I affectionately call this blog “Constant Comment,” which is what my college roommates termed my stream of opinions about all things literary. Years later, when my then-romantic obsession (and now-husband) Bruce Bigelow learned of the pun, he smiled, noting that “Constant Comment is a Bigelow tea.” Here, then, are my constant comments—random musings on the craft, with kudos for brilliant writing and scorn for bonehead errors.

What I learned about writing at Hale’iwa Elementary

In two weeks, I leave for Hawai‘i, where I will lead a writers retreat on the beach I grew up on. I’m super excited. The retreat is sold out, and we have a couple of pretty amazing sessions at night that invite Native Hawaiians to share their artistic culture. In the first, visual artists who created a mural at the camp share thoughts on how to make art that reflects the ocean, the mountains, the spirit of place. In the second a scientist with The Nature Conservancy who also happens to be an esteemed chanter will tell us about the ecology of Mokulē‘ia, as well as the lore and legends about the place. His name is Sam ‘Ohukani‘ōhi‘a Gon, and he will sing and chant, too.

In homage to all this, and sort of randomly, I thought I’d share one of my favorite passages from the new Sin and Syntax, on “finding the right pitch”…

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Moseying back to slow writing

A while ago, I wrote about how I am a naturally slow writer. This didn’t serve me so well as a newspaper reporter—the necessary superficialities of stories banged out on deadline frustrated me. I am happier writing for magazines and books, where part of the idea is to arrive at dense, layered writing, the product of much rumination and even more crafting.

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What a scene!

Place looms large in all the work I do—whether in travel writing (when I’m trying to capture the essence of another country or culture), or in narrative journalism (when I often begin with a scene to draw my reader into the story), or even in Facebook status updates (when I try to sketch a place with a few poetic images). Want some tips on writing scenes?

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Keeping things curt

Anyone who has followed my posts or read my books knows that I love long-form writing: novels, novellas, deep news stories, rich magazine stories, even e-singles. But that doesn’t mean that sentences shouldn’t be stripped to their essentials or that passages should be padded unnecessarily. Three books extol the virtues of the nonverbose, with some […]

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Tangled up in verbs

If only the phrasal verb had a sexier name. Then you might be as enamored of them as I am. These vexing words are created when a little adverb or preposition hitches a ride with a verb and changes its meaning in the process.

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Start sketching

Most writers who consider themselves storytellers know that characters are key to any great yarn. Yet developing characters is harder than you think.

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Conquer these: careen, career, and carom

If you’ve read my books, you know that I split hairs over words. I love nuance, and want to preserve it wherever possible. So I’m unsparing when writers don’t take the trouble to look words up, or when copy editors let loosey goose usage glide on by. Take careen, career, and carom.

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Exploring the world of verbs

Were the folks at W. W. Norton plotting a secret joke when they decided to publish the paperback edition of Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch on Columbus Day? By way of celebration of this event, I might start by jamming for the first verbs I associate with the Italian explorer: imagine, cajole, persist, dare, sail, lead, explore, discover, colonize. (And I will end by offering a free copy in exchange for some pungent verbs.)

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Punctuation play

I’ll bet you didn’t know that September 24 was National Punctuation Day. I didn’t—until a fellow editor sent me a little piece on apostrophes in honor of the holiday. But what a perfect occasion to post about a delightful book that has come my way … and to dream up a little contest for my readers. {10/13/13 update: winners now posted.}

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Is that lipstick on the book cover?

It’s here! The all-new, utterly updated, snazzy-jacketed second edition of Sin and Syntax. (Whew, how’s that for a lot of nouns and adjectives?)

I’m proud of this baby. For one thing, the book has now sold close to 100,000 copies. What this means is that maybe, just maybe, a lot of folks out there are learning that English is something that can be bent and stretched and tested and thoroughly enjoyed. Grammar and syntax and usage and style don’t have to make us anxious. We own our sentences. We can all play in the language sandbox.

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