Dec 12

Are You "Beginning to" "Find Yourself"?

When someone mentions the overuse of “beginning to” and “starting to” and “finding yourself” in prose writing, does your skin begin to redden? Do you find yourself thinking you should start to re-read your latest draft and begin to red-flag these common but unnecessary phrases?

First Draft: Todd was beginning to light his cigarette when he saw Anne beginning to cry.

Better: Todd was lighting his cigarette when he saw Anne crying.
Jan 06

Pumping Up Prose Style

At the last prose reading I attended, each piece was competently written in a funereal monotone that never varied or picked up its pace. Not a simile or metaphor anywhere; no sensations were described except those that came through eyes and ears; vast on talk and low on action. Very low-risk writing and deadly dull, like an electronic hum. And it was all very serious, so I know it was intended to be literary art.

Completely sterilized flatline prose, "strike out all the adjectives" prose, Ray Carver prose without Carver's timing or delicacy -- is too common. It seems to me as if the "personal style" we writers are all supposed to develop on our own won't happen anymore unless we are taught or encouraged to write memorable as well as competent prose. I wanted to say, "Hey, creative people,
  • try making up a simile to describe that "indescribable" thing!
  • Get your characters up from their tables and moving!
  • You don't have to give us every sniffle of every conversation! Paraphrase the dull stuff!
  • The other three of the five senses aren't illegal!
  • Convey a range of emotion!
  • Put in a subplot so we have two things to care about!
  • Lighten up just once, even if it's just the briefest mention of the bizarre or amusing!"
May 05

Stealing Prose

Author-friend's nonfiction prose article was published by a good litmag about 15 years ago. Long before that, pre-Internet, the mag, without authors' permissions, had agreed to allow its contents to be republished in a lit-crit series sold to libraries. This series was later sold to a database, which allegedly "licensed" the article for use on a website -- one that caters to lazy or dishonest students, providing downloadable research papers, articles, bibliographies, and so on. The author was stunned to find the article there, priced at $6.99.

Author contacts this Plagiarism-R-Us website. Meets with arrogance and refusal to remove the work. Database which allegedly "licensed" the article ignores Author's phone call and letter. Author contacts website's apparent ISP, which says it isn't the site's ISP. Nevertheless, after months, article is finally removed.

Author learns that although the copyright reverted to the author after publication, unless it was then specifically registered with Library of Congress, the author's right to this individual article is essentially theoretical. And it's highly unlikely damages could be recovered, for example, in court.

Screenwriters have a union. Songwriters have a union. For freelance writers there’s a National Writer’s Union offering legal advice and grievance assistance to members ($120/year) -- but how many editors would cheerfully “Hire a Union Writer!”? The Author’s Guild offers members ($90/year) much the same support, plus health-insurance deals, but no self-published authors are allowed.

Now read this again and underline every snag, snafu, artificial difficulty, loophole, clusterf---, and cryin’ shame in this true story about our profession.