Venturing Into the Gray Areas with Purple Prose

Keep your writing clear and coherent, and avoid pretentious or overly formal language.  Write to communicate, not to impress. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don’t dumb down, but don’t let your writing get in the way of your message. There’s a fine line between elegance and pomposity.

Mark Nichols, “7 Tips for Editing to Improve Usage” @ DailyWritingTips

Excellent advice.  The only problem is, where’s that “fine line between elegance and pomposity”?  The short answer is, no one really knows because it’s different for everyone.  One person’s purple prose is another’s beautiful description.  One type of writing might warrant lots of elegance, style, and 25-cent words, while another might require you to be short and sweet.  Or, you might need to use one style or the other for effect.

It takes practice to determine what’s best for yourself and your writing, and your preferences/needs may change over time.  Nichols, however, has some good guidelines that we should follow:

1.  Always be clear about your meaning.  Pretty writing is fine but don’t let it cloud the point you’re trying to make in writing.  Your readers should always know what you’re trying to say.

2.  Get rid of ulterior motives.  As a teacher/tutor I see this problem a lot.  Many new students, particularly college freshmen, write in exceptionally elevated and complex ways because they think that’s what they should be doing.  Instead of sounding formal and sophisticated, however, often it just comes out as contrived and stiff.  Don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary or prowess in using 4-line sentences that aren’t run-ons.  Just write.

3.  Know that the line is there.  If you understand that there is such a thing as being too grand, or being too basic, you’re less likely to fall into either trap.  You’ll be more aware of your writing and of how it comes across to readers.  If you find that you’re not, well, that’s what beta readers are for.


Descriptive Writing From Photographs  @ ProjectGrad

Descriptive Writing Practice — $2.00 download in my TpT Store

Writing Concisely @ The UNC Writing Center Online


What Are Your Writing Goals For 2012?

2011 was a whirlwind year on my end, and 2012 promises to be even more so.  That’s why, I propose to make it interesting: 12 Writing Goals For 2012.

Why 12?  Because that breaks it down nicely into 1 goal per month, it’s easy to remember, and it makes a good blog title.

I think it’s important for everyone to have goals, especially those of us in the creative disciplines.  It’s far too easy to just drift around, letting the Muse take us wherever, not committing anything because we don’t want to stifle that creative drive in ourselves with deadlines.  And while drifting with the winds of inspiration is a fun and vital part of being a writer (or artist, or whatever), those of us who really want to make something of it do have to knuckle down at times and commit.  Just like our characters need to move and grow to make a story, so we writers need to move forward.

How far you move forward, to where, and at what pace is up to you.  One writer may commit to searching for a publisher/agent for that fermenting manuscript, while another may just want to finish a sonnet started a few months ago.  Some of us may want to move into freelancing full-time, go back to school, try a new genre, or market an already-published work.  Some of us have goals of finally cleaning out that spare corner of the basement to make into a personal writing space.

Whatever your goals are, I encourage you to commit them to paper and keep them somewhere you’ll see them everyday.  Shoot for the big pie in the sky, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself or make a “goal” out of something you really have no control over.  By that, I mean, don’t try to tell yourself you’ll have signed a publishing contract by December 31st, since even the best writers really have no control over whether or not someone offers them a contract.  (Unless, of course, you have publishers knocking down your door to publish your novel, in which case, I envy you and implore you to make signing a contract a goal.)

So, instead of saying, “I will get a contract!” say, “I will send my completed manuscript to [X number of agents/publishers] by [date]!”

So sit down and think about your writing goals (and other goals) for 2012.  Write them down, think about them, talk them over with a trusted friend or fellow writer.  Revise them as necessary.  Share them on your favorite writing website, on your blog, over dinner with your family, with random strangers.  Make yourself accountable for achieving them and come up with a rewards system when your do.

I’ll be back on December 31st to share my goals and see how you’re doing 🙂

4 Things Every Writer Needs

The beautiful thing about writing is that it’s not like other hobbies or professions, requiring money investments or clothing that isn’t your pajamas.  You can write anywhere, any time, and you don’t have to buy materials or work clothes.

There are, however, some things writers do need:

1.  Writer’s Journal

A writer’s journal is a place to record ideas, snippets of information, character descriptions, plot twists, title ideas, or whatever relates to your writing.  If you write fiction and nonfiction, you may want to have separate notebooks for each one, if that works for you.  Either way, carry your writer’s journal with you — stash it in a purse/backpack/laptop carrier when you’re on the go.  Don’t use your writer’s journal for anything but writing-related notes.

2.  A Sacred Space

Virginia Woolf wasn’t the first writer to dream of “A Room of One’s Own” and she certainly wasn’t the last.  For most writers, having an office would be a dream.  Some of us are lucky enough to have a room to ourselves, while some are lucky to have space on the kitchen table to write.  Whatever your individual circumstances may be, make some space sacred for your writing.  This can be a room, a corner, or even just a drawer or a file on a shared computer.  This sacred space is for your writing and your writing only.  This has two benefits: first, it helps keep you organized, and second, it shows you take your writing seriously, to yourself and to others.

3.  A Reading List

Writers write, but they also read.  Read avidly, in the areas you like to write as well as others.  Reading helps make you a better writer and keeps your imagination limber.  All writers should have a running list of “to read” titles, in their heads or on paper.  I tend to add titles to my Amazon Wishlist as I hear about them, and just pick and choose from that coming shopping time 🙂

4.  Other Writers

There is no substitute for a good writing friend, even if you only know him/her as a screen name.  Writers need other writers for support, motivation, critiques, and for the simple fact that we can be a weird, under-appreciated breed.  We need solidarity, we need a support system, and we need someone to tell us when to get our heads out of our butts just do the revision already.  A writer without a few other writers to hang out with, even casually, is a pod with only one pea.

In that vein, here are my recommendations for the best writing communities online:

National Novel Writing Month

The Scriptorium Webzine

Writer’s Cafe: The Online Writing Community

Mystery Writing, or Why I May Be On An FBI Watchlist

I love mysteries.  Reading them, writing them.  My current work in progress is a mystery/suspense novel tentatively titled Someone’s Watching.

To many humans, a mystery is irresistible.  It must be solved.

Captain Picard, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (4, 14)

SW is currently undergoing edits, the first of which is the method by which my victim is kidnapped.  I wanted her car to stall at an opportune (for the bad guy) moment, so he could nab her.  Thing is, I know almost nothing about cars — I can change a flat tire, pump gas, and check the oil, but that’s about it.

So, off to Bing I went in search of information.

I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details, but essentially the search ended with me contemplating whether or not to look for “how to sabotage someone’s car” and Devin, my other half, convincing me not to.

See, Devin thinks I’m on a watchlist.  He’s pretty sure that if I don’t publish my book soon and justify all the creepy knowledge I have, one day we’ll open the door to a pair of black-suited men asking me just why I needed to know so much about arms dealing and citizen militias.

In the course of my mystery writing, most of my knowledge about crime, how to commit crimes, how to cover up crimes, and so on has come from internet searches.  I now know how to make meth, crack cocaine, molotov cocktails, and chloroform, how to get a fake ID, how to make a hidden camera, where wiretapping is and isn’t illegal, how to fake a suicide, how to dispose of a human body, how to get blood stains out of carpet, what common weeds are poisonous…

Occasionally, I wonder about myself.  Devin has said that if I ever went off the deep end, I’d be a sociopath and never get caught.  Maybe this is kind of why Doctorow called writing “a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

Sometimes, I wonder about the details of all this.  I have the facts, but no concrete, first-hand detail.  What does chloroform really smell like?  Would those doctored papers get me an ID?  That’s my mystery.

For the sake of my health and freedom, I won’t go looking for concrete detail, but it will always sit in the back of my mind.  The mystery writer part of me will heave a small, dejected sigh when reason reminds it that with a real molotov cocktail I run the risk of blowing off my hand and burning down the house.

Such is life.

By the way, I ended up pleading with my Facebook friends for help sabotaging my victim’s car.  Decided on bleach, which will ruin the gas lines and the tank.  Bleach is an ingredient in chloroform, so it fits perfectly 😉

Resources for mystery writers:

Mystery Writers of America

Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Lee Lofland)

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating (Steven K. Brown)

D.P. Lyle, M.D., mystery/thriller writer

NaNoWriMo Genre Lounge: Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense


This is my first attempt at writing a blog in a long while.  I’ve stopped and started on another platform, but never got into it.  Now that I’m out of school and writing full-time, I can take a more concentrated stab at this thing.  I enjoy reading blogs, so I may as well write one.

Up until college, I wan not a non-fiction person.  I took a course at the Institute of Children’s Literature and dabbled in writing small topical articles, but fiction was my real love, and still is.  I did go through a poetry phase in 9th grade, but we won’t talk about that.

As a freelance writer, and a writer in general, I don’t want to box myself in.  I’ve got to try new things, new genres and styles.  To be honest, it’s not that much of a risk — not like sending off a manuscript.  As the (proud?) owner of several rejected manuscripts, I feel pretty safe taking the plunge into blogging.

I’m glad you stopped by and hope you’ll enjoy reading it.  Happy reading, happy writing.