Getting the Words Right

I had a great writing weekend! I’m editing my manuscript hard and heavy now. Now that I’ve got my files salvaged from previous computer mishaps, I’m really excited about barreling through to the end and getting this thing done.

This weekend my biggest chore was “getting the words right.”

I always loved the interview that the late George Plimpton did with Ernest Hemingway in the Paris Review. It went something like this:

Paris Review: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.

Paris Review: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

I love that quote. It’s so profound and so simple at the same time.

In choosing the right words in a manuscript, sometimes the wrong ones jump out at you. (“Do I really mean ‘shuffle’ here, or ‘scamper’?”) Other times the right word is ever-elusive, and you keep resorting to some terrible word like “assessment” because it’s really the only word that even comes close to what you mean (even though you used “assessment” about two paragraphs ago, and you can’t think of a replacement for that one, either. Grrrr.) Continue reading

Happy National Grammar Day!

So today is National Grammar Day! Over at the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, they’re passing the grammartinis around.

I love the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. I love any organization that encourages people to put commas in the right place and celebrates a well-constructed compound-complex sentence. Especially in this day of text messages, where so many are in such a hurry they don’t even bother to capitalize “I” or write out “you.” I worry, I guess, that they’ll forget. I worry that, over time, no one will remember what the rules are, and they’ll abandon them altogether. And there’s such a beauty and art to beautiful sentences — I’d hate for people to lose that.

So let’s celebrate today by going out there and making one sentence better! We can probably start with some song lyrics. Maybe we can lend a hand to Neil Diamond. He seems to have some grammar challenges. Like this one: “…Song, she sang to me/ Song, she brang to me.” … Brang, Neil? Really? I know you would have needed to rewrite the entire line, but I can’t even sing along with that one. It’s just too painful.

Or maybe we can help Mr. Justin Timberlake. His song “What Goes Around” features this classic line: “When you cheated girl/ My heart bleeded girl.” Bleeded, Justin? C’mon. Did you just make that up? “Bled” does rhyme with “dead” — maybe we could have played around with that a little?

Or maybe we can help Joan Osborne. I was always frustrated at her song “One of Us,” where she sings (over and over again), “What if God was one of us…” If you respect the almost-forgotten subjunctive, it really should be “What if God were one of us.” The subjunctive sounds so gorgeous to me. It’s used commonly in Spanish but, unfortunately, it’s been dropped almost entirely in English. It’s used when something hasn’t actually happened (when you’re wishing or hoping or wondering), so, to me, it denotes an almost dreamlike state. I wish it were used more often.

So let’s celebrate! Throw some song lyrics my way! We’ll celebrate National Grammar Day together!

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