The Journal: Why I Try to Teach Writing

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: Why I Try to Teach Writing
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” Stephen King

“The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other.” Ernest Hemingway

Topic: Why I Try to Teach Writing

Because doing things correctly matters. Purveyors of soup sandwiches need not apply.

I understand there are folks out there who will never understand the difference of usage between “if” and “whether.” That’s fine. It’s why God made copyeditors.

What I don’t understand and will never understand are those who profess to be writers or “authors” but don’t bother to even TRY to learn the nuances of the language. Those who believe “The reader will know what I mean” constitutes a defense of lazy writing.

I recently read an article titled “The Forgotten Uses of 8 Everyday Objects.” The subtitle read, “Have you ever actually thrown a pair of gloves in the glove compartment?”

Again, that’s why I try to teach writing. My immediate thought when I read the subtitle was, “Who the hell’s small enough to be in a glove compartment in the first place?”

My bet is that nobody alive has thrown a pair of gloves “in” a glove compartment. But almost all of us have thrown items “into” a glove compartment. There’s a difference: “In” suggests a place; “into” is a direction.

This sort of inanity is a result of the once-vaunted and now widely accepted as natural dumbing down of America.

But the erroneous replacement of “into” with “in” is such a small thing, isn’t it? Does it really matter?

In everyday use, no, of course it doesn’t matter. But that isn’t the point. The point is, It Should Matter To Writers. Those who use the language as a tool of their profession should know the difference, and they should care.

“The reader will know what I mean” should be what we all hope will happen when we overlook a typo or homophonic wrong-word use in a story. It shouldn’t be considered a defense for those who are too lazy to learn or lackadaisical to care about the language.

The reader is not your partner. Her only task is to be entertained, not to try to figure out what you were trying to say.

Likewise, it’s important to understand that the only reader who matters is on the other side of the story. And that reader is not you.

A professional writer (Stage 2) recently wrote in another blog post, “I don’t have trouble with figures of speech, and if I’m reading that a character ‘flew down the block to John’s house’ I don’t see her [in] mid-air.”

That’s fine. I have no problem with her preferences as a reader. But she doesn’t yet understand that what she personally minds or doesn’t mind as a reader has no bearing on what millions of other potential readers mind or don’t mind. You know, the readers who pay money for her stories.

She’s confusing her preferences as a reader with her responsibilities as a writer. The smart writer will never risk confusing the reader when she has a choice. Ever. Why risk running off a reader just because you “don’t mind” reading through lazy writing yourself?

Again, the reader who matters isn’t on THIS side of the keyboard; s/he’s on the other side. Once the writer above begins to take those readers’ preferences into consideration, she will move into being a Stage 3 writer.


1. When I looked up the original article at, the offensive subtitle wasn’t there. So it wasn’t the author’s fault. Apparently whomever vetted the article for GetPocket added it. If I were the author, I would be annoyed to say the least.

2. I suspect the author received wrong information on number 3 (the spoon/ladle part doesn’t make sense, though it would if all pot handles had a groove along the top). And I suspect she flat made up number 7.

I think I’ll be writing fiction again soon. Thanks for hanging in there and bearing with me.

Talk with you again when I can.

Of Interest

See PG’S take on “Both the supply chain and book marketing” at Seriously. Skip Shatzkin’s stuff and just read PG’s take.

See “How to Survive a Pandemic, According to an Academic Publisher” at This is even more valid for indy publishers. (Thanks to The Passive Guy)

The Numbers

Fiction words yesterday…………………… XXXX
Nonfiction words today…………… 780 (Journal)

Writing of (novel)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… XXXXX
Total fiction words for the year………… 309655
Total nonfiction words for the month… 780
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 131940
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 441595

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 5
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 12
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 50
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 208
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Why I Try to Teach Writing”

  1. I don’t think “letting the reader imagine it” is lazy writing. Rather, it’s simply part of a being a writer at that stage. They may actually not know they need to learn how to do more. That was me in 2014. I had everything in my head and believed I was getting it on the page. When I took the depth class, I discovered that none of it was getting on the page. It was a very hard skill for me to learn and took a long time to learn.

    I recently bought the craft books by Bickham and Swain. I know from the covers I read them when I was a very young writer. I see all the skills I’ve learned recently discussed in them (including depth, tags, etc. and the new one of hidden story). Yet, they were so beyond what I could do at the time that I couldn’t grasp they were even important. It’s like taking a basic math student and asking them to figure out Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Not going to happen.

    • Hi Linda. Sorry to have somehow managed yet again to give you fodder for disagreement. As is so often the case, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

      First, just to get us back on the same page, nowhere in my post did I write or intimate that “letting the reader imagine it” is lazy writing. Nowhere. Not once. But to be clear, if you write “her legs raced down the street” and only hope the reader will see the chracter’s entire body moving along at a dead run, that, to me, is lazy writing.

      Now, here’s some further elaboration that I didn’t think would be necessary:

      One, you’re right: Those writers who are NOT AWARE that it might be a bad idea to use a humorous, awkward construction in a serious context because of the effect that construction might have on their readers are not lazy; they’re only ignorant, meaning it’s something they have yet to realize or recognize or learn. Frankly, it’s difficult for me to believe that anyone living in the modern world is not aware of such constructions, and without having been actively taught them. Some comedians have even done the bit about a car that “caught my eye [pause for timing] and dragged me 15 feet.”

      My point was that those who ARE aware and do nothing about it because it’s too much trouble—instead they rely on “The reader will know what I mean” as an excuse—are just lazy. My opinion.

      Many, many people (including the professional writer I mentioned in the post) are aware of such awkward constructions and recognize them for the silliness they are. Some, including that writer, have made the conscious choice to ignore the possible effect on her readers.

      Understand, I couldn’t begin to care less how others write. I’m only trying to share some bits from my experience that others might find useful. That being said, again, write however you want. James Michener certainly knows misplaced modifiers are almost always stupidly funny and should not appear unintentionally in dramatic works, yet his books are drenched in them. But I still won’t advocate using misplaced modifiers.

      The gist of the post, by the way, was that it’s a mistake to confuse your preferences as a reader with your actions as a writer. That just because you don’t “mind” something as a reader doesn’t mean all other readers won’t mind it either. For those Stage 3 and above writers who already know that, good. For those who don’t, maybe they learned something. If so, again, good.

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