Le Guin Writing Exercises #5 - Chastity with Adverbs and Adjectives

August has been my month of painting. We are changing our kitchen, and my job has been to make our oak cabinets into grey cabinets. Every afternoon, in the time I normally use for writing, I paint. the color is Dorian Gray... so at least I'm keeping the literary mode. I told myself I would paint for all of August, and then, no matter how far I'd gotten, I'd be done.

Let me just say, painting is not nearly as fulfilling as writing. Perhaps it helped the Karate Kid out, but I am ready to be done! I'm glad I bought a paint sprayer, or I would have had to give up on the project entirely!

Today, I administered my last coat of paint to drawers and cabinets. Alas, my kitchen is not done being painted (trim and cabinet backs elude me) but I cannot start another project that will be finished in one day, so I am done. All the other fixes will have to be finished in leftover moments, not in my precious afternoon hours.

Which means today I had time to write. And it came a few days early at that!

Now, I have to throw a lot of balls back in the air to get working on my current manuscript, so in a effort to ease myself back in, I picked up Steering the Craft to do another writing exercise. I've read two chapters this month, but I'm skipping one of the chapters here - Chapter Four.

Chapter Four addresses repetition in writing. I love, love, love repetition. Actually, I think I love, love, love it too much. I could find you several examples of repetition in Bearskin that would probably have been deleted if I'd read this chapter first. Oh dear. There are also some awesome things in there (including an entire repeated page) that I believe make the story stronger. Anyhow, the LeGuin exercise had the writer practice writing repetition, and since I probably need to practice deleting repetition instead of writing it, I decided to move on for a moment...

Chapter Five addresses cutting down on adjectives and adverbs. Could I use help in this department? Or yes, yes, yes I could!

First of all, I came of a generation that didn't teach grammar/sentence diagramming in elementary school. I read every moment I could and gained a natural ear for what "sounds" right, but I can't tell you the reasoning behind it all, and this means I make mistakes. It also means that I don't always know what words I'm throwing in the pile of paragraphs I'm creating. And I don't always know that I should be deleting them. After reading LeGuin's chapter I had to go read definitions of adverbs (adjectives I've got down) as well as texting a wonderful friend who knows grammar tons better than me. Still, that is the point of these exercises. I want to grow.

I love that Ursula LeGuin does not declare all adjectives and adverbs to be of the devil - hardly anything is ALL of the devil - but rather suggests we choose to place them in our writing carefully. (Carefully, ha!) Each of our adjectives and adverbs should be chosen, not accidentally spilled out.... an idea that requires watchfulness, and a little stretching when it comes to my sentence diagramming.

This exercise required 200-350 words of writing without adjectives or adverbs. I know that I have failed. I'm certain there are adverbs in there. But I did think a lot more carefully about my sentences, and I did find myself pressing myself into more thoughtful patterns of description when deprived of an easy way out. Just yesterday I heard a crab described as looking like a catcher's mitt, and I was floored. (RadioLab, people, it's good) - and this exercise got me stopping to look deeper for my own interesting ways of seeing things.

Anyhow, with all that babbling aside, my version of Ursula LeGuins' Exercise Four - Write without Adjectives/Adverbs:

            She hunkers.
            I am not sure what transfixes her.
            Most days, when she lies down, she schlumps her body over in a roll, head turning sideways and under, until the tail follows. As her body makes contact with the ground, her eyes glaze over. It takes nothing for this to happen.
            Today she crouches, paws together, muscles set for a spring. She eyes the carpet.
            I see nothing.
            The truth is, her eyes register with a clarity mine cannot, and her ears note sounds I cannot hear. All of this to say that her inability to settle begins to unsettle me.
            What keeps the dog awake?
            There are noises below, but they are noises she’s heard before. There is glitter in the carpet, but it’s been there since yesterday. The door opens and closes, opens and closes, but this dog’s never minded movement from in to out. What has changed today.
            Time passes. Nothing happens. She tries, again, to sleep. She holds her head aloft and closes her eyes. She does not drop her chin. What necessitates this readiness for action? What message have I failed to receive? Do her canine ears reach forward to hear the future?
            Minutes pass. She stands and moves to the side of the room. She stretches herself along the length of the wall, her nose pointing to my feet. She does not put distance between my form and hers. Her paws curl beneath her and her tail lies plastered to the ground. Her breathing slows. She has gone to sleep. Whatever terror might have waited has passed.
            But no! She lifts her head again.

            I still do not see, but cannot bring myself to worry. What for? She will see it come.

Want to point out some adverbs for me? Want to send me some fixes?

Don't worry... Maria got over it and slept.


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