Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ten Writing Things I’m Thankful For

by Kelley Lindberg

Happy Thanksgiving! May your day be full of reasons to be grateful. Here are some of the writing-related things I'm thankful for today:
  1. Auto-correct.
  2. Brilliant authors who inspire me.
  3. Bad authors who reassure me.
  4. Chocolate, for that tiny reward at the end of a long day.
  5. Whoever figured out how to make decaf, for letting me have my ritual coffee while writing, even though I can no longer have caffeine.
  6. Word processors. While I remember the days of writing by hand, typing the final draft, and using white-out liberally, I am incredibly grateful that I no longer have to write that way. Incredibly. I mean it.
  7. Subplots that go nowhere. They teach me to be good at cutting.
  8. Characters that visit me in the middle of the night and pull me into their lives.
  9. Writing friends who don’t hesitate to say, “You can do better than this.”
  10. Words, for being fluid, nuanced, lyrical, double-edged, harsh, lush, biting, gorgeous, elusive, ringing, frustrating, rhythmic, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys to play with.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Comprise vs. Compose

By Kelley Lindberg

Pet peeves are funny. They start as barely-on-the-radar blips of something that seems a little off. Then a few more blips appear. And a few more. And pretty soon, the radar is lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, and you’re pulling out your hair, screaming, “Enough already!”

The word “comprise” has become my newest pet peeve. Well, not the word itself – just the misuse of the word. I’ve been seeing it misused everywhere lately, in newspapers, books, websites, signs, you name it. Even some of my favorite authors have slipped, which means some of my favorite editors have, too.

Fair warning: the next person who writes “is comprised of” is going to find their online avatar replaced by the image of a smoking hole.

Yeah, I sound tough. But my computer-hacking skillz are infantile, so it’s an idle threat, at best. So, failing the more visually satisfying hacked-avatar plan, I figured I would just write about the difference between “comprised” and “composed” today.

They are NOT synonyms. Period.

For some reason, everyone suddenly seems to think “is comprised of” sounds way more sophisticated than “is composed of.” It’s nice that you want to go with sophistication, but misusing the word isn’t exactly accomplishing that for you.

What’s the difference?

My favorite way to think about the two words is this:

Composed = “is made up of.” You say, “The sum is composed of its parts.”

Comprises = “encompasses” or “contains.” You never, ever use it in the phrase “is comprised of” because you would never say “is encompassed of.” Never. Instead, you simply say, “The sum comprises its parts.”

Let’s try an example. You can say, “The team is composed of 56 players,” or “The material is composed of iron, basalt, and pudding.”

Now let’s say you’re really determined to use the word “comprise.” Try using the word “encompass” or “contain” first and see if that works: “The material is encompassed of iron, basalt, and pudding.” Nope. That doesn’t work at all. It also doesn’t work to say, “The team is contained of 56 players.”

So if you want to use “comprise,” you have to ditch the “is…of” construction and just use “comprises” all by itself. In other words, you’d say, “The material comprises iron, basalt, and pudding” and “The team comprises 56 players.” Bingo! That works.

Likewise, with “comprise” you can’t reverse the sentence’s order and say “Iron, basalt, and pudding comprise the material,” because the individual items don’t encompass or contain the material. It’s the other way around: the material contains the individual items. With comprise, the whole always comes first, because the whole can contain the parts, but the parts can’t contain the whole.

With compose, you CAN reverse the order, saying, “Iron, basalt, and pudding compose the material,” because it means, “Iron, basalt, and pudding make up the material.”

There are a host of longer explanations and examples in various grammar books and websites, but the simplest rule is just to remember that you never say “is comprised of.” If you’re trying to use the “is…of” construction, you HAVE to use “compose.”
  • “Is composed of” – great!
  • “Comprises” – great!
  • “Is comprised of” – smoking hole avatar
If you remember this one rule, you’ll be golden. If you don’t, I have a teenage computer-savvy son who can hijack your avatar, and I’m not afraid to use him.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Of Poetry, Poets Laureate, and Playgrounds

By Kelley Lindberg

I don’t consider myself a poet. In fact, most of my writing friends write novels, picture books, or nonfiction – not poetry. So I find it funny that of the four Utah Poets Laureate we’ve had since the position was created in 1997, I’ve known or met all of them. And what’s more, I’ve even known a national Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress – I took a course from Mark Strand when he was a professor at the University of Utah many years ago. (You know how they say everyone has a crush on a professor at some point in their college career? That voice, those eyes, his poetry – yeah. He was pretty crush-worthy at the time.)

Anyway, on Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in a short poetry workshop led by our current Utah Poet Laureate, Lance Larsen.

Me, receiving my first-place award for a YA novel
in the annual Utah Writing Competition.
Photo courtesy of Utah Div. of Arts & Museums
The workshop was part of the festivities planned around the award ceremony for this year’s Utah Writing Competition, hosted by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums (formerly the Utah Arts Council). Many of the other competition winners apparently decided to only show up for the award ceremony itself. But I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in poetry for an hour, even if whatever I scribbled might be deemed crap by even the least savvy third-grader in my neighborhood.

I had actually met Lance Larsen many years ago when he was part of the faculty at a writing conference I was helping organize. But this time, I had no official duties (other than to receive a first-place prize for my YA novel and to get my photo snapped – that was stressful enough), so I was able to sit, pen in hand, and enjoy Lance’s workshop.

I’m a huge fan of sharpening my writing chops by exploring “out-of-my-comfort-zone” writing styles. After all these years of writing and freelancing, I’ve learned that every type of writing, no matter how mundane or how far afield it may seem, strengthens me as a writer. Reading and writing poetry reawakens my ear to rhythm and my eye to color. Technical writing makes my prose tighter and more succinct. Fiction writing brings better story-telling aspects to my nonfiction articles. Experimental exercises in any genre stretch my boundaries and tap into my creative well.

So on Saturday, Lance had me struggling to describe the word “betrayal” without talking about betrayal. And channeling a seabird. And exploring the structure of repetition. (All that in a single hour, mind you.)

Poetry forces me to examine language (mine, yours, anyone’s) under a microscope. Or perhaps it’s more like cooking, where I try to heat and stir my words until they’ve produced a highly concentrated, richly flavored reduction – an essence of thought and emotion, rather than a full meal of story.

At the end of the workshop, I felt like a kid who’d just spent an hour diving into an overflowing toy box. And even more surprising, I found that one of the characters in my new novel was gleefully taking over my pen and putting his own voice onto the page for me.

Even though I don’t consider myself a poet, I do consider myself a writer. And that means I owe a debt of gratitude to Lance and poets like him who knock me out of my well-worn ruts every now and then to remind me that language is more than a tool. It’s a playground.