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    Words & Phrases You’ll Never Write

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Rants & Raves     Comments 39 comments

    Earlier this week I got an email from WriteByNighter Ken H. asking if I ever experience “that fingernails-on-chalkboard sensation” when I read certain words or phrases.

    “People who feel inclined to take up writing have likely read their fair share of groaning prose,” Ken writes. “There are certain phrases and terms that are so hackneyed they feel to me like someone trying to shove an unsharpened pencil in my eye.”

    I couldn’t immediately come up with any, though as soon as I publish this post I’m sure two dozen will rush to mind.

    But mostly we want to know yours. Ken is collecting these phrases from his fellow writers, so I thought I’d open it up to you all: Ken’s fellow writers.

    What are some words or phrases that make you groan as a reader and that you’d never ever ever use as a writer? read more

    No, I Don’t Want to Be Paid in Ad Space

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 7 comments

    by Martin Barkley

    Stupid Submission Guidelines I’ve been writing and submitting pieces for a few years now, so I thought it might be time to take stock of what I’ve gleaned about submitting work on-line.

    If you open a website requesting submissions of written work, every whack job in the universe is going to send you his/her opus. I understand that existential quandary: you’re going to receive a few gems, but mostly you’ll be knee-deep in a slush pile of worthless crap. I get that. What I don’t get is how some purveyors of on-line zines have become so jaded by the literary lollapalooza they initially entered—out of love, I presume—by willful choice.

    And I can discern the ones who don’t love publishing anymore, if they ever did, by what they post on their sites. Submissions guidelines, I’ve found, get downright snarky, if not bizarre. Here are a few. (To protect the jaded, I have not identified the editors or their publications.) read more

    The View From the Underground: Is Poetry Dead, or Are Poets Just Scared?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 1 comment

    Finding Your Writing VoiceFor those of you not plugged in, Alexandra Petri wrote an article recently for the Washington Post entitled “Is Poetry Dead?” I will not link to it here. It has already gotten too much attention and does not deserve another pingback.

    First, when I was living abroad I would get rather irate and abrasive whenever I would hear someone speak ill about America. America, my home: I rue every moment my feet touch its soil and hate with every fiber of my being the completely disillusioned values, the daily travesties, and the science experiments big business conducts on it citizens. But no one talks shit about my family but me.

    Alexandra Petri isn’t a poet.

    Second, whatever. Let her think—let all of them think—that poetry is dead. Ghosts get the better view of the world anyway. read more

    James Franco And The Green-Eyed Monster

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 12 comments

    By Brent Canle

    Graywolf PressIn the spring of 2014 Graywolf Press will publish James Franco’s first collection of poetry, Directing Herbert White. This isn’t Franco’s first publication: He did a chapbook in 2010 and a collection of short stories the same year. With this I have an inordinate assortment of feeling, as I do anytime someone succeeds where I fail.

    The Humility: Good for him. He deserves it. Balancing a career in Hollywood with a literary side. Lord knows he has a handful of degrees in Literature. I’m impressed with his work ethic and determination.

    The Hater: Fuck this guy. read more

    Color My Words

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 21 comments

    Here are some labels I never want associated with my name, or with my writing: minority, black, African-American. Not because I’m not happy to be those things, but because I’m so much more. When I write, I’m not telling black stories: I’m telling human stories. Labels lead to marginalization.

    Recently I read the excellent essay “Literature and Democracy,” in which Pablo explores his concerns over labels, especially the ethnic kind. “Suddenly,” Medina writes, “the person’s worth as a writer is of secondary importance to the social labels we, as critics and readers, are able to tag on her.” Even though, as he says, “What matters about truly great literature is the totality of its human content.”

    Lately I’ve been thinking about the color my words take on. In my vision, the characters I write often look similar to me, which I take as a reaction to the fact that in what I read, the majority of the characters do not look like me. read more

    Hands Off My Books

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 16 comments

    Patina can be beautiful. I love copper roofs that have turned turquoise, and weathered wooden beach chairs (though I’m wary of splinters). But I hate, hate, hate wear and tear in my books.

    In my collegiate youth, I didn’t mind highlighting or notes in books, especially in textbooks. (Thanks, previous owner, for doing some of my work for me!) Even in non-textbooks, I found handwritten notes fascinating. It was as if the book had come with an additional story–a story about the previous owner and his or her perspective.

    Today, however, I’ve completely reversed my opinion. read more

    Righties, Lefties & Social Consciousness in the Novelist

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 5 comments

    by Martin Barkley

    For five years I’ve been doing research on the history of political and corporate corruption in America for a novel I’m writing. Not just the bare historical facts, but how corruption happens, the nexus of it and the human players, large and small, behind it. It makes for disheartening reading, and sometimes, quite honestly, I get stumped on the big picture. That is, the big human picture. How can people, I ask myself, do such things? That’s the essence of what stumps me. Not too complicated, I know, but it is the kind of question that novelists, at least some them, tend to explore. It’s not an easy question to answer, either, and at times I don’t even want to write a novel that looks closely at what makes human beings commit lasting acts that are hurtful to the public good.

    I won’t finger-point—not just yet—by invoking political labels, but whether they’re duped authorities or outright bamboozlers, those making the list historically for “Atrocities Committed” do seem to demonstrate a nexus. Here is my annotated short-list:

    Ulysses S. Grant (duped authority), William Tecumseh Sherman (lying genocidist), George Armstrong Custer (lying, duped genocidist), read more

    Water For Elephants: Worth the Hype?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 13 comments

    If you want escapism, a step above a beach read, Water for Elephants is a viable choice. I read the book in two days. While I enjoyed immersing myself in Sara Gruen’s rich descriptions of Depression-era circus life and a sweet love story, I found myself annoyed with several things. Narrator Jacob Jankowski loses his parents while he’s a senior vet student at Cornell, quits school during his final exams, and just happens to hop a circus train that needs a vet. Now that’s a strong (if a little too convenient) set-up, but the way Gruen portrays Jacob’s loss lacks depth. Jacob doesn’t grieve much over his parents except immediately after their death, and the whole ordeal seems like a mere plot mechanism by the end of the book. It’s not that Jacob reads like a stock character–despite sometimes acting like a “callow youth”–but that he seems so unshaped by his life before and after the circus. read more

    Grammar: One Step Forward, Too Steppes Bak

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 5 comments

    By Danielle White

    Instant Messenger taught me how to type. Maybe not entirely–fundamentally, Type to Learn taught me how to type, but nowhere near as efficiently as when I started chatting with my friends online. (Funny how in both cases it was a program rather than a person.) Type to Learn was structured and precise, following the rules of punctuation and capitalization. It taught me the correct mode of formal language. Instant messaging, on the other hand, was completely casual. Spellchecker was available, but always seemed misplaced, an absurd amenity. IM was a means to an end. Have idea. Form words to express idea. Repeat. Grammar? Punctuaton? See ya tomorrow in English class.

    What I was able to draw from these opposing teachers is that usage has a time and place. read more

    Worst. Advice. Ever.

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 23 comments
    About 25 years ago, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’d just read the Little House on the Prairie books and realized–thanks to my fantastic school librarian–that they were written by a person, a living human being; and that some people write books as their jobs. (Until that point, I’d honestly thought stories were manufactured in factories, just like the books on which they were printed.)


    Since that realization and decision, I’ve heard a lot of writing advice–and not all of it has been good. But even the most misguided words, if reframed properly, can offer inspiration and assistance. Below are some of the most well-meaning but ultimately useless gems I’ve been handed, and how I’ve managed to make them helpful (your mileage may vary; apologies if one of them made a huge difference in your life and changed everything for the better):


    read more

    A Mid-Month Defense Of NaNoWriMo By A Novelist Too Busy To Write One

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 6 comments

    National Novel Writing Month, the frenzied writing of a 50,000-word novel in November, inspires thousands to write together, and some to post advice. It also inspires criticism from a few who have done it, failed to do it, or declined to do it; and it even elicits a few takedowns from the publishing industry.

    The shot heard round the NaNoWriMo world in 2010 was this column in Salon,  Laura Miller’s examination of everything wrong with NaNoWriMo.  Miller makes the especially strange claim that NaNo is a waste of time because writers don’t need to work together or seek encouragement.  Thus typeth the wine-and-cheese-stained fingers of success, implying that writers who need other writers are not real writers.

    NaNo novels have a negative impact on an industry that already publishes many imperfect books, they say, and the flood of manuscripts overwhelms and depresses those who have to read these novels. read more

    Are You Hiring a Ghostwriter or a Slave?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 8 comments

    My professional website, Buttontapper.com, contains a contact form that allows potential clients to email me with questions, queries and requests for my rates. Unfortunately, I also get all manner of tire-kickers wasting my time with emails that have clearly not been well thought out before pressing “Send.” For instance, the latest was from a chap looking for a ghostwriter, who sent me an email something like this:


    Dear Laura,

    I would like you to read my 7,000-word manuscript, which mainly consists of gobbledygook, stock dialog, flat characters, and an incomprehensible plot line read more