‘Take it easy on the -ings’

Do you find yourself using the same writing tropes over and over? Once a tendency comes to my attention, I see it everywhere. A former colleague always caught instances of “that” when the word should have been “who.” Once I learned the distinction between passive and active voice, I noticed improper usage everywhere.

As I read Roy Peter Clark’s “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer,” I am overwhelmed by usage–or improper usage–of the tools he details. This week, my journalism students read tools five and six, “watch those adverbs” and “take it easy on the -ings.” They then edited one of their recent stories to reduce the number of -ing words, and I did the same.

I struggle to avoid discouragement with such reflection. I would like to think my work is awesome as is, but the truth is, I want to grow. This process can be uncomfortable, but it moves me closer to my end goal.

My most recent email newsletter including 41 -ing words. Forty one! I’ll admit, I didn’t edit the newsletter before I sent it, but I was horrified by that statistic. (I didn’t count words such as “thing.”) Four of those 41 were part of proper titles, so I couldn’t edit them out.

A quick edit, though, reduced -ing words to 19. That’s still a lot, in my opinion, and I retained some to indicate an ongoing pursuit. But I think the end result is stronger. You can read the original (and sign up for the newsletter) here. Here’s the edited version:

 

MailChimp has been good to me. I’ve used it for more than two years, and I registered in preparation for my first book’s release. Self promotion doesn’t come to me naturally, but publishing and sales go hand in hand. I sucked it up and launched an email newsletter.

Two years later, I’m not any more comfortable with this promotion. Email newsletters intrigue me, but mine has made me feel like I’m in sales mode. (There’s a reason for that.)

However, I subscribe to a few writer newsletters that rely on TinyLetter. These newsletters are text based, simpler than the flash-and-dazzle of so many others. I appreciate MailChimp and subscribe to a number of newsletters that use that service well. But TinyLetter, which is a MailChimp product, feels truer to my writerly ways.

That inspired me to shift formats. I don’t have a new book to sell you, but I do believe there’s value in an email newsletter. Moreover, I benefit from the act of writing this thing. So welcome to “Read, Write, Breathe (repeat).” I intend to send this thing weekly, but we’ll see. It will be a way to share what I read and write as well as things that help me breathe more easily.

Let’s get started.

READ
Charlotte Donlon’s “The Three Rs” is one of the reasons I’m now on TinyLetter. Charlotte’s weekly newsletter highlights reading, writing and arithmetic from her days spent as a writer, MFA student, wife and mama. I’ve never hit reply on an email newsletter as often as I have on hers, and it’s been a great way to peek inside my friend’s process.

Three Cents by Manjula Martin leaves me with so much more to read, I don’t know when I’ll get through it all. (That’s a good problem to have.) She focuses on creative work, money and love in this monthly-ish newsletter. I don’t know Manjula personally, but I sometimes feel as though I do, thanks to these emails. I’m ridiculously excited for the January release of her book, “Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living.”

On a similar note, I’ve preordered “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace.” I’m resisting the urge to repeatedly email my local bookseller and ask if it’s arrived. (The book doesn’t publish till Sept. 13. Patience, CJ. Patience.) Need a healthy dose of feminism to tide you over? I’m reading “Rad American Women A to Z,” and it’s awesome. Think of it as a children’s book about women who make a difference. I bought it in the fine Asheville, N.C., bookstore Malaprops, and it originated with the lovely San Francisco bookstore City Lights. That’s an awful lot to love.

I finally read Roy Peter Clark’s “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.” I bought the book upon its release a decade ago, but I’m prone to collecting books faster than I can read them. I picked and chose and a few chapters to teach from last semester. This semester my University of Alabama students will read most of the book during class. I have told them repeatedly, this is a book I want you to keep. It’s a treasure of writing insight and exercises.

WRITE
I believe so strongly in “Writing Tools,” in fact, that I’ll spend this semester completing the homework I assign. I wrote about that on my blog, so I won’t repeat myself here. I’ll add, though, that life as a professional writer sometimes means I focus more on inching forward than I do on the craft itself. (Sad, but true.) This is part of why I teach.

In recent weeks, I’ve poured most such energy into my journal. Journal writing used to be my favorite form of therapy, but I’ve gotten away from it in recent years. Now I start each day with 10 minutes of writing, and I haven’t yet found the words to explain how glad I am. (I’m working on it.) This Dixie Chicks blog entry is one result of that morning exercise. I’m sure some of my journal entries will end up online, but it’s beautiful to create space in which I can ramble without worry.

But of course, I still write to live, and you can find a few recent examples in reviews of “I’m Still Here” and “The Dollhouse.” As for my “real” job, I’ve spent my recent days on others’ columns and my podcast more than writingYou can find those podcasts here. I also used my recent trip to see the Dixie Chicks in England as inspiration for the travel story “How does Birmingham, England, compare to Birmingham, Alabama?”

BREATHE
Fall draws closer, but it’s still about eleventy billion degrees in Birmingham. Sitali breath is an antidote to the heat, as well as any anxiety you might face. I taught it in Friday’s class at The Yoga Circle, and I ought to incorporate it into my pre-sleep rituals. Learn more about that breath from Yoga Journal.

Thanks for reading. Based on the word-count indicator at the bottom of my screen, I had plenty to say!

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