Month: March 2014

Feeling Freelance Frustrated: 2 Websites To Cheer You Up

The writers, graphic designers, or freelance editors I meet always have some “great” client stories, the ones that make you shake your head or ‘facepalm’ as you listen. If you’re frustrated with freelancing and you want to share your story, or you just want to read some funny ones, these are 2 websites to cheer you up when you’re feeling freelance frustrated.

The first is Clients from Hell, which collects stories (anonymously) from graphic designers and their conversations with clients. My favorites include one where the client refuses payment after the designer finishes the project, because he thought that being “freelance” meant working for free. Or the quote about deadlines and the change in payment plan, or the quote about mistaking Lorem Ipsum for Spanish (especially because this happened to me with a client who told me, “I don’t think you should be using Spanish in my website just because I didn’t give you what I wanted to put there yet.”

The second website has been around for awhile, but if you haven’t heard of it, it’s David Thorne’s site (a reference to one of the innumerable forms you had to fill out in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) and it records his dealings with clients and unfortunate strangers who happen to contact him. One of his most famous, and the first I read of his, was an email chain where he tries to pay off an overdue charge with a drawing of a spider. If you’ve ever felt frustrated yet too polite or reserved to do anything about it, reading some of his responses can help you, momentarily, live vicariously through him. Such as his response to his neighbor’s new floodlight in his driveway.

If you have other humorous sites like these, please share them in the comments section!

10 Reasons Why Writers Might Use Words You Don’t Know

Bigwords_602x292Sometimes readers ask, “Why do writers use words that I don’t know? Why don’t they just use simple words to appeal to a wider audience? Why do they insist upon using SAT words when all it does it make me not want to read the work.”

As a writer and as someone who swims in words and loves them, I’m always going to be more empathetic to the writer. I believe more that it’s up to the reader to challenge his/her vocabulary and read things that do have interesting or unknown words in them. Why not discover a new word while you’re reading?

However, there are also arguments for using words the reader knows, or using the words you want to use, regardless of how popular or long they are. As a response to William Faulkner’s jib that Hemingway “… has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,” Hemingway responded:

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler words, and those are the ones I use.”

So in case you’re interested in some reasons you might hear from writers, here are 10 reasons why writers might use words you don’t know.

10. That’s the way the character talks.

If your character is the type of guy who uses “10-dollar words” or has two PhDs and loves using difficult words, then when he speaks, he’s going to use words the reader might not understand. The good news is that if this is the case, another character might be as put-off as the reader, and call the character out.

9. Some writers aren’t looking for a “broader audience.”

While some writers might be out to become rich and famous, many write because that’s what they do – they’re writers. And if the story or character they are creating demands certain words, then those are the words the writers are going to use, despite what that means for an audience.

8. Because words matter.

This is the idea that while many words could convey similar meanings, the idea that two words are exactly synonymous if often misunderstood. And sometimes the word a writer uses is the exact right word for that situation, and any other would be close, but not exactly right. And as Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

7. Language and ideas are meant to be complex.

Life isn’t simple. It’s messy and complex, and the situations and ideas that you encounter can be complicated and difficult to understand. So sometimes complex language is needed to explain a complex situation. Maybe the word “excitement” might work in a certain situation, but what if the word “fervor” was more apt? What if it was more appropriate and more effective at conveying what the writer is trying to say? Words have connotations, subtlety and nuance.

6. The writer is being true to the character or story.

Similar to noting that some characters might speak a certain way, even if you’re describing a character or her inner thoughts, if you substitute a word for the one you really want to use, just because you’re afraid your reader might not “get it” then you’re not being true to your characters or yourself.

5. Whose vocabulary is the right vocabulary?

A reader who might not know what the word “pensive” means but knows the word “hesitant” might be reading the same book as a reader who doesn’t know either words (or someone who knows both). So whose vocabulary should the writer write towards? What list of “general, simple, and non-confusing words” should the writer reference when writing?

4. The reader can (and perhaps should) learn new words.

I touched upon this in the introduction, but instead of “blaming” the writer for being pretentious or confusing or not empathetic to the reader, why not argue instead that the reader should change, not the writer? A reader can learn new words and increase her vocabulary, and then perhaps have a greater understanding of why the writer chose that particular word instead of another.

3. Some writers feel no “obligation” to create a simple message and might want to challenge the reader.

A famous example is James Joyce, who during his time was both widely criticized and dismissed for writing books that even he once joked “no one can understand,” still continued to write them, without bending to the opinions of others.

2. A writer is an artist.

A writer, like a musician or an artist, is creating something, and just like Mozart’s music might not be accessible to some, it can still be appreciated. Like some poetry, sometimes it’s about hearing the words or appreciating the beauty of the phrasing, and if you took that away, you’d be taking away what the writer was trying to create.

1. Writers love words.

Some writers have been writing, professionally or on their own, for years before they get published. Most writers are avid readers as well, and almost all have a love of words. Writers love words. They are their tools and their passion, and they are what they think about and see and use every day. So like any expert in a field, writers have words they are more familiar with, or words they enjoy, or words they love and want to share, and that is why they choose to use a certain word at a certain place, and no other word will do.

10 Best Writing Prompt Websites

Writing prompts can help break through serious writer’s block, or help you take a mental break from your current project. Here are the 10 best writing prompt websites I’ve found online.

1. Timothy McSweeney’s 13 Writing Prompts

2. Luke Neff’s Writing Prompts – these are my favorite!

3. Poets & Writers Writing Prompts (The Time is Now)

4. Pen USA Writing Prompts

5. Writer’s Digest Writing Prompts

6. Single Word Writing Prompts

7. Reddit’s Writing Prompts

8. Creative Writing Prompts

9. Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck

10. And then yes, this isn’t online, but in case you want to buy a book… 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts: Volume 2

Passages to Inspire Your Writing

HelpfulTips_580x281Maybe the Los Angeles rain has put me in a contemplative mood, but I’ve been diving into passages and quotes lately, as they always help inspire me in my own writing. I find it helps sometimes to study and read passages to inspire your writing. They can not only be a reminder of how to write, but of what to write and why we write as well.

On Quora (I love Quora) recently, there was a question listed, “What is the best passage you’ve ever read and why?”

Here are a few of my favorites from the answers. I hope reading and studying their structure inspires you as it did me:

“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of you life you have something and the loss is too empty to share.”

– Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves


“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

– From The Elements of Style by Strunk and White


“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Gary Provost


“I realize that people still read books now and some people actually love them, but in 1946 in the Village our feelings about books–I’m talking about my friends and myself–went beyond love. It was as if we didn’t know where we ended and books began. Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn’t simply read books; we became them. We took them into ourselves and made them into our histories. While it would be easy to say that we escaped into books, it might be truer to say that books escaped into us. Book were to us what drugs were to young men in the sixties.

They showed us what was possible. We had been living with whatever was close at hand, whatever was given, and books took us great distances. We had known only domestic emotions and they showed us what happens to emotions when they are homeless. Books gave us balance–the young are so unbalanced that anything can make them fall. Books steadied us; it was as if we carried a heavy bag of them in each hand and they kept us level. They gave us gravity.”

– Anatole Broyard, Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir

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