Author Guest Post! Claire Varley talks about the pressure to be ‘wordy’ all the time..
I was lucky enough to pose a question to Claire Varley, author of The Bit Inbetween. Here is here brilliantly funny guest post response!
‘Being a writer, do you feel under pressure to be ‘wordy’ and impressive all the time? Even in birthday cards and comments boxes on questionnaires?’
This is definitely a legitimate concern for writers. I’ve put together a few little tips to help people out.
- Write equally as much mind-numbingly boring stuff as interesting stuff.
My Masters dissertation includes the sentence ‘this dissertation is guided by a critical postcolonial feminist framework underpinned by the recognition of the intersection of race, gender and class – or multiple layers of oppression – on how knowledge is produced, valued and utilised.’ When you demand that everyone you know and love reads something that is 18,000 words long and includes phrases like ‘socio-ecological framework’, ‘multiplicities of identity’ and ‘gendered construction of social norms’, beyond this you can basically communicate with them in grunts and they will be both relieved and thankful to you.
- Accept that different folks are impressed by different strokes of the pen.
I write a lot of grant applications in my day job and basically this consists of laying out the latest jargon, putting in connecting words, and promising you won’t misuse the money. Nails on chalkboard for fiction readers, catnip for grant officers.
- Be fairly uninteresting in person
Long ago I came to terms with the fact that I am much better on paper than in person. In person I am often tired, cranky or lost, and none of these states are conducive to impressing people. Sometimes, when talking, I forget very simple words and often in public I present as if I have plastic piping taped to my limbs in which I am smuggling rare exotic birds across international borders. I just accept that I am a paper person rather than a people person.
- Alternatively, be the human equivalent of Russian roulette.
Sometimes you are fun, witty and lively, and other times you just smile awkwardly and mispronounce words you read in books but have never heard in person. See it as your duty to bring excitement to the lives of others with your veritable smorgasbord of personalities. Leave your friends and family wondering if ‘on Claire’ will be at the door, or if it will be ‘off Claire’, ‘awkward Claire’ or ‘very sleepy Claire.’ And if you’re a writer, all the ‘off’ versions will just be put down to being ‘intense’, ‘moody’ or ‘timid genius.’
- Don’t worry if people use words you don’t know.
There are so many words out there. So many! I’m fairly certain my brain no longer has room to learn new ones because I always have to google ‘perfunctory’ every single time I hear it. I spend much of my time pretending to know the meaning of words I don’t. I just use all the padding around it and make an educated guess. If someone ever confronts you with a schmancy five-syllable word you don’t know, just tell them you are sparse and succinct. Like Hemingway.
- Understand that the internet, shift-F7 and the free Mac dictionary are all there to help you.
I have a very basic vocabulary. There can’t be more than two-three hundred words in there at the most. Often I write passages – page after page – of novels where every single character is described as either tall, old or smiling. Other things I commonly do include: make everyone do things ‘gently’; use ‘raised her eyebrows’ as my standard character response; or, give everyone in the book the same name, usually Con or Patty. To fix this, I just leave it to sit for a day or so then come back and shift-F7 until it becomes readable.
- It ain’t which words, it’s the way that’cha use ‘em.
The Solomon Islands, where I wrote The Bit In Between, relies on the Solomon Pijin lingua franca to communicate across nine diverse provinces and countless language. This is language pared back to the most basic sentence structure and vocabulary. Yet for almost two years I expressed every emotion, thought and joke I wanted to in this language.
- Aim to impress no one but yourself.
I am my biggest fan. No one laughs at my jokes more than me. Often no one laughs at my jokes BUT me. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need to be ‘wordy’ or impressive to myself all the time. I know that I’m clever even if all I’ve said to myself in the past 48-hours is ‘I’m sleepy’, ‘let’s find food’ and ‘bath?’ I don’t need to impress myself by remembering all the words in the English language; I know I knew them once but haven’t really needed them so let them find a new home. At 29-years of age I have accumulated a plethora of people in my life who think the world of me even though I routinely mispronounce words and struggle to differentiate ‘th’ and ‘f’ when sleepy. That’s good enough for me.
The Bit In Between by Claire Varley, RRP$29.99, Macmillan Australia.
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