Category Archives: Humor

Hitting the ball around, part III: Prewriting your landscape

pond with canoers and fishingImagine an artist who wants to paint a landscape. She does not sit right down and start smearing colors across a canvas. Before the easel is even unfolded, she might take in her subject from a hillside and then work studies of trees and ponds and boaters in a sketchpad.  Later, she could play with a spectrum of brush sizes and shapes to produce various textures on scraps of canvas, and peruse other artists’ takes on a similar scene. Or, if she’s anything like me, she’ll develop an urge to spackle a hole in the wall or scrub the grout in her bathtub, and get right down to it. After all of that, she can sit down to her piece.

A writer can do the same thing.

For the final installment of this miniseries on prewriting that started strangely and bounced back in time, I offer some straightforward advice, including examples of prewriting. You’ll even find it clearly laid out in two numbered lists: How to Prewrite and How Not to Prewrite. You’re welcome! Continue reading


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Hitting the ball around, part II: Stop — Hammer Time!

stop-Hammer Time signFor this next part, I would like to return to the first person and then take you back to the fall of 2007. If you’re still with me after the odd beginning to this series, let me set the scene. Your fearless writer guide is in her first graduate-level writing course, “Nonfiction Techniques.” Like each of the other students in the class, I have signed up to provide a writing tip during one of the classes. Mine falls on Halloween.

I dug up that tip and would like to present it to you now. Here goes. And don’t worry – even though this debuted on Halloween, I did not wear (and never have worn) Hammer pants.

(Keep reading for a fun bonus at the end!) Continue reading

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Hitting the ball around: A mini series about prewriting

mini golf in the rainLet’s say that last semester, you taught with an art professor who goes by this mantra:

Art is 80 percent thinking, 20 percent doing.

In writing, you’ve always believed in a similar concept, but could never articulate it very well. Then suddenly the prof delivers this sentence and you want to print posters about it, broadcast it on Facebook and Twitter, and check in when you pass this professor guy on campus – just to be the mayor of By the Genius’s Side.

So you know that in theory, this sounds good. Considering your next story idea or fleshing out your main points in your head must be brilliant. Until you start thinking about how much time that will take.

How can I afford the decadence of mulling ideas all over the place while my allotted writing time ticks away? You think. You realize that your blog readers – one, or even both of them, being fellow writers – may be thinking the same thing. Continue reading

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Could you close those hatches?

Bolt Bus Interior
I’m working at an essay on an early Greyhound about to depart Washington for New York City. All of a sudden, the driver stands up.  “Close those hatches, folks. That stuff is going to jump out on you,” he says.

Despite the groggy hour, passengers pop up to stuff in their duffel bags and coats and close the gap-toothed smile of the overhead compartments. Soon, we’re packed in and speeding toward the land of fast walkers and clipped talkers.

Later, I started wondering—did the passengers do that because the driver made such a convincing argument? Or would a simple “Close the hatches, please” have sufficed? Continue reading

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Strunk and White debunked


E.B. White first encountered The Elements of Style at Cornell in 1919, when it was self-published by the precise and aging hand of his English professor, William Strunk Jr. White revised the book in 1959, and commenced to counsel and derange generations of writers.

When I assigned the fourth edition of the slim silver volume to my class, I had to look closer. And I was surprised. Instead of acting as an extension of Professor Strunk’s knobby finger, explaining with cold clarity at which point to use “who” and when “whom,” many of the book’s supposed rules are merely suggestions. Perhaps even more delightful, the book rarely takes itself seriously.

So why do so many writers?

To straighten the record and lighten your mood, I give you:

Three myths about Strunk and White

Myth #1: It’s stuffy and outdated.

Au contraire. Some of the examples make me LOL, while others border on X-rated. Turn to the section “Misused Words and Expressions.” Look up nauseous vs. nauseating. The book counsels readers not to say you feel nauseous “unless you are sure you have that effect on others.” Continue reading


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Journalists, photographers washed out by Irene anecdotes

Man with camera and umbrella

WASHINGTON, SEPT. 2—Eleven TV camera operators, two dozen photographers, and 53 journalists have been admitted to emergency rooms in the Washington Metropolitan Area in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, complaining of exhaustion after more than 96 hours of non-stop anecdote generation.

“I had just spoken to an Outer Banks mother who evacuated with five kids, and was dialing the director of an assisted living facility in New Hampshire when all of a sudden my knees crumpled,” said David Barnes, a reporter for the Associated Press, from a bed at the Washington Hospital Center. “It was going to be a great bookended piece, covering the human struggle from south to north,” Barnes added. “Now with these damn IVs I can barely transcribe my notes or drink a G and T.” Continue reading

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