Notes From The Coast

The beach does funny things to the brain

At a loss for words…

speech-bubble-hiWhen it comes to ad writing, I’ve got some game. I can be efficient, fluid, lyrical, sales-y, straightforward, irreverent, wry, poignant, English or ironic. I can write in the voice of a Muppet or a Manservant, and every possible voice in between. Even the boring ones. Whatever you want, I can get it done. Snap, crackle, pop.

But when faced with loftier writing goals, like a good story that entertains and/or delivers a message, well, those writing muscles, much like my underutilized triceps, are on the verge of atrophy.

I have proof.

Exhibit A
I was reading an excerpt from a National Book Award winner yesterday. She described a teenaged boy this way: “Tanner had a blithe sense of entitlement, a certainty that he was destined for an undefined brand of greatness.”

I chuckled at the accuracy of this characterization, as it was the epitome of every teenaged boy I know.

But in a moment of private horror, I realized I had to look up the word “blithe”. I thought it meant “agile”. Nope. It means “cheerful indifference” or “happy”.

Blithe. I used to know this word. Much like I used to know “adroit” and “torpor” and “fecund.”

Now, words like these, the ones that authors use regularly to enhance an idea, or to richly describe a character, these words are like frozen kernels of corn that have fallen under my fridge. They used to be part of something bigger. Once useful, now forgotten, they just lie there, thawing out and waiting to be joined by the frozen peas “diaphanous” and “apocryphal.”

Texting and chatting has changed our language so drastically that one might question if the above-mentioned words are still important, usable words. And the answer is YES, DAMNIT. We cannot let ourselves devolve into a society where educated adults use shortened non-words like “Totes”, “Awesome” or “Mad” to describe every damn thing.

But personal opinion aside, if you want to write, you need the tools. And vocabulary is the most essential.

Exhibit B
I have this scene in my head that I tried to write. Two kids are in a mountain tunnel as a train approaches. I actually, for a millisecond, began to write, “As the train roared into the darkness toward us, it sounded like a freight train.”

There is no need to point out the obvious and glaring fact that it is a truly shitty simile. In fact, I am well aware that this could be featured in one of those “15 Worst Similes and Metaphors by U.S. high School Students.” But, it’s also part of a Bruce Springsteen lyric.

Like I said, the muscle is on the verge of atrophy. Scheduling an appointment with simile trainer right now.

Exhibit C
I’m working with a writer. An actual author. We’re working on ad copy and it’s a great gig. I pointed to her ten seconds ago and said, “Quick, what does ‘blithe’ mean?”
Without skipping a beat she said, “happy.”

Which I am not.

Closing argument

Keith Richards was once asked if talent ever goes away and his response was, “Yes, it goes away. But it’s the last thing to go away.”

Somehow, I find this encouraging. Whether I have talent or not is irrelevant. It’s the attempt to do something more. And I still believe there is always beauty in the attempt.

So I shall attempt to drag myself out of this torpor and over to the computer where I shall adroitly compose a better simile for the train in the tunnel while trying to fully realize my fecund years of creativity.

I might be sore for the next few days.