the inherent hardships of being a writer.”
Don’t we all feel that way Madame W?
       Nevertheless my fellow authors, artists, musicians, dancers, journalistic photographers, and all other creative-bound hearts, we shall not fall into the accursed cage of despair. Instead we will continue to work on our respective crafts with the fiery determination of Van Gogh, J.K. Rowling, and Susan Boyle. Each one had to contend with a hurdle of killjoys but eventually gazed at the crowd with gloriously triumphant eyes.
P.S. Notice the choice of words “accursed” and “gloriously.”
There are some things I am not quite ready to give up on.
Sorry Madame W.

23 comments:

  1. Hey, if that 50 Shades of Gray woman can get published (I haven't read it, of course, but I hear it's written like some horrid fanfic) you shouldn't have a problem!

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  2. OK, hold up.

    I mean this in all seriousness, earnestness, and honesty:

    I have been gushing about your writing for months. I've told my mother, "Ma, there's this kid on the blogosphere in her low 20s who writes something amaaaaazing. I can't believe someone so young can write so wondrously."

    I have always had an obsession with vocabulary, making me one of the most disliked girls in school. My brother makes fun of me because I say "overcast" instead of "cloudy."

    With all of my heavy reading I have certainly noticed that there are many different types of writers. There are the novelists who can come up with gripping plots that leave you breathless, but their writing is childish and amateurish, like Ken Follet. Then there are the writers who hook you with their poetic prose, their introspection of the human soul, their wit, their depth, their flowery language.

    Madame W surprisingly made the mistake of 1) all writers are "supposed" to be the same and 2) anyone who is a reader needs to be infantalized.

    As FG said, if those crappy books could be published, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to be a writer.

    As for your grammar, I never picked up on any errors. In fact I have often observed how many things you get right.

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  3. Princess Lea: Unlike grammar, I love thee! You made my day! I am sincerely humbled by your compliments, and I feel the exact same way about YOUR blog and writing. I tell all my friends to check your site out. This isn't silly flattery. This is the truth. It's also refreshing and wonderful that you appreciate the diversity of writers. Not many can do that. Go us! :)

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  4. Yes, it's always important to have a "balance" when it comes to writing. If everyone wrote the same way it would be boring. And while perfect grammar may be somewhat important, content is what really counts. Let professional editors worry about small grammatical errors- you just focus on expressing yourself creatively.

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  5. I would imagine that "writerly self-consciousness" has to do with the absolutism with which you write. For example, the previous statement had the caveat that what I was saying I wasn't sure about ("I would imagine," as opposed to "what she means is...").

    I'd call you a sesquipedalian, but "fancy word-culosis" has a much nicer ring to it. That "fancy word-culosis" is more easily understood and amusing certainly adds to its charm. Language exuberance? Doesn't exist. If your writing is targeting your peers or professors, one could assume that they're vocabulary is reasonably up to par with yours. If you're writing a children's book I'd suggest staying with words that have more than 3 syllables, but I don't have the impression that you are.

    This post all but epitomizes why I love creative writing; I have literary license to use grammar as I please. There are times where I purposely make a grammatical faux pas in order to increase emphasis or create some other inflection that is more difficult to easily do (oooo, I split an infinitive) when writing within the confines of the arbitrary rules that have been invented over the years (ah, run on sentence).

    As an example, the split infinitive rule is a carry over from Latin. You can't split an infinitive in Latin therefore you can't do the same in English. But... In Latin, infinitives are one word so it's hardly surprising that you can't split one. This rule carried over to English because someone decided it should. He was a grammarian, but there has never been a formalized group of them to create rules. Individual men, back in the day, made them up. Some were accepted as immutable, others were thrown to the wayside.

    I agree with PL completely. You're a fantastic writer. If the concept of grammar exists solely as a means to ensure effective communication then your grammar is flawless. If it's to force writers to phrase things in ways they don't want to and hinder their writing, then you're being told you have some work to do- I don't see that.

    I must admit though, I am curious to know what Madame W. would say about my writing.

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    1. Thank you for your informative and detailed response L & F. "Sesquipedalian"! Haha. Your vocabulary is certainly stellar. As is your grammar. I must remind myself what a "split infinitive" is! Care to teach me? JK :) Like I mentioned before, grammar was always a tedious bore to me. However, I should still remind myself of its rules.

      Thank you for your kind word as well L & F. They are truly appreciated. May I ask if you studied English Literature and/or writing in college? You seem to be very educated on all this. I can't speak for Madame W (on whether she would like your writing or not). She strikes me as a very picky grader. What matters is whether or not yours truly likes it! Lol. Which I do! And I'm sure plenty of others do as well. Keep it up! Your poetry in particular is excellent.

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    2. You're welcome and thank you!

      I tried to imply what it was with what I wrote but now that I look back I see I wasn't clear enough. Should have explained it more explicitly.

      Just an amateur's interest in English. I've never majored in it but did take a few extra lit classes and my own research here and there.

      I'm glad to hear it, thanks! Hopefully there'll be another poem up tonight.

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    3. You come across as more than an amateur. I wonder what kind of literature you're into?

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    4. Thanks, but really, I am.

      I dabble. There's no genre in particular that I would call a favorite. A classic here, mystery novel there. Whatever tickles my fancy at the time that I'm searching through books.

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  6. Many thanks to my friend Yiska for bringing this blog to my attention. Your pre-Pesach image was exquisitely on point.

    As for Madame W's comments, as a semi-retired professional editor of non-fiction and a former teacher of Business Arts, I'd like to point out something I haven't seen yet in the comments.

    Using "big" words properly and especially in context indicates your vocabulary level. Why on earth would one want to write at a third grade level when one is capable of post-graduate discourse? Except when one must "write down" to someone else's level (i.e., a letter to a 5 year old nephew or a children's book), it is certainly RIGHT to use what you know.

    I might also point out that most people have an element of gestalt (wholeness) in their reading. Just like those lovely posts with everything misspelled or inside out, often you can still understand what was written, especially if the context of the word is clear enough, as yours seems to be. Also, in a blog, one can always ASK the author what s/he meant - or go to dictionary.com.

    Do continue to write just as you do. You have a lovely "voice" and something to say that many of us want to hear.

    Best regards,
    S. Malkah Cohen

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  7. S. Malkah Cohen, I am honored and humbled that you took the time to write this. Your insight is sincerely appreciated. Your encouraging words and advice mean so much to me! Especially coming from a professional! Thank you again! :-)

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  8. If we haven't cheered you up enough with our comments, this article that I happened upon today should do the job. Have fun reading about Editors' mistakes :)

    http://cristianmihai.net/2013/04/29/famous-rejection-letters-2/

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! It is extremely uplifting! :-)

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    2. My new Twitter account sent me to it :-)

      Ya, I felt exactly the same way!

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    3. The co-founder of this blog (Tiara) has a Twitter account. (I don't have one) I heard we're following each other there?

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    4. Yup! My Twitter is pretty boring though. Not much going on there. But it's new, and I'm new at it, so we'll see what happens as I get used to it.

      I won't recommend that you get one, because it is a bit of a time-waster, but there is a lot of interesting stuff on there :)

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    5. Haha. I skimmed through some of your Twitter posts and they're funny. (The one you wrote about getting your very first follower, and being in for a real surprise! Lol).

      Yeah, I'm not planning on getting Twitter anytime soon. I already waste waaaaay too much time on it's evil twin (Facebook). If I didn't use it to promote my blog page, then I would totally delete it.

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    6. Grammar correction: *Its instead of it's. Oish...I'm so neurotic, that I'm fixing my own mistakes in the comment section. Ah!

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    7. Haha, ya! What a welcome to Twitter.

      Ya, good, stay away from all social media as much as possible. That's exactly why I have it, although I don't think it's been successful at all yet. Maybe one day.

      Good catch! I'd do the same!

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  9. The irony of this post is that you so eloquently expressed it. Personally, I'm a fellow "language exuberance" lover and your use of language beautiful, definitely not overly florid. It's tough being a writer, or doing anything that puts yourself in a place where you can be publicly judged.

    I have to agree with Frumanista that there are many different kinds of writers. I recently tried to read a Nicholas Sparks book and I found it so dull, almost painful to read.

    Keep your head up, you're a fantastic writer!

    p.s. That mouthwash simile was just plain awesome (no language exuberance there)

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    1. I am deeply humbled by all your comments. You have no idea how happy they make me :-) Especially knowing that they come from my fellow talented writers and bloggers. May G-d continue to bless us with the strength, determination, ad success to make the most of our passions.

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