Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How Not To ...

I stumbled upon the mindset of "How Not To..." in the 90s. I had been asked to guest lecture young writers at two universities. No, this is not a big deal. The instructors were friends of mine.

What I discovered about myself—of course, I did little preparation—is that I found that I talked more about what NOT to do than the converse. Don't write in the same manner as you speak. Don't use weak verbs. Don't get too fancy. And ek setra, as some people put it. People who drive me batshit.

Then I began applying this "how not to" dictum to other parts of my life. A famous musician once said, "I spent twenty years learning to play my instrument better. Then I took the next five to unlearn all my mistakes."

I'm not sure whether I could sell a how-not-to book. But I sure as hell could write it. Think of the redeeming wealth of un-advice I could dispense. Jaysus!

How Not To Cook: I know a skillion people who have helped me here. One was a guy, Mr. I Follow Every Recipe Exactly. Among other tragedies (including an expensive prime rib cooked to gray, cinder-block tenderness and flavor) made—without a scintilla of a doubt—the World's Worst Potato Salad. Hey, if it says boil fifteen minutes, time it to the second. What emerged were spuds that couldn't be pierced with a Ryobi. To make matters worse, he fashioned the "dressing" and dumped all of it on the taters. What emerged were large marbles festooned with two coats of Benny Moore's finest semi-gloss latex.

Mr. I Can Feed Breakfast to the Masses tried to make pancake batter from scratch. I don't how where he went wrong, but he stored the bowled mess in the fridge overnight, resulting in a festering, albino LaBrea. I flashed back to the Little Racsals' "weep-wow" cake. Uh, yuck.

How Not To Ride a Bicycle: I am living proof of this.

How Not To Kiss: I learned this at seventeen from Mary Ann D'Agostino. Slubbery, gushery, blubberly busses. No thanks. I will not go past first base on this topic, so as not to offend the prim.

How Not To Drum: I could bore you better than The Golf Channel if I bored into this too deeply. However, my best example of bad drumming gave rise to one of my more salient theories...

If you take up an avocation and don't acknowledge your mistakes, the harder you work at practicing these errors, the worse you will become at what you are trying to do.

There are a person's initials in the title, so I abbreviate to protect the mediocre. But, literally the agnomen of this theory has turned from a so-so drummer into an execrable one.

How Not To Treat Women: It took no time at all for me to become a failure with the opposite sex. See the BFEH Postulate (above). I am slowly turning this around, but need subjects on whom to practice.

How Not To Sing: Force yourself to watch IdleVoice shows. Don't sing like those people. If I catch just a snippet of one of these earslaughter programs, I later need to heal myself with the unguent of Gladys Knight or Marilyn McCoo.

And, of course ...

How Not To Write: I firmly believe that writing is like music: You start off learning by rote, following rules. Then, after repetition (of good habits!), you will become more comfortable as a writer, gleaning how you can bend those rules. Honest.

My favorite writer of all time—hands down—was the esteemed Elmore Leonard. You wanna free writing class? Read his work. He distills good writing down to ten guidelines. My favorite: "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."

Read here the others.

My own tips will follow. I need to effect this without being self-aggrandizing.

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