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A Word in Your Eye

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...

My brother-in-law and my sister tell me they want to write a book. And they asked me for some advice. Why not? I’ve had several books published.

Though perhaps a vain person—people say I live in vain—I haven’t used vanity publishers. (There’s enough vanity in this world.) And neither should you. Unless, that is, you want to help someone to con you.

Then I’d suggest that you get as much money as you can and throw it into the sea. That can at least be an amusing way of getting rid of money and, if the tide turns, you have a chance of recouping some of it. There’s no chance of having such amusement and hope by investing in slimy vanity publishing crooks.

Anyway, my advice to my kin on writing a book is the same as I’d give to anyone else: Don’t!

But, if you must, here are a few pointers that are worth thinking about.

Refrain from being intoxicated by the exuberance of your own intellectual verbosity in a profusion of pertinacious, albeit percipient, polysyllables.

That is, don’t try to be smart by using big words.

It doesn’t look smart. It is only helpful when people suffer from insomnia. Even then, the terror of hearing such drivel can keep some people off their sleep.  At all times it is, at least, intensely annoying.

It is possible, or that is to say, highly probable, or at least probable in most circumstances, that whenever you want to say (and by say I also mean write or express yourself either orally or verbally) anything of value that you should not, as it were, beat around the proverbial bush whenever, basically, you should (or even simply could) at best, simply get right to what it is that needs (or even not necessarily needs but is preferable) to put it another way, stated in a perfunctory manner.

In other words, get right to the point and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll bore people.

People have much better things to do than get bored. Do you like it when people bore you? No? Then do to others as you’d want them to do to you.

Prefieres no escribir en Espanol o a’bhruin ann’s a’ghadlig, er le Francais, o espanol or en Deutschlander, et hoc genus omne.

Keep to English words!

Or, as I used to teach, “Prefer the Saxon word to the Latin or Greek one.”

Much intellectual and academic literature is full of words of Latin and Greek roots, if not actual Latin and Greek words themselves.

This never works in any kind of writing.

You might say, “What about Joyce’s Ulysses?

I’d reply, “That’s why Ulysses the most famous book that hardly anyone’s ever read.”

Irish writers almost have a tradition for laughing at their readers—Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Flann O’Brien, Brendan Behan, &c. Joyce, I’m sure, was keeping up that tradition.

Anyway, it’s been done.

Joyce did it twice with his even more obscure book Finnegans Wake. Yup, without the apostrophe—because he was making it the plural of Finnegan! Even less people have read FinnegansWake!

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called Miracles. Strange that he didn’t mention either of those books in it as it’s a miracle that either of them got into print.

Unless you are highly entertaining and witty, heed the above three warnings.

Even if you are entertaining and witty still avoid them.

Trying to show your academic, intellectual or linguistic prowess does not impress anyone. I have nothing against intellectual writing. It has its place. And that’s usually in the dustbin.

I really used to love reading Francis Schaeffer’s books. I thought his knowledge on the visual arts, literature, music, philosophy and culture in general was impressive and I thought his views and critiques on them were more worthy of note than  any other writers’ I’d read pontificating in any of those realms.

Amazingly, he was actually a theologian.

Whenever I’d try to get friends interested in his work, few could understand him. I thought it very sad. I thought they were missing out on so much.

The problem was that great communicator as Schaeffer was, he couldn’t communicate with the average Joe or Jane in the avenue.

A pity because, had he been able to, I’m sure he’d have been a great influence in changing many folk’s lives for the better. He certainly enriched mine.

So the whole purpose of writing it first is to communicate. That’s a two-way dual carriageway. Okay if you feel you have a mission to commune only with intellectuals and academics. Then go for it.

And another thing is to avoid clichés like people with aids and, therefore, not the plague.

But if you want to communicate with most people, write as if you’re actually talking to someone you like and respect. Try thinking of your granddad or granny when you write. You don’t have to impress such a person. You wouldn’t want to.

You write with respect when you treat someone as if they are intelligent. That means you write intelligently. You don’t need pretentious or flowery language.

Make sure your grammar and your punctuation are spot on or your writing will seem amateurish. It will actually appear quite ridiculous if you are trying to appear intellectual and you don’t understand how to write with correct grammar or punctuation.

Now here I can help:

I have come up with two Kindle books called Speak and Write Grammatically – The Fastand Easy way  and Punctuation Made Incredibly Simple. There are no grammatical or technical terms to learn. The techniques in these books are simplicity themselves. They’ll put your English on a par with any academic’s in a matter of weeks—or days depending on your own effort and enthusiasm.

So, impressing tactics in writing very rarely impress. They actually mostly depress!

So does going on too long. That’s why I’m stopping here.


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