Monday, February 17, 2014

Dump those Qualifiers and Modifiers

One insight from  Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones has already affected how I write. Here it is:

"In the early seventies there was a study done on women and language that affected me deeply and also affected my writing. One of the things the study said was that women add on qualifiers to their statements. For instance, [...] 'I like this, don't you?' In their sentence structure women were always looking for reinforcement for their feelings and opinions. They didn't just make statements and stand behind them: 'This is beautiful.' 'This is terrible.' They needed encouragement from outside themselves. (By the way, what they found to be true for women they also mentioned was true for minorities.)
Another thing women did in their speech was to use a lot of words like perhaps, maybe, somehow. Indefinite modifiers. For instance, 'Somehow it happened.' As though the force were beyond understanding and left the woman powerless. 'Maybe I'll go.' Again, not a clear assertive statement like 'Yes, I'll go.'
The world isn't always black and white. A person may not be sure if she can go some place, but it is important, especially for a beginning writer, to make clear, assertive statements. 'This is good.' 'It was a blue horse.' Makings statements is practice in trusting your own mind, in learning to stand up with your thoughts.
[...]
Don't carry the fog out on paper. Even if you are not sure of something, express it as though you know yourself. With this practice you eventually will." (p. 85 & 86)

Sure enough, I love using modifiers like "a bit" or "perhaps," especially in blog posts! Sometimes they are justified, but often they are not. So now I am trying to rid myself of that habit. I shall see what that will do. Perhaps (!) it will lead to clearer writing. It reminds me of my first MFA class, when the (male!) professor gave us a list of words not to use. Among them was "very." "Either something is blue, or it's not blue," he said. "Either you're sad, or you're not sad. If you're more than sad, find a different word."

Yes, sir!

14 comments:

  1. Hi Annette! Great post! I love that book by Natalie Goldberg. It's one of the books I own about the craft of writing and I go back to it often. It's also one of a few books that I allowed myself to highlight sentences!

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    1. Becky, thanks for commenting. It's wonderful to have a few books on writing that are old friends.

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  2. Excellent advice here. Getting rid of those 'extras' nearly always makes for a stronger piece. Hard to do at times, however.

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  3. Yet another thing to look for when I finally get around to editing my WIP. Thanks for adding to my list. It will make my work stronger and more impactful.

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    1. Jennifer, one does need to have such a list for final polishing! This will definitely go on mine as well.

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  4. Perhaps... a word that I have to go out of my way to avoid writing.

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    1. William, see, it's not so easy! Plus perhaps is a great word.

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  5. I remember learning about that in college, but haven't thought about it in years. Great reminder. Someone teased me that I say "right?" at the end of every sentence. I didn't notice it myself then, I wonder if I still do it now? Probably. Right? ;)

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    1. Steph, my kids say "right" all the time, but with extra emphasis on the "I" so if you're still doing it, you're still "in."

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  6. I really needed to be reminded of this, I think. Seriously, I'm printing it out and tacking it to the bulletin board. Or perhaps my forehead.

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    1. Irene, good to hear from you. Once in a while we need reminders like this.

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  7. Great post! (No qualifiers!) I have kind of been very guilty of using some qualifiers sometimes. I don't know-- I mean, what do y'all think? It's can be too easy at times to almost slip into that linguistic security blanket, right?
    ((Seriously tho~ great post, definitely something to be conscious of.))

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    1. L.L. - great job at littering your comment with qualifiers! I think you gave me the idea for a writing assignment, an exercise in what not to do.

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