RIP Mots Justes

Mots Justes is going on hiatus. “Going on hiatus?” you might ask. “You haven’t posted in three weeks!” You’re right. You’re absolutely right. And that’s why I have to take a break and reassess.

I’ve known I have to do this for a quite awhile now. I’m freelancing, with large swaths of “free” time that I feel like I have to fill up. So I start projects. This blog. Another blog. A nascent idea for yet another blog. A photo-a-day project and a cookie-a-week project. Meanwhile, I’m constantly behind—or flaking altogether—on my paid gigs, and worse, I’m not writing my fiction. I’m doing everything around writing but the actually writing itself.

I held out this long because there were legitimate reasons to continue. But frankly, my vision for the blog has been too ambitious, and I have to prioritize the activities that are going to serve my writing best.

I’ll be ceasing Mots Justes’ daily tweets as well, although I haven’t been able to keep on those for awhile either. I learned a lot and made a lot of connections through the research required for that news feed, but it was a giant time suck too hard to keep up with when I’m actually going into an office, even if it is just a couple of days a week.

I don’t plan to shut down Mots Justes the blog or the Twitter feed completely. I may post the occasional writing-related column and tweet my writing-related activities. (I tweet my personal and film-related stuff at @annleee.) But Mots Justes can no longer be a daily commitment. I’ve decided that rather than reading about writing or even writing about writing, the best thing I can do for my writing is … write.

That’s probably the single best piece of advice I’ve come across and that you’ll read here: log off and write.


Still here? Okay, then, let’s talk about writing.

What’s been occupying my thoughts on writing lately has been blogging. Not the how-to type of blogging I’ve been doing on Mots Justes—nor news blogging nor gossip blogging nor fan blogging nor theme blogging—but personal blogging in which writers record what they observe, what they’re thinking about, what inspires them. It’s in this type of blogging that the future of writing lies, multimedia storytelling that a platform like Tumblr especially facilitates—journals or scrapbooks in which bloggers not only write about their lives but illustrate them with photos and videos and music. If a text or image or piece of audio touches a blogger, chances are it will touch a reader, too.

(The work I’ve read is mostly autobiography at this point, but I just know that someone somewhere is doing something really cool on a blog with fiction. If you know who and where, please share!)

Writers have always kept diaries and written letters. It’s just that now those same instincts are available for instantaneous public consumption, simultaneously encouraging more thought and less. Fleeting insight can now be permanently recorded, but it’s also published without context, consideration, the guiding hand of an editor.

Lately I’ve felt I need both—more thought and less. My writing can only benefit from paying more attention to my surroundings, observing my environment more closely, thinking about it and analyzing it. But I also need to obsess less about the actual writing, not be so precious about, well, the mot juste. I’m stifled by that, that everything has to be polished, publication-ready, and it’s an area I want to work on: experimentation—trying to be less staid in my writing and my thought.

I suppose this is supposed to happen in a writers notebook, but the instant gratification of the web is so tempting and satisfying; even experimental work is somehow legitimized by its availability to be read by someone else.

I guess what it comes down to is I need to do the work where it feels most relevant, write the stuff that speaks to me, follow my bliss, as it were. For now, that’s not on Mots Justes. At least not in the same way.

Now, go write!

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Rules Grammar Change

The Onion: Rules Grammar Change

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How to Kill Off a Fictional Character

Basic Instructions: How to Kill Off a Fictional Character, by Scott Meyer

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Usage: Farther Vs. Further

Historically, farther and further have been used interchangeably when referring to distance, but their definitions are diverging. Most usage guides, including Chicago and AP, distinguish between the two, reserving farther when referring to physical distances and further for figurative distances, measuring quantity or degree:

When I graduated from college, I moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles. My sister moved even farther, to Honolulu.

Although she is more than four years younger than me, for a while my sister was further along in her studies than I.

It’s easy to remember to use farther when referring to physical distances because it starts with the word far.

However, sometimes it can be unclear whether the distance being described is physical or figurative:

Tanya got to the stable before her brother and so is farther/further into her ride than he.

Whether to use farther or further depends on how you look at it: Is Tanya physically farther along the trail? Or figuratively further into her ride? In cases like these, where the distinction isn’t clear, farther and further can still be used interchangeably.

Further can also be used to modify an entire sentence:

Further, Tanya was riding at a brisk trot, so she returned to the stable long before her brother did.

In cases where you could just as easily use furthermore, use further, not farther.

Do you have a question about usage? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.


Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

“farther.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. Merriam-Webster Online. 18 February 2010

Fogarty, Mignon, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. 42nd ed. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

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Writing Exercise: What the Donald Maass Literary Agency Is Looking For II

Every couple of months, the Donald Maass Literary Agency, which represents a roster of genre writers in science fiction, romance, mystery, and horror, posts to its website “what we’re looking for”—a handful of book ideas within a central theme. The agency hasn’t updated its suggestions since late last year, but they’re good ones: literary and science-fiction novels. The story starters aren’t meant to be prescriptive but to promote a creative spark:

In a cursed land where there are nothing but children (who do not age), an adult arrives, bringing with him a powerful magic that will change everyone’s luck but at a price: the children begin to grow up.

A hidden alien among us (he’s highly humanoid) has one chance to go home to repair the damage he caused there.  The problem is, he’s in love.

One true wizard lives in our world.  Her magic holds together a community of two opposite faiths.  One day her magic stops working.

A martyr gives his life to save his country.  Ten years later he comes back to life to find that the land he saved has lost the one thing about it that he held most dear.

A historical fantasy in which a young child with a miraculous talent has an effect on her family, and then her village, and then her entire country.

See where these prompts take you, and check back in to Donald Maass’s site next month for more ideas.

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Punctuation: Commas, Part XX—Quotes

When direct quotations are cited in writing, usually they are introduced with a phrase such as he said or the like and set off with commas:

Presidents Day celebrates the birthday of George Washington, who said, “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.”

The first president also wrote, “Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”

(Longer or more formal quotations are introduced by a colon, which will be discussed in a later post.)

If a quotation is introduced by that, whether, or a similar conjunction, do not use a comma:

Washington urged that “A man’s intentions should be allowed in some respects to plead for his actions.”

A quotation that is functioning as an apposition or the direct object of a verb is also set off by a comma:

In today’s economic climate, I am reminded of Washington’s sage advice, “To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.”

Do you have a question about the comma? Let me know, and I’ll include it in a future installment of Mots Justes’ ongoing series.

The Mots Justes Series on Commas

Part I—To Serialize or Not to Serialize

Part II—Independent Thinking

Part III—Co-dependents

Part IV—Making Introductions

Part V—Interjections

Part VI—Parentheticals

Part VII—It’s All Relative

Part VIII—Adjectives

Part IX—Contrast

Part X—Adjectival Phrases and Appositives

Part XI—In Other Words

Part XII—Making the Transition

Part XIII—Confusion Busting

Part XIV—On One Condition

Part XV—Absolutely

Part XVI—As Well, Too

Part XVII—Dates

Part XVIII—Addresses

Part XIX—Names


Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

Strunk Jr., William, and White, E.B. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

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Grammar: Pronouns Part XVI—Relative Antecedents

Like most pronouns, the relative pronouns who, which, and that have antecedents—nouns or pronouns to which they refer. Usually the antecedent to a relative pronoun appears in the main clause of the sentence. For clarity, the relative pronoun should immediately follow its antecedent:

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a holiday that popular belief claims is named after a third-century priest who was executed for performing illegal marriage ceremonies.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Relative pronouns that are the subjects of subordinate clauses take verbs that agree with their antecedents:

Some argue that Valentine’s Day is a holiday that was invented—or at least heavily marketed—by Hallmark.

Questions arise with sentences that include the phrases one of the and only one of the. Chicago prescribes treating one of the constructions as plural and only one of the constructions as singular:

Due to these marketing efforts, Valentine’s Day is one of the few holidays that are celebrated throughout the world.

It is the only one of the myriad holidays that is dedicated to romantic love.

Don’t try applying this guideline on the SAT, though where one is always just that: one—i.e., singular.

Omitted Antecedents

If there isn’t an antecedent, however, what can be used to mean that which:

Is that what you meant by sending me a Valentine’s Day card?

The Mots Justes Series on Pronouns

Part I—The Basics

Part II—Location, Location, Location

Part III—Number

Part IV—Person

Part V—Gender, Plus “They” as a Gender-Neutral Singular Pronoun

Part VI—On the Case

Part VII—Something Personal Between You and Me

Part VIII—Infinitives

Part IX—Indeterminate Gender

Part X—Indefinitely (We, You, and They)

Part XI—Indefinitely (It)

Part XII—Possession

Part XIII—Demonstrative

Part XIV—Interrogative

Part XV—Relative


Chicago Manual of Style, The. 15th ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Hacker, Diana, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press: 1991.

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