Category Archives: Writing

Improve Your Writing Immediately: Synonym Finder

Synonym Finder

Fact: if you use a book so much you repair it with duct tape, it’s a winner.

There are plenty of books on improving your writing, and here’s one that works immediately. It’s more direct than a thesaurus and is instantly applicable for deepening the breadth of your vocabulary in the moment, while you are writing. Whatever word you’re thinking of using, check it out in the ol’ Synonym Finder and you’ll likely find a better one — or at least get to thinking about other possibilities.

Since we all write with our own voices, it’s sometimes helpful to have a tool at the ready to infuse some color when called for, especially in moments of creative befuddlement. I borrowed this copy from my father before leaving for college, and reference it to this day. It’s definitely gotten use, hence the duct tape keeping the cover attached to the spine.

What do you think? Ever use a Synonym Finder? What else do you turn to for writing tools or inspiration? Let us hear from you in the comments.

International Literacy Day

Can you read this? Not everyone can. My own father was an educator for over three decades, many of which specifically involved helping grade school students improve their reading skills. He positively affected many lives this way, something I’m proud to have a tradition of myself, having tutored English as a second language and grammar in college. In that spirit, check out this infographic on international literacy from Grammarly:

Literacy Day

What do you think? Ever worked or volunteered in a reading program? Do you read to your children, or remember being read to as a child? Is there a teacher who impacted your literary/reading interests? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Poetry For A Moment In “The Witness”

The Veteran, by Dorothy Parker:

Plaid

Image: Calsidyrose via Flickr

When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
‘Come out, you dogs, and fight!’ said I,
And wept there was but once to die.

But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.

From the collection Complete Poems

This poem appeared at the end of a fascinating portrait of Michelle Lyons, formerly of the Texas prison system, who witnessed hundreds of executions in her role as head of public information. It’s part of a well-assembled character sketch titled, “The Witness” by Pamela Colloff for Texas Monthly that gives a unique look into some of the nuances of this position. After reading this multi-layered, compelling story (discovered at Longreads), this poem seemed a wholly appropriate inclusion at its end. Check out the entire story here:

The Witness by Pamela Colloff for Texas Monthly

What do you think? Are you a fan of Dorothy Parker’s work? Do you ever enjoy #longreads? What are your thoughts on how time or responsibilities can change a person? Let us hear from you in the comments.

UPDATE: comment from Author Pamela Colloff

In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran – Audiobook Review

I just completed the audio version of In The Pleasure Groove: Love Death and Duran Duran, narrated by John Taylor, bassist and co-founder of Duran Duran.

In The Pleasure GrooveThe band have long been one of my favorites. In fact, the very first record I ever bought with my own money was Seven And The Ragged Tiger. On cassette, of course.

I’ve been into Duran Duran’s music since I was 10 years old, because I like the sound: exotic, upbeat, futuristic, yet with an undeniable groove. It was an older female cousin who turned me onto them and I noticed that girls really liked the band – “those guys must be doing something right,” I thought, and I’ve been following their career and enjoying their music ever since the early ’80s.

John Taylor of Duran Duran

John Taylor of Duran Duran in the ’80s, living the dream. Photo: New York Times

Of course I’m biased as a fan and music lover, but I’ll still say this book was great overall. The initial description of Taylor’s upbringing and childhood seemed long at first, but it’s a relevant setting of context for the ensuing fame story, as we watch this lad from Birmingham navigate punk and disco into new wave and rock, all as a bassist and band member with artistic vision, along with those of his band mates who soon become heartthrobs, almost to their detriment.

Duran Duran Still Rocking

The guys are still at it, recording and touring to this day. Here they are at Coachella in 2011 performing their very first single, “Planet Earth,” and obviously enjoying the thrill. Taylor ends the book with a description of this very moment:

It’s an outdoor festival, so tour manager Craig will not get to give his usual cue to take the house lights down. Tonight, that’s one of God’s jobs. And what a job of it he’s doing. A glittering bauble of sunlight fights to stay above the horizon. A full moon appears – a late-coming VIP that takes a seat above the lighting gantry at 11 o’clock high. Nature presents for us a better light show than any human could ever have created.

My heart is pounding. There’s no better time than this, when I’m about to take stage and the future belongs to me. This is what the moment feels like as I walk out onto the stage one more time. Roger’s drums kick in. An eight-bar count and I’m in with him, the galloping groove that started it all for me. Thirty thousand California kids, eyes and teeth smiling, cameras and cell phones popping, a million tiny seductions all at once. And the music never sounded better.

I would recommend the book to anyone with a passing interest in what it’s like to be a working-class kid who falls in love with music, reaches the height of fame because of it, and handles the aftermath (good and bad) with grace.

What do you think? Ever read a book by a rock star? What were your impressions? Is there any music favorites from your youth the carryover to today? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Lost At Sea by Jon Ronson: A Review

Jon Ronson Lost At SeaI’ve just completed Lost At Sea by British writer Jon Ronson. This is a great compendium of idiosyncratic, engaging stories.

Ronson has appeared several times on This American Life, one of my favorite radio programs. Having already been a fan of Ronson’s stories there and his work elsewhere, and also only now getting into audiobooks, I wondered if I might find some of his work at audible.com. Sure enough, it’s there.

This book, published in 2012, is a collection of stories from the past decade or so, also representing Ronson’s reporting for The Guardian in the U.K. Ronson himself narrates the audio version, which I enjoy because I feel an author is the best narrator equipped to add appropriate emphasis when telling a story.

Stories covered here include: the mysterious case of a girl who disappeared from a Disney cruise; a look at altruistic organ donation; a look at a mismanaged château in France; and interviews with many other quirky yet fascinating characters, including celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne, and the co-founder of neuro-linguistic programming, Richard Bandler. All in all, it’s a fascinating and engaging compendium.

Through each of these stories, Ronson applies his journalistic style with a direct, yet avant-garde approach that keeps the listener hanging on until the next phrase. Since I’m not a fan of long-form novels or fiction writing in particular, opting for well-crafted bursts instead, I found this most enjoyable.

As for my thoughts on the topics here, I found this collection of true life short stories highly absorbing. It’s definitely worth your time if you’re into This American Life or investigative reporting from a personal angle.

Update: Now with Author Comments

Many thanks to Jon, himself for checking out this post via Twitter:

What do you think? Have you ever heard of any of the stories represented here? Let us hear from you in the comments.

A Good Man Is Hard To Find Read by Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor reading her short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”

My all-time favorite author, Flannery O’Connor, reads here one of my all-time favorite stories, A Good Man Is Hard To Find. It’s so interesting to hear the creator of such a widespread work (the story appears in many college “English 101” college compilations) reciting her own creation.

A Southern Accent

5ebf6c0b6f62e8b061fe613ccf3a9177I know many people who sound exactly like this around where I’m from. To me it sounds comforting. And that’s saying quite a bit, considering how disconcerting the subject matter of the story is.

I wonder what O’Connor would have thought of Breaking Bad. If I ever meet Vince Gilligan or any of the writers, I’ll bring this up.

What do you think? Have you ever heard any of your favorite authors reading one of your favorite works? Do you think hearing the words from the person who wrote them affects the interpretation? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Two-Dollar Poems

A typewriter, a cardboard sign, some note paper, a skateboard to sit on — and you’re in business. Met this fellow at Venice Beach offering on-the-spot poetry. He asked for a topic and about a minute later produced a poem. Definitely worth two dollars. I snapped the top photo with Hipstamatic and added solarization via Dynamic Light, combining results in Photoforge2. Also met a photographer for a another blog  there that day as well. Creativity and art abound = cool stuff.

photo 1

Two Dollar Poems, Venice Beach

What do you think? Could you see yourself conducting such an enterprise? Would you support someone doing this? Ever seen this elsewhere? Let us hear from you in the comments.