Because Engineering is Too Mainstream

The general stereotypical assumption regarding a writing career is that it is not actually a career at all. English majors know this pessimistic outlook on their future all too well. Friends nod patronizingly as you divulge the argument of your latest conference paper, family recounts the joblessness of their girlfriend’s husband’s sister’s son who just also so happens to write, science professors kindly implore you to consider a minor in psychology, so on and so blatantly forth.

Indeed, writers know that writing itself is not the pinnacle career of success. We will not be Trumps. We will not accumulate the wealth of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, or even come close. But here’s the thing: that’s okay. We know we won’t be millionaires, or remotely wealthy people for that matter. No need to remind us every five seconds. However, we choose to write anyway simply because we can never imagine doing anything else. Sure, we could become engineers, and we would probably make a decent living as a result. Still, we would be incurably miserable and, above all, misplaced.

In fact, hardly anyone chooses a writing career for the simple sake of choosing a career. People do not decide to become writers at the prospect of receiving a fat check every month. Rather, writers have no other choice but to write. It is first and foremost a passion that becomes a job, one that we actually don’t mind. Can everyone say that? Does every accountant have an undying passion for financing, every marketer an incessant desire to promote? Writers, whether they become J.K. Rowlings or starving artists, find happiness simply from being able work what they love. Money is simply a bonus.

And contrary to popular belief, writers actually CAN (gasp!) make a decent living in their field. Indeed, today, most corporations and businesses look specifically for individuals with exceptional writing capabilities. I personally know student writers who have worked part-time for companies such as GameStop and Converse. I’ve heard of others who currently work as full-time copywriters for museums in downtown Chicago. Writing opportunities crop up nearly anywhere you look. Freelance writers, editors, journalists, and copywriters especially are very much needed in this day and age. True, perhaps you won’t ever make enough money to buy your own Lamborghini or own a penthouse in New York City, but you will support yourself nonetheless, and you will be happy regardless. So, forget the naysayers. Love your career because you can.

And as always, happy writing.

A Must Read

As the old saying goes, one of the best ways to prepare and better yourself as a writer is to read… and read and read and read. Then read some more. Read everything. Read A Gate at the Stairs.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore follows twenty-year-old college student Tassie Keltjin, a young woman who pursues a baby-sitting job for an odd, white couple adopting a biracial baby at the wake of 9/11 (and, clearly, problems ensue). The story is simultaneously troubling and riveting, providing extraordinary commentary on race, politics, sexuality, love and war in the midst of this historical tragedy. However, strangely enough, my reason for recommending this novel to you is not a result of its plot (which is still very good, by the way); rather, though, I ask you to read it for its style.

As many English majors know, style is, in a sense, an author’s signature. It is an author’s word choice, figurative language, and syntax, among various other literary techniques, all of which come together seamlessly to convey the mood, theme, and meaning of a particular piece. It transcends simple subject-verb-object sentences, bypasses (believe it or not) strict grammar laws, and produces truly beautiful, lyrical sentences within literature. It requires the deliberation of an author, the slow process of selecting every word with care and precision, and of course, constant revision.

Moore spent nearly ten years on her novel A Gate at the Stairs (ten years!), and it shows. Every sentence from the very first masterfully constructed line reads almost like poetry. The reader is forced to slow down, to absorb every word because, truly, every word was chosen with distinct purpose. It is a must read for any writer.

Typing the Source of the Issue

My relationship with the Internet is a slippery one. I’m hesitant around social media, yet I won’t even try to convince myself that I could survive a single research paper without the comforts of my laptop. Indeed, technology is an indispensible lifesaver in that regard. While writing a literary analysis with a quill pen by candlelight sounds quaint and endearing in theory, I could think of far less painful ways to spend an evening… like, you know, gouging out my eyes with a rusty spoon.

I like to exaggerate in these posts, don’t I? But truly, no one can argue against the efficiency and ease of online database researching nor doubt the remarkable quickness of a keyboard. Technology has simply made writing simpler. However, this simplicity comes with one rather complex repercussion.

I’ll give you an example: I love synonyms. One of my favorite pastimes involves Google searching the synonyms of some of my favorite words in the English language so as to improve my ever-increasing writing vocabulary. (No, that one actually is not an exaggeration.) In fact, as I type this very sentence, an online thesaurus is open in another browser, and within this writing session alone, I have searched for the synonymous pairings of the words “endearing,” “backlash,” and “juxtapose,” among many, many other terms. Indeed, the online thesaurus is truly a God-sent. After all, one must simply type in a term of his or her choosing and BAM: a whole word buffet at a mouse’s click.

Unfortunately, that sentence itself embodies the exact reason the Internet is both a simultaneous writing asset and crutch. Truly, the unrestricted ability to discover the meaning and/or synonym of a particular word in a pinch, while undeniably useful and efficient, may actually lessen the degree of definition retention and literary improvement when writing as a whole. For instance, consider the word “formidable.” Google search the word and one of the synonyms it will generate is the word “disturbing.” While the two terms both have certain degrees of similarity in their meanings, they each have exceedingly different connotations. For example, the word “formidable” provokes a certain level of respect for the person or object it describes. The word “disturbing,” on the other hand, has a rather opposite connotation, indicating a certain degree of abject horror. Today, it is too easy to see the word “disturbing” under the list of synonyms for the word “formidable” and immediately use it in place of the former, ultimately changing the meaning of a sentence completely.

In short, we exchange comprehension for speed. We search countless synonyms of a word only to pick the one that sounds most profound in a sentence, discover meaningful quotes without knowing their true meanings or context, and create Works Cited pages through the mindless copying and pasting of URL’s to citation generators. In the process, we lose a significant degree of retention of and attention to detail, ultimately hurting ourselves as writers.

My advice? Slow down. I myself am just as guilty of trying to crank out fifty words per minute for the simple sake of finishing a paper or story or even one of these blog posts as quickly as physically possible. However, writing requires patience and understanding, specificity and consideration. Great writers know that the most beautiful sentences in literature are the products of precision and revision. Every word in every sentence must be chosen for a reason, and this rule is one that cannot be simplified.

Happy writing!

The Streaming Reason for Living

Before I continue, I would like to repeat that one very important quote by Ernest Hemingway:

“It is easy to write. Just sit in front of a typewriter and bleed.”

I invoked this line in the very first blog beat I ever posted, and if you’ve been keeping up with my blog from the start, by now you’ve already discovered the truth of these brilliant words. Indeed, a majority of my posts focus on a particular struggle many writers face, and I always try to convey a piece of writing advice that I have learned from various peers, professors, and professionals throughout my own writing career, one that is only in its very early adolescence. I still have much to face and much to learn as I continue down this road to authorship, and while I am ecstatic to begin this journey, I am also utterly petrified, to say the least.

I feel that many individuals in my field share similar fears. After all, for those who absolutely love it, writing is often most difficult. I can’t even begin to explain the often unnecessarily long process of reviewing and revising one of these simple blog posts, not to mention the obscene number of times I then revisit my page in order to reread and edit that same post only never to be fully satisfied with it. Truthfully, I really do not know a single student writer with undisputed confidence or egotism. And how could you? Your job description essentially requires you to display your fears, musings, and desires on page for strangers and critics to view and judge, harshly. In theory, writers essentially, as well as willingly and knowingly, travel down a masochistic path of endless self-loathing: Am I good enough? Is this good enough? Will I or it or anything ever be good enough? Repeat.

No amount of encouragement from anyone in the world can break that barrier of doubt that looms over every piece you construct, and I won’t pretend to tell you otherwise. But perhaps that’s the twisted true beauty of hating as well as fearing to write. Love to hate it because hating it means you care. Hate the process, but never hate your writing.

I think my advice to you for today can be summed up in this one powerful quote:

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” –Allen Ginberg

A Recantation

Last Tuesday at about 12:15 pm, I was given the opportunity to live-tweet Sigma Tau Delta’s Book Club featuring Dr. Riad Ismat. Contrary to my previous expectations, it really wasn’t that painful. In fact, the whole process was actually rather insightful and profitable, overall.

Plus, I can say I legitimately live-tweeted something. Take that, prospective job offers. I’m now social media tested.

Anyway, if you haven’t checked out my twitter feed yet, I encourage you to do so, if only to view some of the truly insightful words of Dr. Ismat during his discussion of “The Mask” by Mamdouh ‘Udwan. Once again, since this was my first time live-tweeting anything ever, I was not able to get down every word of wisdom spoken by our prestigious visitor; however, my account covers the gist, providing some wonderful advice to up and coming writers in any genre. As I mentioned in a previous post, the beauty of holding a conversation with a published author is that you will gain perhaps more knowledge regarding the field and art of writing than you would anywhere else. The process of live-tweeting such an event was, thus, truly unique. I felt as if I was publishing the words of the published, allowing others as well as myself an opportunity to gain from Dr. Ismat’s musings regarding writing and theatre. It was a retentive process, one that allowed other students who were unable to attend the meeting an opportunity to benefit from this discussion in some small way, as well. In short, I felt I was able to connect Dr. Ismat’s words to a grander audience.

So, I suppose social media isn’t all demonry and witchcraft. In fact, when used properly and professionally, it becomes a remarkable tool of communication, one that can connect to a wider audience of peers. And this sort of tool is absolutely imperative in the writing world.

#happywriting

Heil Grammatik!

We all know at least one person who belongs to this vicious cult of Oxford English Dictionary thumping grammar mongers. They’re the individuals who base their opinions of a novel wholly on the misused comma in Chapter 4, the ones who sit idly at computer screens, hunting for a fresh misspelled tweet or status update, who interrupt others’ conversations only to snobbishly correct their incorrect use of the word “effect,” who view “there”/”their”/”they’re” as the Holy Trinity of proper sentence structure. We call them grammar Nazis, and they are out for blood.

If you just so happen to fit into this category, congratulations and welcome to the cult! If not, I have provided specifically for you a short list of some of the most unbearable pet peeves belonging to the grammar Nazis. Study it, and avoid their wrath.

1. “could of”/”should of”/”would of”

Spoken orally, these phrases sound correct; however, spelling wise, the word “of” in such phrases should actually be replaced with the word “have.” For instance: “I wish I could have seen you last night.” Petty, perhaps, but grammar Nazis will always jump on these given the slightest opportunity.

2. the extraneous apostrophe

Always remember: use apostrophes with possessive not plural nouns. For instance: “The dogs barked.” In this sentence, the subject is plural not possessive, and therefore, the word “dogs” should not include an apostrophe after the “s.”

3. its vs. it’s

Like the previous example, this one involves the issue of an extraneous apostrophe. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is to understand that the latter is simply the contraction of “it” and “is.” Therefore, only include an apostrophe before the “s” when the splitting of the contraction makes sense within a particular sentence. If it doesn’t, leave the apostrophe out.

4. there/their/they’re

Ah, the slippery “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” This pet peeve has been known to break up relationships, pit close friends against each other, and shame English majors into considering new career paths, like waste management. But, fear not! They’re not as difficult as they appear! (Yea, lame. I know.)

In short, the term “there” is used to indicate place. For instance: “I put Samantha’s comic book right there.” Where did I put Samantha’s comic book? Right “there”!

“Their,” on the other hand, signifies possession. For instance: “Their car broke down yesterday.” Who’s car broke down? “Their” car!

Finally, like “it’s,” “they’re” is simply the contraction of “they” and “are.” For instance: “They’re having a birthday party this afternoon.” Therefore, before using this version, see if you can first pull it apart. If the sentence still makes sense without the contraction, then you’re using the correct spelling. For instance, the sentence, “They are having a party this afternoon,” still works!

5. decades and apostrophes

I believe this may be a new rule instituted among the grammar cult; however, grammar Nazis will call you on it nonetheless. It’s simple: when writing decades, do not include an apostrophe before the “s.” For instance, write “90s” instead of “90’s.” Boom! No more grammar Nazis in your comment section.

6. your/you’re

This one is very similar to the “there”/”their”/“they’re” issue. It’s also just as irritating to an OED thumper. In short, the term “your” is used to indicate possession. For instance: “Your pizza is ready.” On the other hand, “you’re” is the contraction of “you” and “are.” As in the previous example, split the contraction in two to see if the sentence still makes sense!

7. typin lyke dis.

An angel loses its wings every time a person purposely, or (my God) unintentionally, writes this way. Seriously. Just don’t do it.

Happy proofreading!

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly Keep Your Adverbs Scarce!

Ah, nostalgia. Remember when cartoons were not only endlessly entertaining but also highly educational? School House Rock, Animaniacs, Magic School Bus, even Spongebob had its own brief episode that demonstrated the proper method in which one ties his or her own shoes. As a total sucker for such Saturday morning animations, these little educational videos have remained very near and dear to my heart to this day. Therefore, I am beyond ecstatic to share one of my all time favorite School House Rock clips starring one of the most overused parts of speech: the adverb!

While this video wonderfully succeeds in encompassing the usage and rules of the adverb in one catchy, upbeat song, it unfortunately forgets to mention the limitations of the particular part of speech. Don’t get me wrong. School House Rock still (obviously) rocks. However, father, son, and Lolly may be overdoing it just a tad with the action descriptions. Indeed, while seemingly harmless, the overuse of the adverb when writing often becomes a nasty as well as disadvantageous crutch for most writers. And here’s why:

Consider the sentence “John ran quickly.” Here, the word “quickly” is the descriptive adverb of the verb “ran.” While the sentence accomplishes its job in describing the speed at which John supposedly took action, it signifies far less than, say, the sentence “John sprinted.” The difference is subtle; however, the latter word “sprinted” connotes far more in terms of speed and action, among other qualities, than the former term “ran,” producing a far more powerful, far more effective sentence, overall.

In the same book I invoked in a previous post, Stephen King also wrote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Albeit slightly dramatic, the sentence holds significant truth regarding the use of such parts of speech. Indeed, as seen above, adverbs have the power to either enhance an already well constructed sentence or significantly diminish it, leading to the inevitable composition of mediocre writing as a whole. The key to avoiding the latter is to use them sparingly as well as effectively. Indeed, never use adverbs for the simple sake of using them. Rather, before considering whether or not to use an action descriptive word, first consider whether you have a strong enough verb in the first place. More often than not, your action can be better defined simply by replacing it with a word of stronger connotation. Adverbs can, should, and still will be used, of course, but always use them sparingly and, most importantly, use them wisely!

Happy thesaurus-ing!