19 Surprising Rules Copyeditors Used to Enforce →
1. Don’t use “beat” for “defeat”
2. Don’t use “call attention” for “direct attention”
3. Don’t use “conclusion” for “close” or “end”
4. Don’t use “decade” for “ten years”
5. Don’t use “donate” at all
6. Don’t use “collided” at all (it’s now acceptable to use “collided,” but only if both objects are in motion)
7. Don’t use “fall” for “autumn”
8. Don’t use “graduates” for “is graduated”
9. Don’t use “hardly” for “scarcely”
10. Don’t use “issue” for “question” or “subject”
11. Don’t use “leniency” for “lenity”
12. Don’t use “notice” for “observe”
13. Don’t use “pants” for “pantaloons”
14. Don’t use “prior to” for “before”
15. Don’t use “progress” for “advance”
16. Don’t use “reliable” for “trustworthy”
17. Don’t use “retire” as an active verb
18. Don’t use “sensation” for “noteworthy event”
19. Don’t use “taboo” at all
"The pen will never be able to move fast enough to write down every word discovered in the space of memory. Some things have been lost forever, other things will perhaps be remembered again, and still other things have been lost and found and lost again. There is no way to be sure of any this."
One habit every writer must have →
A day in details.
The sign looms large and slightly crooked. I take a deep breath and enjoy the last of the air conditioning in my car before I plunge into the cesspit that is the Traffic Department. Heat, like the arms of the undead, drags at my knees and slows me down. The African sun is relentless and the black tar is its happy accomplice. A car guard in Day-Glo yellow saunters closer. I nod. He smiles. The deal is made. My car is safe. Well, supposedly safe. My driver’s license has been ready for quite some time, but I have not managed to summon the energy to fetch it. It will be destroyed within the next week if I don’t get it today.
A friendly gap-toothed guard directs me to the queue. I take my place. Docile and compliant as I settle in to wait. Unperturbed, I dive into my bag for my trusty cell phone. The Internet; my ever present companion. One click and two bleeps later, it dies. It takes a moment for the realisation to dawn on me. I am trapped in a queue with no cell phone. Panicked, my little brain almost seizes, but then something odd happens.
I start looking around. I notice things. The scene comes alive. I notice the cracked heels of the rather hefty lady in front of me. The lady at her side is scrawny by comparison. Her black roots melt into peroxide tips. Shampoo is not something she has invested in recently. The body odour of the gentleman behind me, compliments of the summer heat wave, settles warm and heavy over us all. There is nowhere to turn. A well groomed matron stands in the sun. Her back unbent by something as trivial as heat. Her coiffure intact and refusing to wilt. I notice the heads turn, like spectators at a tennis match, as an old man in really short shorts walks up the path. He is a man on a mission.
He clutches a bunch of papers and waves them at everybody as he passes. Yes, we see you, funny little man. Once white fingers, stained brown from years of accumulated dirt and manual labour, clutch the papers. Even to my untrained eye, none of them look like government documents. He pushes his luck at the gate, hoping to jump the queue. We, the queuing mass, square our shoulders to confront him, but the friendly gap-toothed guard directs him to the back of the queue. Like good citizens, we deflate as one. He huffs and puffs. We ignore and shake our heads.
Eventually, we make our way inside and we are directed to another queue. The short-shorts man makes his own way to a different counter. Adamant that he should not have to wait. We all sit and watch in fascination as this man gestures and flaps and stomps and huffs and puffs and stomps some more. The staff hold firm. We stare, entranced. It’s like watching a daytime soap. This man is crazy. At some particularly loud point I couldn’t help but think that this is how innocent bystanders get shot. He writes with exaggerated strokes on his documents. A black BIC flying over the paper. He slams his fist on the green melamine. At last my name is called. I collect my license. The last words I hear as I leave are: “You are being racism. I report this.” He wags his fat, dirty finger as he says this. I marvel at the patience of the staff. Granted, as a patron of this particular department, you need a fair amount of patience too.
I was still clutching my phone as if I could charge it with willpower alone, but I was grateful. I would have missed the entire tirade if I had been pinning or tweeting. I would not have been able to share this story of the sad man at the traffic department with you.
As writers, we should be gathering details all day. What did the counter tops look like? What type of pen was given to him to write with? What did the silly misspelled signs say? I need to look around all day and teach myself to remember. Sometimes, I need to put away my phone and have real damn experience for a change. Jot down things as you go through your day.
"The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location."
"In the very act of writing I felt pleased with what I did. There was the pleasure of having words come to me, and the pleasure of ordering them, re-ordering them, weighing one against another. Pleasure also in the imagination of the story, the feeling that it could mean something. Mostly I was glad to find out that I could write at all. In writing you work toward a result you won’t see for years, and can’t be sure you’ll ever see. It takes stamina and self-mastery and faith. It demands those things of you, then gives them back with a little extra, a surprise to keep you coming. It toughens you and clears your head. I could feel it happening. I was saving my life with every word I wrote, and I knew it."
"All the stories I would like to write persecute me. When I am in my chamber, it seems as if they are all around me, like little devils, and while one tugs at my ear, another tweaks my nose, and each says to me, ‘Sir, write me, I am beautiful.’"