Book Review: “Several short sentences about writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Several Short Sentences About Writing

by Verlyn Klinkenborg

book 1

“The question isn’t, can the reader follow you?
That’s a matter of grammar and syntax.
The question is, will the reader follow you?” (128)

I’ve never written a book review, but I think it goes something like this: a brief description of subject, author and intended audience; list good and bad points; and a couple of pithy quotes.  I shall largely adhere to this format.  Though do forgive me if I find the implied rules of this genre too confining for my wild artistic tendencies.

So, to begin: a brief description of subject, author and intended audience

This is a book written for writers by a writer about writing.

Too brief, perhaps.

While this text is applicable to writers of any experience or style, I think it is particularly useful for those at a turning point in their career as a writer – professional or otherwise.  You might be taking on a new genre, or adapting to an alternative medium – you wouldn’t write an internet blog like you would a private diary entry, for example. Or you might be moving from school to university, or university to the working world, and experiencing the imperative to evolve as a writer as well as a person. It is this last writer to whom I particularly recommend this book.

I have personally struggled with the step up from school to university writing. It is a transition that leads to anxiety. Be more mature, be more sophisticated. Be “better”. While university is the place to improve and mature, a better writer grows, not by anxiously reaching, but by exploring and experimenting. Don’t be bogged down by the “rules” of writing as they were dogmatically put to you in the early years of education. Respect the rules, of course, but don’t be afraid to challenge them. Verlyn Klinkenborg is emphatic on this point. “And yes, you may begin a sentence with ‘but.’” (119)

(From here-on, I shall refer to the author as VK. Younger readers: feel free to insert drinking puns.)

A revised brief description: this book is for the reader who is struggling to find her voice.

good and bad points

I am loath to tritely fulfil this requirement.  I shall rather offer a few points of interest:

On VK’s style: he really does practise what he preaches. Expect many short sentences about writing.

Don’t be precious about clichéd notions of “what it is to be a writer”. In fact, don’t be precious about clichés, full stop.

“A cliché is dead matter.
It causes gangrene in the prose around it, and sooner or later it eats your brain.” (45)

He isn’t a romantic. There will be no coddling.

VK follows the recent trend of using “her” as the generic pronoun in his text. I’m trying it out. I still find it odd on the ear, but then perhaps I’m antifeminist.

His style isn’t for everyone. He makes no exceptions and allows no excuses.  But he does not patronise you.  His is a clear, forthright voice.  He does not seek to trick or beguile, and though witty at times, his humour is curt at best. Some may find him abrasive, others, refreshing.

At times you will feel like you are back at school. But, as I have already discussed, re-examining the confining and sometimes misleading rules of English school teaching is crucial. This is how you extinguish anxiety and allow your own voice to emerge confidently.

and a couple of pithy quotes.

How about just one:

“You’re holding an audition.
Many sentences will try out.
One gets the part.
You’ll recognize it less from the character of the sentence itself
than from the promise it contains – promise for the sentences to come.” (101)


Reference:

Klinkenborg, V. Several short sentences about writing (New York: Vintage Books, 2013)

Further Reading:

“Several Short Sentences About Writing” Reviewed by Vinton Rafe McCabe (New York Journal of Books, 2012)

En Route to The Big Apple: This is your Captain Speaking…

It was all going swimmingly: luggage within weight limit, ESTA approved, breezed through security without a hitch, arrived at the departure gate, queued, boarded, and then…

“Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I’m sorry to announce that we are being held at the gate by air traffic control due to weather conditions. There is a storm in our departure path and we may be held up to 90 minutes. That’s an hour and a half. We apologise for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and co-operation.”

A couple of observations: firstly, how all customer announcements include a final comment where-in one’s “patience and co-operation” are a forgone conclusion; secondly, the need to clarify that 90 minutes equals an hour and a half, and that while the mention of the former incurs a low grumble from a small portion of the passengers, the latter is the one that carries the rest into realisation.

About 15 minutes later:

“Blah blah this is your captain blah blah. Just to update you, err… so… we still haven’t heard anything else back from control, so, err… we know as much as you do, so, err… Sorry folks, we’ll keep you posted.”

This is as close to verbatim as I can manage and I assure you I am not exaggerating on the number of “so err’s” that were heard over the tannoy. Hardly a reassuring sound, particularly when coupled with a Southern drawl that really drags out the vowels. So, 90 minutes to waste. What to do… My mp3 – yes, I still use an mp3 – has crapped out on me and the Kindle is without sufficient reading material. Technology has failed me, back to the basics: pen and paper. Time to write a blog!

This is my first solo journey outside of the UK. Well, I say solo, but I’m staying with my uncle in New York. Well, I say uncle, but he’s really an oversized man-child with a bank account. Anyway, essentially my first solo trip and the first time I’ve had to actually organize myself and there is really a lot of administration involved in this holiday business. Firstly, book the flights, scour discount websites, debate seating options etc. Then acquire an ESTA so I can legally enter the country. Then there’s travel insurance, gadget insurance, travel-gadget insurance. Flight itinerary, e-receipt, passport, insurance policy – I need a lever-arch just for my travel documents!

And packing is a palaver too. Only 100ml bottles and only 850ml in total. No aerosols, exotic fruits or fireworks – bit excessive really. Make sure all your electrical devices are charged so they can check they aren’t bomb timers or porn hubs. And what counts as a sharp object these days? Will the plug on my laptop charger upset the x-ray scanners? My notebook has a metal ring binder that could potentially be fashioned into a weapon. Security restrictions suddenly make me paranoid about every item with the slightest hint of mental in my luggage and on my person. It turns out that, of course, I was worrying for no reason and came through security unscathed and unfondled. This may have something to do with being white, female, English and distinctly middle class. But then perhaps I’m being cynical.

Beyond security, however, lies a magical land. A glittering sign greets me as I enter departures: World Duty Free. The fluorescents sparkle just a little brighter here and the air is filled with the scent of discount eau de toilette. From my experience, there are two items you will find in abundance in any duty free zone: perfume and Toblerone. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because the mark-up on these items is the most ridiculous. After all, how much can it really cost to produce aromatic water and prism shaped chocolate? International and tax-free, I am nowhere and everywhere, just on the cusp of adventure. (I may be romanticising the situation slightly.)

Continue reading

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Silliness with a Hint of Genius

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: a month wherein an entire city is transformed into a performer’s playground.  Any and every free space in which an audience can be squeezed, will be squeezed. Magic, performance art, circus acts, dance, music, theatre, comedy… basically, much like Rule 34, if something exists, there will be somewhere to see it in Edinburgh.

Besides being the biggest arts festival in the world, it is also the festival of needless accessories, vibrant hairstyles and one too many piercings. If you’ve ever tried to spot an arts student on a university campus, you’ll know the kind of fashion choices I mean. It’s the kind of fashion choice that screams “I’m quirky, deal with it! And I don’t care that my interesting accessory is by all counts more of a hindrance to everyday life than it is visually appealing!” (NB: I am in no way exempting myself from this. I love a good hat.) The Fringe represents the height of individualism, collected and concentrated into a few hundred square miles of incredibly uneven ground. Seriously, there are hills everywhere and, by the end of the Fringe, your calves will be toned to perfection.

However, a word of advice: the Fringe is not a holiday, it is an expedition into virgin territory.

  • More often than not, it’s an uphill struggle.playfair sun(These are the Playfair Steps, but I assure you, they do not.)
  • You’ll experience every weather condition known to man.

playfair snow

  • It has its own cuisine and music.
  • It has its own social rules
  • …and wildlife.edfringe blog 1_2 Don’t expect to get time for yourself at the Ed Fringe either. Do expect complete strangers – I might even say “weirdoes” – to wonder up to you and wave a flyer in your face. Everyone needs to rustle up an audience, and you could be it. You will be flyered.  There is no No-Flyer Zone. Don’t resist it, embrace it. Flyerers embody the spirit of the Fringe as much as the performers. And don’t even try to avoid us, or oppose us, for we are many. The methods with which you will be harassed are multifarious, all of them geared in the hope of persuading you to take a flyer:
  1. The Flirt
    • A classic approach for sales and advertising – sex sells. The flirty flyerer will casually sidle up to you as you walk along, act cool and confident and will wait up to 5 minutes before revealing their true intentions.
  2. Hit them with Happy
    • My personal approach to flyering is most akin to this: attempting to be each individual’s Joy Bringer.  This might involve offering a free hug, a compliment, a little song and dance and generally making a fool of yourself as long as it brings a smile to someone’s face.  Some even offer free sweets to seal the deal.
  3. The Pretentious Poser
    • Take an acoustic guitar, a flamboyant costume and strike an excessively sincere pose – a flyer in one hand, your wrinkled brow in the other. This method seemed to gain popularity in the early days of the Fringe, I speculate because it is an approach that appeals to the pretentious, the posy and the lazy (three prominent characteristics of the arts community).
  4. The Nutter (ultimate confidence required)
    • For those who don’t give a flyering fringe… Definitely trying too hard with that pun.
  5. Lost the Will to Leaflet
    • Already been stood out on the Royal Mile every day for over a week, trying to palm off the same bloody pile of flyers that doesn’t seem to get any smaller?  Then this is the method for you. Be lack-lustre, dull, uninspiring and don’t you dare think about picking up a thesaurus.
  6. The Onomatopoeic Opener
    • This is my personal favourite, and a method that successfully captured my attention. Simply present your flyer and, as you do so, make a whimsical yet intriguing noise.  Silliness with a hint of genius – which should be the tagline for the festival.

Talking of taglines:

“Unboring. That’s the word you’ll find splashed over the front cover of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme … It’s not actually a word at all, of course. You’ll find it in the Urban Dictionary – ‘a word used by people with no vocabulary’ … Unboring is unsightly, ungrammatical and uninspiring; utterly unworthy of the Edinburgh Fringe.” (Matt Trueman, The Stage, June 26th 2014)

Unboring? No. Exhilarating, yes. Exhausting, yes. Exaggerated? Certainly not.

You should go.

Ps.  Go see my production – A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Two Tired! Shakespeare plus Scooby Doors equals an hour of hilarity you won’t want to miss!

Get tickets by clicking HERE!

Or here… https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/483169-a-midsummer-nights-dream-two-tired/

…. Once a flyerer, always a flyerer.

Self-Help Books – The Marmite of Literature

For someone as stubbornly independent as myself, the idea of reading a self-help book is somehow an insult to my intelligence. (Note: Stubborn independence is also another way of saying I like to think I’m cleverer than perhaps I actually am.)  Self-help books carry a certain stigma for a not inconsiderable portion of society. There are those, on the other hand, that swear by them and attribute much of their happiness and success to such books.  Self-help books are the Marmite of literature. To demonstrate this point, I typed the following phrase into a few popular search engines: “self help books are…” Take a look at the most common suggestions:

yahoo self help 2 google self help 2bing self help 2

While Yahoo offers some more positive options, the overwhelming negativity of Google users (incidentally the more popular search engine) is hard to ignore. And Bing users follow the Google crowd (unsurprisingly), though with a somewhat underwhelming use of vocabulary.

So, why don’t we like self-help books? As for my personal reasons, I have already mentioned one: I think I’m too clever and too independent to need advice on how to live my life from a book. In addition, the popularly negative opinion of the genre results in a sense of shame and embarrassment when choosing to buy or read such books.  In truth, while reading my newly bought copy of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers on the train earlier today, as the ticket conductor approached, my initial instinct was to hide the thing, throw it onto the adjoining seats and pretend it had been there long before I boarded, or else attempt to flush it down the train toilet – though such plumbing is often barely able to cope with the passing of its usual contents, let alone a whole book. In any case, association with such literature was to be avoided if at all possible – or so I thought. Continue reading

Selling Myself

About 4 years ago, I went through UCAS and encountered the innocuously named ‘Personal Statement’. Innocuous, it is not. For any of you who have gone through UCAS, you will know that it becomes the bane of your life. How do you sum up your life, your ambitions and your accomplishments in 4,000 characters – or 47 lines of text (including spaces)? Hours are spent poring over the 47 lines that can determine the success or failure of your university application. We must all learn to sell ourselves if we are to succeed.

And do you know what’s even more annoying? From that day forward, there will always be personal statements. Job applications, and pretty much any application for that matter, have sections dedicated to this same hideous task, reincarnated with titles such as “About Me” and “Tell us a little bit about yourself”. It is one of the most frustrating things you will ever write and not just because there is so much you will want to say and find the character counter thwarting you at every turn. The greatest frustration, for me at least, is maintaining what I have dubbed the ‘Confidence Equilibrium’.

Image(Not my best drawing so far.)

When you are applying for a job, or for a place at university, or pretty much anything, you cannot be modest – and this goes for both written applications and interviews. When you are being asked to sell yourself, you can never, in fact, be yourself. There is a version of yourself you are required to present, and not necessarily a version you would like to be. The applicant must balance their account of themselves carefully so as to not tip the see-saw too far in either direction. Drifting to the left side – excessive modesty – means you fail to demonstrate any confidence in your own skills, and if you don’t believe in yourself, why would a potential employer? On the other hand, drifting to the right – excessive self-confidence – appears like arrogance and any notes your interviewer makes on his mysterious clipboard as he analyses you may well read “egotistical ass”, and no one wants to work with one of them either.  So, how to achieve that illusive middle ground? It is attempting to master this skill that will haunt you throughout interviews in your young adult life.

“What is your biggest flaw?” This question is the bread and butter of interviewers, bread and butter that forms the tasty treat in a wildlife trap, luring in anxious interviewees. If you are honest about your flaws then you are in danger of taking yourself out of the running completely. You could go with “Do you know, I just can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I guess I’m just that good,” followed by an awkward attempt at laughter. Or you could go with the classic: say a flaw that isn’t really a flaw. Instead take this opportunity to present another positive about yourself, but in order to appear like you are still answering the question, present it negatively. “I’m just too much of a perfectionist”. This is simply false modesty by any other name and those who employ this tactic are, to my mind, cheating. If there is a right answer to this question, I haven’t found it yet.

Once I graduate, I will be faced with a sea of applications, interviews and auditions – I’m going to try and be an actress, I don’t think I’ve mentioned that yet – and I will be trying to sell myself. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If any of you have employed any of these or your own interview/application tactics I’d be interested to know how it turned out! Leave comments below! Thanks for reading!

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Mind Splurge – A definition

(Warning: This post contains juxtapositional comedy. And boobies.)

Splurge (OED): An ostentatious display or effort. Also in phr. to cut a splurge , to make an ostentatious display.

I do this in literary form. Boom. Done.

… well not quite done. It’s also delightfully onomatopoeic. And I would like to think I offset any “ostentatious” wordiness with my commitment to immaturity. Poo, fart, bottom, boobies, willies, giggidy, oink, moo, pants… *spin around till you fall over*.

Making it up as I go along (aka Splurge No. 2)

These blogs are not going to be thought out. They will be spontaneous ramblings, or – to use a pretentious literary term – extempore creations. Thank you university! That sort of language is also to be expected, but I hope it won’t put off too many of you. I will not be spending extensive amounts of time planning these entries, but making it up as I go along. Again, if you want to be pretensious about it, then my writing style will reflect my lifestyle. I am making it up as I go along. I’m still getting out of the habit of writing academic essays, so it is slightly artsy notions such as those just expressed that may pop up unexpectedly and blogging is a creative outlet for those tendencies.

These blogs will take the form of mind splurges. And this is splurge No. 2. Splurge. I like that word…

My mind splurges also tend to end abruptly.

Ps. If anyone would like to splurge back, I welcome comments, responses etc.

Image

How do I do this?

Pandora's Envelope

Ok, so, I have decided to write a blog.

I have never written a blog.

That is unless you count some delightfully over-formatted myspace entries when I was 11, back when the most exciting thing you could do with online text was to go from austere Times New Roman to the playful Comic Sans that fills one with a sense of childish middle class rebellion. There was no demand to say something interesting or funny or intelligent or even legible back then. There was only the delightfully innocent notion of telling people about yourself.

And myspace was only the beginning. Since then, autobiographical media produces a daily onslaught of statuses, tweets, videos, pictures, blogs. As everyone pours the minutiae of their lives onto the LCD screens in front of them, we are creating our own online world. With clouds floating above and birds tweeting in every tree, it’s something of an edenic image wouldn’t you say?

The purpose of this blog is, for me, to some extent, to hold back the tide of real life just a little bit longer.

By the end of July of this year, I will no longer be a student. I will have completed my English Literature degree at university and will have to enter Real Life. Something of a daunting prospect for me, since it has always been my goal to never grow up. It is my hope that writing as I go will help to abait my trepidation as Real Life glimmers at the edge of the horizon.

So, here goes… Geronimo.