Saturday, September 17, 2011

Words Gone Wild

I love a good mystery, so perhaps that is why I enjoy collecting examples of strange or puzzling word usage. Instead of a whodunnit, this quest is more of a whydunnit. For instance, I want to know what could make an educated person say, as I heard HLN talking head Jane Velez-Mitchell do, “People are mind-boggled.” This was said in the same show in which a woman-on-the-street comment began “I can’t concept that anyone could do this.”

Or this, from a budding writer, no less: "Death has such an absurd casualty in its ability to occur in the most innocuous of moments." Death usually does lead to a casualty, but I don't think that was where she was going. Presumably she meant "casualness," an admittedly blah noun. I trust in rewriting she would recast that sentence to something like: Death is absurdly casual…"

From the Huffington Post, a column by an attorney about the Anthony trial: “Despite her proclaimed hatred of the media, Casey has relished in its glare since this real life thriller began.” How do you "relish in" a glare? That's just weird.

How about the CNN host who said “He treats her with kit gloves”? Maybe his tongue just got a little off-center. The same can't be said for the blogger who wrote: "Oh sure, the Star Tribune still has a squad of reporters out digging in every nook and cranny and leaving no stone unturned to try to find the latest victim de jure." Come to think of it, anyone who has ever been sued feels like a "victim de jure," but that isn't what the blogger was writing about.

But, of course, that was a blog. Not a well-know publication with a high-paid editor, such as New York magazine, where this was written of Michele Bachmann: "Like every GOP candidate, she would lay down in traffic for Israel." To be fair, that's not a strange use of words, it's a wrong use. The mystery here is why a writer and multiple editors don't know the difference in "lie" and "lay." 
Is this a clue? According to an article in Forbes, Moody’s tracked middle class jobs that are on the decline, including proofreaders—"generally highly skilled workers with a four-year college degree—were once vital to publications and communications departments. These positions shriveled by 31%, likely due to advanced software."

Oh, dear. The software is not nearly advanced enough.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Writing

Eventually, every writer feels the need to offer his own contribution to the vast library of essays called "On Writing." I can't fight the urge any longer. So, herewith let me moan, gripe, explain, exult and generally ramble on this subject of imperishable interest to writers.

Like actors, writers constantly look for affirmation, for someone to say "I liked what you wrote," or even better "You're a terrific writer." Why are we so needy? Maybe because the world doesn't show us much love. Certainly, few writers are showered with accolades and lucrative contracts. For every Big Name writer there are at least 20,000* who labor in relative obscurity, filling bookshelves, but never achieving stardom, and wannabes without number.

For most of us, writing is going to have to be its own reward. While I get a nice check for magazine pieces every now and then, I'm in no danger of getting carried away, like a lottery winner, buying cars, boats and diamonds with my earnings. My highest ambition for my fiction-writing is to break even financially someday.

And did I mention that writing is hard—sometimes really, really hard? I ran across this quote from playwright Paul Rudnick recently: "Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write."

Amen. Although I am a better procrastinator than Paul. When I run out of ways to avoid writing, I just go to bed. Siempre maƱana, y'all. Scarlett's got nothing on me.

Many years ago I learned that "fear is the root of all avoidance behavior." So what do Paul and I fear about writing? Are you kidding? Failure and more failure. Another writer I'll have to paraphrase because I've lost the quote (See? Failure.) said he sometimes reads over what he wrote the day before and thinks, "This sucks. This is garbage. I suck. I'm garbage."

There it is. We want so badly to write well, but it all gets tied up with our egos and even our basic sense of self-worth. Every sentence or paragraph I write is not going to be wonderful. That seems obvious to a sane person (or a reader of this blog, alas), but to us writers that is a horrifying thought that assaults our very identity. It must be wonderful or we're worthless.

Is it any wonder we eat cereal from the box?

*This is a bogus statistic. Treat it like the number 40 in the Bible. It means "lots and lots."