I appreciate you reading these letters. It’s good to have an excuse to write, as yy writing practice helps me get smarter, in part because I’m constantly looking up words and concepts to see if my understanding matches the common one. For instance, I just closed a tab of Google results for the search phrase “lonesome versus lonely”.
The answers did not match my understanding, however; I’m being told that in American English, these two words effectively mean the same thing, with lonesome simply being slightly more antiquated and less common. I’ve always used lonesome to mean a broader, more ambient feeling than loneliness; loneliness in soft focus; a disquietude at not being quite as close to the people, places, or things you’d like to be close to; homesickness dislocated. It’s hard to be lonely in a crowded room, but one can be lonesome even in the crowded west.
The internet says otherwise, though, and that my distinction is not common. Ah, well! What’s fun about writing is that I’m only wrong in the vocabulary test sense of right and wrong. My understanding of the idea is what it means to me, even if it’s not what it means to other people. And perhaps by writing about it and using it in a more particular way, other people will start to see the word and therefore the world the way that I do. And if not, at least I’ll annoy some grammar pedants, which is its own reward.
Before I wrote this letter instead, I’d had half a draft about saying farewell and godspeed this week to the cat that went with my ex (be good, Mac). So I had that tab open because I am feeling lonesome right now — an ambient disconnectedness — and occasionally, most often when I see a happy couple doing happy couple things, also feeling lonely, in the acute way. But I’m endeavoring not to wallow, and will allow this paragraph to be enough about all that.
Back to writing. I gave a presentation this week about teaching writing to non-writers. My approach and advice focuses on the how — teaching people tools and frameworks to break writing down into steps to figure out what they want to say and then saying it — versus the what of style, usage, and grammar. The gist being that if teaching people writing the way they were taught it in school had worked the first time, y’all would not need to be in a room together as adults learning about writing. Broadly, I think that an awful lot of people have confused the particular things that copyeditors and proofreaders need to care about with writing, a significantly broader and more interesting topic.
There was a question during the session about how to kindly approach teaching the basics of grammar to non-writers, and my answer is that I don’t — getting people to write at all, and say what they want, is the hard part and the important part; cleaning up any clarity-breaking quirks of style and usage after it’s written is the easy part. This answer is self-serving in a, as I myself have a poor command of the “rules” and could not teach a class about them … I do not know what a participle is, nor a gerund, not well enough to define them here for you now, and I have only the shallowest possible understanding of first/second/third person. If my subjects and verbs maintain any sort of agreement, they have negotiated it out without me.
I’ve said before that all of the worst advice you’ll get in life is people telling you to be less like yourself, and I’ve written all this to say that that’s especially true with writing, and especially especially with writing that’s supposed to be in your voice, like a blog post or newsletter or even the website of the company you’ve founded. I love handbooks and style guides and voice frameworks — I have a collection of them — but those are all just tools to help me figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it. The second a rule, definition, or god-forbid a best practice gets in the way of my true meaning, I set it aside.
I don’t know whom I’m making this point to, or why, to be honest, but I suppose I just get a little sad thinking of someone who turns wholly away from writing in their life because they feel like they don’t understand the “rules” and have grown afraid of red pens. Let’s all try not to do that to people, yeah?
It’s a beautiful fall day here in Rhode Island. I just ate some fantastic tacos, believe it or not. And I’m going to take a little walk and say hello to some dogs. Hope you’re well. Write back if you’d like; just hit reply.
A bit lonesome but not presently lonely,
I’m having a weekend flash sale on my upcoming workshops. The first 3 people to use the code ‘threepeat’ to register for either will save $300. Why the threes? I do not know.
Devil House, by John Darnielle. October was a personal shitshow and I didn’t get to do as many spooky things as I’d have liked so I picked this up finally.
Picard, Season 2. Oof. That’s my review.
To apparently cult-favorite Boston band Come, after seeing them open for Kurt Vile (my first KV show!) this past Saturday.