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Writing Without Distracting November 5, 2015

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Humor, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

220px-Arthur-Pyle_The_Enchanter_MerlinDiversity of vocabulary and a playful turn of phrase add depth and flavor when they complement the prose without distracting from the missive.

That said, writers who douse paragraph after paragraph with lexicon that is not a natural part of their vocabulary remind me of cooks who over-season food rather than letting it speak for itself.

When a writer writes with thesaurus in hand to impress readers with a depth of vocabulary not possessed in common measure, I lose interest and turn my attention elsewhere.

Not that I’m missed.

Aah . . . that’s better!

But what does our distinguished panel of experts have to say?

Woodstock-&-SnoopyJohn D. MacDonald: My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly.

Blaise Pascal: Anything that is written to please the author is worthless.

Marianne Moore: Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.

Samuel Johnson:  Read over your compositions and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

SnoopyAlfred North Whitehead: A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course, if others like it, that is clear gain.  But if those ten are satisfied, he is content.

Mickey Spillane:  Those big shot writers . . . could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar.


Grace Metalious: I’m a lousy writer; a helluva lot of people have got lousy taste.

Snoopy2John Hall Wheelock:  Most writers are in a state of gloom a good deal of the time; they need perpetual reassurance.

Georges Simenon:  Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness.

Peter De Vries:  I love being a writer.  What I can’t stand is the paperwork.

Related post:  Defending the Chamois (Silver in the Barn)



1. Rainee - November 5, 2015

In my work writing about real estate I continually seek help from the thesaurus. There are many ways to say big: spacious, roomy, a good size, generous, substantial …. :-).

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Haha! Good example of how handy dandy a Thesaurus can be. They do have their uses.

Now that the Tiny House movement is picking up steam, maybe you’ll be turning to a different page of your Thesaurus!

2. Jill Weatherholt - November 5, 2015

Love the Spillane quote, Nancy. I don’t care to be reminded there’s a writer telling the story.

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Yes! That’s it, Jill. When the vocabulary is an obstacle course (or minefield), it interrupts the flow. Instead of me and a book, the story teller is claiming center stage . . . and blocking my view.

3. livelytwist - November 5, 2015

Ha ha ha, conflicting recommendations- that’s what we can expect from a bunch of writers XD

But I’m with you… if I need a dictionary to understand most of your writing, you’ve lost me. Yet, on occassion, I’ve been accussed of using “big grammar” 😮 o_O

At the end of the day, I write for people like me.

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

I had fun rounding up this panel of experts! :mrgreen:

I enjoy learning new words if they are sprinkled throughout someone’s writing, adding just the right touch of seasoning. But when a writer dumps an entire pepper mill into a single paragraph, I head toward the EXIT sign.

Your sum up is on point. If we write with an authentic voice, those in our intended audience will stay while others drift away.

4. William D'Andrea - November 5, 2015

As a writer, I want to make my stories and articles as easy to read as possible, so I don’t use “big words”. Whatever anyone wants to say, can be said by using common, everyday speech that everyone understands.
The most important things ever said, or written, are presented in clear simple sentences, that anyone can understand.
For instance, the Ten Commandments are very clear, and easily understood by everyone.
On the other hand, the Declaration of Independence, has very flowery wordage, which one does need a good education, or good 4th Grade Teacher like I had, to understand it.
Then again, Lincoln’s words, “This Nation, of the people, by the people and for the people.” summarizes the Declaration very clearly, and needs no further explanation.

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

If we are writing to communicate from one mind to another, clarity is a virtue. An honest writer will grow proficient in building bridges to understanding, rather than throwing up roadblocks.

5. mrsugarbears - November 5, 2015

My sister tells me I write like I’m talking to her…and I’m okay with that. 🙂 (a lot of run-on sentences are present)

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Run-on sentences (and stream of consciousness pieces) can be fun in short bursts ~> like riding a roller coaster.

After a while, I need a break. A full stop. 😛

mrsugarbears - November 5, 2015

I’m trying to get better about my full stops. It’s wonderful to follow so many great writers, like you. 🙂

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Thanks! I am first and foremost a LAZY writer . . . moving from Point A to Point B with the least amount of effort.

If the words don’t flow with ease, I stop and turn my attention elsewhere. Same thing when cooking.

If it feels like a chore, I don’t do it. 😎

6. Hariod Brawn - November 5, 2015

Opinions seem mixed on this Nancy – Orwell, Strunk & White, et al, on the one hand go for straightforwardness of style, whereas others defend English from the dumbing-down of social and broadcast media. I suppose it depends on the subject matter being dealt with. Good non-fiction often is made more concise and precise with the use of specialist terms, and some contemporary writers of excellent fiction – Will Self being a prime example – will pepper their works with arcane, yet rich, language. As you suggest, writers are free to express themselves as they wish, and any serious author will not allow their potential audience to set the creative rules – their editors may well do so, but not the writers themselves on the whole.

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Yes! Opinions vary from reader to reader and writer to writer.

For me, it boils down to whether the effort expended and the information gleaned balance each other out. The more interesting the subject matter, the more willing I am to read on . . . even when it means maneuvering around arcane obstacles littering the path.

That said, time is precious. We can never hope to read “everything.” For that reason, when a literary path becomes choked with weeds, and I don’t see a suitable pay off on the horizon, I hop on the bus and leave that author in the dust, to be enjoyed (or not) by a different audience.

7. L. Marie - November 5, 2015

Like Jill I love the Spillane quote. I had an advisor who was very frank whenever I was being too “writerly.” “I hate that” she would say. Or “I feel emotionally manipulated.” The phrases might have sounded beautiful. But they lacked heart.

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Frank advice from a wise advisor ~ sounds like you took it to heart since your posts are flowing reads.

As a child/ young adult, I viewed reading as a way to expand my vocabulary. Now, reading is a way to expand my horizons and ENJOY myself. If I’m enjoying a book, I keep reading. If not, I stop.

I tend to steer clear of poetic prose that sounds good and lacks substance ~ I’d rather read a riveting tale that moves along smartly than get mired in gossamer mists and threads leading nowhere.

8. Carol Ferenc - November 5, 2015

Great post, Nancy. Mickey Spillane rocks!

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

I had never come across that quote before. As soon as I saw it, I knew Mickey Spillane belonged on this panel of experts!

9. diannegray - November 5, 2015

I agree with John D. MacDonald, but hey – I’m probably a little selfish when it comes to writing. If I don’t get emotional, excited, scared while I’m reading my own story, how do I expect others to?

Also, the only books I read that have a huge depth of vocabulary are those written by Salmon Rushdie. No one else can get away with it like he can 😉

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

I put John’s quote first for a reason! Writing things we don’t find entertaining would be like cooking meals we don’t want to eat! 😛

10. colonialist - November 5, 2015

I would swat Pascal and Johnson.
One writes what pleases oneself, in the hopes that there are enough like-minded people who will also be pleased. Here, I do not mean the ‘like-minded’ whose habit is to press the ‘like’ button without even reading the piece!
A question arises as to which has the most nutritional value: peanuts or caviare?

nrhatch - November 5, 2015

Here’s to enjoying what we write AND what we read!

The value of peanuts vs. caviar may depend on whether one’s diet lacks any of the essential nutrients offered by each. :mrgreen:

colonialist - November 6, 2015

The fact that I am addicted to peanuts indicates clearly that they are probably extremely bad for one. Being addicted to good stuff seems too much like a contradiction in terms.

nrhatch - November 6, 2015

As far as addictive habits go, yours may be a beneficial one. Peanuts are good for the heart.

The Peanut Gallery

11. Behind the Story - November 5, 2015

I’m with Jill… I like the Mickey Spillane quote. Also the words of Grace Metalious and Nancy Hatch.

nrhatch - November 6, 2015

Thanks, Nicki! I’m in good graces with Grace ~> she’s a lousy writer and I’m a lazy one. 🙄

12. Tiny - November 6, 2015

What about writers like me who write with the thesaurus and Google translator? Hehe.

nrhatch - November 6, 2015

Sometimes I chase after a word that’s on the tip of my tongue but refuses to step out of the shadows ~ especially when it is the PERFECT word for the job.

But I wouldn’t emulate those few writers who go fishing for unfamiliar words designed to impress readers with a depth and breadth of vocabulary they don’t possess.

Tiny - November 6, 2015

I agree, and I’ve seen a few of those. But since English is my 3rd language, I sometimes have the word in my 1st or 2nd language, but the nuance is not right with the first word in English that comes to mind…so it’s great to have some “aids” to get what I want 🙂

nrhatch - November 6, 2015

I forgot (or never knew) that English wasn’t your first language, Tiny. You’re good!

When we look for the right nuance, we do so to enhance communication between writer and reader.

That’s the point of writing, right?

In contrast, some writers hinder communication when they construct unnecessary roadblocks due to their need to show off a wardrobe of words not found in their everyday closet.

13. Pix Under the Oaks - November 6, 2015

I just use Pix Speak… 😀 I can remember in high school when my best gal pal and I were always trying to outdo each other with BIG words. Now I can’t think of what I am going to say next and can’t find the words. I blame it on to living out in the country with only CH to talk to… 😀

nrhatch - November 6, 2015

Pix Speak! Perhaps that’s the normal trajectory ~> a vocabulary which expands in youth and contracts with age.

“In all things, simplify.”

Pix Under the Oaks - November 6, 2015


14. Debra - November 8, 2015

This brought back memories of middle school and to some degree high school. I DID use the thesaurus to find words that would impress! I suspect that I often substituted words that I hoped would wow the teachers but I probably sacrificed clarity of meaning! I think overly ornate writing is very tiring to read and isn’t particularly impressive. Maybe I say that because I know the tricks. 🙂

nrhatch - November 8, 2015

Haha! You tricky rabbit! Overloaded writing is tiring to read because it sounds wrong, not at all the way someone would speak using their own vocabulary.

I love it when the “right word” floats into consciousness of its own accord. If it’s peeking or peering around the edges without darting into view (“give me a minute, give me a minute, it’s right on the tip of my tongue”), I’ll send out a search party. If it insists on playing “hide and seek,” I call an understudy into play. :mrgreen:

15. jannatwrites - November 8, 2015

I agree, especially in fiction, natural conversational words are better than the artificially selected ones. Some people employ more complicated words in their regular vocabulary, but I’m not one of them 🙂

nrhatch - November 8, 2015

When I read, having to refer to a dictionary every few feet detracts from the journey. Too many potholes spoils the tale!

16. Val Boyko - November 8, 2015

Great post Nancy – and the quotes say it all!
I remember so clearly my first year at University and the lecturer said my essay would have been good if I hadn’t been so verbose.
So I went and looked up the word … and then decided from then on to keep everything to the point. 😊

nrhatch - November 8, 2015

Haha! There’s a time and place for verbosity . . . e.g., when you are being paid by the word (or have to write a 25,000 word thesis).

Being a lazy writer has its advantages ~> I’m always inclined to take the shortest route from A to B.

17. BunKaryudo - November 9, 2015



nrhatch - November 9, 2015

That’s a fun word!

BunKaryudo - November 9, 2015

I had to look it up to make sure I was spelling it properly, though. 🙂

nrhatch - November 9, 2015

You spelled it ably . . . without a doubt!

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