It’s Nice

I don’t like lackluster words. In fact, when asked a question, I pretty much forbade my family from the use of the words boring, interesting and fine as acceptable answers when given without a qualifier. To me, these words lack substance and don’t really explain the way that you feel. While I sometimes use these words myself, I do try to avoid as often as possible. But of all the words that people use and I hate, the number one word on my list is:

NICE

How was the show? It was nice.

What’s your kids new significant other like? They’re nice.

How’s the food. It’s nice

What does the responder mean by any of these statements? And I don’t mean NICE said with any inflection or said as NOYCE, which is a common phrase these days…

I mean the actual word NICE.

So I looked up the etymology of the word NICE:

Thank you Oxford Languages for the following:

Latin origin- Nescire- definition- NOT KNOW

which evolved to:

Latin- nescius- IGNORANT

which evolved to:

Old French-nice- STUPID

Archaic Meaning- Fastidious or scrupulous

Is a word that took it’s meaning from stupid and ignorant really the word that you want to use to say something good about something else?

How was the show? Stupid. How’s the new girlfriend? Ignorant.

Obviously, the word nice has transformed itself over the years to mean:

Pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory

My first question is: If you actually mean to say pleasant, agreeable or satisfactory, why wouldn’t you use those much better words? When someone says pleasant, I can conjure up a mind picture. I know exactly what they mean. Same with satisfactory and agreeable. Word pictures.

Let’s think on this for a moment: If you said your son’s new person was “satisfactory” what does that actually mean about your possible future in law?

So when you say something is nice…what do you really mean? Pleasant, agreeable or satisfactory? See how NICE becomes a non descript word? When you refer to someone/something as nice, I don’t know if you mean pleasant or satisfactory- and there is a world of difference between those two word choices. The only thing I do know is that I probably won’t see a show, eat a meal or expect much of a person when they are labeled as NICE.

With the plethora of gorgeous and explicit words in our lexicon, why do we overuse the same tired words?

Have we gotten lazy while we are speaking?

Let’s revitalize our conversations and word choice…

After all, we don’t want to be ignorant or stupid…

Oops- I meant NICE…

Stereotypical Fiction

As long as we have fiction, we will continue to have stereotypes.

I know. That’s a pretty bold statement to start off a Monday. I’m basically saying that we will never stop judging and assuming one’s character based on certain traits and characteristics and mannerisms. Well, as long as we keep writing books anyway.

X drove a Mercedes. When you read that sentence, what does the word Mercedes bring to the story that car doesn’t? Wealth, privilege, debt, flash?

If I said X drove a Mercedes, wore a pinky ring and Italian leather loafers what do you see in your mind?

I I said X drove a Mercedes, wore a Swiss watch and donned bright white tennis sneakers, what do you picture in your mind?

If I said that X drove a 1972 Mercedes, wore birkenstocks and no jewelry, what would that tell you?

If you thought gangster, WASP and hippie are you stereotyping? Are you assuming the final tally based on the digits, even though I never used the words gangster, WASP or hippie?

Are you an old fashioned stereotyper? Or are you just deciphering clues?

Is the whole process of show not tell an exercise in how to stereotype?

I watched a medical drama last night. The character in the hospital bed said “Girl, you have to see the Doctor, He fly.” If you read that line of dialogue in a book, would you make any assumptions about the character? Would it be stereotyping if you made an assumption about the speaker of that dialogue?

When we read fiction do we make assumptions based on description? I wrote in one of my passages last week “couch with welcoming back support”. I was, as someone said, trying to denote that the speaker was at least in middle age. Young people never look at a piece of furniture and wonder about it’s comfort, or how easy it will be to get in or out of it…but some older people do. Not every person of a certain age thinks about the comfort of a chair…but some do… Is it wrong to guess the character I was describing was oldish?

So, do we rid our lives of fiction so that we can lead a life with no judging others based on characteristics?

Or do we just learn to deal with the fact that humans stereotype, always have stereotyped and always will?

Bad Writing

Writers and readers use the term all the time: bad writing.

But, what do we mean when we say “bad writing”?

I hate when people get basic facts about NYC wrong. I don’t like when they say an Avenue goes north, when it only goes south. I don’t like when they get the flavor of a neighborhood wrong. I don’t like it when it’s obvious the author has never stepped foot inside any of the five boroughs. The city is a living breathing thing- it’s practically a character. Make sure you understand NYC before you write about it.

I hate when authors say that someone got a scholarship to an Ivy League school. I get that the author is trying to say just how smart and special someone is. But the truth is, Ivies don’t give out athletic scholarships- it’s not their thing. And while these schools are need blind and will give you financial aid if you qualify, there really are almost no merit scholarships at these schools. Yes, there are grants and fellowships and other ways for a student to receive money for tuition. But to blindly say someone got a scholarship is a misnomer. Frankly, with acceptance rates below 5% for the Ivies, it’s enough to say that a kid got in.

I hate when numbers don’t add up. Like, you say someone got married in year Y, and then they talk about the age somewhere else, and the math is just wrong. I know. I can be a bit…ummm…what’s the word…anal about stuff like this.

Many of the things that take me out of a book are more about little niggling details. I figure if you are going to include these details, take the time to make sure that you are getting the facts straight. Some may not think this is bad writing, but it is for me.

Let’s see what else annoys me…

I hate when too many brand names are used to describe things. I get that sometimes saying a brand really puts you in a place. I just finished a book that talks about Hermes scarves. It’s really the only time that the author uses a specific brand, and she kinda sorta explains the cachet to someone who might not instantly understand the “importance” of a Hermes scarf. It’s a great way to use a brand to the advantage of the book. However, to say that someone was wearing Chanel, and Louboutin and drives a Mercedes and carried a Birkin… It just goes too far. I think after the first “name” is dropped, we get the idea that a character is flashy, or rich, or showy. We don’t need to list the name of every department from Saks…To me, to endlessly drop names is lazy writing. Lazy writing is bad writing.

But while we are on descriptions…

I hate over description. I hate when a paragraph is a laundry list of what a room looks like. I don’t need to “see” every piece of furniture in a room. I don’t need to have a complete 360 visual of the kitchen unless it’s totally germane to the plot, in say a mystery. Give me the details that matter. Leave out the fluff. Let the details come organically- it keeps with the flow of a passage. Don’t give me reason to daydream about something else when I am reading the book. Too much description takes me out of the story. I can switch on HGTV if I want to see a description of a house.

I hate when some detail is repeated too many times in a book. I recently read something that told about the kid’s phone four times. While this detail ended up being relevant to the conclusion, it got irritating to read it so many times. If a reader didn’t catch the reference after reading it once, then the author shouldn’t over explain it. Don’t treat the reader as if they are an idiot. More often than not, we get it.

Don’t include every societal issue out there in one book. I want to read books about all the social issues, but I don’t want to read them in the same book. Too many times lately authors have tried to force every single issue we face today into a 350 page novel. When you do this, you make each issue more trivial. Focus on one issue. Give justice to the one issue and do it well. Then write another book about another issue. Give that issue justice and write it well.

Try not to join the copycat bandwagon. After Gone Girl, it seemed that every book needed a “twist”. News flash, after the first one or two copy cat books, we all started to figure out the twist. Then we began not to care about the twist. Be original. Publishers- do you hear me? We like original…

Wow.

There’s really a lot I don’t like.

Shocking.

And maybe my peeves are not necessarily bad writing, but really bad storytelling.

But I really want to know, what irks you when you are reading a book? What are your bookish pet peeves?

Reading and Writing and Writing and Reading

One of my blog friends (R. Douglas) made a comment to me a few months ago, and it really stood out. He said that he often wishes to write for readers instead of writing for writers…

I began to think about that. When I write my blog, I know that most of my audience are fellow bloggers- other people who put their thoughts into words and hit publish. When I write my blog I know that I am writing to writers…I also know that there is instant feedback…

What would happen if I wrote my blog and disconnected the comment section?

How would that change my writing?

When I was working on my book, I found it hard to tell a story.

I found it hard to write for readers.

I like a lot of dialogue. I don’t like description. I don’t like a lot of deep prose paragraphs…I don’t like doing the things that appeal to readers…

However, in my blog, I write to you as I speak. I may not be as blunt as I am in real life…(trust me: I am blunt in real life and I can’t hide my emotions), but you are getting 100% me…

Aside from my poor grammar and lack of editing skills, I like writing for writers…

But how do I bridge the gap from writing for writers to writing for readers?

As I work on a memoir (yup- jumping on that bandwagon) I find that I can use the style that I have cultivated in my blog- I don’t have to rely on the traditional aspects of writing- I can rely on my ability to put words on paper in my unique (I hope) way…

But will readers want to read that?

Cause let’s face it: if I write a book I want it to be read…

And I can’t write a book with a comment section that I can reply back to…

But…as I have a comment section, right here, right now…

What do you think is the difference between writing for writers and writing for readers? Or do you think writing is writing and an audience is an audience?

What are the things in books that most appeal to you?

Help a sister out and give me your opinions…

Write it Down

Welcome to today’s version of “How A Book Inspired LA to write a Blog Post”

Today’s book: Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar.

While Akhtar considers this a novel, not a memoir, there are aspects of his real life in this book. Akhtar is a Pulitzer winning author so he has some literary street cred, so when he talks about his craft I listen.

Akhtar goes home at night and writes, with as much detail as he can muster, the events of his day. People, settings, feelings, situations….He will spend about two hours retelling his day.

Talk about a journal…

Is this the only thing besides actual talent that separates me from a Pulitzer? I just don’t take the time to write down the minutia (sometimes, not always) of my day?

Show of hands: How many of you journal? Brain dump? Morning pages? I can’t see you because I won’t Zoom, so tell me who you are.

How detailed do you get when you free write?

I do a brain dump in the morning. I tend to do a combo of things that I need to do that day and I probably obsess about one detail from the day before. There’s usually some reason I become fixated on something and eventually it probably becomes a blog. But I rarely write the whole thing- I did not talk about the smell of yesterday’s heat when I complained about it. I didn’t write down the body language of the guy I didn’t trust yesterday. I didn’t write down how I met someone for the first time and how he referred to me as Sister…

  1. Why didn’t I write these details down, when they are so clear in my mind?
  2. Should I be writing these details down?
  3. Is my lack of detailed notetaking the only thing that separates me from being a Pulitzer winner?
  4. Why have I become so obsessed with Pulitzer winners?

What do you think about writing down your day in detail?

Do you think you would benefit from it? Why or why not?

What do you think about free style journaling? Pro or con?

Write how you feel…

Showing and Telling

I like to fancy myself a reader and a writer.

I read everyday.

I write every day.

But it took me 54+ years of reading and writing to realize that there are really two types of writers: There are story tellers and there are wordsmiths.

What’s the difference?

Well…

Everything.

and Nothing.

Presently I am reading a book called “The Go Between”. The plotline is very thin…there is one main thing going on, and it took about a third of the way in for the plotline to emerge. But the writing…poetic and lyrical. The sentence structure varies. The descriptions are unique. The only way the author keeps you guessing is by not knowing what literary device is being used next. We all know what’s going to happen to the main character and the sub characters…The author L.P. Hartley is a wordsmith.

I recently read a book “The Wife Upstairs”. This book is all plot. While the author tries to give us an updated Jane Eyre, there is really nothing outstanding about the writing. The words bring you from point A to point B. There is nothing lyrical about the language. There is nothing profound about the dialogue. There is little nuance- it’s an outline with a few trite descriptions thrown in…However, there is a more intricate plot. If you’ve never read Jane Eyre, you might be in for some surprises along the way. Even if you have read it, you still might be in for a ride. The author, Rachel Hawkins, is a storyteller.

Is it better to be a wordsmith or a storyteller?

It really all depends.

Both types of authors are valuable in the writing landscape.

But wordsmiths, well, their books tend to win awards. Their books get praise in The New York Times Book Review. These books are more likely to become classics, or have a long shelf life. These are the types of books that some people buy and never read, but tell people they read them.

Story tellers are more likely to end up on bestseller lists and actually read. These are books that keep you intrigued with what is happening, not the way that it’s presented. These are the books that become movies or TV shows. These are the books fancy people swear they never read.

Which books do you tend to read most?

Do you love a good story? The unpredictable plot? The boy meets girl saga? Or do you long for brilliant use of words? Do you live for first person accounts of looking at a tree and talking about the color of the leaves?

Think of the books that you read: Are they telling a story, or are they just using language to create word pictures?

Pros and Cons of both?

Can you think of a book that excels in both story telling and language use? And don’t tell me Pride and Prejudice because that’s too easy (and some will argue it’s just a romance book and I don’t feel like refereeing that debate)

Discuss:

Give it One More Try

I loved the book Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. I also loved Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

But…

I didn’t love either of them when I started reading them. I didn’t understand what was happening, I wasn’t into the characters, etc.

For me, both of these books were worth the journey. If I knew people reading them, and those people thought they were iffy, I would tell them to stick it out one more chapter- it was worth it…

So the question is, how do you know when it’s time to give up on a book?

I am not one to quit on a book. I figure if I was intrigued enough to get the book, I owe the author the courtesy to see it through. The last book I didn’t finish was “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” and I’d say I tried to read that at least ten years ago. I completely understand why someone starts and does not finish a book. Time is way too valuable to partake in something you just don’t enjoy.

But how do you know at what point to quit a book?

Some books have a slow build: this is intentional. The author is laying out a framework and they’re trying not to rush. This is often the sign of a good writer. Pace is important in a book. That is the case in both the books that I mentioned. There is method to the writer’s madness as to what is revealed, when it’s revealed and how it’s revealed. There is a careful outline in play. To move too quickly would disrupt the balance…it would take away from the craft of writing.

How do you determine if the book is a slow build, or if it’s just a boring book?

So here’s the questions for today:

  1. What’s the last book you didn’t finish?
  2. Why didn’t you finish it?
  3. What makes you stop reading a book?
  4. How far do you get into a book before you put it away for good?
  5. Has there been a book that you were iffy about but ended up glad that you read it till the end?

Gratitude Saturday May 8

It’s my blogiversary!

Four years ago I started my blog!

Yay!

People often ask how I can write almost every day. The answer is simple: I love blogging. When I wake up I am excited to sit in front of my computer and pump out a few hundred words, even when I have no idea what I am going to write about, which, let’s face it, pretty much every day. I open my computer with a few scribbled notes that I probably wrote months before, or, like today, I just start writing and end up with long run on sentences. Who said I always have a plan?

Ha

I want to blog every day. I am excited to interact with everyone. If I’m not feeling it, I don’t write. Period. I pen a note that I’m taking a few days off (this gives me accountability in my head) and I chill until I get the urge to write again. If you don’t love sitting in front of some electronic device and blogging, you need to ask yourself why are you doing it. I once saw someone had named their blog something like “Why did I start this damn blog” and I wonder at that as a title- if your title says that you don’t want to blog, why are you doing it?

Blog because you love it. Any other reason is just not worth it. Unless of course it’s your job, but if it’s your job and you hate it, maybe you should consider another job maybe…

But anyway…

I am grateful for my blog

I am grateful for WordPress (most of the time anyway)

I am grateful for all those who choose to read me

I am grateful to all those who choose to randomly “like” my blog

I am grateful to those who choose to follow my blog

I am grateful for all those who comment!!!!

I am grateful for all the wonderful people who I have met on this journey! You inspire me!!

Thank you!

Lighten the Load

I love chick lit.

I make no apologies.

I do not plan on turning in my feminist card. If someone made me, I would gladly give up feminism in favor of chick lit.

I like a story of a plucky woman who has gone through some sort of adversity. I like how she screws up but all things come out at the end. I like a happy ending.

Now, this does not exclude me from reading other types of literature. I can do sad and depressing with the best of them. The books that fall under these categories are traditionally better for book clubs. What book club doesn’t like to bond over tears?

But back to chick lit…

There are two authors I’ve been reading for over 20 years. Let’s call them Jennifer Red and Jane Hotdog. In the beginning I loved these authors. I read everything they wrote as soon as it came out in paperback. Sometimes, I even sprung for the hardcover. I kept my copies of these books.

These authors spoke to me.

It was as if they were reading my mind.

And as the years went on, these authors changed up their books. They were no longer writing about plucky women making little errors, losing their way and then finding their way back. They began to write about deep subjects. Adultery. Depression. Drug abuse.

Fine.

Anyone can write about anything.

However…

In my opinion, maybe, just maybe, writing about these subjects wasn’t really great for these authors. Maybe these authors weren’t really cut out for heavier fiction. Maybe these heavier books weren’t quite as good as the other lighter fare. I no longer enjoy the works of these authors as much as I once did.

It takes a really good writer to write a good chick lit book. You have to make the characters real. You need to make the situations somewhat realistic. You need to have a good sense of humor. These are all skills…skills that should not be undervalued just because the book is not Booker Prize worthy…

Just like writing a weightier tome has its own individual skillset.

Writers of different genres are all talented: they are just talented in different ways.

We tend to undervalue light in favor of heavy.

I don’t know why. Can’t we have both, assuming they are done well?

I’d much rather have a well executed “light” book instead of a poorly executed “heavy” book…I want to read the best that any genre has to offer.

Food for thought:

  1. Do you think publishers/agents direct best selling authors to write things that are in vogue, even if it means changing genres?
  2. What genres do you prefer?
  3. Do you think chick lit is a waste of time?
  4. Have you ever had an author that you love disappoint you with their latest work?
  5. Anything else that I touched on in this post
  6. Do we undervalue light in favor of heavy

I made a comment yesterday that seemed to devalue reposting or reblogging an older post. Alas, this sentiment did not come out the way that I intended. I apologize to anyone that reposts or reblogs their work sometimes. Just because I don’t like doing it doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t. Keep on being you. Sorry for the inference!

LA

How Do I Write? Let Me Count the Words…

What inspires you?

Recently we talked about how my family always being underfoot has made it difficult for me to be creative, how I need solitude in order to tap into my muse. My muse is an introverted thing, and she needs to be alone in the house with music softly in the background and the scent of lemon wafting from the diffuser, and a cup of black tea with milk and sugar sitting on the side.

My muse took up residence somewhere else during COVID…

But anyway…

Turns out I need to be alone to actually put words on the paper…

But…

In order to be inspired…

in order to find things to write about…

I need to be out and about. I need people, places and things from which to get ideas. I am never going to get ideas from sitting in a room with my diffuser and a cup of tea. I mean, those things might make it into a work, but for the most part, how much can I write about them?

ok- expect a post about my desk sometime in July

I am a sensual person. I am inspired by the things that I can touch, taste, see, hear and smell. When you are a sensual person, you need to be interrupted. You need to be amongst the people. When you are a sensual person who is looking for those ideas, you need to be disrupted. You need some sort of controlled chaos.

Quiet to write.

Distraction to be inspired.

Look at the things that I choose to blog about. I do not get these ideas while sitting in my desk chair, smelling the lemon and drinking my tea. I might read a great comment, or be treated poorly by someone. Run out of toilet paper or talk to my sister. All these things get my brain working…makes me reach for my planner and pink pen and jot down the idea…At the time I write the note I may not know what my post will look like, but I know that I’ve hit on an idea that I can expand…

The toilet paper post of this week- do you know what my note was for that day?

things I did for my family that they didn’t realize

I wrote that note months ago because I knew that somewhere in those words was a blog post. As I sat down to write and thought about that note, the incident from the previous week popped into my mind…

Inspired by chaos and distraction…

Enough about me:

What inspires you?

Where do you get your ideas from?

How do you keep track of the things that you want to write about, paint, photograph, whatever your chosen medium is?

Do you just think of things, or do you need some sort of distraction to inspire you?

What activates your muse?

Discuss