Today in class, I repeat my new writing slogan: Don’t Waste One Word.
As we finish all the lessons in How to Write with Flair, students know that every single word matters. Each word creates a precise mood and image.
Don’t waste one word. Don’t settle for a weak or imprecise word when you can select a vivid and deliciously specific one.
We juice the sentence down to its best parts. We invite the sentence to do what we know it was meant to do.
I ask students to transform the weak verb into an image and mood-producing verb, and they proceed with flair. Instead of:
The leaves are on the ground.
The leaves garnish the ground. They dance on the ground. They obscure the ground. They even grapple with the ground. And of course, they blanket the ground.
I actually perceive things differently when I don’t waste the verb. This isn’t just writing we’re talking about; it’s living. I want vivid and deliciously specific, right this very moment.
The words–when I don’t waste them–change everything.
How’s your writing life going?
We gather in the kitchen to make the annual Halloween Fruit Platter for the class party. It’s tradition now.
“What if we did a spider shape?” she asks so innocently.
I like it. She loves it. It’s nothing but a foil blob with legs that divide the fruit, and still, she loves it.
I never thought the fruit platter would be so important to my children. I love that the littlest things make a big difference in their lives.
Today, the university shuts down. I receive an email telling me to go home and be safe. In this email, I read this line, “Although we are all important, no one is essential.”
It’s humbling and strange to think about how non-essential we actually are. Over the next few hours, blogs will shut down (not essential), teaching will stop (not essential), meetings won’t happen (not essential), and all the hustle and bustle of downtown commerce will cease (not essential!).
The email communication reminds me we matter deeply, but our activities are simply not essential.
During storms, we pare down to essentials: Go home and be safe. Gather your loved ones in your arms.
Is it hard to know you’re not essential?
Today we–like most everyone else in our community–spend the day becoming storm ready. Hurricane Sandy’s on the way, so we make sure we’re ready with water, food, lanterns, candles, and batteries. We’re also bringing in lawn furniture, propane tanks from the grill, garbage cans, and anything else that high winds might send flying.
We’re storm ready.
The activities of the day comfort us. There’s something about advance warning and preparation that settles me down inside. Of course I’m nervous and praying for folks in coastal towns, but I’m also certain we can survive if we’re wise and work together.
Normally, I like to be “in the moment” and enjoy the beauty and joy in the common thing right before my eyes. But on days like today, I shift my attention to what’s coming. I secure my borders and strengthen my interior with an eye on tomorrow.
It’s wise to keep that dual focus on the now and the yet-to-come. We secure ourselves in the Lord and strengthen our faith for whatever comes against us. We’re storm ready.
We are praying for you folks on the coast tonight!
This morning my husband tells me about an interesting encounter he had during my daughter’s music lesson. While waiting for her turn with her piano teacher, a very old man shuffles into the waiting room. He sits down and carefully pulls out his beautiful violin.
My daughter turns to him to ask if he’s the violin teacher, and he says, “No, I’m a new student.”
My husband finds out that this man–well into his eighties–once played the violin in high school but had lost his skills over his long career as a professor.
Now in retirement, he has time to learn again.
So there he sits with all the little children in the waiting room of the music academy with his violin. He’s the new student, and he’s ready to learn.
Living with flair surely means that we don’t stop learning. Even in our eighties we make it a priority to become a student again.
If you could take a class–any class–what would it be?
I’m losing my voice after my cold, so I write my youngest daughter a note to tell her what she needs to remember to do before bedtime.
She disappears and then comes back to tuck a note into my hand.
Yes. Finish the important things. Do the rest later.
I love learning from children, don’t you?
I was thinking the other day about the millions of acorns on my lawn. What does it take for one little seed to take root and grow into a tall oak? Why aren’t there millions of spouting acorn seeds all over my lawn?
So many don’t survive. They’re eaten. They dry out. They rot. They’re stomped on by our feet. They overheat and lose their germination ability.
But some do survive.
This little seed–one of thousands–will become something huge.
It can live past 400 years. It can grow over 100 feet tall.
I think that all my creative ideas are seeds I toss out to the world. Many won’t survive, but some will.
When I watch this time-lapse video of an acorn turning into an oak tree, I note how methodical it all is. I note how long it takes. I note that nothing interferes with this process.
Mostly, I note that if a seed finds perfect conditions, it will do what it’s supposed to do.
I think more about writing. I think about parenting. I think even about friendship.
Where shall this one be planted, Lord? What will help this seed grow?
Do you view writing like planting seeds?
It’s a rainy day, and on the way to the grocery store, I nearly collide with two different cars at various stop signs. My tires spin and the brakes hesitate on the slick pavement. I’m driving way too close to the car in front of me, and these driving conditions showcase my problem: I’m a tailgater. I’m a shameless tailgater.
I don’t know why. I think it’s because I’m always in a hurry. I’m always focused, productive, and fast. If you’re in front of me, you simply become part of my schedule, so let’s move.
When I slow down today (because I was about to crash with several different cars), I suddenly realize the importance of giving folks space and time. They’re on their own journeys. They’re on their own timelines, even.
Give them space.
Give my husband space. Give my daughters space. Give my neighbors space. Give my students space. I need to stop tailgating and let folks get to where they’re going on their–and God’s– timeline.
Living with flair means giving people space and time.
Have you ever wanted someone to give you space and time? It’s a precious thing!
My youngest daughter bursts out of the school telling me how we must melt crayons on our pumpkins because her incredibly creative and wonderful teacher showed her one of her own designs.
“It was so beautiful in all those melted colors! Let’s do it!”
At moments like this, I feel we are an ill-matched mother / daughter pair. I’m going to mess the whole thing up. I’m going to ruin the pumpkin! I promise to attempt Crayon Drip Pumpkins, but I cannot promise cute or excellent. I cannot promise it will work at all.
Apparently, if you simply glue your old broken crayons around the top of a pumpkin and blow dry them for a minute, they’ll run and drip down in fun designs.
It looks scary to me. Perfect for Halloween, right?
Do you have a pumpkin craft you want to share?
The weather report shows snowstorms for next week, but today, I’m not even wearing a jacket to campus. It’s going to be nearly 70 degrees. I take a minute to savor it.
I stand beneath the oak tree and gaze up.
I go inside the Weeping Cherry and let the sun peek in.
I part the branches and examine the sun on those leaves. With snow coming, I know these leaves will fall.
But for now, I take a minute and enjoy the warm morning sun. Living with flair means I take a minute (or more) to enjoy this day’s particular gifts.
This day has something special for us.
Take a minute.