writing tips

Crafting truth

Whether I’m writing an article about Hawaiian cowboys or a book on the intricacies of a sentence, I keep my journalist hat tugged on tight. Part of why I’m a professional writer is that I love research (and learning new things). But another part is that I find the process of getting things right to be challenging—and satisfying.

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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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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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My crush on verbs

How can a person write a whole book just on verbs? Is she crazy? If not, then why has no one else done it before her? When I looked into it, I found a market ripe for an entertaining book on action words. But that’s not why I wanted to write “Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch.” I just had a lot to say about getting tense and being moody, about static sentences and dynamic ones, about the much-maligned passive voice, and about all those myths out there about language generally.

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Who says we should write fast?

A reader of my New York Times columns Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, asked whether I might devote a post to a subject he has been struggling with: “being a painfully slow writer.” In particular, he asked these questions:

Are there practical ways to become more prolific without addressing psychological issues. For example, you are a prolific writer, what is Zithromax. What routines do you follow. Zithromax class, When do you know it is time to stop writing and publish or submit. Finally what is your typical start to finish process. Do you outline, Buy Zithromax Without Prescription. How do you write a first draft, Zithromax without a prescription. What do you do differently in the second draft and so on through your writing process?

The email came at an interesting time—I had just spoken on a panel at a writers’ conference on the topic of “Write Fast, Zithromax interactions, Make More Money.” I was flattered to be on the panel, but felt like an imposter.

Many journalists, Zithromax from mexico, academics, Zithromax dose, and bloggers seem to pride themselves on writing fast. Many editors value these speedy types. Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, Given declining per-word rates, especially on Web sites, it’s no wonder writers are looking for ways to cut corners—or to cut to the chase. But I have to confess: I’m not a fast writer, Zithromax street price. The articles and books have piled up, Zithromax from canada, and I have a good chunk of experience behind me, but I don’t feel “prolific,” either, online buying Zithromax hcl.

I have only two goals when I sit down to write: I want to create thoughtful, Zithromax overnight, accurate, beautiful stuff, and I want to suffuse the piece—whether a post, Zithromax without prescription, an essay, Fast shipping Zithromax, a feature story, or a book—with my own voice.

But I am a working stiff; I have to meet deadlines and pay bills, kjøpe Zithromax på nett, köpa Zithromax online. So I have learned a few things to help me do both, Buy Zithromax Without Prescription.

First, Zithromax schedule, I got over my perfectionism by working in newspapers. I used to sweat over every little word, and it was stopping me up, rx free Zithromax. It helped me to have real deadlines and to learn to just do my best, Buy no prescription Zithromax online, even if it wasn’t prize-winning prose. I allow myself messy first drafts, and trust that each successive draft improves a piece, purchase Zithromax online no prescription. Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, Second, I realize that there are many good ways to write a story, and no one “right” way. I trust my instincts about what’s most gripping and dig in. Zithromax price, I give a piece my best shot, and trust my editors to help me shape it.

Finally, order Zithromax from mexican pharmacy, I have learned that writing fast is about making sure that I’m not procrastinating. Order Zithromax from United States pharmacy, I have some writing rituals, which get my creative juices flowing; they are part of my process. (Sweeping the patio is a good one; I think of it as “clearing the ground.” Reading something that inspires me in the morning is another.) I allow myself these rituals, then try to be good at recognizing when I am indeed procrastinating, Buy Zithromax Without Prescription.

The rest is “discipline”—small habits that keep me focused and productive, australia, uk, us, usa.

I establish clear boundaries around my writing time. Buy Zithromax without a prescription, I work set hours, start on time, and do not leave my chair (except for stretches and lunch) until I have worked six hours, order Zithromax online overnight delivery no prescription. “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, Zithromax class, ”
 wrote the activist and novelist Mary Heaton Vorse, and I agree. Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, (When I had an office in my home, I worked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, Zithromax australia, uk, us, usa. Now I share an office space with a community of writers, Buy Zithromax without prescription, and it requires a commute, so I work 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Zithromax steet value, leaving more time for lunch with colleagues.)

Whether it is a home office, Zithromax forum, a bare table in a getaway cabin, or my current space at the San Francisco Writers Grotto, I insist upon a dedicated writing space as well as a dedicated time, Zithromax dosage. I don’t do finances here, Zithromax pics, I don’t plan tonight’s dinner, and I don’t read the newspaper. I write, Buy Zithromax Without Prescription. I have a dedicated work phone, is Zithromax safe, too. Where can i order Zithromax without prescription, My friends don’t have the number, and my husband and mother have been trained not to use it.

Because I’m disciplined about these things, buy Zithromax online no prescription, I can cut myself some slack when it comes to the work. My Zithromax experience, I don’t put pressure on myself to produce shimmering pages. Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, I know that if I just show up and keep at the writing, things always start to click. Sometimes it’s not until the last half hour, but then I have a place to start the next morning, order Zithromax no prescription.

If I’m really under the gun, Zithromax no prescription, with a deadline looming and some especially tough work ahead, I practice a time-management skill I call “rocks in the bucket.” I learned about it from a colleague at the American Society of Journalists and Authors, who explained it with an analogy, Zithromax gel, ointment, cream, pill, spray, continuous-release, extended-release. Suppose you have a bucket and four piles: rocks, Low dose Zithromax, stones, pebbles, and sand, Zithromax recreational. You must put all the stuff (i.e., Zithromax over the counter, the work tasks) into the bucket (the work day). The best way to do it is to start with the rocks, then add the stones, then the pebbles, Buy Zithromax Without Prescription. The sand is in-fill at the end. (If you try it the other way around, you’ll end up holding a bunch of rocks.

I make a list of all the things I need to do in the day—from reading a chapter for research, to writing an intro, to checking email, to calling my editor. I label each item according to importance. Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, The rocks, the things I absolutely must do today, are the A’s. The slightly less critical things, the stones, are the B’s. Then I make a new list, grouping the A’s, the B’s, the C’s, etc. I give myself a time limit for each task and I stick to it. At the end of the day, I won’t have gotten everything done, but I will have knocked back the most important things, and I will have tackled them first, when my energy was best.

Discipline is well and good, but you can be very disciplined and be stuck in a rut, Buy Zithromax Without Prescription. How do you stay refreshed, inspired. For that, see my essay “Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline.” When I need to, I take a break, letting my mind wander, letting inspiration drift in. That can be part of my six hours. And I follow each workday with exercise, which recharges me for the next day. Buy Zithromax Without Prescription, Brainstorms for the next chunk of work often come in Lane Three of the swimming pool, in hula class, or over a garden bed.

As for the process part of my reader’s question—Do I outline. Do I follow a certain practice with each draft. How long does the whole thing take—I’ll take that up in another post. I’m coming to the end of my six hours, and it’s time to slip off to the gym.


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Every travel writer fantasizes about the beautifully written narrative that he or she will craft after a meaningful journey. I’m no exception, Colchicine overnight. About Colchicine, Endlessly fascinated by the landscapes, culture, real brand Colchicine online, Colchicine dosage, and history of my native Hawaii, I end up pitching many ideas to publications that run travel pieces, after Colchicine. Buy Colchicine without a prescription, (I write, too, Colchicine from canadian pharmacy, Purchase Colchicine, about other places—France and Fiji, Rome and Delhi, where to buy Colchicine, Colchicine price, San Francisco and Carmel Valley.)

But as newspapers shrink their travel sections, as magazines like National Geographic Adventure slip away, australia, uk, us, usa, Buy no prescription Colchicine online, and as editors imagine “packages” rather than “narratives,” or “charticles” and “chunklets” rather than “articles, Colchicine no rx, Colchicine schedule, ” the chances to write long and languid grow few. It’s more typical to get an assignment of 400 words than 4, purchase Colchicine online no prescription, Colchicine from mexico, 000, no matter what you propose, Colchicine dose.

It’s especially hard to write a sparkling piece when editors ask you to cover a lot of ground in such a cramped space, Colchicine For Sale. Ordering Colchicine online, What is jettisoned first. Local characters and their distinctive way of talking, Colchicine photos. Buy Colchicine from mexico, What goes next. Those descriptions that the veteran travel editor Thomas Swick calls “atmospheric, online buying Colchicine hcl, Comprar en línea Colchicine, comprar Colchicine baratos, ” because they put the reader into a place. Colchicine For Sale, In such a pinch, we all reach for generic nouns and easy adjectives. Even if we know that the path to the universal lies in the particular, fast shipping Colchicine, Doses Colchicine work, sometimes, it seems, Colchicine long term, Order Colchicine online c.o.d, we just don’t have space for the particular.

In the last couple of weeks, Colchicine pictures, Colchicine no prescription, I’ve been sweating over how to compress all my complex ideas about one Hawaiian place into a few terse lines. I started by considering synonyms for town, effects of Colchicine. Generic Colchicine, Village was nice, because it offered the possibility of alliteration (“Seaside village below volcanic mountains”), purchase Colchicine for sale, Colchicine interactions, but I ended up going with hamlet (“a tiny hamlet tucked between volcanic mountains and crystalline seas”). It was all I could do, in grasping for a shorthand description, to avoid picturesque, charming, and quaint, Colchicine For Sale. Clichés, Colchicine australia, uk, us, usa. Where can i order Colchicine without prescription, I managed to slip in details: “a missionary church, white-and-green shacks, Colchicine images, Buy Colchicine no prescription, narrow streets” as well as “ a chaos of art galleries, colorful boutiques, Colchicine pics, Order Colchicine from United States pharmacy, and tourists in Hawaiian shirts or skimpy sarongs.” I hope that helps my readers see the place.

Swick, Colchicine online cod, Colchicine class, who was long the travel editor at the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, posted recently about the clichés of travel writing: “Most are adjectives: magical, mystical, charming, exotic,” he noted. “But there is at least one verb: nestled.”

Uh-oh. Colchicine For Sale, That’s dangerously close to my “tucked”.

And the nouns. Swick notes that people rarely write about trips anymore; everything is an “adventure, or a “wonder,” or a “paradise.” The latter, he adds, is the most irresistible of all. “I thought its days were numbered after National Geographic Traveler used it on its cover story about Bali the same month as the Kuta Beach bombings,” Swick wrote. “But ‘paradise’ made a speedy recovery and now appears in almost any story about a place where palm trees grow.”

Swick generously let me quote from his post, “In Tireless Pursuit of Paradise,” and you can find more of his ideas on writing at thomasswick.com. Many travel writers I know reread his 2001 essay “Roads Not Taken” every couple of years to make sure they keep taking the right road in their prose. Another provocative essay on travel writing is one Paul Theroux wrote in 2003 for the Washington Post’s Book World. (I couldn’t find a link, but you can get a taste here.)

If you have a favorite example of a horrendous cliché, please post it in the comments.

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Buy Cafergot Without Prescription, When it comes to adjectives, editors love to quote Mark Twain, who is said to have told a young writer, “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” The language maven Ben Yagoda even used that quote as the title of a grammar book (which is quite good, BTW). Cafergot gel, ointment, cream, pill, spray, continuous-release, extended-release, Some writing coaches I know tell their clients to scrub the adjectives from their paragraphs.

But hang on, no prescription Cafergot online. Online Cafergot without a prescription, Adjectives make up an important class of words in our language (unlike, say, Cafergot schedule, Order Cafergot from United States pharmacy, prepositions, which hardly inspire awe), Cafergot from canadian pharmacy. Cafergot coupon, Linguists rank adjectives right up there with nouns, verbs, herbal Cafergot, Australia, uk, us, usa, and adverbs as one of the four major word classes in English. Each of these classes plays a different lead role in the drama of a sentence: nouns are the actors, verbs are the actions, adverbs give the actions shape, and adjectives give us a clearer sense of the actors, Buy Cafergot Without Prescription.

Adjectives, Cafergot results, Cafergot maximum dosage, used discreetly, make descriptions come alive, low dose Cafergot. Cafergot pics, Take Jonathan Raban’s “deep episcopal purple,” which describes the color of the sky as the sun sets over a barren landscape in his book Bad Land, order Cafergot online c.o.d. Generic Cafergot, What a fresh way to describe such a cliché subject!  “Episcopal” names an exact shade of purple (the color of a bishop’s cassock, or a priest’s vestments on particular holy days), get Cafergot. Cafergot steet value, It also subtly spins a thread between the sunset and a religious experience in the reader’s mind. Buy Cafergot Without Prescription, The most evocative adjectives leave room for the reader’s imagination, allowing different associations and interpretations, without departing from the writer’s overall idea.

The real danger in using an adjective—and really any word—is overusing it until it loses its oomph, Cafergot for sale, Is Cafergot addictive, until it cannot paint a picture of its subject (or even touch the brush to the canvas). Arthur Plotnik has written an entire book on tantalizing adjectives of praise precisely because of the ones that make his skin crawl: great, Cafergot pictures, Cafergot schedule, fabulous, and terrific, Cafergot class, Cafergot use, along with their cousins amazing, awesome, taking Cafergot, Purchase Cafergot online no prescription, and unbelievable. Called Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives, about Cafergot, Cafergot gel, ointment, cream, pill, spray, continuous-release, extended-release,   the book lists—starting with “all-bets-off best” and ending with “zhooshy”—the most mind-marmalizing, wit-sharpening, order Cafergot from United States pharmacy, After Cafergot, noodle-frying, brains-into-putty astonishing adjectives, Cafergot price, coupon. Buy Cafergot online cod, (Here's a WBUR interview about the book.)

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Then there are the “angelheaded hipsters” from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. He crafted an adjective from two nouns to describe denizens of San Francisco, no prescription Cafergot online, Ordering Cafergot online, “burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”

What adjectives have knocked your socks off. Add a comment, Cafergot long term. Online buy Cafergot without a prescription, I will send a copy of Better Than Great as a reward for the most zhooshy example.

 {And thanks to poet Ava Sayaka Rosen, discount Cafergot, who lent her favorite examples to this post.}


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Buy Toprol XL Without Prescription, You see it in Strunk and White, you see in bibles on good writing, and you even see it in essays on this Web site: the command to use Anglo-Saxon words instead of Latin ones. In response I’ll use a very non-Anglo-Saxon word: hogwash. Toprol XL from canada, Where did this meme start, and have the people who spread it really studied the history of English.

Let’s go back, discount Toprol XL, way back, Buy cheap Toprol XL no rx, before the birth of Greenwich Mean Time…. The first people to arrive on the island we now call Britain were the Celts (also called the Britons). They were soon joined by Scots, Picts, and some Latin dudes who wandered over from the Roman Empire, Buy Toprol XL Without Prescription. Then, taking Toprol XL, round about the fifth century, Order Toprol XL online c.o.d, the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes arrived from the continent, Toprol XL pharmacy, through what are now known as Holland, Buy Toprol XL without prescription, Germany, and Denmark.

These barbarous tribes brought with them the seax (a terrifying blade from which the Saxons got their name) and a language that had been mixing it up with Latin for centuries, Toprol XL gel, ointment, cream, pill, spray, continuous-release, extended-release. As linguist David Crystal points out in The Stories of English, Toprol XL brand name, the vocabulary of English “has never been purely Anglo-Saxon, even in its Anglo-Saxon period”.

Anglo-Saxon did eventually form the basic stock of Old English, Toprol XL dose, enlivened with a smattering of Celtic and Latin words. Buy Toprol XL Without Prescription, St. Toprol XL over the counter, Augustine brought new ingredients from Rome, Danes added some sustenance of their own, and then the Normans spiced things up with French and more Latin, fast shipping Toprol XL. By the time of Shakespeare, Cheap Toprol XL no rx, English was a rich verbal stew—then the Bard added all kinds of coinages to the pot.

That didn’t stop early language mavens from craving a pure, purée-smooth English, cheap Toprol XL. In the sixteenth century, My Toprol XL experience, John Cheke suggested that words with Latin and Greek origins be replaced by words with Old English roots, and in the nineteenth, authors like Dickens and Hardy sang the virtues of an all-Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, Toprol XL natural. In the twentieth century, George Orwell took up the banner, arguing in “Politics and the English Language” that “bad writers are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin and Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.” In other words, good writers don’t rely on words with Latin roots (or, for that matter, any non-Germanic roots), Buy Toprol XL Without Prescription.

Orwell’s point—and it’s a fine one—was that straightforward, Where can i order Toprol XL without prescription, punchy words should trump pompous, polysyllabic ones. Point taken, buy Toprol XL online no prescription. And it’s true that a lot of obtuse abstractions (ameliorate, Where to buy Toprol XL, disintermediation, subaqueous) have Latin roots. Second point taken, Toprol XL schedule. But here’s the thing: English has always borrowed nice, Buy Toprol XL no prescription, crisp, short, specific words from other languages, doses Toprol XL work. Of the following 24 words, Online buy Toprol XL without a prescription, can you tell which are Germanic in origin and which ones were snatched from Latin: belt, bin, cat, Toprol XL price, coupon, cook, Buy Toprol XL from mexico, craft, cup, day, purchase Toprol XL for sale, dog, Toprol XL class, earth, god, gold, Toprol XL price, home, Toprol XL from canadian pharmacy, light, pan, pit, purchase Toprol XL, pot, After Toprol XL, red, sack, sock, Toprol XL from mexico, stop, Rx free Toprol XL, sun, wall, wife, Toprol XL alternatives, work? See the answers here.)

And what’s the matter with early imports from Scandinavia (cake, Toprol XL coupon, crooked, dregs), France (bacon, Toprol XL street price, ginger, Order Toprol XL from United States pharmacy, proud), and Frisia, aka Holland before it was Holland (island), Toprol XL recreational. (Props to David Crystal for most of my examples.)

Today 80 percent of our vocabulary comes from “foreign” sources, Toprol XL use, including these perfectly good if very un-Anglo-Saxon words: ballot (from Italian), banshee (Scots Gaelic), bungalow (Hindi), Toprol XL pics, garage (French), gong (Javanese), goulash (Hungarian), junta (Spanish), kahuna (Hawaiian), kiosk (Turkish), llama (Quechua), marmalade (Portuguese), mentsh (Yiddish), robot (Czech), slim (Dutch), sofa (Arabic), tomato (Nahuatl), tycoon (Japanese), window (Old Icelandic), yen (as in desire, Chinese).

The next time someone tells you to “prefer the Anglo-Saxon,” offer to edit his or her copy with a well-sharpened seax.

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Deadwood’s mayor E. Reglan schedule, B. Farnum, when he saw the Widow Garret, said, “She enters,” rather than the “There she is” of lesser mortals, Buy Reglan Without Prescription. And my dog. Well, get Reglan, you’d better believe that Homer understood the commands “sit, Ordering Reglan online, ” “stay,” “heel,” and “fetch.” (He wasn’t so good on “lie down.”)

Verbs have been called everything from “action words” to “the heartbeat of a sentence.” They have even been called The Almighty—by Buckminster Fuller:  “God, order Reglan from mexican pharmacy, to me, Buy generic Reglan, it seems, is a verb, not a noun, australia, uk, us, usa, proper or improper.” Verbs make the fulcrum of every sentence, Reglan dangers, the essence of any story. They put action in scenes, show eccentricity in characters, get Reglan, and convey drama in plots. Where to buy Reglan, Knowing the difference between a paltry verb and a potent one, a static sentence and a dynamic one, the passive voice and the active one, Reglan long term, means knowing how to write purposefully and powerfully. Buy Reglan Without Prescription, In fact, understanding the verb means understanding English itself, for in English more than in other tongues, verbs enjoy a kind of primacy. Reglan duration, Think about it: The word itself comes from the Latin verbum, for “word.” We can’t verbalize without verbs, nor can we boast of verbal dexterity, order Reglan online c.o.d.

Yet, Discount Reglan, for all their primacy and vibrancy, verbs are mostly misunderstood and often misused. Vex, Reglan schedule, Hex, Reglan over the counter, Smash, and Smooch aims to change the way we think about verbs—and about language itself.

Beginning writers often ask me: “What is the one thing that will improve my work?” Aside from the obvious answer—read more, no prescription Reglan online, write more—I tell them to bone up on verbs.

Vex, Hex will take writers from the basics (static and dynamic verbs) to the esoteric (the indicative, the imperative, and the oh so subjunctive), Buy Reglan Without Prescription. Reglan wiki, It will set writers straight on objects and why it’s easy to use who and whom correctly. It upends conventional notions of verbs, sentences, Reglan for sale, and literature itself, Reglan australia, uk, us, usa, marching from Caesar to Sorenson, from Woolf to The Wolfman, from Dickens to Didion, japan, craiglist, ebay, overseas, paypal, from Hemingway to JFK. Reglan without a prescription, And we won’t forget rappers like Dr. Dre, or TV writers like David Milch (Deadwood) and David Simon (The Wire), buy Reglan without prescription.

Buy Reglan Without Prescription, Vex, Hex also helps writers reinterpret the old rules for the new media landscape. The books show how verbs figure into the 140-character messages of Twitter and how they can elevate blogs into literature. Reglan no rx, (Or at least something worth reading.) This is a book for every writer trying to figure out how to rise above the digital din by crafting prose that is lean, powerful, and punchy.

Doesn’t it sound like fun. Look for it in fall 2011. In the meantime, I'll be creating a page here and inviting you to send in your favorite examples of writers who get verbs and how to use them to perk up their prose.

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