Writing Advice

The Dos and Don’ts of Writing About the Disabled

23 August 2016

From Literary Hub:

Recently I have read several articles about disabled people by non-disabled writers. The authors have clearly projected their own fears and prejudices onto the subject of their piece, and spoken for them from that place. If I could say one thing to those authors it would be this: Do not assume that empathy equals experience. You might think you know what it’s like, but you don’t.

For example, if you think that using a wheelchair would make you feel trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned, you might assume a wheelchair user regards themselves as trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned. But they might not. For some of us, a wheelchair represents freedom, the ability to get out and about autonomously; it is a device that makes more possible a life full of friends and work and opportunity—on our own terms.

In other words, one’s empathy can be unreliable. I offer these guidelines to help you find your way beyond it. They are general guidelines for non-disabled writers who may have occasion to write about a disabled person or people. They are (mostly) formulated to apply to all genres and categories of writer, for example, journalists, novelists, bloggers, critics, poets, essayists, academics, and dramatists.

No one can speak for a group unless they have been explicitly elected to do so. I do not pretend to speak for all disabled writers; do not assume all disabled people feel and think the same on this subject.

. . . .

Never equate physical, psychological, or intellectual impairment with loss of personhood. People are people. Period.

Never speak for a disabled person unless you have explicit permission to do so—and then only use direct quotes.

Never assume you know what a disabled person thinks, feels, or wants. Empathy is not experience. There is no substitute for listening.

Never project your experience—your fear, discomfort, or unhappiness—onto us. Your experience is not ours. We might not be afraid, uncomfortable, or unhappy.

Never present your assumptions, projections, or guesses as fact.

Never use disability as “narrative prosthesis.” That is, don’t use a crip as a prop, or an impairment as a signifier of or metaphor for anything (especially evil, degeneracy, or corruption). Do not magically eliminate or fix the disabled person for narrative convenience.

. . . .

Always, before you publish, ask the opinion of readers with the disability you portray. Listen to what they say; believe their experience.

Always, if you are writing fiction (or lyric, or drama), be clear in your bio that you are not disabled; that you are writing from a center you imagine, not one you experience.

Always, if you are writing non-fiction, write from the perspective of a non-disabled person. Make sure you are clear that the piece is about you and your feelings/experience/opinion as a non-disabled person. A serious profile of, say, a disabled artist might be better being written by a disabled writer.

Always, if you draw an analogy between some aspect of your experience as a non-disabled person and the experience of a disabled person, make it clear you are guessing. Bear in mind you could be mistaken.

Always, if you are told by a disabled person that what you’ve written is wrong—even if you don’t understand what the problem is, exactly; even if you meant well and feel hurt by the response—be prepared to accept their criticism. Be prepared to apologize. Learn from your mistake.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

PG is working on a list of dos and don’ts for those who write about handsome, intelligent and charming males of a certain age.

He regretfully announces that he must wait for Mrs. PG’s list relating to beautiful, intelligent and charming females of a certain age before he can write about her again.


Simplicity or style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece?

22 August 2016

From Aeon:

A great sentence makes you want to chew it over slowly in your mouth the first time you read it. A great sentence compels you to rehearse it again in your mind’s ear, and then again later on. A sentence must have a certain distinction of style – the words come in an order that couldn’t have been assembled by any other writer.

. . . .

Edward Gibbon is one of 18th century Britain’s other great prose stylists. The sentences of Gibbon that I love most come from his memoirs, which exist in a host of drafts braided together for publication after his death. As a young man, Gibbon fell in love and asked permission of his father to marry. But his spendthrift father had depleted the family’s resources so much that he told Gibbon not to. ‘I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son,’ Gibbon wrote. The aphoristic parallelism in that lovely sentence does some work of emotional self-protection.

. . . .

The first sentence of any novel works as an invitation into a new world. Sometimes that invitation is so powerful that the sentence itself takes on a life of its own. One example: the opening sentence of Orwell’s 1984: ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ The sentence is initially unassuming, simply descriptive, but in the startling final detail Orwell achieves estrangement, establishing the alternate nature of the novel’s historical reality with economy and force. Another opening line from near-future speculative fiction is that of William Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer: ‘The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ The startling metaphor seemed to speak with remarkable directness to a world in which new forms of media and mediation had come to define human consciousness. The passage of time has raised questions, however. Today, to a generation of readers who barely watch TV on ‘channels’ and don’t really know what a ‘dead’ one would look like, the metaphor will be nearly inscrutable.

. . . .

My canon is full of Jane Austen, whose balance of aphoristic wit, psychological insight and narrative pacing is unique. The first sentence ofPride and Prejudice (1813) is probably her best-known line: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ However, I have always preferred the opening line of Emma written two years later: ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.’ It has the cadence almost of a fairytale, only the verb ‘seemed’ and the ostentatiously positive sequence of traits (‘handsome, clever, and rich’) hint that the novel will go on to undermine its opening assertion.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Why all the practice in the world can’t turn you into an Olympian

13 August 2016

From The Washington Post:

Practice makes perfect. It’s a mantra we hear all our lives, from simple refrains in kindergarten to the more nuanced versions that populate self-help books. It’s everywhere at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio, as athletes credit the long hours they spent working with coaches and trainers for their success. It leads us to believe there’s a chance that each of us could be an Olympian, a concert pianist, or an expert computer programmer — if only we put the work in.

In popular culture, this idea was probably best publicized as Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-hour rule,” which says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at any skill.

That rule was in turn loosely based on a 1993 study of accomplished violinists in Berlin, which found that the most accomplished students had spent 10,000 hours practicing by the time they were 20 — far more hours than the less accomplished students had spent practicing. Gladwell estimated that the Beatles and Bill Gates had also put in 10,000 hours of practice fiddling with guitars and computers, respectively, by the time they went big.

There’s one problem with this idea: Research suggests it isn’t true. Practice is helpful in improving performance in a variety of fields, from athletics to chess. But it plays a surprisingly small role in determining whether people become virtuosos.

. . . .

Epstein insists that biology and genetics determine how long you need to practice to acquire a certain skill. Speaking to Outside magazine, he said, “genetics is continually finding now that one person’s hour of practice isn’t as good as the next person’s hour. Talent isn’t something preceding you trying something, but your biological setup that allows you to benefit more than the next guy.”

New research published earlier this summer in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science and recently written about in New York Magazinesupports Epstein’s argument. The researchers performed what’s called a “meta-analysis,” in which they re-examined 52 independent samples of data from other previous studies. That data comprised a pool of athletes who competed at levels varying from local clubs up to the Olympics, some with as little as four hours of practice, and some with as many as 12,839 hours.

The researchers found a positive correlation between practice and performance: Those who had practiced more definitely did better, and athletes at higher levels of the sport had typically spent more time practicing than those lower down the ladder. But the effect of practice on performance was surprisingly small. They found that deliberate practice accounted for only 18 percent of the variation in sports performance.

Among elite-level performers, those who were competing at a national or international level, the proportion was much lower. Deliberate practice accounted for only 1 percent in the difference in their performance, a statistically insignificant difference from zero.

. . . .

The collective data suggested that a whopping 82 percent of the variation in performance was due to factors other than practice. So what were they?

While some of that figure might just be due to measurement error, the researchers say a large part is probably due to biology and genetics. Some people’s maximum oxygen uptake will increase sharply with training, for example, making them particularly suited to athletics. Other people may have more ability to gain muscle mass or better motor control. Others may benefit from certain psychological traits, like confidence, a lack of performance anxiety, a high level of focus or a fast perceptual speed.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Watching the Olympics exposes PG to one sporting activity after another that he could never have mastered. Fortunately for his psychic well-being, he never had visions of life as an athlete.

To All the Characters I’ve Killed Off, Who Haunt Me Still

10 August 2016

From Lit Hub:

I started my latest book, The Inseparables, in Milwaukee, on a pad of hotel stationery, in a room with a view of the Menomonee River. This was October, almost six years ago. I’d woken early, I remember. My wife was sleeping. We’d come to Wisconsin after driving north from Iowa, where we used to live before we were married. We were in a room on the industrial edge of the city, close to the Harley Davidson Museum. Every few hours, a Union Pacific railcar passed beneath the window.

The initial impulse that morning was simple: I wanted to write about someone who could run very fast. I had become transfixed with the beauty of runners, and with the simplicity of a footrace. A good race, after all, requires very little. One hundred meters. Eight hundred meters. Twice around the block. You and two others. You and five others. No shot-clocks, no goals, no shoulder pads, no risk of lasting brain injury. I’ve lost that first sheet of paper. This is probably for the best. There is no more innocent and optimistic and embarrassing moment in the life of a novel than the very first moment.

When I meet writers who are working on their first novels, I sometimes say this aloud, this thing about the optimism and embarrassment, and often I’m met with an expression I recognize—it’s a look that seems to say, “that’s you and your strange book, not me and my wonderful, totally normal, easy-to-finish, un-strange book.” I recognize that expression because it’s one, I know, I wore for a very long time.

This sentiment is probably why that first morning of work on The Inseparables I also very likely wrote something like this on the hotel stationery: Do it simply. This can be easy. Write it all the way through without stopping. I have a strong hunch I did this not simply because I am foolish and naive, and perfectly content to write foolishly naive things in the privacy of my notebooks, but because I have hundreds of scraps of paper, and the beginnings of two-dozen trashed novels, all addended with words like this—moonshot prayers over unrealized plans.

. . . .

After all, does anyone really need to know about the invented peregrinations of these non-characters, these killed-off notions, these embarrassments of mine, these most ghostly of fictional inventions? This book, like all books, took years. I wrote parts of this book in a public library in Massachusetts, and in a house in Tennessee with distant views of a nickel mine, and in an apartment in Washington, D.C. that overlooked the city courthouse, where, one day, I got to see both paparazzi and random enthusiastic citizens chase Chris Brown’s limousine down the street after one of his arraignments. For two weeks, I wrote in a strange hotel in Paris, in a space that was half coffee shop, half decommissioned jazz club. For the last year I worked on this book, I did so for long hours in a windowless room north of Boston, which occasioned such severe Seasonal Affective Disorder that I’m sure days passed when my neighbors heard me talking out loud to my characters. In all of these places, I murdered characters. They perished in car crashes, and fell victim to global pandemics. They died because of heinous mistakes performed by drunken surgeons. They walked into the woods in the middle of winter and did not come out. They went out to skate on ponds that looked frozen but were not frozen enough, and eventually they fell through the ice and died. They chased puppies into the street, hoping the puppies would not be killed by cars, and then they themselves were killed by cars. They went up in helicopters and came down in pieces.

. . . .

Writing is terribly boring to talk about, and writing about writing is even more boring, and writing about writing a novel about a writer is probably forbidden by law in places that have a better developed sense of the comedy and wretched self-seriousness of art-making.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

You Don’t Need Permission to Defy Conventional Wisdom

8 August 2016

From Medium:

“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.” — Jean-Paul Sartre

Conventional wisdom is a generally accepted theory or belief that applies to almost everything we do. There is nothing new under the sun. And there is always a way to do what you are thinking about. But you have a choice. A choice to disobey conventional to create a new rule. You have every right to try new ways to get to where you want to be in life.

. . . .

 Never accept the proposition that just because a solution satisfies a problem, that it must be the only solution. ~Raymond E. Feist

Here is what happens when we break from conventional wisdom. People start to notice that you’re doing something different and think you’re crazy or even mad to make a choice like that. Serial innovators go through this all the time. Nobody gets them. But they do it anyway.

And you have to constantly defend your decision from people not gutsy enough to swim against the current — even though the evidence in front of them suggests they should give it a go. But after a while, the negative reactions die down. People will begin to observe and wait for the outcome of your “weird” choice.

. . . .

 You don’t need permission to be and embrace who you are. And you definitely don’t need to apologise for the path you choose to pursue your life’s work, especially if you strongly believe that the path you have chosen is the best shot at creating something meaningful to you. Nobody can make you go back to conventional wisdom. Our hearts crave connection to a meaningful calling. Choose to follow it.

If you are anxious to change the world, create your amazing work, make an impact, ship your product, or follow your curiosity, you have to be willing to go against the status quo.

Link to the rest at Medium

128 Words to Use Instead of “Very”

2 August 2016

From ProofreadingServices.com:



Link to the rest at ProofreadingServices.com

You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant To Do What You’re Good At.

1 August 2016

From author Brianna Weist via Medium:

When people learn that I’m a writer, more than half of them will immediately tell me about how they have an idea for a book, or that they need an editor for their autobiography, or that, though it sounds crazy, they are certain they have this one idea that would be a mega bestseller. Like, one of the biggest books in the world.

I have not known one of them to have published anything — nor are they working on their (supposedly brilliant) bodies of work. They aren’t asking about how to write 5,000+ words a day. They aren’t strategizing their marketing plans, or researching agencies, or pitching queries to publishing houses.

In other cases, writing a few articles a day becomes too much labor, their ideas dry out after a month. They’re frustrated. They’re at odds with themselves. The very thing they love is proving to be a wrong fit. How can this be?

We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate what they really love and what they love the idea of.

But more importantly, you are not meant to do what you love. You are meant to do what you’re skilled at. Imagine an aspiring doctor with a low IQ but a lot of “passion.” They wouldn’t make it through medical school, and you wouldn’t want them to.

. . . .

The real joy of daily work is in what we have to give.

Link to the rest at Medium

Here’s a link to Brianna Wiest’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

How to Beat Procrastination

30 July 2016

From The Harvard Business Review:

Procrastination comes in many disguises. We might resolve to tackle a task, but find endless reasons to defer it. We might prioritize things we can readily tick off our to-do list—answering emails, say—while leaving the big, complex stuff untouched for another day. We can look and feel busy, while artfully avoiding the tasks that really matter. And when we look at those rolling, long-untouched items at the bottom of our to-do list, we can’t help but feel a little disappointed in ourselves.

The problem is our brains are programmed to procrastinate. In general, we all tend to struggle with tasks that promise future upside in return for efforts we take now. That’s because it’s easier for our brains to process concrete rather than abstract things, and the immediate hassle is very tangible compared with those unknowable, uncertain future benefits. So the short-term effort easily dominates the long-term upside in our minds—an example of something that behavioral scientists call present bias.

. . . .

Visualize how great it will be to get it done. Researchers have discovered that people are more likely to save for their future retirement if they’re shown digitally aged photographs of themselves. Why? Because it makes their future self feel more real—making the future benefits of saving also feel more weighty. When we apply a lo-fi version of this technique to any task we’ve been avoiding, by taking a moment to paint ourselves a vivid mental picture of the benefits of getting it done, it can sometimes be just enough to get us unstuck. So if there’s a call you’re avoiding or an email you’re putting off, give your brain a helping hand by imagining the virtuous sense of satisfaction you’ll have once it’s done—and perhaps also the look of relief on someone’s face as they get from you what they needed.

. . . .

Identify the first step. Sometimes we’re just daunted by the task we’re avoiding. We might have “learn French” on our to-do list, but who can slot that into the average afternoon? The trick here is to break down big, amorphous tasks into baby steps that don’t feel as effortful. Even better: identify the verysmallest first step, something that’s so easy that even your present-biased brain can see that the benefits outweigh the costs of effort. So instead of “learn French” you might decide to “email Nicole to ask advice on learning French.” Achieve that small goal, and you’ll feel more motivated to take the next small step than if you’d continued to beat yourself up about your lack of language skills.

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

Finger-Pointing, Trouble-Saving, and Pussyfooting

30 July 2016

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In an earlier Lingua Franca post I grumbled about writing advisers who vilify the passive as if it were a dangerous drug (despite using it copiously themselves in private). Warnings against the passive have in fact been getting increasingly extreme for about a hundred years.

. . . .

So when I encounter a book that’s a bit better than the average, as I recently did, it’s only fair that I should comment. The Handbook of Good English (1982), by Edward D. Johnson, . . . is a bit more sensible on the topic than most works addressed to the general public in the past half century.

. . . .

“Don’t be afraid of the passive voice,” he says firmly. Adults “can forget that ‘Avoid the passive’ rule”: It’s for kids. “The passive voice is respectable, is capable of expressing shades of meaning that the active voice cannot express, and is sometimes more compact and direct than the active voice.”

When does the passive express a shade of meaning that the active doesn’t? In what could be called the finger-pointing use of long passives. A passive with a by-phrase lays stress on the agent. In The money was stolen by a man, judging from those footprints, Johnson points out, the passive ensures that the agent (a man) is at the end of its clause, where it naturally receives stress. The active (a man stole the money) would be stylistically worse.

And when is the passive more compact and direct? One class of such cases comprises Johnson’s “trouble-saving passive.” If you were to take a sentence like Smith was arrested, indicted, and found guilty, but the money was never recovered and try to wrestle it into the active voice, as so many writing guides insist you should, you would have to find subjects for all the active verb phrases. You’d need subjects for arrested Smith (the police department? the county sheriff?), and indicted him (a grand jury, as in the U.S.? the Crown Prosecution Service, as in Britain?), and for found him guilty (a judge? a trial jury?), and for recovered the money (the detectives? some bank or post office? the people whose cash had been stolen?). Implementing this pointless and clumsy elaboration would make the sentence nearly twice as long.

Johnson also notes the utility of what he calls “the pussyfooting passive,” which he says “is essential in journalism” because “often the writer does not know who did something or is not free to say who did it, but he wants to say it was done.”

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

A new formula for exercise? Study suggests 1 hour of activity per 8 hours of sitting

28 July 2016

From The Washington Post:

If you fear you’re doing irreparable damage to your body because your white-collar job keeps you sitting at your desk from 9 to 5, or you regularly spend entire weekends sprawled out on your couch binge-watching Netflix, there’s some good news just out from sports medicine researchers.

According to a study published in The Lancet, all is not lost. You may be able to “make up” for your increased risk of death due to a sedentary lifestyle by engaging in enough physical activity.

So just how much is enough? The first thing you need to know is that it’s not a fixed number but based on a ratio that depends on the amount of sitting you do daily. If you sit four hours a day, you need to do at least 30 minutes of exercise. An eight-hour work day of sitting means one hour of exercise.

The numbers come from an analysis based on a very large pool of people, about 1 million adults, 45 and older, from the United States, Western Europe and Australia. The findings show a risk reduction — or even elimination — for your risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Researcher Ulf Ekelund, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, suggested that the one hour of activity could be brisk walking or cycling but said that the exercise doesn’t have to be so rigorous or all at one time. That is, the hour of activity can be spread out over the entire day.

. . . .

The findings suggest that the person who sits longer isn’t necessarily worse off: Those who sat for eight hours a day but were physically active were better off in terms of risk of death than those who sat for fewer hours but were not physically active.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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