I love adjectives.
I love adjectives. I mean, I reeeaally love evocative, emotional, expressive, explicative adjectives. My writing is full of them if you haven’t noticed.
I love adjectives. But it’s a new year, and it’s time to expand my writing style. I want to share more than recipes in this space, and that means adding some new techniques to my artistic tool belt. But what to use besides that beloved, florid, descriptive literary device the adjective?
To help answer that question I’ve spent a lot of the holiday break reading and re-reading some of the best food writing in my library:
- Dianne Jacob‘s Will Write for Food
- Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games
- Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential
- Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires
- Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table
- Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma
From these books I find that my favorite writing about food is conversational, ironic, inspiring, funny, and informative. (There I go with the adjectives again.) Dorie Greenspan embodies nearly all of these qualities in her explanation of the skate, found on page 291 of Around my French Table:
“Shaped like a ruffle-edged fan and tufted like a quilt, skate looks like an art school project. In French, skate is called raie (pronounced “ray”), and it is, indeed, a member of the sting ray family, which explains why the edible part, the wing, has that beautiful triangular shape.”
Is this for real? In 49 words, Dorie Greenspan has convinced me to crave skate, an ocean creature whose flesh I, before reading this passage, would not have put in my mouth for $100. I’m not quite sure how to write like that yet, but gosh I want to learn how.
In the spirit of the skate, my blogging resolutions for 2011 focus on growing as writer. For starters, I’d like to use fewer adjectives. The best food writing transforms the reader. Dorie Greenspan’s words made my mouth water at the idea of eating a stingray. Michael Pollan’s words made me swear off factory farmed meats. Suzanne Collins’ words made my stomach ache with hunger. Through their writing I’ve learned that adjectives can help make language transformative, but too many of them just get in the way. I hope that pruning them from my prose will be like weeding a garden; as I remove them I’ll be creating space for more effective techniques to flourish.
Another big goal I have is to blog every day. Perfectionism is a monster in my life, and by committing to publish something every day I can use my writing as a tool to conquer that beast. Hear that, perfectionism? I’m coming after you every single day with a big stick called “progress.”
I’d also like to take a risk to reveal more about myself in my posts. That doesn’t mean sharing personal secrets, just speaking honestly in my own voice. Most of my writing training took place in a journalistic or academic setting, which is fine. But now, here in my own space, I want to get more comfortable and share my own voice.
Introspection and goal setting is scary for me. Sharing these resolutions publicly magnifies the scary. (I started writing this post three weeks ago and nearly didn’t publish it.) However, the following passage from Kurt Vonnegut’s “Advice to Writers,” is one of the most encouraging I have found. I bookmarked it in November when I began considering these things and I have read it nearly every day since then.
“Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.
“The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.
“So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.”
I know better than to try to follow Kurt Vonnegut, so I’ll close out here with thanks to you for sharing this journey with me. Best wishes in 2011 for health, happiness, and fewer adjectives.