Friday, May 18, 2007

Flabby Prose

In response to both Beulah & Cindy, yes, writing is work. I hit the wall again as soon as I bragged here about it -- Wednesday I was so tired I couldn't think straight & while yesterday was better, I couldn't decide if the next thing I was saying belonged in the middle of the chapter or up front.

I consoled myself by saying at least I wrote, or began to, the salient bit in question, which is really the thesis of the chapter.

Most of us can't, for a variety of reasons, write seven days a week. Especially when we're physically tired & challenged to obligations set in stone. I've been spending five or six hours a day with dogs this week: why wouldn't I be brain-dead by the middle of it? So another rule to add is be fair to yourself & your energy reserves. Decide what days you can show up & really give it your best shot.

I'm guessing my schedule ought to be Saturday - Tuesday, with catch-as-catch-can the other three days.

`Cause if I have the energy to blog, I have the energy to write.

On the other hand, if you're not dependent on making a living from your writing, it can be fun. You can do all kinds of wacky exercises to get the creative blood flowing until you're ready for the bigger projects.

Which leads me to the topic of "flabby" prose.

I suppose streamlined prose is elegant, spare & precise. Hemingway's stories, say. But when I say flabby prose I mean careless or untaught. Grammar matters. So does spelling & so does accuracy. Each time one makes a reader wince at "there's so many things I want to do," the less likely the reader is going to look forward to continuing to read.

I learned most of my grammar from taking Italian, & later from teaching composition. I always said of my students that if I could get them all to know the difference between "it's" & "its," I'd be happy.

What you don't see in this post is the stuff I took out after it helped me write it. There was an "actually" I deleted, & a "just," among others. There are words that MUST be saved for the last minute: actually, just, simply, then, well...

So here are two more grammar tips from this post:

"There are so many things I want to do."

It's = it is. No exceptions. If you're tired & making the mistake, substitute "it is". If it makes sense, use the apostrophe. [I suppose Cousin It is the one exception, but let's not split hairs.]
But I'm not blogging to condescend -- the blogs I read are either not flabby or too true & funny & gutsy to care. But Cindy asked & Beulah mentioned the labor, so I thought I'd respond.


Bea said...

Thank you. It is worthwhile knowing lean prose can effect my affect. Or not.

Cindy said...

I love grammar tips. Thanks!!!

Unknown said...

The it's/its thing is one pet peeve of mine. The other bugaboo is the plural/possessive confusion. I hate when I see a sign at the grocery store that says "Fresh Muffin's." But it is one of those things that seems to be hard for a lot of people.

I tend to commit my own grammar offenses. I'm a big sentence splicer, using lots of commas where I should use semicolons. But I don't like the semicolon. It's ugly and bureaucratic-looking.

My current boss LOVES the word "utilize." I think the word is Orwellian. Whatever it is we're supposed to utilize, it feels like we're being forced to utilize it against our will. If we wanted to use it, we would just use it.

Laura N said...

Ha, "utilize." Jen, you reminded me of my favorite college prof (who I worked for in my Soph - Senior years) who said "Every time someone uses the word 'utilize,' a piece of the universe dies."

The thing about grammar (and punctuation), I think, is that unless you are taught "the rules" by a thorough teacher or strict professor, how will you learn? It's not intuitive, this English language. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Its/It's is the perfect example. Hell, even the word "grammar" is a problem-- shouldn't it be "grammEr"?

I am a total grammar snob, don't get me wrong. I have a BA in Eng/Lit; billboard punctuation errors drive me nuts; reading our locally published city mag is practically unbearable because of the simple errors that slip by the editors. (semicolons just for you, Jen!)

But I also taught 3 years of composition to Freshman-year college kids who didn't qualify for English 101. NO ONE in high school taught them the rules. How are they supposed to know?

Please note: I don't entirely blame high school English teachers for this lack of grammatical correctness in our youth and adults. Teachers have so much crap to deal with that has nothing to do with educating kids. Dangling modifiers and misplaced commas just aren't the priorities they once were.

Maureen said...

Good to know what "flabby prose is" I actually was thinking that lean prose was short, sweet, to the point without flowery words.