- Books, Literature, and Writing
The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Forty-Three
And We Are Back
I was worried for awhile that the Mailbag would not appear this week. No questions came in and then suddenly, on Thursday, I was flooded with them. So here we are again, a bit rushed but still, here.
You ask, I answer, and hopefully we all come out of it wiser and satisfied. Kind of like being in a relationship, now that I think about it. J
Let’s get started with a great question from Brandi! Remember, if you have a question, simply add it to the comment section below and I’ll answer the following Monday.
From Brandi: “Hi, Bill! I’ve got a question for you, or maybe I’m just spouting off about a pet peeve of mine. I read some writers, and they use words I don’t understand, or I don’t think fit into the story. It’s like they go through a dictionary to find intellectual-sounding words, but in my opinion they ruin the flow of the story. What do you think about that?”
I absolutely love this question.
I am a big believer in having a thesaurus nearby, and I’m a big believer in expanding our vocabulary. I think many writers get lazy and continually use the same words over and over again, when a simple visit to the thesaurus would bring life to their writing.
Having said that, I know exactly what Brandi is talking about and I agree. There are times when using big words can ruin the rhythm and flow of a story or article, and when that happens, what’s the point in using them? Or using big words to impress, but failing to understand that the average reader has no clue what those words mean. Again, what’s the point in doing that? When I read, I read for enjoyment or for knowledge. If I have to take a break to look up the meaning of a word, I will lose interest in the story or article.
I think there is a fine line we walk as writers. I want to entertain. I want to inform. But I don’t want to confuse or annoy. As a former teacher I’m all for expanding knowledge, and I’m all against dumbing down civilization…but….I have to remember that I don’t want to have the message lost in a blizzard of four-syllable words that no one will comprehend.
From Joshua: “Bill, I love this series. I’ve got a personal question for you so I hope you don’t mind me prying. Have you ever written about someone in your family, or a close personal friend, and hurt their feelings? I just had that happen to me and I feel horrible about it. I was wondering if you’ve done the same thing and what can be done about it?”
Well, Joshua, the answer is yes, I have, and I regret it now.
In my case, I wrote about a relative. I changed her name but there was no doubt to my other family members whom I was writing about. In an effort to be creative and entertaining, I failed to take into account the ramifications of my words, and those words did, indeed, hurt feelings.
What did I do? I apologized and moved on. I learned from it, and I probably will choose to leave family out of any future articles. It’s just not worth it to me. Was what I said true? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it should have been written.
From Lacey: “The weather is warming up and I can see the time coming when I will be distracted by it and my writing will suffer because of it. You’ve been doing this writing thing for a long time now. How do you deal with distractions?”
Any freelance writer, or for that matter any writer, will face this problem. Life goes on. There will always be distractions, and I really think it comes down to how important your writing is to you. Is it a priority? If so, then you push the distractions aside and soldier forward.
A neighbor, last week, asked me if I could go to the Goodwill and pick up a piece of furniture for her. This was on a Wednesday at eleven in the morning. I had work to do. She needed someone with a pickup truck and so she asked me.
I told her as politely as possible that it was a work day for me and I would be glad to pick up her furniture that evening. She was upset with me.
Writing is my job. I’m sorry she doesn’t understand that, but I have to do what I have to do. I am a giving human being and I always try to help others, but in that case I did what was best for me and my livelihood.
Selfish? I don’t think so!
Incomplete Sentences and Dangling Whatevers
From Piper: “I was reading a novel the other day and I was a bit surprised that the author broke so many grammatical rules. He was very fond of incomplete sentences. “Can’t do a thing about it,” and others of similar style. I was wondering what you think about breaking the rules like that?”
I do it too, Piper, so that should tell you my feelings on it.
Listen, I’m all for grammatical rules. I’ve said many times that writers need to get serious and learn basic English. However, there are times when breaking the rules just works for the flow and rhythm of the story or article. I happen to love free-flow verse, a stream-of-consciousness style of writing that I think is very effective when trying to portray a blizzard of thoughts in a jumbled mind, or when trying to speed up the action in a story. Is it proper English? Hell, no, but it sure is powerful and that makes it right as far as I’m concerned.
From Mandy: “I’m confused about something and I hope you have the answer. If I self-publish an ebook, does that mean traditional publishers won’t touch it? I don’t want to ruin my chances of being picked up by an agent or publisher because I already self-published.”
Mandy, you aren’t the only one confused about this. Let me tell you what I’ve found out on this subject.
It is possible to self-publish a book and then have a traditional publisher pick it up. It is not a common occurrence but it happens. Usually it happens when the ebook sales soar, and the sales figure I’ve heard is “over 10,000.” Sales like that get the attention of people in the industry.
The general rule of thumb, though, is that traditional publishers don’t like to take on projects that have already been published online. If you think about it from their standpoint it makes sense. Number one, traditional publishers are not big fans of the ebook craze, and number two, they are going to invest a great deal of money into publishing your book, and they sure don’t want to know that a segment of the reading population already has access to that book.
So, should you do it? That’s your call completely.
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I’ll See You Next Week
Thanks to all who came through at the last minute with questions. I hope all of you have the best week of writing that you’ve ever had. Improve each week. Try to improve each week. Write one incredible sentence, a sentence so good that it blows the socks off your audience. That sentence will be part of your legacy, and it will live on long after you have died.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”