October is traditionally the month to bring out Jack-o-Lanterns, ghosts, spiders, monsters of all sorts, and skeletons. But this October, my focus is on human skulls. Some of you are aware that I have been posting skull pictures on FB daily. But why? Short answer: because I love them! They can, do, and always have represented many meanings to many people and cultures.
As best I remember, I first noticed skulls on old tombstones in Boston. Virtually every tombstone featured some version of a skull. A frequent depiction was a skull with angel wings, presumed to represent death and life after death.
Subsequently, traveling abroad, I saw skulls in paintings, representing mortality, the swift passage of time, and that life is temporary.
In Rome, Prague, and cities in Portugal, I saw whole rooms and cathedrals walled and decorated with skulls, often honoring dead saints.
Skulls For Honor
Skulls honoring the dead took a much more personal turn in Cuzco, Peru. Since Inca times, mummies of the dead emperors were kept in homes and played an important role as leaders in Cuzco. Traditionally, families kept the skulls of ancestors on small altars in their homes. The pictures above are not mine, but when there I visited a one-room Inca home still inhabited by a family where an ancestral skull rested on a shelf carved into the stone wall, along with a partly burned candle and dried herbs. The skulls of loved ones are said to be good company, and to watch over and protect the family and the home.
In Mexico’s Day of the Dead, dead ancestors and relatives are honored in a joyous celebration in which sugar skulls in bright colors create a celebration of life as well as death.
Using the domes of skulls as bowls, as ritual drinking cups, and/or as a tribute to the victor goes back millennia. The oldest known one was 12,750 BCE. Posting or displaying the heads of slain enemies is well known. It may be that people made skull cups to honor and remember their dead, but it could also have been to try to tap into magical or healing powers.
Skull medicine has a long history. In the 17th century, people would drink from skulls, drink the powdered skull, or imbibe the entire head. This was part of a widespread tradition of medicinal cannibalism using everything (bone, blood, flesh, and fat) that continued into the 18th and even the 19th centuries.
But I Don’t Do Any of Those Things With Skulls.
I have skulls for ornamentation and symbolism. At first I wore skull scarves and jewelry for mystery book signings and panel presentations only. The more I looked at created skulls, the more attractive I found them to be. I’m not alone in this. A human skull with its large eye sockets is especially appealing to people and is easily recognized even in fragments. I especially like mineral skulls, and created this one-of-a-kind choker for myself.
I first read about the power of stones for a short story, “Beast and the Beauty.” Interestingly, I didn’t come across any stone for which the asserted power is malevolent. And even more interestingly (to me), some ancient societies believed that objects like crystal skulls represent life, the honoring of humanity in the flesh, and the embodiment of consciousness. That appeals to me.
If you search for skull symbolism online, you will find a post on bikerringshop.com, “Behind the Bones: the History of the Skull Ring.” This anonymously authored post includes a lot of interesting info; for example, “To the Victorians, a skull ring was a way to celebrate lost loved ones and a reminder of the wearer’s own mortality.”
In addressing the complicated symbolism surround skull rings, they address the following topics.
Death Symbolism: most obvious association; a way of embracing and understanding your fate
Carpe Diem: time is limited, so free spirits make the most of it
A Reminder of Life: associated with the afterlife in many religions, from Aztecs to Christianity
A Symbol of Equality: everyone will die, and one skull is pretty much like another
Toughness and Rebellion: representing rebels, people who play by their own rules; bravery and toughness in the face of death.
Actually, I have more pendants and earrings than rings, from the totally formal to the clearly casual.
BOTTOM LINE: Find out about skulls, consider their meaning, and enjoy them.
I recently played mah jong with other women of a certain age who were lamenting the quality of writing today, especially among their grandchildren. The opinion at the table was unanimous. But upon reflection (even after I noticed the poor writing in some recent novels I read), I wondered whether that is true. I searched online and here are the first several articles I found.
According to Goldstein, “Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th grades lack proficiency in writing… And 40% of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level composition class…”
Goldstein says that the root of the problem is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. According to a 2016 study of teachers across the country in grades three through eight, fewer than half had a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing and fewer than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write. The article then goes on to discuss various approaches to teaching writing.
In spite of the shortage of high-quality research on the teaching of writing, Goldstein cites a few concrete strategies that help.
Children need to learn how to transcribe both by hand and through typing on a computer.
Children need to practice writing great sentences before writing paragraphs.
They need clear feedback on their writing.
Students need a synthesis of freewriting without a focus on transcription or punctuation AND grammar instruction.
Aalai says she has seen a decline in writing ability even over the last ten years, declines in critical thinking, proper syntax, spelling, grammar, even proper structure like paragraph indentation and how to cite sources. And she asks, “In the digital world where language is reduced down to 120 characters or less, is some essential part of ourselves that needs to be cultivated… also being lost in the shuffle?”
Morrison’s blog post is very thorough. She presents facts on the writing skill gap, as well as “interesting data from The Writing Lives of College Students,” a list of strategies instructors might consider to develop students’ writing skills. “What is surprising is that students view sending text messages as a writing form and consider it to be the most valuable form of writing over all others.” There are also several enlightening responses to her blog.
Gaille’s blog offers the following reasons for the decline in writing skills.
Social Media Displacement of Reading. The basic issue is that students engage in social media rather than serious reading as a leisure activity.
Digital Brains. Cites cognitive neuroscientists’ conclusions that touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text accounts for students’ difficulties with reading the classics.
College is Less Rigorous. (He cites research.)
Writing Skills Are No Longer Graded. I.e., “[c]ontent alone matters, not how well the student expressed it.”
Text Slang. This includes shortcuts, alternative words, or symbols to convey thoughts in an electronic document.
Ingraham cites data to the effect that in 2015 the percentage of American adults who read literature (novels, short stories, poetry, or plays) fell to at least a three-decade low. The data exclude reading for school or work, so I’d classify this as reading literature for pleasure. Only 43% read at least one work of literature in the previous year, compared to 57% in 1982.
50% of women, 36% of men
50% of whites, 29% of African-Americans, 27% of Hispanics
68% of people with a graduate degree, 59% with a bachelor’s degree, 30% with a high school education
Across the board, there have been drops in literary reading among all ages, races, and educational levels.
Does it matter if people are reading fewer works of literature? Yes! “A number of recent studies have demonstrated that fiction—particularly literary fiction—seems to boost the quality of empathy in the people who read it, their ability to see the world from another person’s eyes.” And the world needs more empathy than ever!
This post starts with six quotes about the deterioration of language, then goes on to note that these quotes come from 1785 through 1978! According to Harvey A. Daniels, Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis Reconsidered, “The earliest language ‘crisis’… that I have been able to discover occurred in ancient Sumeria… It seems that among the first of the clay tablets discovered and deciphered by modern scholars was one which recorded the agonized complaints of a Sumerian teacher about the sudden drop-off in students’ writing ability.”
According to this article, Daniels concludes the following:
our language cannot “die” as long as people speak it
language change is a healthy and inevitable process
all human languages are rule governed, ordered, and logical
variations between different groups of speakers are normal and predictable
all speakers employ a variety of speech forms and styles in response to changing social settings
most of our attitudes about language are based upon social rather than linguistic judgment
To paraphrase Gaille’s last paragraph: Just as good writing withstood the distractions of dance crazes, automobiling, and magazines, it also will survive social media.
As I’ve written before, the term “healthy relationships” doesn’t necessarily pertain to just romantic partners; it can also include family and friends. A handout I received during an event with Hanover Safe Place (see image above) listed the following characteristics as being part of a healthy relationship:
Self-esteem: Feeling positive about yourself before you’re able to take care of partners, friends, and family
Communication: Talking out problems, feelings, and ideas, but also being a good listener
Agreements: Promising to be respectful and follow “rules of relationships”
Connections: Having more than one relationship so as to not remain isolated
Balance: A give and take between the two people in the relationship
Are you in a healthy relationship?
An article in Psychology Today, written by Alice Boyes, Ph.D., goes a few steps further. It lists 50 characteristics of healthy relationships. By clicking the link, you can read through these characteristics; if you can answer “yes” to most of these statements, it’s likely you’re in a healthy relationship. Remember to be truthful with yourself!
There are also questions you can ask yourself about your relationships (see above handout). These questions vary, but include:
Do you make decisions together? Give examples.
Do you trust and believe them? Do they trust and believe you?
Is your relationship built on choices, not pressure?
What to take away
Healthy relationships are built on equality between the partners. One person should not have most of the power in the relationship! Being in communication with one another, giving as well as receiving, and keeping the relationship balanced are all important to maintain a healthy relationship.
The good is yesterday’s visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden—the usual lush flora plus the current exhibit of metal sculptures based on origami. I saw only part of the sculptures but they are stunning! The heat drove me away before I tour the entire circuit, so a return visit is in the offing. I wanted to share, but couldn’t think of a way to make the excursion particularly relevant to writers and/or readers.
Therefore I decided to alternate the good with the bad—some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés—cited in this essay in the June 18th issue of The New Yorker.
N.B.: The entire article is 3.3 pages plus a full-page illustration. Clearly, I’ve chosen only some of the worst writing quoted from The President Is Missing (Bill Clinton and James Patterson) to suit my purposes. The article contains much that is complementary, informative, and entertaining, and I highly recommend reading the entire thing!
“She had to bite her tongue and accept her place as second fiddle.”
“…the sorrowful, deer-in-the-headlights look is long gone. The gloves have come off.”
“Along the way, little animals bounce out of her path.”
“Augie looks at me like a lost puppy, in a foreign place with no partner anymore, nothing to call his own but his smartphone.”
“Adrenaline crashes through my body.”
“Volkov’s eyebrows flare a bit.”
“Augie lets out a noise that sounds like laughter.”
“…her face once again becomes a poker-face wall.”
“Casey falls to a crouch, gripping her hair.”
“…eyes in a focused squint…”
“a sweeping nod”
“shakes his head, hiccups a bitter chuckle.”
“My head on a swivel, I focus on Devin.”
“I break into a jog, something close to a full sprint”
“a bunch of scrambled jumble”
Bottom line: Even highly educated and highly successful writers sometimes try too hard to make their writing compelling and vivid. Beware!
Many—hundreds? thousands?—of animals have collective nouns to identify a bunch of those animals—e.g., a pride of lions, a pod of dolphins.
I used to have a book of such collective nouns titled An Exaltation of Larks. Probably I still have it somewhere, but I can’t find it. So over the weekend, when I wanted to find collective nouns for the birds visiting my backyard, I went online.
But bluebirds? Zip, zero, nada. No generally agreed upon collective for bluebirds. Perhaps that’s because they generally hang out in pairs and congregate only when migrating.
I love my new bird feeders, set up after my birthday. Whether it’s the configuration or the the addition of a suet cage, we’ve never had so many different birds visible from the kitchen window. And I found lots of collective nouns online. In fact, some birds have multiple collective nouns that are generally recognized. So my husband and I decided to just go with the label we liked best. For example, a murder of crows.
We also have a clutter of starlings (I rather like their bright orange beaks) and a scold of blue jays. Then there is the plague of grackles, beautifully iridescent.
Sometimes we are graced by an echo of mockingbirds, or a drumming of woodpeckers.
We have a ubiquity of sparrows, though they were camera shy. The drum of goldfinches not so much so.
I still hope to catch on camera a mewing of catbirds and a dule of doves. But I did catch a member of the college of cardinals—a young one.
Our banditry of titmice swarm the feeder—except when I was taking pictures today! But, surprisingly, I got our bobbin of robins perched on the feeder, even though they are ground feeders.
Later in the year, I expect the return of our hover of hummingbirds. For the time being, I am content with our charm of finches—mostly house finches.
And our chime of wrens.
Yes, I love our dissimulation of chickadees. What’s not to love?
But what about the ignored bluebirds? I found one place on line that, while acknowledging that there was no accepted collective noun for them, suggested a sky of bluebirds, or a beatitude of bluebirds, saying throw some options out there and see what sticks. So I’m suggesting a blessing of bluebirds.
I’m an all-or-nothing sort of reader. When I get into a series, I start at the beginning and binge straight through. But recently I find myself sampling broadly among one-offs.
There’s still fiction. On Kindle I just finished What Comes Between Cousins. I find Jane Austen fan fiction enjoyable escapist reading. This particular one has a fresh story line, so I read it through—though I must admit it could use a good edit. I’ve nearly finished The Mad and the Bad, a fascinating mix of craziness and gore. And then I will move on to Elizabeth Strout.
I loved Olive Kitteridge, so the Strout is pretty much a sure pleasure. The DeStephano book is an unknown quantity. A friend passed it on, saying it’s a well-written, creepy tale of genetic engineering. I’ll keep you posted.
At the same time, I’m involved with nonfiction—memoir, for example. I’ve long been enamored of M.F.K. Fisher as a food writer. Recently I came across two memoirs by her: Among Friends, about growing as a non-Quaker in the Quaker stronghold of Whittier, CA, and Sister Age, a collection of fifteen stories she wrote over the years about the art of aging and living and dying.
And then there is Sherman Alexie, poet and story teller, about whose You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me the San Francisco Chronicle declared, “Emotionally spring-loaded, linguistically gymnastic, and devastatingly funny.” And besides that, my husband loved it!. He often laughed aloud and read excerpts to me. It’s an impressive blend of narrative, dialogue, and poetry.
If memoir doesn’t appeal to you, consider some of these other Sherman Alexie books.
Of course my food reading continues. I recently acquired collectable copies of these two books.The Art of Eating is actually a collection of her first five books:
How to Cook a Wolf is a long-time favorite, but Consider the Oyster is gaining ground. Who would ever have thought a whole book about oysters could be enthralling?
Last but not least on my current revolving bookcase is The Physiology of Taste—which I admit doesn’t sound like entertaining reading. Originally published in France in 1825, this work by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is the most famous book about food ever written. If you search online, you can find several sites that offer from a few to as many as 1567 quotes. Many are already familiar, such as, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
M.F.K. Fisher’s translation, published in 1949, is incredible, not only because of the readability of the 30 “Meditations” and the 100+ pages of “varieties” but also because Fisher’s annotations themselves are informative and enjoyable.
So, for the time being, I am happily hopping, skipping, and jumping among these eight books. How many books do you have in progress? And what are they?
I’m very pleased that Dr. Heidi Hammel agreed to a print interview about this book! I’ve long believed in the power of books, especially for young minds. My childhood home didn’t have children’s books but I recently read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. Dr. Hammel’s experience makes me wish I’d had it as a child!
VL: How did you come to read A Wrinkle In Time?
HH: On my tenth birthday, in 1970, my 11-year-old brother gave me a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. This was the scholastic paperback edition, blue with series of concentric rings around three small characters.
VL: What was going on in your life at the time?
HH: I was just a kid, a young girl specifically, at a time when girls did just girl things. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Glass ceilings everywhere. Invisible glass ceilings—most girls didn’t even THINK of doing things other than being a wife, a nurse, or a teacher. Maybe a daring girl could be a flight attendant or a secretary. But no real girls did science or space research or math. (Madame Curie was a unicorn, a historic anomaly, not a real regular person.)
VL: I can absolutely identify with that. I read the Cherry Ames series about the adventures of a nurse. Although she was a great role model in many ways—daring and caring and a problem solver—in high school I wanted to become a surgeon. Although I was valedictorian of my class, I was counseled to become a nurse instead—albeit with a B.S. degree so I could move up in administration. I do admire your determination! But tell me, in what way(s) did the book affect you?
HH: The book blew my mind. Here was a girl like me – her physical description was mine, from the limp non-descript hair to the glasses and teeth that would need braces; her school life was like mine – interested in things that other girls were not like atomic particles and space, and not really accepted as “popular.” Yet, for all her faults – indeed, specifically BECAUSE of her faults – she completed a hero’s journey. What an eye-opener. What a LIFE opener. A literal literary role model. If an ordinary girl like Meg could find her father across all of space and time, then all things were possible for me. When, years later, a special teacher suggested I apply to MIT for college, I had a “WWMD” (what would Meg do) moment, and said “sure!” The rest is history, as they say.
VL: Did you ever reread A Wrinkle In Time? When and why?
HH: I’ve reread A Wrinkle in Time many times over the years. During my high-school years, as an undergraduate at MIT, while in graduate school for physics, as a young mother, and even now. I reread books I love, because the stories ring true, and because I sense different overtones based on who I am and what I have experienced in my own life. Things that may not have registered to me as a 10-yr-old, or 30-yr-old, or a 50-yr-old take on new meaning when viewed through the lenses of varied experience.
VL: So true! In my younger years, when my primary escapist reading was murder mysteries, I never reread them. Once you know “who done it,” what’s the point? The exception back then was Jane Austen, whom I discovered in college and have reread many times since. Now, since I started writing them, I seldom read mysteries. My escapist reading goes in all sorts of directions and I reread often! I also tend to give books I love to others. Have you ever given A Wrinkle in Time to others? If so, who and why?
HH: I gave this book as gifts to friends as a young girl, especially those friends who I thought might share in the vision of what young women could be and could do.
I read it aloud to my own children, so they could travel through the tesseract with me to worlds so different from – yet so like – our home planet.
VL: What other books by Madeleine L’Engle have you read?
HH: I’ve read all of her books. The complete Kairos and Chronos series, as well as her books for adults. I admit to enjoying the “young adult” books more than the books specifically for adults.
VL: Has any other book been as influential in your life? If so, please elaborate what, when, and why.
HH: I think the only other book that comes close to having a visceral impact on me would be Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In this book, Bradbury paints a tapestry of human exploration on Mars through a series of short stories that are as much poetry as science fiction. The stories are deeply human emotional stories, but told from the perspective of Martian natives. It was brain-bending in an orthogonal way to A Wrinkle in Time but nearly as powerful and evocative.
VL: What a recommendation! Perhaps I have my next escapist read lined up. But to close out here, what else would you like to say about A Wrinkle in Time and/or Madeleine L’Engle?
HH: My hope is that each generation of girls and boys have Madeleine L’Engle’s books placed in their hands at a young age.
VL: I join you in that hope! And thank you again for sharing your experience with and thoughts about this powerful book.
Planetary astronomer Heidi B. Hammel graduated from MIT and the University of Hawaii, and did her post-doctoral work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. She is Executive Vice President of AURA, which operates astronomical observatories including the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Hammel is also an interdisciplinary scientist for NASA’s next great space observatory: the James Webb Space Telescope. She has been profiled by The New York Times and Newsweek Magazine, and in 2002 Discover Magazine identified her as one of the 50 most important women in science. Dr. Hammel has been lauded for her work in science communication, including the San Francisco Exploratorium’s 1998 Public Understanding of Science Award. Asteroid “1981 EC20” was renamed 3530 Hammel in her honor. You can read more about Dr. Hammel here.
Stay tuned for our #WrinkleReRead giveaway of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Becoming Madeleine, a biography of the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle written by her granddaughters.
In these hectic days, even if you only have minutes, I have reading suggestions!
The December 18 & 25 issue of The New Yorker contains a two-column theater review of SpongeBob SquarePants the musical. No kidding: THAT SpongeBob SquarePants, who debuted in 1999 and, as Tommy Smothers might say, took the storm by country.
The play has all the pun-intended characters, from Mr. Krabs to Squidward Q. Tentacles. It has songs by Cindi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, and others.
The review is lively, well-written, and very positive. Read the review even if you have no intention of hieing off to NYC any time soon.
If you’re a more literary type, sample a little Charles Simic. Simic immigrated from Belgrade in 1954 and started publishing poetry in his twenties. He’s won tons of awards, including a Pulitzer. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2008 and 2009.
This book contains nearly 400 poems spanning fifty years, including about three dozen revisions and seventeen previously unpunished poems. Simic is witty, broad-ranging, and fresh. He can enthrall you for as many minutes—or hours—as you can spare.
What if you have time for nothing but assuring that you acquit yourself well throughout all the celebrations? Sarah Chrisman to the rescue!
Many of the issues people faced in the 1880s and ‘90s are surprisingly modern as well: invasion of privacy, divorce, dealing with people from other places or cultures, technologies developing at mind-boggling speed…
For your convenience, advice is organized by topic. You will find sound guidance, such as telling husbands to give their wives (one at a time, please) every advantage it is possible to bestow, and—as far as possible—to patronize merchants of their own town.
BONUS: There are watercolors and illustrations throughout.
If you are introspective and/or looking for inspiration, Mark Nepo’s got you covered.
Nepo is a poet and teacher, and—by the way—a New York Times Bestseller.
Oprah Winfrey, among others, recommends this book. It contains 366 dated entries, including one for February 29th. Each begins with a brief quote, followed by author’s reflections to inspire your own musings.
However, there is also a subject index with multiple entries under such headings as sadnesses, truth, and quiet teachers.
FYI, here is the beginning of the entry for today.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines addiction as “the need or strong desire to do or to have something, or a very strong liking for something.” By this definition, aren’t we all book addicts? So what’s wrong with that?
According to the Wikipedia definition, addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. So that isn’t sounding so good.
But it gets worse! Dictionary.com says addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming… to an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
To determine the state of your reading health, answer these 30 simple yes-or-no questions.
The VL Book Addiction Assessment Questionnaire
1) Do friends and/or family often tell you that you read too much?
2) Do you have books in every room of your house?
3) Do you read more than ten (10) hours a day?
4) Are books the biggest line-item in your budget after mortgage payment?
5) Are you looking for a bigger house because you have no more space for books where you live now?
6) Have you ever hung a bookshelf from the ceiling of a room which has no available floor/wall space—such as a bathroom or pantry?
7) Have you resorted to steel girders to support the weight of your books?
8) Are your pets showing signs of jealousy?For example, does your cat pee on your books? Does your dog eat your books? Does your pet lie on your book or e-reader and bite you when you try to remove him/her?
9) Does your spouse, partner, or roommate ever hide your book or electronic reader?
10) Has your significant other ever deleted the Kindle app from all your electronic devices?
11) Has your partner ever ripped the last 10 pages from your book and refused to return them till you have engaged in conversation for at least 30 minutes?
12) Do you travel with two suitcases, the bigger one solely for books?
13) Do you own both a Kindle and a Nook so you don’t risk missing an e-book by an author who isn’t traditionally published?
14) Do you sleep with your electronic reader?
15) Do you have four or more stacks of books on the floor beside your favorite chair?
16) Have you ever bought the same book three times?
17) Do you have cards for five or more libraries?
18) Would you pass on the opera, symphony, theater, museum, or Antiques Roadshow in favor of a used book sale?
19) If you’re in a doctor’s waiting room and discover you have only one book, do you experience increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, and/or tremors?
20) Have you ever pawned a family heirloom to buy a book?
21) Have you ever stolen a book?
22) Do you have nightmares about being stranded on a desert island with no books?
23) Do you have more than ten water-damaged books from reading in the bathtub?
24) Did your spouse cite “book abandonment” in filing for divorce?
25) Have you ever taken a cut in pay and/or changed jobs so you would have more reading time 9:00-5:00?
26) Would you rather read than eat?
27) Have you ever been fired for reading on the job?
28) Have you ever been fined for driving while reading?
29) Have you married someone based on the size of his/her book collection?
30) Would you trade your first born child for books?
If you answered yes to one of these questions, take care. Taper off on your book buying and reading before it’s too late.
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, seek help immediately! Consider therapy, possibly residential rehab, to break your habit before it breaks you.
One last thing: If you know any symptoms of book addiction not covered by these questions, please notify me so that the assessment instrument can be updated and improved.
At the very least, writers need to read what they write. This almost goes without saying. Why would anyone try to write in a genre s/he doesn’t enjoy enough to read? But beyond that, there are guidelines for romance, Christian fiction, etc. So writers need to know what their (potential) readers expect.
But beyond what one reads, there is the issue of how one reads. Speaking for myself, since becoming a writer I find myself extremely sensitive to poor writing. I’ve mentioned this before. It’s everything from choosing the wrong pronoun to using the almost-right word—think lightening versus lightning.
I’ve discussed this with other writers. Judy Witt said, “I catch typos, misplaced words, slow starts, ‘padded’ descriptions, and more. But beyond that, I also file away for later use the many great techniques, clever approaches, and deft turns of phrases. Reading helps my writing.”
Another writing colleague reads to strengthen descriptions. Becky Kelly said, “Taking poetry, and analyzing it. Mary Oliver is a good example of action slowed down to the n-th degree so that the reader knows exactly what’s going on in a visual scene or sensory experience.” She also likes to use the four senses (other than sight) to hone in on the exact perception the writer is trying to convey.
Many writers are great fans of writing exercises. Examine a scene for how unique similes and metaphors might strengthen the writing.
And how about reading for information? This is one of my favorites. Tidbits picked up reading for pleasure can sometimes be incorporated into my own writing—for example, that in the 19th C, getting drunk could be called getting foxed.
Think about why you read—and how it helps your writing.