Tag Archives: changing my mind

The Editor Eats Humble Pie, or: It’s Okay To Change Your Mind

I’d been meaning for quite some time to write an “Editor Pontificates” post on a couple of phrases that are bugging me when people use them incorrectly. They’re the kind of thing that make me want to pull out my big rubber stamp and slap on a fat, juicy WRONG! But then, I had to change my mind on both of those matters. Well, okay, maybe didn’t have to, but I did anyway.

The phrases in question are “from whence” and “begging the question”.

“Begging the question” is actually a specific term that comes from formal logical debate. In that context, it means “a circular argument”: if something begs the question, it’s stating as a fact the very question that started the discussion in the first place. The way the phrase is misused is that people use it as a synonym for “bringing up the question”: “My socks got wet wading through the snow, which begs the question why I didn’t wear boots today.” That’s wrong – or is it?

img_20170109_102550

I did wear boots today, and very glad I was for them.

“From whence”, on the other hand, is a case of messed up archaic language. It’s rarely used nowadays in ordinary speech, which is why people (those pesky people) aren’t familiar enough with it to use it properly. “From whence” is a redundancy (as is its partner, “from hence”): “Whence” means “from where” (and hence “from here”). So, “from whence” really means “from from where”. WRONG!

So what made me change my mind on the big fat rubber stamp? It’s two different issues.

In the case of “begging the question”, the point is that language is not static. Yes, the phrase properly has a very specific use and meaning – formal debate, logical fallacy, blah blah. But this isn’t the Middle Ages, and we’re not engaged in university debates where we decimate our opponents by shouting out, preferably in Latin, the labels of the logic mistakes they made – “Ad hominem!”, “Strawman!”, “Begging the question!” No, this is the 21st century. Meanings of words and phrases change; language is democratic. And so, in informal talk today, “it begs the question” means “it brings up the question”. I heard an extremely erudite and eloquent friend of mine use it that way the other day, and as he can talk rings around everyone else where vocabulary and phrasing are concerned, it clinched the matter for me. I still wouldn’t recommend using the new meaning in an academic paper, but my bet is that before long it’ll become an accepted dictionary definition of the phrase.

“From whence” fell on the opposite end of the scale. “Whence” is an old word, and I thought people just didn’t know any more what it meant. But then, I was re-reading Sense and Sensibility. And there it was, jumping out at me: “He earnestly pressed her … to come with her daughters to Barton Park …, from whence she might judge, herself, whether Barton Cottage … could … be made comfortable to her.” Well, stay me with flagons. Austen says “from whence”?!? And she does it not just once, which might be considered a fluke, but five times in S&S alone! Well, then. Who am I to complain? Furthermore, a quick Google search turns up the fact that even Shakespeare used it, in Sonnet 48: “…the gentle closure of my breast / From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part“. Austen and Shakespeare – all that’s left is for me to be glad I didn’t pontificate about “from whence” before, or I’d be wiping egg off my face now.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and an Editor’s Changed Mind. Which begs the question, From whence do people get their language?

 

4 Comments

Filed under editing, writing

You Owe It To The Story, Or: A NaNoWriMo About-Face

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-SquareI did a complete about-face yesterday. You know how I was going to write Star Bright, the fourth book in the Septimus Series, for NaNoWriMo this year? Yeah, well, I don’t think I will.

To date, the story stands at about 12,000 words – that’s from Camp NaNoWriMo this spring, and about 3.5k words earlier this week. But I found that the going got really tough. NaNo lore has it that Week 2 is the worst week of NaNo, but I haven’t found that. The last few years I’ve found the first week the hardest. It’s like walking through molasses, like chewing on that tough piece of pizza crust that really doesn’t taste good any more – you get the idea. I just wasn’t enjoying it.

So there I was yesterday, staring at the 300 words I’d written that day, and really not wanting to carry on with it. That’s right, I didn’t want to – it felt like a chore. And that’s silly. NaNoWriMo a chore? That’s completely against the rules. Actually, this is NaNo – forget rules. It’s against the spirit of the thing.

And there was another thing. My good friend E. L. Bates just published a blog post on why she’s not doing NaNo this year, and there was one sentence in there that pinpointed exactly the issue I was having. She said that, among other things, we need to “be[] responsible to the story itself by not rushing it”.

And that’s exactly what is the case with Star Bright for me right now. I was feeling rushed, pressured to produce word count – and I was failing the story in that. I care about that story. This needs to turn out, it needs to be a good story. This is about Cat, and Guy, and the kids, and a couple of whole new characters called Jamie and Daarshan whom I’m becoming quite fond of, and if I rush their story, I’ll be doing them a disfavour.

So I’m not going to do word sprints and insert random instances of the word “piano” in the text (which was one of the fun games we played at a recent NaNo event), because there are no pianos in Ruph. I need to write Star Bright properly, take my time over it, without letting the spectre of a NaNo fail scare me into filling the page with drivel.

But I still want to do NaNo. I still want to participate in the madness of cranking out words, of commiserating with my fellow Wrimos on the difficulty of finding the next thing to write, of watching each others’ wordcounts rise (there’s nothing so thrilling as watching the progress of the little blue bar below your profile picture on the NaNo site – and when it suddenly turns purple, because you’ve passed the 50k mark, WHOOT!! There’s nothing like it!) and cheering each others’ heroic efforts.

IMG_20151106_120153

Steve approves (that’s his approving face).

So you know what I did? I started from scratch. I opened up a new Scrivener file, named it “Nano ’15”, and started typing at random.

“The autumn mist hung thickly in the meadows by the river.”

That’s the beginning sentence. And off I went, producing more words in the space of an hour than I had in four or five before. I have no idea where this story is going – at the moment, it’s got no title, no plot, a whole bunch of mist in the river meadows, a protagonist (whose name I can’t even remember just now – the file’s not open), and a mysterious silver bracelet with interesting decorations on it.

I have no idea if I’ll finish NaNoWriMo with it this year – I’m already five days behind with my word count. But you know what? I’m excited about this story. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I have to keep writing to find out. It might, in fact, be complete drivel. It might have a piano in it somewhere, although I doubt it. It might never see the light of day in a published version. But for now, I’m going to enjoy myself writing it. And I’m going to leave Star Bright for a time when I can give it the attention it deserves – because I owe it to the story.

Life, the Universe, and a NaNoWriMo About-Face. Now what exactly is it about that silver bracelet?

12 Comments

Filed under The Septimus Series, writing