First let me introduce background to My Wife and I, a charming musical written and produced in the 1960s, both locally and Off-Broadway. The whole book and score reflected the talent of a small radio station owner. Bill Mahoney knew–lived–family dynamics well enough to write and direct real, memorable characters and he had the skill for penning melodies and orchestrating those tunes that hummed themselves long past CURTAINS. My Wife and I is the story’s title, the title song, and except for how I introduced it up front, would not, as a rule, be preceded by a pesky pronoun.
And here is where my almost-title Pet Peeves would have come in. I ditched that because it sounded too, well–peevish. And my intent is to point out a simple way to sound more schooled than a whole bunch of otherwise educated folks who routinely avoid the word ME.
My wife and I are so very much in love . . . I can still hear that beautiful opening phrase–subject of the sentence, obviously. But place the stage couple after one of these words, for example, and you will sound ignorant: to, for, by, of, after, from, etc. TAKE AWAY THE PARTNER (or some other such) and it will cure you forever because you would never say “Thanks for giving a ride to I.” Or “I’m making lunch for I.”
“The driver splashed mud when he passed by I.” “It’s not the fault of I.” “She followed after I.” “They could not learn from I.” Now when you put the partner words back in, your ear should be happy and forever automatic in allowing ME to take its rightful place in your speech. “It’s not the fault of Marti and me.” There! You have it!
It’s good to remind oneself occasionally that despite the best of training, how we speak may well show up on paper–or online as a blog, e-mail, or document. Colloquialisms in moderation can lend authenticity to dialogue, but grammatical errors in the narrrative show nothing but ignorance. If you know you need the cure, take it!
Whenever a fellow writer trusts me with a work-in-progress, giving me a chance to read it–ready or not–I am delighted. I would read it with a critical eye, even if the author of the piece were to tell me it’s already as good as it’s going to get. I have honestly considered that I may be a better editor than writer because I am a stickler for all that I have learned as correct while diligently accepting that writing styles have changed. Example: In today’s stories, one is more likely to read a reference to women than ladies. I won’t name my source, but she’s a prolific writer and much-published author of books on every age level. She should know.
My patience is lacking when it becomes obvious that a writer has never studied the craft, but probably basks in the phrase “You have a way with words.” Not good enough.
If a writer has asked me to do so, I eagerly point out backward sentence structure, overloaded descriptions which interupt forward action, run-0n sentences, and other marks of amateur writing. But I do not rewrite. That is not the job of critiquers. Nor is it my place to out-and-out criticize. I just discovered a so-called REVIEW of a new book series for which I know the author, and I was not just surprised. I was stunned. While the review might have been solicited (although I doubt it) the wording was nothing short of cruel and slanted to discourage any possible buyers. How mean-spirited is that? And I’m guessing nothing short of a pick and shovel would remove that from online.
Sometimes there’s no better suggestion than the one offered by Thumper’s mother: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all!”
You can have the best ideas pop into your head. You may have beautiful penmanship (in which case I haven’t met you, but you may be out there). Words may fall onto your page almost publishing ready. But if your off-the-top-of-your-head writing needs no editing, I don’t know you. My educated guess is that your work needs an edit–or two–or three–or . . . The best of writers instinctively recognize what can be left out to make their work even better. Easier for the reader to grasp–first time over, with pleasure.
So I’ll make this blog uncharacteristically short for me. You don’t need to know that even my detiorating handwriting is sometimes better than what lands onscreen. Poor eyesight, late-life computer learning–sort of–all the twists and turns and unwaranted screw-ups–give me fits.
My favorite part of writing is getting the thoughts on paper. And in long-hand on any
paper–Post-its, tablets, journals. Tapping out one letter at a time on a keyboard is not me. But unpublished, we would not have met otherwise. THANKS for reading. Love to hear from you on COMMENTS.
Quoting from a recently-read novel: “———– stared at the plastic checkered
tablecloth on the table.”
Duh! I say those three tagged-on words
(on the table) insult the reader. Unless the writer thought we pictured
a tablecloth covering a window or door. A period after
tablecloth would have sufficed.
It is too easy for a writer on a
roll to over-write–clutter phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages with
extraneous words. Sometimes the urge (or editorial request/expectation) to meet
a novel’s total word-count trumps common sense.
There are strict
word-count rules for genres and age-appropriate work. Trying to keep up with
published writers of upper middle and young adult work, I stretched and
stretched till I had well over 9,000 words in a second or third draft of my book
suited to third through sixth-grade readers. But then I bumped up against a
pro–the author of Mrs. Wishy Washy fame, Joy Cowley.
“A Junior Chapter book should have no more than 6,000 words,” she informed me and
over the week of serious editing and a couple of one-on-one mentoring
sessions, 3,000 words vanished. And saving only the best, It Doesn’t Grow on
Trees became my latest pride and joy for children. Nothing was lost in the
cutting–only made the better to hold a young reader’s attention.
The lesson I learned the hard way stuck with me and has served me well:
Sometimes you just have to kill your ‘darlings’.”
How many words have slid off my keyboard this summer? Few. Fingers too wet.
Sweat dripping into my eyes. Back stiff from sleeping in a chair in a way too
cool room with AC set at the max. But in my unproductive writing mode has my
brain been on summer leave? Oh just see my long list of what I did this summer
and I won’t even be expected to write a back-to-school essay using that theme. I
read whole novels in a single sitting, even if I started at bedtime. I watered
the patio pots and garden, letting the leaky hose cool me from fingertip to
elbow. I stared at the Super Moon from eastern horizon rising to clouded
obscurity–enjoying the cricket chirp background and dampish cool. I proved
that with care and feeding, even I could grow a colossal tomato plant in a pot.
All summer I have studied closely, and in awe, the daily life of another happy
tabby. I’ve recorded piano pieces and my Author voice reading of kid’s picture
books. Having survived the heat, I’m once again thinking back to the keyboard.
And here I am. Writing.
When served at ________ (fill in the blank), you will hear “Enjoy!” It is universally accepted as an accompaniment with food presentation. But is that admonition acceptable–even with a smile–as you sign your published work? Assuming your text is the finished product of your writer training, don’t start (or stop) pushing your pen until you’ve fashioned a signing that reflects and is a credit to the whole. Funny, clever, poignant, provocative, it can make a favorable lasting impression if it’s right. Readers will know. Leave “ENJOY!” in the hands–er, the mouth– of the capable waitstaff. Sign your work like a writer.
Mariam D. Pineno holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Education from Mansfield University and Penn State University and a diploma in Writing for Children and Teenagers from the Institute of Children’s Literature. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, her work has appeared in poetry anthologies and national magazines.