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Irritating Authorial Hiccups August 22, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing.
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I’ve been reading a fantastic book called Lives and Letters by Robert Gottlieb to review for a trade publication.  It’s a collection of insightful and wonderfully written ‘profiles’ (some are closer to reviews of biographies) of a wide array of celebrated entertainers, artists, writers and public figures over few hundred years.

Gottlieb is the editor in chief of Simon and Schuster, the president and editor in chief of Alfred A Knopf and the editor of The New Yorker (!).  You don’t get a resume more impressive than that.

My review of this book for this blog will be coming in a couple of weeks, but I feel like I’ve already learned a great deal — not just about the people profiled in the book, but also in terms of writing and editing skills.

I was reading the profile of Elia Kazan (one of the best known directors of the 50s and 60s) and in it Gottlieb criticises a particular book that is peppered with ‘irritating authorial hiccups’.

Examples:

  • It must be said
  • Be that as it may
  • It is not too much to say
  • If you will
  • Frankly
  • Of course (which Gottlieb calls ‘the lazy writer’s crutch’)

Reading that list made me sweat because I’m certain I use those terms all the time, especially the last two.  And in a way (is that an irritating authorial hiccup too?), I suppose he is right in that they are not really necessary and can come across as lazy and too ‘loose’, especially in what is supposed to be a well-crafted piece of writing.

On the other hand (what about this one?), I think whether such terms are appropriate may depend on the type of writing it is and the audience it is intended for.  For instance, I like this blog to be conversational, informal, kind of chatty — and I think some of these ‘hiccups’ may help achieve that purpose.  Then again (this one too?), I could be way off the mark and it might be that this type of voice is achievable without these lazy crutches.

The bigger question is whether the terms (when repeated regularly throughout a piece of writing) are irritating only for experienced writers/editors, or do they annoy the casual reader as well?

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Comments»

1. Irritating Authorial Hiccups « Life On the Lane - August 22, 2011

[…] Just came across this great cartoon for language-lovers… […]

2. Irritating Authorial Hiccups « Life On the Lane - August 22, 2011

[…] Irritating Authorial Hiccups « About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller. Share this:FacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

3. Authorial Hiccups Cartoon « Life On the Lane - August 22, 2011

[…] found this cartoon for all language-lovers…  Irritating Authorial Hiccups « About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller. Share this:FacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

4. susanlowestrickland - August 22, 2011

No. Conversation is what you’re going for. And in a conversation, hiccups are part of the vernacular. Otherwise, we get caught up in the type of pedantic grammatical arrogance Churchill supposedly is credited with putting to shame when he wrote, “That is just the type of arrant pedantry up which with I will not put.” Come on, it’s a blog. Let’s just Talk.

5. kbnelson - August 22, 2011

Sorry about the duplicate links – apparently my computer was having a hiccup issue too!

6. kbnelson - August 22, 2011

Maybe some of these terms fall under the category of dialect? Author Maeve Binchy talks about the Irish habit of never answering a question with “yes”, since the original language didn’t have a word for it. They habitually answer a question with a positive re-statement of the question itself.
(Will you buy milk? I will buy milk at the store today.)
Of course, (there’s one of my favorites) there are some lazy writers, but mostly I think certain phrases add to the musicality of language. Otherwise, we would all speak in bullet lists.

7. maru - August 22, 2011

It’s a blog and it’s conversational, and informal is the idea. Agree.
But there is a limit where repetition becomes annoying… when it is a real excess.


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