Category Archives: Writing

Gail Carson Levine on Writing

The Writer’s Oath

I promise solemnly:

1. to write as often and as much as I can,

2. to respect my writing self, and

3. to nurture the writing of others.

I accept these responsibilities and shall honor them always.

The above is at the end of the first chapter of award-winning fantasy writer, Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic, a terrific book for kids who want to write fantasy stories.  My fourth graders write them every year as part of our Cinderella unit and I have found this book an excellent resource.  They love taking the above oath and they love repeating Gail’s first three rules:

1. The best way to write better is to write more.

2. The best way to write better is to write more.

3. The best way to write better is to write more.

Long long ago (before Harry Potter) I was a huge fan of fantasy literature, but could find nothing about teaching it so ended up writing a book about teaching it myself.  Now it is much more acceptable to use it in the classroom, but most books on teaching writing tend to focus more on other genres.  A longtime fan of Gail’s novels, I was delighted to see her book and discover how excellent it is.  I’ve known Gail ever since she won a Newbery Honor for Ella Enchanted (long story for another blog post) and so knew she had been teaching writing to a small group of kids for years. This book is the thoughtful outgrowth of those experiences along with many examples from her own experience writing fantasy.

And now this incredibly thoughtful writer has just started a blog! In her introductory post she writes, “For my blogging life, I intend to post once a week, and I will probably blog mostly about writing, but I don’t know that for sure.”

I look forward to seeing where she takes this new writing vehicle.


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50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.

Geoffrey Pullum has a problem (actually several) with Strunk and White.

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A Master Revises

I learned to delete every word or phrase or sentence that told readers something they had already been enabled to know or were bright enough to deduce. I also tried to stop using phrases like of course and adverbs like surprisingly, predictably, understandably, and ironically, which place a value on a sentence before the reader has a chance to read it. Readers, I learned, are not as dumb as the writer thinks; they must be given room to play their role in the act of writing—to discover for themselves what’s surprising or predictable or understandable or ironic. They don’t want that pleasure usurped. That struck me as an important lesson, and I put it into a new section called “Trust Your Material.”

Visions and Revisions: an article by William Zinsser about writing and keeping up to date his book, On Writing Well | The American Scholar

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deffin…no, defin…it’s (or is it its?) hopeless.

Results from a Spelling Society survey reveal that we are a society that can’t spell. But is our ‘irregular’ spelling system holding us back? Whether you’re one of the 25% of adults who reckons they have a ‘problem’ with spelling, or the 66% who spurns the use of a spell-checker, try our fiendish test to find out whether your spelling is a recommendation, or just an embarrassment. And just to make it more difficult for US readers – who performed less well in the Spelling Society survey – UK spelling rules apply.

Quiz: How’s your spelling? | Books |


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My Life in Six Words — Vote!

Vote for the best six-word memoir | Books |

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Mitali Perkins On Writing Race

Very, very thoughtful post: Ten Tips On Writing Race in Novels.

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What Dorothy Gallagher’s Copy Editor Taught Her

Helene had no literary theories — she had literary values. She valued clarity and transparency. She had nothing against style, if it didn’t distract from the material. Her blue pencil struck at redundancy, at confusion, at authorial vanity, at the wrong and the false word, at the unearned conclusion. She loved good writing, therefore she loved the reader: good writing did not cause the reader to stumble over meaning. By the time Helene was finished with me seven years later, I knew how to read a sentence and how to fix one. I knew what a sentence was supposed to do. I began to write my own sentences; needless to say, the responsibility for them is my own.

Essay – What My Copy Editor Taught Me –

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Content Versus Quality

On blogs and list serves there was some discussion recently about the Kirkus piece, “Reader Beware,” in which editor Vicky Smith discussed the decision to not give an unnamed book a star because of copy-editing problems:

After consultation, the reviewer and I agreed that although we both felt the story deserved a starred review, it should not receive one; we felt we had to look at the book as a whole, and the whole included too many grammatical faults to ignore.

Many thought the book in question was The Hunger Games, which I had found an exhilarating read.  Spelling and usage have been problems for me my whole life; I have enormous trouble seeing my own errors (I kiss the ground of those who invented spell and grammar checks:) so rarely notice them in books I read.  That certainly doesn’t mean that it is okay for them to be there, just that they don’t register when I read so they don’t affect my appreciation of a book.

What does bother me is poor writing. Clunky sentences, overdoing the telling rather than showing, trite situations, and repeating lame metaphors or similes are things I do notice. I am taken out of the story when I see too much of it.  And there sure was too much of it for me in the much-admired Little Brother.

I had bought the book and taken it on a long plane ride eager to dive into it.  And then the writing tripped me up.  Again and again.  A character kept “pissing like a racehorse.”  Once, maybe, but more than once?  Some characters seemed to have been created purely to give speeches or to be one-dimensional figures in opposition to the main character. Others were barely developed (notably the main character’s best friend) and seemed to exist purely to advance the plot.  Parents came and went in completely unbelievable ways. The romantic (and sex) scenes made me cringe.

Yet reviewers and readers alike seemed to feel such clunky writing didn’t matter because the message was so important.  Austin Grossman in the New York Times writes:

Doctorow’s characters tend to speak on behalf of the ideas they represent, as when the teenage protagonist stagily debates his Homeland Security interrogator: “I thought I lived in a country where I had rights. You’re talking about defending my freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights.”

At such moments, “Little Brother” is trying to make speeches, and it would be unfair to judge the writing by other standards, but it does lead to a few awkward shifts in tone. After a disquisition on Inter­net protocols, it’s a little uncomfortable having to hear about Marcus’s first real kiss; it’s like spotting a favorite professor eating lunch.

So I guess I just wonder about this. Is it easier to catch those proofreading errors and to overlook clunky writing?  Is the clunky writing less important?  I don’t have any answers, but am struck by the different reactions to these two otherwise enthusiastically-received books.


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Oscar’s Disrobing

“…being a writer is about as difficult as taking off a t-shirt.”

From Nick Green‘s “Bathtime Parable” — a thoroughly charming reverie on how the shirt-shedding of a toddler is like writing.

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Whether it’s adult fiction or children’s stories, celebrity novelists are big business – even if they may not have actually written the words. So, wonders Stephanie Merritt, what drives ‘real’ authors to ghostwrite these bestsellers?

The book wot I wrote | By genre | Book

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