Jump! Fly! Fall! Be gutsy!
One of my writing teachers made a great point the very first day of my M.F.A. program. She noticed that the young writers today seemed to be lacking in courage when compared to the writing of the past. There has been an enormous proliferation of “kind of” and “sort of” in writing, she noticed. Now, when a young writer describes something or makes an analogy, we inevitably hear that this is kind of like that, or he was sort of mad, or the sky was a kind of blue. Other words like that had been crowding into our stories: we would say that a person seemed sad, or that the candle flame seemed to be fluttering. My teacher was right; all of these little verbal tics begin to add up to a general weakening of the piece, creating a lack of authority and confidence in the writing.
Is self-consciousness making us poorer writers?
The fact is that when we read good writing, we don’t want to see the writer biting his fingernails, hemming and hawwing, unwilling to commit to a certain analogy. When we say “kind of”, we’re basically saying, “Oh, I don’t really mean this is like that. I’m just saying halfway.” I wonder if the increase of this phenomenon in writing has something to do with the Facebook-oriented world we’re currently living in. When everyone is putting their public lives on display in the social networking craze, then every aspect of our lives, even our language, becomes a performance. And when our language is a performance, then we end up policing ourselves, opting for safer, blander statements to avoid offending people or sticking out.
After the jump: going gutsy.
Breathe in and take the plunge.
Once we’re able to recognize these self-conscious apologies in our writing, then we can do something about it. For starters, in the editing round of your work you can search for half-hearted phrases like “kind of”, “sort of”, and “seems”, and strike them out. Stop apologizing for the observation you’ve made — say something IS something else. Be bold and destructive! In your new work, take a deep breath. No one is going to judge you for saying something wrong — or if they are, that shouldn’t stop you. Now go gutsy. Make a bold claim. Assert something that is completely, wildly false. Make your character an extremist, or someone who is extremely unlikeable. The books you love are full of these bold events and people, so you’ve got to possess the same boldness. And for goodness’ sake, stop worrying about what people think of you. It’ll never get you anywhere in your own writing and art.