Friday, June 15, 2012

From The Mailbag

The last time I opened my mailbag on this blog the world changed, so I thought I'd do it again. Regular readers (and if you're irregular, they have medications for that now) may remember that my mailbag contains letters I would have received had people known they could write to me to ask me important questions of the day. If people only knew how much I could enlighten them and how much joy I could bring to their lives, the bag would be full, so I'll pretend it it is and ask myself the questions they should have asked. Oh, and if that credit card company realized how much most writers make, their application wouldn't be the only piece of actual mail I got today.

So, without further ado, here goes.

Dear Mr. Ropes,
My friends tell me often that I tend to repeat redundant phrases again and again when I write. I don't know what that means. I try to completely eradicate those pesky pests, but they keep telling me the exact same thing every single time we meet together. I think they are over-exaggerating. Can you help me by spelling out in detail what they mean?
Thank you,
Phil from Roosevelt

Dear P from R:
This is a common problem, one many writers struggle with. You've come to the right place for help, let me assure you. Let's look at your letter, which includes several redundant phrases. "Repeat redundant (whatever) again and again" is almost too obvious to mention, but I guess it's too late for that now. Let's keep looking. Eradicate means to do away with. If something is eradicated, it no longer exists. So there's no reason to put completely before eradicate, which is complete by nature. Likewise, pests are always pesky, exact and same mean the exact same thing (couldn't resist), adding single to every doesn't really add anything except maybe some emphasis, people who meet are always together, and all exaggerations are over-stated, so you can leave off the over. Finally, if something is spelled out, it is already demonstrated in detail.

You can find a lengthy list of many of these phrases online, at

Hey Scott-Dog,
I want to be a writer. I know can put grammarical sentences together good and I liked the book I read back in 4th Grade. My problems is, I can't never come up with a good idea for a story. How do us writers get our ideas?
Lenny from Price

Dear Lenny,
Two things. OK three. First off, if my wife hears me being referred to as a dog, she'll make me stay out back. See, she's a cat person. She doesn't mind dogs, but a dog in a house full of cats is an invitation for trouble. So let's knock off the Scott-Dog business, OK?

Next, ideas. Writers are constantly bombarded with ideas. Sometimes they come in dreams. Sometimes they come from our life experiences. We might see a picture or a news story that triggers an idea, or hear an unusual snippet of conversation. Traveling is another good way to generate ideas, because when you are somewhere new, you usually pay closer attention to your surroundings, opening yourself up to the idea fairy. (Note, Lenny, that the Idea Fairy doesn't actually exist. This is just an expression.) To get an idea of where some writers find inspiration, check out this blog post and be sure to read the comments.

Finally, I recommend to any new writer (and this is by no means meant as a personal criticism of you), that he refamiliarize himself with the rules of grammar and good writing. Many of us start writing seriously long after leaving school, and can use a refresher. There are many ways to do this, but websites such as are a good place to start.

Scott Sweetie,
I was going to do your weekly laundry today but I noticed there were only five pairs of undies for seven days. Sunday and Tuesday are missing. I even looked under your bed. (You should do something about those dust mice.) Did you forget to change, Honey?"
Love, Mom

Mo-o-o-m, how many times have I told you? Not at the office, OK? Geez, mo-o-o-om. Seriously?
Love you, though,
Can we have Pesketti with hot dog chunks for dinner? I love Pesketti with hot dog chunks.

Dear Ms. Rosie,
You see all and know all. As do I. Except for one thing I don't see often enough. I have read many articles about what I should include in the query for my 72,000-word fictional picture story, but I don't hardly ever see anything about what I shouldn't say. Any tips?
Leslie from Draper

Dear Leslie,
We've never actually met, have we? You seem to make a couple incorrect assumptions about me, although you have the see all and know all thing pretty much right.

You are in luck. As it happens, I (coincidentally, can you believe it?) just read a blog post on this very (this very: see first question, above) subject. I refer you once again to the Books and Such blog, which is quickly becoming one of my go-to writing blogs.

1 comment:

Taffy said...

Scott! You're hilarious! Thanks for the smiles today. And I won't say anything about Sunday and Tuesday unmentionables...