Monthly Archives: February 2014

Kill Your Adverbs: The Anti-Blog Blog

I’ve perused a fair amount of blogs about writing and have found that, with a few notable exceptions, they tend to break down into two categories: Do’s and Don’ts, and Why I Haven’t Written.

I Heart Adverbs!

How can Schoolhouse Rock be wrong?

The Do’s and Don’ts are pretty straightforward: Avoid adverbs. Never open a book with the weather. Take it easy on the exclamation points. Avoid prologues. I take these Writing Commandments with a large grain of salt, since many of these rules are subjective and made to be broken. Beside, I figure if the occasional adverb doesn’t ruin a story for me, it probably won’t ruin it for most other people either.

My favorite Do’s and Don’ts lists give insight into the writing habits of well-known writers, from Henry Miller to Kurt Vonnegut to Zadie Smith*. I am fascinated to learn about what works – and what doesn’t – for these beloved authors: Write to please just one person. Start as close to the end as possible. Work on one thing at a time until finished. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. When sharing advice, these writers often contradict one another, and sometimes themselves. As Steven King famously wrote, “Ignore all rules.”

The other common – and certainly the most disdainful – type of blog I’ve encountered is the Why I Haven’t Written, aka Dear Diary: Life is Hard. “I didn’t write this week because I had to call my mother and the dog was sick and my boss was being a jerk and my pen was leaky and American Idol was on…” Why on earth would anyone write a blog about why he or she doesn’t have the time or energy to write? And why on earth would anyone want to read this drivel? That’s what support groups are for. If you have the time and energy to update your blog, guess what? You also have the time and energy to whip out a paragraph or two of your short story, memoir, or novel-in-progress.**

Now that I’ve planted my size eight feet firmly on my soapbox, it’s time for me to confess my own (largely) selfish reasons for starting a blog about writing. I want to make writing a constant in my life, to keep it in the forefront of my conscious mind. I want to make myself accountable. Most of all, I want to WRITE MORE. And as a side benefit, I hope to entertain a couple of folks along the way. I write about my experiences and what works for me in the hope that this will be of interest to others, just as I’ve learned from reading about what works for Miller, Vonnegut, Zadie Smith, and even Steven King.

So. Why do you read or write blogs?

* I think this heartbreaking bit of advice from Smith will resonate with most creative folks: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.”

**Perhaps my next blog post will be: Too busy writing novel to write blog post. Check back later.

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Small Legends

To celebrate the completion of the Dreaded Second Draft* of my current novel-in-progress, I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and share an excerpt from said novel-in-progress. The working title is Small Legends, and it takes place in four parts, as narrated by four different members of the same family over a period of 40 years. I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month 2012, and have been diligently (okay, well sometimes less than diligently) revising ever since.

Excerpt from Small Legends, Part 3, Chapter 2

It’s kinda like that scene from The Godfather III. Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in. Just when I thought I had escaped the Chapman family saga, guess who turned up on my doorstep. Literally.

Except I didn’t live there anymore. At the start of the fall semester, Julie’s roommate Terra announced she was moving into a studio apartment since she’d “never agreed to live with two other people”, and I moved in the next weekend. I got along with Pete okay but sharing a place with him and his drug habits was getting a little tired.

I hadn’t talked to Alice or my dad for at least a month, hadn’t gotten around to telling anyone back home that I’d moved. Because why did it matter, it’s not like anyone was going to show up at my front door. Or so I thought.

My phone starting ringing at 7:13 am. On a Sunday morning. I tried to ignore it but Julie started to whine.

“Who is calling you so early?” she moaned. “If it’s one of your other girlfriends, I’m going to kick her ass.”

I gave in and reached for the phone. Pete’s number. Fuck. He’d probably been up all night bending spoons and masterminding some crank-induced genius plan to end world hunger or build underground skyscrapers or some shit, and just HAD to share it with someone.

“Some people actually go to sleep at night,” I growled into the phone.

“Nate. Man,” Pete whispered. “I was totally asleep but someone was knocking on the door for so long that I had to get up and look outside.”

I sighed. “No one’s knocking on the door, Pete. Go to sleep.”

“Nate. Man, there was…is someone. A girl. She says she’s your sister? Man, I didn’t even know you had a sister.”

I sat up in bed, totally awake now. “My sister? Are you serious?”

“I don’t joke at 7:14 in the morning, Man.”

Julie stirred beside me and rolled over toward me, her eyes half opened now. “Where is she?” I asked.

“On the couch,” Pete whispered. “I didn’t know if I should tell her you don’t live here anymore. I mean, she looks kinda messed up. Still kinda hot though.”

“She’s also 15,” I said, “and I will pull your intestines out through your asshole if you so much as look at her sidewise.”

“Who the hell are you talking to?” Julie asked, her eyes wide open now.

“Look,” I said, ignoring her. “Put her on the phone. No wait. Did she say what the hell she’s doing here? Like, are my parents on their way over or something? I mean, what the fuck is she doing in L.A.?”

“Beats me,” Pete said. “But I don’t think the parentals are with her, judging by the fact that she smells a little like a Greyhound station, if you know what I mean.”

“What the hell does a Greyhound station smell like?”

Pete didn’t hesitate. “Mildewed socks and old flower water,” he said. “Of course.”

I sighed. “Okay, put her on the phone.”

“What’s going on?” Julie asked, sitting up now, the blankets sliding off of her to reveal her bare boobs. God, they were fantastic. But I had to focus on other things now. Like why the hell my 15-year-old sister was sitting on Pete’s couch. And what the hell I was going to do about it now.

“It’s Alice,” I whispered to Julie, my hand over the phone. “She’s over at Pete’s.”

Julie’s eyes widened even more. “Alice knows Pete?” But I waved her away.

Then I heard Alice’s voice, tired and scratchy, on the other end. She sounded beat. “Nate? Where are you?”

“Um, I think the more important question is why are you where you are?” I said. “What are you doing here? How did you get here? Does Mom know where you are?” I could hear the growing sense of panic in my own voice.

“Can we talk about this later?” Alice asked, her voice flat. “I slept for like an hour last night. Where are you? When are you coming home?”

“Alice, why didn’t you call first? I don’t even live there anymore,” I said, the volume of my voice rising along with my anxiety level. This was bad. Very very bad. Because Alice never came without baggage. Wherever she went, our mother was sure to follow. And sure to be really fucking pissed off about it.

“Oh, where do you live now?” Alice asked, sounding mildly interested now. “You’re still in L.A., right?”

I glanced at the clock. It was only 7:16 am. Probably no one had even noticed yet that Alice was gone. It was a Sunday morning after all. Maybe they thought she was still sleeping. If I could get her to call home and tell them where she was before they realized she was missing… “Listen, I’m coming to get you,” I said, reaching for my jeans. “But you have to call home like right away. Like in the next ten seconds. You have to tell them where you are before they freak the fuck out.”

“I am not calling home,” Alice said, determined. “Why the hell would I want to get yelled at? Anyway, I don’t even have my phone. Some skeevy old dude stole it out of my pocket when I crashed for like 10 minutes on the bus. At least I think it was the old dude. I totally saw him scope me out when I got on the bus, and then later when I woke up, he was gone and so was my phone. No way I was going to back to sleep after that shit.”

I stopped in my tracks. My 15-year-old sister had boarded an overnight bus to L.A., had been ripped off by some skeevy old dude, stayed awake all night in case someone else tried to steal something from her or worse, and then managed to find her way to what she thought was my front door. It was a minor miracle that she’d made it in one piece, this girl who wasn’t allowed to take the BART train from Berkeley into San Francisco by herself back home. I felt a little sick, and for a second actually felt a little sorry for my parents. But then it was gone.

“Stay where you are,” I said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Nate,” Julie said urgently, “what in the hell is going on?” I pulled on my t-shirt from the day before and reached for my Converse.

“Well, you said you wanted to meet my sister,” I said.

Julie hopped right out of bed, glorious in her nakedness. But I couldn’t think about that and looked away. The shit was about to hit the fan on an apocalyptic scale. My stomach did another little turn.

“I’m coming with you,” Julie said, and started pulling on her own clothes without waiting for a response.


* The Dreaded Second Draft is a direct result of the mad dash NaNoWriMo First Draft, in which you are freed from concerning yourself with plot or grammar or character development.

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