In my recent reading I've gone on a major Mark Twain kick, and with every page I read, my admiration for Twain's writing grows. William Dean Howells, a contemporary and friend, called Twain "the Lincoln of our literature," and the title rings true, both for the plainspoken American vernacular that the two mastered, and for the boldness with which they faced our democracy's ugliest stain, the enslaving of African-Americans by European-Americans.  Continue reading...
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I have a new companion. Or, at least, I've newly recognized one.

Its name is doubt.

As doubt seems to have a particular interest in befriending writers, perhaps you know doubt, too.  Continue reading...
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I asked fellow editors recently what usage rule they wanted to know more about or what rule they saw broken regularly. I received lots of answers (thanks, all!), including this one: "Why is worth preceded with a possessive noun or pronoun, as in two days' worth?"  Continue reading...
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"A breath of fresh air." "Few and far between." "At the end of the day." These are just a few of the clichés examined by Orin Hargraves, an experienced lexicographer and one of our regular contributors, in his new book It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches. In this excerpt, Hargraves explains how to "free your speech and writing of unneeded and detrimental clichés."  Continue reading...
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One of the main functions of language is communication, and for this it no doubt helps to be as clear, concise and straightforward as one can possibly be. Clear and straightforward art using language, however, is usually pretty boring.  Continue reading...
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One of the students in my Fiction Writing Workshop told a classmate to take a red pen and cross out the multitude of adverbs he had strewn throughout his story. The rest of the class nodded their heads in agreement. But just before I could move us on to the next item on the agenda, the author asked the young woman who'd spoken up, "But why? Why can't I use adverbs?"  Continue reading...
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Many of our excuses for not writing might sound convincing, if we don't think about them too much. But really, the only person we're hurting is ourselves. Check out this list and see if any of these excuses for not writing are ones you've ever used.  Continue reading...
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