“Use the right word, not its second cousin.”
– Mark Twain

 

Making the right word choice is one of the tenets of my writers’ group. At a recent meeting, we discussed the whether the words basic and ubiquitous mean (basically) the same thing–at least, in the sentence we were considering. So I looked them up in my iPad dictionary app. As you might guess, they don’t. 

But in that context, were they so close that one of them should go? The person whose work it was would decide. At our weekly meetings, we offer feedback, make suggestions, encourage one another, and talk about writerly things. We have a few sayings, too, some stemming from the below Mark Twain quotes:

1. “Write what you know.”
We say this one a lot–it may be ubiquitous. Note that it doesn’t mean, tell a true story (unless you’re writing non-fiction). “What you know” includes the places you’ve been, the emotions you’ve felt, etc.
2. “As to the adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.”
We often say the second part of this (“when in doubt, strike it out”). Also, see above (basic and ubiquitous).
3. “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
See #2.
4. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
See #2.
5. “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
(Show, don’t tell.)
6. “One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.”
(I’m guilty of this one, but I’ve gotten a lot better. Haha.)
7. “Write without pay until someone offers pay.”
I mean, what choice do we have, if we want to write?
8. “If the writer doesn’t sweat, the reader will.”
(Work hard.)
9. “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
(Conflict! And, see #1.)
10. “Eschew surplusage.”
(Don’t be wordy!) I’m working on this one, too. Just to be sure I understood it, I looked both words up, since it looks and sounds a little like “Chew sausage.”
 

And those are the basics.

2 thoughts on “Writing what you know, and eschewing surplusage

  1. Thanks, Marcia! Two of my favorites from your link are:
    “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London,
    and
    “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow
    BOTH apropos for my current WIP!
    I’m in one critique group, and they’ve helped me a ton. You’re so right about being brave, tough-skinned, and welcoming second opinions!

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