Tag Archives: 1000 Words

Painting Pictures With Words

This is a new thing for me. What I mean when I say a “new thing” is writing a blog post without using any inline images. Normally, I will break up a post here and there with either an image or a video or possibly some text formatting in order to give the piece a bit of shape.

Not today.

I’m taking a bit of risk with this. I get some fairly decent traffic, but it’s still not enough to make a living on, so the desire for me to pretty this up with flashy images is high. I’m a writer, though, and pictures, for the most part, are not part of my standard operating procedures.

There’s the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and it’s true. In fact, in 2011 I started a project where I would post a picture and people would submit a 100-word paragraph to me about it and I would stitch ten of them together to make a thousand-word essay about it. It was a cool exercise and it helped me get a sense of what words come to people’s minds when they see an image. I found this quite relevant seeing that, as a writer, I’m responsible for performing that same act—only in reverse.

It’s not an easy task.

Certainly, there are other ways to consume the written word besides reading them. There are many folks who enjoy audiobooks, many more still who listen to podcasts (which are just people speaking words), and there are even those who use braille, which for me represents the holy grail of users who provide feedback. You see, the world is dominated by the sighted. Just about every interaction we have involves a visual component. We even use phrases like, “See it in your mind.” Well, what about those who have never seen anything? How would my work resonate with them? Would it resonate at all?

I don’t have any of my work translated into braille (that I am aware of) but I would like to see how that works out one of these days. For now, I’ve decided that a decent half-measure would be to write a post and keep it as simple as I can. Words and characters as they would appear in a novel, with paragraph breaks and sentence length—and strategically placed em dashes—my only tools for altering the visual structure of the piece.

How’m I doing?

A common problem with many writers both new and old… er… experienced, is purple prose. It’s also often referred to as “flowery”. When trying to paint a picture for the reader it’s easy to slip into the habit of tossing in descriptor after descriptor like rice at a wedding (or rice and toast when seeing a performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show).

“The woman glided across the sparkling marble floor, silently, on shimmering blue satin slippers as the brilliant midday sun shone through the only stain glass window in an otherwise gilded ceiling, which reflected the sunlight and sent it dancing throughout the room.”

That might not be the best example, but you get the idea. When you try to dress up your text with a few fancy words, more than a few commas and end up telling the reader more things than you’re showing them then you’ve got an issue. It’s a constant struggle and when I am writing a novel it’s always at the forefront of my mind. If I were to re-write that previous paragraph I’d go with something like this:

“The woman’s slight frame combined with her satin slippers on the marble floor allowed her to move without sound. The midday sun shone through the stained glass window in the ceiling and it warmed her face. There were few shadows but that didn’t mean there weren’t places to hide. She tilted her head using small movements to improve her chances of picking up the sound of anyone lurking unseen in the nooks and crannies of the vast cathedral.”

I think that’s much better. Certainly not award-winning narrative, but you can see the difference, yes? In the second paragraph, we’ve learned much more about the character and the story than in the first one. She’s moving without sound on purpose. We know she’s in a church. We know it’s a bright, sunny day. I don’t know about you but I want to know more. Why is she walking quietly in a seemingly empty cathedral, but concerned that it isn’t empty, in the middle of the day? There’s more to this story and hopefully, it’s written in such a way that the reader will want to find out more.

If they each were the opening paragraph of a book, which one would you be more likely to continue to read? (And no, there isn’t a third choice of “neither”).

The job I’ve committed to is putting together collections of words that don’t paint a picture for the reader but help them paint the picture with me as we move through the piece together. If I feed them too much description then I’m stifling their imagination. I give this advice to other writers about writing sex into non-romance books: Less is more. If you give someone enough to get the idea of what’s happening their mind will fill in the blanks better than any of your words will be able to. But, sex sells, right? Sure it does, but that doesn’t mean you need to spill all the dirty details in order for it to be effective. It doesn’t take much to go from engaging to gratuitous and when that happens you risk losing your reader.

So, it’s a delicate balance that the writer must strike when they sit down at the keyboard and start their journey. I have got to tell you, though, when it works, when you get in that zone and you can close your eyes and let the visions in your head flow through your hands onto the page, there are precious few feelings as good. It’s in those moments you’re most likely to have painted a picture with your words and brought something into the world, not just for people to read, but for people to experience.


I’m (almost) Back!

The word is in and the word is good. My doctor (and the resident doctor working with her) determined that with the reduction in symptoms since my last visit two weeks ago that I would be cleared to work “1/4 to 1/2 days for the next two weeks”, at which point I will return for another evaluation. This pleases me. But what is different between the last visit and this one?

Well, about 10 days ago I noticed something strange. I didn’t have a headache. Having been struggling with various post-concussion symptoms for more than a month it was a wonderful moment. It was such a relief that ‘euphoric’ is the only word I can find that comes close to describing the feeling. In the days after that moment I was afraid I’d ruin it – but I didn’t – and here I am 10 days later and still no headache to speak of.

The headache was just one symptom though, and while I am really eager to get back to work my doctor cautioned against doing too much. I still have some symptoms, and it will be hard to tell if they are reminiscent of the concussion or if I’m back to my baseline.

For example: I’ve always been the guy who stands up quickly and gets a head rush. If I exert myself a little now and get the same feeling is that symptomatic of the concussion or just the way it was before?

Another example: I am still extremely tired, especially later in the day. It is a struggle for me to get through the afternoon without having to lie down. Now I wasn’t the best sleeper before (chronic insomniac) and I’m off my sleep medication for the first time in 18 months, so am I tired because I’m off my meds and still used to sleeping 12 hours a day, or is the tiredness still a symptom of the concussion?

In both examples my doctor suggests it’s still the concussion working its magic, and was reluctant to okay my return-to-work on a full time basis based on those examples and a few others like it. She explained that this would continue to be a long, slow, frustrating road back and that I should monitor myself for symptoms on a constant basis and listen to my body. Treat it like pain. If it hurts, stop, and for the love of all things great and small do not do anything that could result in another blow to the head.

So off I go tomorrow morning bright and early (and maybe driving with a helmet on), hopefully to work regularly without any further brain problems. I’m really looking forward to it, even if I am a bit nervous/anxious about the return, but I work with an amazing group of people and I’m certain the transition back will be just fine.

First, one last nap 🙂

Head Games

For the record, concussions suck. I’ve been trying to find an eloquent way to say it but I can’t. They suck –  big time – and it doesn’t take much to end up with one. So after more than a week off work, countless complaints and frustrations, a new mission, and a slew of people asking me questions I thought I’d share a bit about my mind jarring experience.

What happened?
A rather simple outing on a giant tube whist being pulled behind a speed boat took a rather nasty turn for the worse when I was flung off the tube after hitting the wake as I swung around the corner. The spotter tells me I was a good 3 feet above the water for around 20 feet before the tube hit the water, and when it did…. things got ugly.

I was on my stomach and when it hit the water again I bounced off the tube. Instinct told me to just release my grip and go limp. I’ve fallen enough times doing enough things to know that if you fight it you will seriously hurt yourself.

Unfortunately, the first thing to hit the water was the back of my head. I then folded over backwards (and as a note I am not accustomed to folding, let alone at a high rate of speed) and tumbled ass over tea kettle a few times before landing face down in the water.

Yes, I was wearing a life jacket.

Ouch. Did it hurt?
Yes. It hurt quite a bit. I remember the sound of my head hitting the water and the feeling like someone had just whacked me with a baseball bat in the back of the head. Once I got my senses, which was a few seconds and a good swallow of the lake later, everything hurt. Everything. My head felt like it had split open. I had cramps in my arms and legs, and I thought I was having a heart attack.

Then what?
The driver and spotter confirmed I had movement in my fingers and toes and pulled me into the boat. I felt dizzy, nauseous, disoriented, confused, and scared.

About a half hour after the accident I called my mother-in-law (she is a nurse). She told me to take it easy and look out for worsening symptoms and if I noticed any I should go to the hospital. A few minutes later I stood up to get some water and basically disappeared mentally for a few seconds. Off to the hospital. The doctor and asked me to do a barrage of mental and physical tests and confirmed that in his assessment I was concussed, with a mild case of whiplash as the cherry on top.

How long will it take to heal?
Another great question! Weeks. Maybe months. In the words of my family physician, “If we were in the middle of a hockey season you’d be done for the year”. Nice. On top of that she told me “Don’t hit your head again any time soon. I’m not even slightly joking. Another blow to the head and death becomes entirely plausible”.

So what’s it like living with a concussion?
It sucks. I’m not a happy camper at the moment. I can do everything but not anything. I can’t exert myself or jostle my head too much. I have to walk, not run. Take the elevator, not the stairs. Limit screen time and other visual stimuli. Even after 10 days of doing absolutely nothing but stare at the wall and check in with Twitter every couple of hours I was finding that it literally hurt to think.

I was told to expect to feel confused, disoriented, and distracted for weeks. I didn’t believe it. Then I tried to work. Rescheduling 5 meetings took me 30 minutes. I couldn’t focus – not in terms of eyesight, but in terms of targeting what I needed to do. Things that I used to just do would out of nowhere stump me and leave me staring at my computer, lost, and that would anger and frustrate me and just make it worse.

I can do things like write, but only for an hour or so before I start to get a headache. I am finding that am capable of more right-brained activities than I am left-brained. Using the left part of my brain right now is a challenge for some reason. I don’t know why that is. There’s no evidence I hit more on the left side than the right, but then again who knows, a bruised brain is a bruised brain and it’ll act however it damn well wants.

So what now?
I go on vacation. As my doc said, “Enjoy it. Force yourself to slow down and not think about anything. Just have a nice time and RELAX”. So that’s what I’m going to do. My brother is getting married in Germany and we’ve got an apartment for a week in Paris after that. The house/cat sitter is arranged. Work stuff is covered (thanks Jamie!) and I’ve got enough travel insurance to take care of any hiccup that might arise.

Is there anything I can do?
That’s very kind of you to ask. The answer is yes!

If you have 100 words stashed away in your head somewhere please consider lending them to me for my new project, “1000 Word Picture“. My goal is to raise money for brain injury prevention and people and families living with brain injuries.

Also, wear a helmet whenever you can, take care, and be safe.