The Journal: Anxious or Eager?

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: Anxious or Eager?
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“Anyone with an internet connection can now access an extraordinarily powerful computer capable of quantum computation advantage. Let that sink in. | This is the first time that such a powerful quantum computer has been made available to the public. Borealis — the computer in question — can work with more than 216 squeezed-state qubits, and better yet, it was able to solve a task that would take the best supercomputer at least 9,000 years to complete in 36 microseconds. Yes, please.” Derya, an editor at Interesting Engineering

And from the Umm, Nope department: “My operating assumption is that you want to create a quality book — a book that will be on par with the quality of every other book on the shelf next to it. Regardless of who is fronting the investment (the publisher … or an author), it can easily cost upward of $20,000 to create the thing.” Jane Friedman

Umm, nope. Sorry Jane, but that is a falsehood. No writer, unless s/he goes to a vanity publisher, will pay such a ridiculous amount for even a hardback edition of his or her book.

Topic: Anxious or Eager?

This is a bold topic, but one that has frustrated me for years. You’ll also find a link to a post by Debbie Burke with a similar title in “Of Interest” today, along with my comment. My desire to expand the comment is what prompted me to write this topic.

Toward the end of her post, Debbie asks, “As a writer, do you feel anxious or eager when words evolve and change meaning over time?” and “Please share examples you’ve noticed lately. Do they annoy you? Or do you appreciate the fresh variation?”

To answer Debbie’s questions, I used to feel anxious when some words changed meanings or parts of speech, but now I just feel helpless and a little nauseated. I always welcome “a fresh variation” — I’m a champion of original thought in speaking as well as in writing — but there’s a difference between misuse of the language due to ignorance or laziness and “a fresh variation.” And it’s an easy difference to discern.

Several years ago at a writers’ conference (Tucson, if I remember right) I said during a presentation that nothing grabs a character’s “eye” — that would hurt like hell [yuck, yuck] — but that something might easily grab a character’s attention.

Immediately after the presentation, a writer approached me. “I take your point,” she said, then wagged one hand to dismiss that point. “But it’s silly. The reader will know what I mean.”

I was just wise enough to realize an argument would do no good. So instead I smiled, nodded, and retreated to my own practice where specificity and concise thought still matter. Well, actually I went to the bar to salve my wounds with Jameson & Sons Irish whiskey. (grin)

If you’d like to see a comparative example of the precision use of language vs. sloppiness excused with “the reader will know what I mean,” read ANY short story written by Dorothy Parker or her contemporaries and then pretty much any short story written today. Stephen King and maybe a few others come close to Parker’s knowledge and precise use of the language, but otherwise there’s no contest. And it isn’t that “back then” the language was more concise or elegant or that it flowed better. It’s that writers knew how to use it and actually cared.

When Parker was writing, she was in command. The conveyed exactly what she meant. Because the reader wasn’t tasked with deciphering anything, s/he could relax and be entertained. There was no guesswork or room for interpretation. And Parker certainly didn’t depend on the reader to overlook what she wrote in order to get to what she actually “meant.”

Today, when a writer says, “Oh, the reader will know what I mean,” the reader might or might not, but I know exactly what the writer means. S/he means it’s far easier to depend on the reader’s kindness than it is to learn the nuances of the language in which s/he’s trying to communicate.

So sure, I cringe when I hear a weather guy say, “It likely will rain” because in my mind (and in dictionaries until a few decades ago) “likely” was an adjective. It was synonymous with “probable,” not with “probably.”

Of course, today “likely” is accepted as an adverb. Making it a switch-hitting part of speech  (adjective and adverb) was easier than explaining that it really was an adjective despite the “ly” ending, which often (but not always) denotes an adverb.

Another one is using “till” as a shortened form of “until.” As a writer, I either use “until” or its shortened form, “’til.” Because a “till” is a tray in which one keeps paper money and coinage or, when used as a verb, it’s what a farmer does to a field to prepare it for planting.

And I agree with Debbie’s teacher. Sometimes my characters call their offspring “kids” but I’ve always referred to mine as “children.” It seems more respectful to me.

In the same vein, body parts performing human functions are terribly distracting (or humorous — same effect) to some readers. Like eyes looking across a room, or even shooting across a room without the character having been hit in the back of the head with a shovel. Or like noses smelling something spicy, legs racing down the street, hips leaning against a rail, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

And one more, this one with punctuation — There’s almost never a reason to put a comma immediately after a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). And when I say “almost never” I mean if you NEVER put a comma immediately after a coordinating conjunction nobody will notice.

This one is annoying for another reason too: Punctuation is how we direct the reading of our work. Whether we place punctuation correctly or incorrectly, the reader will obey it. (For a great deal more, see Punctuation for Writers, second edition.)

Yet I see “but,” more and more often. Which tells me that maybe some English teachers who went uncorrected in school are now teaching that construction as correct. Sigh. And of course, I can hear that dismissive voice from long ago. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. The reader will know what I mean.”

I’m convinced that sometimes changes occur in the language because it’s easier to tell everyone they’re right than it is to correct them and teach them. Concise communication has taken a hit from which the language will never recover. But then nobody cares. Even many writers don’t care because “the reader will know what I mean.”

Writers who fall back on that mantra are missing the point. It isn’t the reader’s job to decipher what you’ve written and figure out “what you mean.” The reader’s only job is to be entertained.

But we can take solace in the fact that it isn’t only we writers who are succumbing to the dumbing down of America. It has to happen, I suppose, but in my opinion writers should be the last to fall.

Sometimes the film Idiocracy seems less a far-fetched SF tale and more a prophetic, cautionary one. (grin)

In every case, and justly so, the individual writer decides whether and what and how much to learn about the craft of writing. But it seems to me that immersing oneself in a lifelong study of the language is the foundation for all of that.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Are You Anxious or Eager?” at

See “A novel quantum computer Borealis achieves computational advantage” at Do you have a bad-guy genius who wants to dominate the world? There you go. Not reality yet for general use, but you write FICTION, right?

See “Is Hybrid Publishing Ethical?” at Read this one first, then the next one.

See “Writers’ unions call for reform of the ‘hybrid’ / paid-for publishing sector” at What this British article calls “hybrid publishing” is what we in the States call “vanity publishing.”

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1350 words

Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)

Day 1…… 2371 words. Total words to date…… 2371
Day 2…… 1305 words. Total words to date…… 3676
Day 3…… 1107 words. Total words to date…… 4783
Day 4…… 1201 words. Total words to date…… 5984
Day 5…… 1872 words. Total words to date…… 7856
Day 6…… 2505 words. Total words to date…… 10361
Day 7…… 3581 words. Total words to date…… 13942
Day 8…… 2147 words. Total words to date…… 16089

Total fiction words for June……… 10105
Total fiction words for the year………… 21882
Total nonfiction words for June… 3960
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 84570
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 106452

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. I’ve never said WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among other topics.

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Anxious or Eager?”

  1. Self-actualizing body parts can be used well: give them to the character who is less precise, less picky, or tends to use the vernacular more than the others – but use this lightly and occasionally.

    The cumulative effect of a slightly different vocabulary, over a long book, will leave the differences between characters even more clear.

    If you use ‘like’, ‘you know’, or ‘I mean’, do the same – one character would never dream of saying them, another peppers her speech with them. Be subtle – you don’t have to hit readers over the head with them; they’ll notice.

    • Yes, of course to all of that. But I was talking about words the writer and narrator use. Each character shoud have his own distinct mannerisms of speech, dialect, and so on. And if a character says to another character in dialogue that he saw “her legs racing down the street” that’s fine. If it evokes humor in the reader, it will stop with that character. But a character saying something stupid in dialogue doesn’t make the writer sound like s/he has no idea what s/he’s doing.

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