Category Archives: Writing Skills

Origins of the Specious

I recently finished the book “Origins of the Specious” by Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman (Random House 2010). Subtitled “Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language,” it was truly a fun read.  Unless you think etymology is about the study of eyties, you might enjoy it as well. (Etymology is the study of the history of words.) I also happen to enjoy a good word play–and this book starts with one right in the title.

It did take me a while to finish, because I chose to digest it in small bites. Not only was it informative, the writing is great. Watch this.

In the chapter “Snow job” the authors dispel the notion that there are dozens (or hundreds, depending on your version) of words for snow in the Eskimo language. Some dependable sources list four, one got to seven in 1940. (Wait for it!) The authors point out, “In the decades since then, the number or words has snowballed with each retelling…”  Another paragraph notes there has been an “avalanche of snow stories.”

So while I’m recommending the book, I’m also willing to concede that not everyone will fully enjoy or appreciate the topic or the writing… but if you’ll visit http://www.grammarphobia.com/ you can learn more about several books they’ve written… and visit their blog for some “tastes” of etymology that will impress your friends at dinner parties.

NaNoWriMo 2011

Writing with a broken pencil is…

pointless!

Somewhere along the way I learned that no writing is pointless. I would give a good deal of credit for that to College Professor William Bailey who required every student to keep a daily journal. One sentence per day was the minimum and we were told not to worry about grammar and spelling. He wasn’t going to collect and grade it anyway. I suppose  this would seem pointless, but his objective was to get us used to writing and make writing a somewhat natural activity.

Perhaps the creators of NaNoWriMo were in Professor Bailey’s class. They are sponsoring “thirty days of literary abandon.” In short, participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in one month (November).  That’s an average of 1667 words per day.  Last year 200,000 tried–30,000 succeeded.

And, no, I don’t think any of the 30,000 made the New York Times Best Seller’s List. That’s actually not the point. As the creators of this effort say,

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

How can you not love that? You write a lot of “crap,” but when it’s over you get to call yourself a novelist.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that last year 1800 K-12 schools participated and not surprised to discover that some participants actually have had their work published.

No, I probably will not be participating this year. But I do love the concept–and note that this doesn’t just apply to writing. Sometimes you just get started “valuing perseverance and enthusiasm over the craft.”

The word for the day is “intensity” and the question is “What could you accomplish in thirty days if you had it?”