It was the third round of rewriting on a piece about the autumn harvest. It was all about kale, collards, squash, and Brussels sprouts. The problem was, I had it all wrong.
Instead of Brussels sprouts, I was writing brussel sprouts. No capital B at the beginning, no s on the end of Brussels.
I've cooked and eaten lots of Brussels sprouts, but clearly I'd never written about them.
Lesson #1: Proper names have proper spellings
When a red line appeared below the misspelled "brussel," I was surprised. So I checked the dictionary.
I found the correct spelling.
A bit more digging revealed the name comes from the city of Brussels, in Belgium.
Unless you're certain about the correct spelling of a product, a city, a town, someone's name, title, or product, look it up.
That was last year. This year, I have another editing tip courtesy of the Brussels sprout.
Last week I was watching a cooking show when the chef introduced a new segment by saying, "Today we're making Brussels sprouts."
Lesson #2: Ask yourself, "Is that what's really going on?"
Of course the chef wouldn't be "making" Brussels sprouts, as in constructing or creating them. He would be cooking them. Or, maybe he'd be roasting them.
In the context of the show, it didn't matter much. It was a live taping and viewers could watch and listen.
But his word choice caught my ear. I've been writing a lot and than means I'm rewriting and editing a lot.
I wanted to edit the script, to rewind the tape and have the chef say, "Today we're roasting Brussels sprouts."
Roasting is a more interesting and descriptive word. Making is vague and in this example, inaccurate.
Every word has a purpose.
Lesson #3: Just because you're familiar with something doesn't mean you know all you need to know.
It turns out eating Brussels sprouts didn't make me an expert. From misspellings to context and relevance, it's important to do some research.
That's how I learned those little cabbage were named after an area in Belgium ... because that's where they were cultivated in the 16th(!) century.
So dig around. What you find may not only surprise you, it could add a new dimension to your project.
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Curiosity and the Hobby Memoir
How many times have you used a local statue as a meeting place or as a reference point when giving directions?
Statues are identifying landmarks and part of the fabric of our cities, towns, and villages. But what do they stand for?
I was curious.
Though I was familiar with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a poet, and knew there was a USPS stamp issued in his honor, I admit to not knowing much beyond that.
My curiosity rendered a new hobby researching and recording what I found ... and with each statue, I created a poster and wrote a short essay.
The Longfellow statue sits at the intersection of State and Congress Streets and is positioned facing Longfellow’s boyhood home, mere blocks away.
Here's what I discovered:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a linguist, professor, and poet. He corresponded with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stow, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens.
Born February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine, and a graduate of Bowdoin College, Longfellow yearned for a life in literature. Forging an agreement with his alma mater, he set out across the Atlantic to study European language and literature. And though he would return to teach at Bowdoin and then at Harvard College, writing would prove to be his vocation.
Longfellow’s well-known works include Evangeline, "The Wreck of the Hesperus," and "Paul Revere's Ride." He was a best-selling author and enjoyed considerable success with is work.
But he suffered tremendous loss in his personal life.
His first wife and childhood friend, Mary Storer Potter, died following a miscarriage. And his second wife, Fanny Appleton, with whom he had six children, died after setting her dressing gown afire with candle wax. Forever saddened, Longfellow did little writing after Fanny's death.
Sculptor Franklin Simmons's bearded Longfellow sits at the intersection of State and Congress. Like Longfellow, Simmons was born in Maine and became a well-known artist in his day. A second sculpture by Simmons, Our Lady of Victories, stands just a blocks in Monument Square.
Monday is World Tourism Day. If you're curious, or looking for a new adventure, why not start close to home and see what you discover.
Is it any wonder?
I asked myself that this morning. Is it any wonder people so often talk and write about the weather?
I suppose it's because it's always there ... the forecast ... in some parenthetical way. We mostly go about our business, but if a storm is brewing, if there's a shift in the humidity, the heat, the cold, or the dew point, there's an underlying awareness. Even animals sense a shift in the barometer.
It's hard to ignore.
Hurricane Henri hit southern New England yesterday and continues to lash the area with gusty winds and plenty of rain.
Watching the news updates and warnings, I noticed a flag graphic ... a hurricane flag. So I looked it up and discovered:
If a hurricane is brewing, it's two flags:
- one red flag with a black square in the middle signals a tropical storm
- fly two together and there's a hurricane on the horizon
Using research and detail in your writing
It's the sort of detail that adds depth to your writing ... especially if you're writing about hurricanes.
The biggest weather event I can recall is the 1998 ice storm here in Maine. Overnight the landscape changed. It was as if we had been transported and put under glass, like in a snow globe. We woke to a world where everything was coated in ice. Everything. Tree boughs bowed under the weight of the inch-thick ice that encased them, power lines sagged, and the crack of trees branches snapping under the weight sounded like rifle shot. We lost power for a week and recorded a low temperature of 34°F ... in the kitchen.
There's no flag for that
It's a story I could write about, but it brings no joy, no overarching lesson I want to revisit, so I'll leave it be.
But I do want to write about snow.
And you? Is there a weather event so vivid in your mind's eye you might want to write about it? Grab the Story Inventory and see what comes of it.
The Story Line blog is where we share short story memoirs, writing tips, and more.