“We off That.” Don’ts for Writers in 2017

Jay-Z’s “Off That” is a concise guide to what was no longer cool as of 2009: everything from baggy clothes and Timbs (Timberland boots,) to fighting in the club and telling your girl you love her.

We writers could use a similar style audit. With all the wackness being perpetrated in the writing game today, it’s time for a little perspective. Here’s a writer’s list of “don’ts” for 2017.

The Word “Just,” we off That.

Remember Marissa Cooper on The O.C? She had this tick where every time she needed to express herself or work through a dilemma she’d start by saying “It’s just…” in a breathless voice. It was part of the reason some people were happy when she got killed off.

That’s what you sound like when you send an email “Just checking in…,” or “Just following up…,” or “Just wanting to know…”

Just stop it. Get to the point, say what you mean, mean what you say. The word “just” damages your credibility.

Continue Reading at Medium, and follow me if you’re on there too. 

50 Things to Collect when you Read

This post has since been reposted by Thought Catalog

  1. Favorite quotes
  2. Gorgeous prose
  3. Bad prose
  4. Lines that make you laugh
  5. and cry
  6. Lines you wish you had written
  7. Scenes that make you wonder how the hell this book got so popular
  8. Place names
  9. Character names
  10. Obscure words (the word for a collector of words is sesquipedalian)
  11. Words you derive the meaning of from their context
  12. Moments when you know what will happen next
  13. Moments where you thought you knew and were surprised
  14. Moments that made you put the book down
  15. Where you were, who you were with, what was going on around you while you were reading (See Proust, Swan’s Way)
  16. Recommended further reading.
  17. Settings
  18. Drinks mentioned
  19. Drugs mentioned
  20. Number of drinks taken (This has been done by readers of  The Sun Also Rises, and in a British Medical Journal study of the James Bond novels and films.)
  21. Bad sex scenes. (The Literary Review puts out an award every year for bad sex in fiction.)
  22. Language that just wouldn’t fly today (again, see Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.
  23. Lines that will make you sound smart.
  24. Feelings you’ve had your whole life you’re only just finding the words for in someone else’s work
  25. Words of comfort
  26. Words that disturb
  27. Words a good friend needs to hear right now
  28. Moments that make you say “I could have thought of that”
  29. References to historical/ current events. (I recently found a scene in Watchmen based on an obscure and brutal prison riot in New Mexico, the details of which I DO NOT recommend Googling.)
  30. References to other works of literature and art
  31. Outright theft of other works of art
  32. The sources of later references
  33. Parallels and cross pollination to other stuff you’re reading
  34. Moments that make you see the limits of verbal storytelling
  35. and moments that make you believe there are no limits
  36. Questions for the author
  37. Questions for a character
  38. Questions for yourself, the reader
  39. Food mentioned
  40. Brand names
  41. Celebrities and historical figures name-dropped
  42. Scenes that were better/ worse in the movie
  43. What you liked
  44. What you hated
  45. Notes on an impossible sequel
  46. Who you’d cast in the movie
  47. Life lessons
  48. Songs mentioned
  49. Books mentioned
  50. Number of times a given word appears (David Foster Wallace does a hilarious take-down of John Updike in which compares the number of words devoted to the description of a golf course to the very few words describing the end of the world for which the course is a metaphor.)

 

This post started as a brainstorming session with The Imperfectionist.

 

Showing Up, By the Numbers

If you do three morning pages  every day, you’ll write 273,750 words every year (assuming 250 words/ page.) That’s Crime and Punishment plus Lord of the Flies, all before breakfast.

 

Writing three hours a day gets you to 10,000 hours of practice in ten years. A decade will go by fast if you’re living the kind of life worth writing about. Graham Greene wrote 25 books in a lifetime of three hour days.

 

Just three pages a day for a year is over a thousand pages. You could still draft a novel in a year writing just one page a day.

 

Will Self measures his output in “Conrads.” One Conrad is 800 words.  At a rate of one Conrad per day, you can write a short novel in under 70 days.

 

Friday Roundup — I Think You’re Fat

“If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.”

–Leonard Cohen