Fear is the worst thing that can happen to anyone who hopes to create.
Fear prevents the painter from painting, and he forces the writer to edit himself literally to death.
Barbara de Angelis wrote an excellent treatise on Fear: [image credit Amazon]
“Imagine that you had a person in your life who followed you around twenty-four hours a day, filling you with anxiety, destroying your confidence, and discouraging you from doing the things that you wanted to do. Every time you were about to make a change or take a risk, the person would say, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. What if you fail? What if you get hurt? All kinds of things might happen if you go in that direction.’ Imagine that before each conversation you had with friends, family, or loved ones, the person would pull you aside and caution you. ‘If you open up, you might get rejected. Watch what you say! Don’t trust anyone! . . . ” Barbara De Angelis
Fearful writers face an abundance of problems that I have discussed before, but in his book On Writing, Stephen King reminds us of another set of problems caused by fearful writing–the problems associated with timidity. He begins by saying that time writers make the mistake of using passive verbs:
“Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. [p. 122].
. . .
“The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with; the subject just has to close its eyes and think of England, to paraphrase Queen Victoria. I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a majesty.
. . .
“The timid fellow writes The meeting will be held at seven o’clock….Purge this quiggling thought! Don’t be a muggle! Throw back you shoulders, stick out your chin, and put that meeting in charge! Write The meeting’s at seven. There, by God! Don’t you feel better?
. . .
“You should avoid the passive tense….Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa is a fair way to put this, although ‘was carried’ and ‘was placed’ still irk the shit out of me…. What I would embrace is Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa. Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It’s dead, for Christ’s sake! [p.123].
. . .
“The writer threw the rope, not The rope was thrown by the writer. Please oh please.
. . .
“Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously, it is the voice of little boys wearing shoepolish mustaches and little girls clumping around in Mommy’s high heels. With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
“Consider the sentence. He closed the door firmly. It’s by [p. 124] no means a terrible sentence…but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there.
. . .
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s–GASP!!–too late.
. . .
“Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:
‘Put it down! she shouted.
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said.
“In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions: [p. 125]
‘Put it down! she shouted menacingly.’
‘Give it back,’ he pleaded abjectly, ‘it’s mine.’
‘Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,’ Utterson said contemptuously.’
. . .
“Such dialogue attributions are sometimes known as ‘Swifties,’ after Tom Swift, the brave inventor-hero in a series of boys’ adventure novels… ‘Do your worst!’ Tom cried bravely and ‘My father helped with the equations,’ Tom said modestly.’
. . .
“Some writers try to evade the noo-adverb rule by shooting the attribution verb full of seroids. The result is familiar to any reader of pulp fiction or paperback originals:
‘Put down the gun, Utterson!’ Jekyll grated.
‘Never stop kissing me!’ Shayna gasped.
‘You damned tease!’ Bill jerked out.’ [p. 126]
“Don’t do these things. Please oh please.”
. . .
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.
. . .
“Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. [p. 127
. . .
“Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” – Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 122-128.
Stephen King is a prolific writer, and he is anything but timid. I do believe that his favorite word is “fart.” See my previous post that recounts his story about the babysitter Eula who was prone to farting on his head. Here: http://jackikellum.com/?s=Stephen+King+Eula After sharing a poorly written Shayna line, King said the following: “Oh, man–who farted, right?” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 123.
When I wrote the Eula-Beulah post, I said that I personally am a bit of a prude, and I wouldn’t typically use the word “fart” in writing. I admitted, however, that King made his point, and I believe that the same is true in the advice offered above. Stephen King he tells us to do what Dumbo did. He tells us to stop quiggling and mugglilng and to Just Jump. We don’t need the magic feathers that we seem to feel naked without. We simply need to Jump.
©Jacki Kellum September 22, 2016