Why I hate writing, Part 6 – metaphorically speaking

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Part 6? Perhaps it’s time to look back before we move forward.

In my first post in the series, Why I hate writing, I talked about how I hate both good and bad writers. This post got a ton a comments from writers because, as I think most of you understand, writers are gluttons for punishment.

In Why I hate writing, Part 2, I talked about how unfair it is that many good writers go unpublished or under-marketed while it seems celebrities have publishers beating a path to their doors with offers of a book deal. Yeah. Life’s unfair like that. At least it provides work to some ghost writers. What? You don’t really think any of those people actually write their own books, do you? Bless your heart.

In Why I hate writing, Part 3, I talked about how sometimes writing hurts. Self reflection and examination can be ouchy.

In Why I hate writing, Part 4, I stole borrowed discussed at length a question Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent asked on her blog: “Which would you prefer? Great reviews, critical acclaim and awards… or great sales?” My answer was “both” of course, which she said was cheating because I had to choose one, but she’s not the boss of me. This was also the post where I introduced the term “lazy book whore”.

In Why I hate writing, Part 5, I discussed at length, my writing muse. Who, in case you missed it, is kind of a bitch.

So, here we are at the sixth installment of this series. Which begs the question, “If you hate writing so much, why do you keep writing and keep writing about writing?” Fair question.

I do it because, as I mentioned in the first post of this series, I don’t actually hate writing, I love/hate writing. I love the challenge of it. The idea that a perfect story (or song, poem, novel, article or blog post) is like a perfect golf game. To the golfer and to the writer, perfection is unattainable, and yet we hone our skills, practice and fail, and then start fresh again, trying our best to reach the unattainable goal. It’s an endless and challenging education.

Or at least it can be. Then again, sometimes we get lazy. (And by “we” I mean “me”, but feel free to include yourself if the shoe fits.)

Yesterday I wrote a post about a fire ant invasion in my house. Yes, it’s horrible and disgusting, thanks for asking. I started writing the post last week with every intention of making the story into a life metaphor. But then I wrote another post for the blog carnival about brokenness where I used shattered Correlle dishes as a metaphor for our broken selves. Now, I could have easily gone the metaphor route, but that struck me as taking the easy and expected route.

Instead, I decided to make the post an introduction to this post. Metaphors and similes can be wonderful writer’s tools in order to convey important themes or messages in your story, but there are times when we use metaphors just to prove we know how. And clearly, not everyone is equally gifted in the art of the powerful metaphor. Take these examples from Why English Teachers Die Young (via Snopes.com): A list of some of the worst analogies ever:

  • She had a deep throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  • McBride fell twelve stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  • From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 instead of 7:30.
  • Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.
  • Shots rang out. As shots are wont to do.
  • He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  • The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  • The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law, Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work. (my personal fave)

Obviously, these examples are so ridiculously bad that they’re humorous. And if you’re going for humor, a bad metaphor or analogy is great. What’s not great is when a writer tries to force a metaphor when simple description will suffice. Like overusing adjectives or adverbs, or writing in a passive voice, it’s a sign of a timid, inexperienced and/or insecure writer.

Sometimes less is more. I mean, you don’t need to say:

“Behold the children’s loyal companion, its body like the expertly played keys of a piano in both movement and color”,

when all you really need to say is:

“See Spot run.”

A good quote bears repeating:

“I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing

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22 Responses to “Why I hate writing, Part 6 – metaphorically speaking”

  1. jake January 14, 2011 at 12:33 am #

    Confession time! I did my entire “Your Voice” series (ethos, pathos and logos) because I kept reading ONE blog that abused emotion and had the STUPIDEST analogies ever. It made me want to set myself on fire, every time, so that whole thing was a passive aggressive to help ONE………… writer.

    AT THE SAME TIME, I’m pretty sure I’ve got some TERRIBLE lines in some of the stuff I’ve written. It’s super unfortunate, but part of the learning process, I suppose. Friend, I’m glad we’re tortured by the same things because even though it’s 100% cliche, misery loves company. Unless they talk too much and keep you from writing.

    • katdish January 14, 2011 at 12:50 am #

      Ha! I figured as much. But how much do you wanna bet said writer read those posts and thought, “Good thing he’s not talking about me!”

  2. V.V. Denman January 14, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    “The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.”

    Thank you for that chuckle this morning.

  3. Cassandra Frear January 14, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    LOL. To this post and to the comments above.

    It’s a real interesting adventure to work with editors, too. First, it can help you see your own weaknesses. But then, it’s no fun seeing your weaknesses and having to change them. It’s actually very unpleasant, and usually makes me wonder why I thought I love to write.

    My husband is a very good editor, and he reminds me that editors are trying to make you, the writer, better.

    Except when they’re not. For some editors, their changes to your manuscript somehow manage to make your writing sound more like theirs. They have a more formulaic approach which works for them. They want you to sound like them. They want all the writing in their publication to sound like them. It’s what they know and what they like.

    Additionally, they don’t know how to bring the best out of another writer and polish another writing voice. I don’t know how to do it either, but that’s beside the point.

    When you find good editors, treasure them. They can make or break your writing.

    • katdish January 14, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      You are extremely fortunate to have a good editor who wants to help you write better. I’ve yet to come across a bad editor as you describe, but I’m quite sure they’re out there. Even though I poke fun at Rachelle sometimes, in addition to being an agent, she’s also a very good editor. Steve Parolini (@noveldoctor) is also an excellent editor.

  4. Tony Alicea January 14, 2011 at 7:43 am #

    Write is a whole new world for me. I’ve always written here and there but never thought much about it. Just this past year is when I’ve decided to get serious about it. Any new passion of mine finds me scouring any and all resources to learn. This series may be one of those rare gems that helps me not to suck as badly as I might.

    • katdish January 14, 2011 at 8:45 am #

      I think you’re off to an excellent start, Tony. If you don’t own copies of “On Writing” by Stephen King and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, I would highly recommend both of those books. There are many other very good books about the craft of writing, but i think those are must haves.

      • Tony Alicea January 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

        I got “On Writing” (thanks to your recommendation). I’m still soaking in “The Art of War” but I’ll be reading King’s book soon.

        I’ll check out this new recommendation by Strunk & White. I’m just trying to be a sponge with all of this. Thanks for all your help!

        • katdish January 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

          Just so you know, Tony. I’m already impressed with your writing.

  5. Amy Nabors January 14, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    I need to go back and read the first parts in this series of posts, but just had to say ‘ouchy’ cracked me up. I love that you are so real with your voice too. Not afraid to call some things like they are.

  6. A Simple Country Girl January 14, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    I never knew that dogs make throaty sounds just before they yak cause I am too busy screaming for them to “get out!” “get out!” before the grass-matted sludge flops onto the floor. Thanks for the clarification.

    See Spot run.
    See Darlene chase Spot off the rug.

    Kathy, do I suffer from diarrhea of the mouth? (Go ahead and answer. You said the writing process is painful.)


    • katdish January 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

      Darlene–You do, but in a good way. I always enjoy what you have to say.

      • A Simple Country Girl January 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

        I went to the library and got “The Elements of Style” as you recommended for Tony. Looking forward to the read. The librarian also said others have been asking for the Stephen King writing book so she is ordering it. Folks in rural eastern WA must be reading your post…

        And I am glad to know you think my diarrhea of the mouth is good πŸ˜‰


  7. kelybreez January 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    I think something’s wrong with me, ’cause I thought that list of analogies was magical.

  8. Jason January 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I love King’s book. πŸ™‚ Good post, Kat.

  9. Helen January 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    “He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.”

    That line sounded to me like something HRM would say to Helen in one of those interviews….

  10. jasonS January 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    I’ve tried to get better about checking and rechecking, writing and rewriting, but I know there are holes. πŸ™‚ There’s always room for improvement and always opportunities to get lazy so good job reminding us of that.

    I’ve heard those bad metaphors before, but dang if they’re not still really funny!

    Thanks Kat.

  11. Maureen January 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Cass, I hope you get a great editor one day. My recent experience working with Marcus was all positive, and I learned quite a bit from him about polishing poems and shaping a collection.

  12. Jeanne Damoff January 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    I love those analogies (except the hefty trash bag one. Way too graphic for my visual imagination). They remind me a little of Douglas Adams. I think the lame duck may be my fave, though the hungry fighter is great, too.

    One thought about writing (and why I’m not a fan of a lot of writing advice I read): I think every writer has not only a voice but a rhythm and a unique connection to language. Some waltz with words and some do the watusi. It’s not a matter of one being right and one wrong. It’s simply being true to the music.

    Also, I completely agree it’s essential to find a good, compatible editor. Unless you both watusi, you’ll step all over each other’s feet.

    But, hey. I’m no expert. I just know what I like. (In case you haven’t noticed, at the moment I like the word “watusi.”)


  13. Lynn Mosher January 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    LOL! I love those analogies. And the last one is my favorite also. Great post!


  1. Why I hate writing, Part 7: Show, don’t tell | Katdish.net - May 19, 2011

    […] hate writing, Part 4: Critical acclaim vs book sales Why I hate writing, Part 5: Fighting the Muse Why I hate writing, Part 6: Metaphorically Speaking « « Previous Post: Words with Friends: An idiot’s guide […]

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