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Friday, January 31, 2014

To Thesaurus, Or Not to Thesaurus, That is the Question

This quote from Stephen King comes from his book On Writing, which is an excellent investment for anyone who wants to write.  It's got a lot of great advise and tips about the craft, and whether you're a King fan or not, you can't argue the man's success.

I see this quote all the time on social media sites and across "the internets."  It gets thrown around a lot by people who I have the sneeking suspicion don't live by it themselves.

I sure don't.

I use my Thesaurus all the time.  I don't use it to try to find impressive  words or to try to make myself look smarter than I am, and I partially agree with what I believe King is trying to say.  I don't mean to put words in his mouth, but I believe he's speaking about the need for language to flow naturally.  It's more desirable when the words in a book flow organically and don't seem like they were forced or over-thought.  I agree with all that.

However, I use my thesaurus all the time.  I find it an invaluable tool when I'm working on my books.  Here are a few reasons why.

1.  Sometimes a word is on the tip of my tongue, but I can't remember what it is.  I look up its synonyms to find the word I'm trying to remember.

2.  From time to time, the word I'm using doesn't quite fit.  It's almost the right word, but not quite.  I use the thesaurus to see if I can find a word to more accurately describe what I'm seeing in my head.  Most of the time, I find a word I already know, but wasn't thinking of.  I don't use obscure words that my readers won't recognize unless some explanation can be given to define the word for them.

3.  Sometimes, I want to double check a definition.  I'm 90% sure of the meaning of a word, but want to make sure I'm using it properly.  The dictionary is the primary tool for this, but the thesaurus can be helpful as well.

Much of what Stephen King writes in this book is a record of the way he personally does things.  It's excellent advise, but what works for him isn't always going to work for you or me.  We're all different, and we all have methods and strategies that work best for us as individuals.  The best way to approach any advice (mine included), is to eat the meat and throw away the bones.

I for one love my thesaurus, and it's not going anywhere.  What about you?  Any thoughts about this quote or others from Stephen King's book On Writing?  Feel free to leave comments below.  I'd love to know what you think.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My To-Do List

This week I wanted to lay down a few thoughts about productivity.  Like everyone, it often seems that I have way too much to do, and not enough hours in the day to get everything done.  I've tried all kinds of tricks through the years to try to give myself a boost as far as personal productivity, yet I find myself always coming back to the same place- lists.

To-do lists are about as primitive a tool as you can use, but I've never found anything that works as effectively for me when it comes to getting things done.  Currently, I use a program called Wunderlist, which isn't perfect for my needs, but it's pretty close.  It's a simple list making program that allows me to check off completed items, and allows for due dates and repeating tasks.

I've also used a simple yellow legal pad, and crossed things off as I got them done.  When the list gets too messy, I transfer the remaining items to a new list and start over.

Whether you're a writer, podcaster, artist, student, or hobby enthusiast, if you want to succeed in your business and personal life, getting things done in a timely manner is essential.  I think the key is to find whatever works best for you, but if you've never given simple to-do lists a try, I recommend that you do so.  You might be surprised at how much you start getting done.

What kind of productivity tools do you use?  Is there something particularly effective that helps you get things done?  If so, then comment below.  I'd love to hear some new ideas!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Is Writing Hard?

Is writing hard?  Let's begin by taking a look at the quote that sparked this question.

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

From Wikipedia-
William Knowlton Zinsser (born October 7, 1922) is an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, where he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer. He has been a longtime contributor to leading magazines.

I found this quote while doing some research online, and it made me start thinking about whether or not I agreed.  I've done some pretty hard things in life when it comes to earning a living, here are a few examples-

I worked in an animal hospital for a few years as the kennel boy.  I cleaned up a literal ton of dog and cat poo, cleaned the cages, and got bit and scratched on several occasions.  I also had to hold several dozen dogs as they were put to sleep.  Overall, this was not the hardest job I've ever had, but it was the dirtiest, and I was more than ready to move on when the time came.

I worked as a cashier at a drug store and had to deal with disgruntled customers, drunks coming to buy booze, and very sick people filling their prescriptions.  Again, not the hardest job on earth, but it definitely tried my patience and taught me a lot about dealing with people.

I went through Air Force basic training, which was pretty darn hard, and then served as an ICBM technician.  This job put me out in the middle of harsh Wyoming winters, where I had to work outside in sub-zero degree weather, wishing I was any place but there.

I've officiated at numerous funerals, including that of a young mother who died of a drug overdose and a six year old drowning victim.  I was honored to serve these families, but doing the job of a minister is often hard in a way that few people understand.

These are just a few examples, and I'm sure you have your own.  Now there are a few lessons that I've learned about work in general throughout the years that you'll probably agree with.

1.  Just because a job is hard, doesn't mean it's not a pleasure to do.

2. Who you are working with contributes or diminishes exponentially to the fun you have while doing a job.  If you're working with great, fun people, you'll enjoy what you're doing a lot more.  The opposite is also true.

3. If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you should move on a quickly as possible.  Life is too short to be spending time doing something you don't enjoy.

I don't want to get too much off point, so let's get back to the main question.  Is writing hard?  My answer is yes.  That is to say, it's hard to write well, at least for most people, and especially in the beginning.  Like anything else, some people are just natually gifted, the rest of us have to work at it.
In short, writing is easy, writing good is hard.

 There are a number of other things that can make writing hard, like dealing with comments from people who aren't all that diplomatic or constructive with their criticism.  But these are things that all writers must learn to deal with if they want others to read their work.

Am I a good writer?  I'm trying to be.  I think I'm getting better.  I'll never be the greatest, but I'm certainly not the worst.  But, I digress.  Let's look at that quote again.

 If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.

Zinsser is quoted as saying that writing is one of the hardest things people do.  I'm not aware of the full context of this quote, but at first glance, it's almost laughably inaccurate to me.  How about getting shot at for a living, or working in an emergency room?  How about being a teacher with a room full of forty kids who aern't interested in learning or being made by anyone to listen?  How about going to work at a fast food joint every day where you despise your job, but it's the best thing you can find right now and you have to feed your kids?  All of these things are hard.

If you're a writer, and you think that writing is hard, you should!  If you think it's one of the hardest things that people do, then you should stop writing immediately and go find another job or hobby.

Perhaps I'm taking this qoute out of context from the author's intention.  If so, it gives support to the fact that writing is hard.  It's not always easy to find the write words for the ideas and emotions one wants to convey.

At any rate, I have some writing to do on my upcoming novella.  I'm looking forward to it, because for me, even though writing can be hard, it's also a great pleasure!

How about you?  What are your thoughts about this quote?
What are some of the hardest jobs or tasks you've ever done?
Feel free to comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject!