5 Signs of Leximania, the Love of Words

Most writers love words. They adore the sound of them. They revel in learning new words. They marvel over a well-turned phrase. Do you?

I’ll define Leximania as an intense love of—bordering on obsession with—words. It’s not necessary to have leximania to be a writer…but it helps. After all, to a writer, words are like a sculptor’s clay, a composer’s musical notes, a painter’s palette and brush. Words are the tiny bits of noting which, when joined, make literature. They’re the atoms of a writer’s universe, so it’s understandable if writers take an unusual level of interest in them.

When one of my daughters entered high school, we gave her a dictionary for her birthday. That evening, she came to me. “Dad, I think I found a mistake.” She showed it to me, and, sure enough, there was an error in her dictionary.

I was very proud of her. That’s what I’m talking about—not just finding the mistake, but paging through the dictionary, maintaining an interest in the words and definitions, and getting lost in them long enough to notice the mistake. That’s Leximania.

In Chapter 31 of Theodore A. Rees Cheney’s book on editing, Getting the Words Right, he says, “Unless you become a work geek, you’ll have trouble making it as a writer.” He defines a word geek as one who listens to other people’s use of words, both spoken and written; one to whom a dictionary is a friend; and one who delights in discovering and using new words.

There’s a time in our lives when we’re all leximaniacs. Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, you were learning 10-20 new words a week. At that age, you loved learning new words. When you heard a word, and learned what it meant, you rolled it around; you sounded it out; you used it.

Back then, you had particular fascination for words that were fun to say, including abracadabra, blob, banana, baboon, balloon, cuckoo, hocus-pocus, itty-bitty, kitty-cat, knickknack, mumbo-jumbo, teeny-weeny, teepee, topsy-turvy, yo-yo, and zig-zag. Note the interest in rhythm, alliteration, and repetition.

At some point, your vocabulary growth spurt tapered off. Most of us decide we know enough to get by, and don’t bother learning many new words after that.

For writers, leximania either never subsides, or is renewed at some point. However, it’s expanded beyond a love of fun-to-say words. It now includes obscure words with precise definitions or connotations that are perfect fits for a story in progress. It includes unusual parings of words that convey just the right idea. It includes words that give a sentence almost poetic rhythm and flow. It includes short, abrupt words to end a sentence with punch.

To sum up, here are some common symptoms of leximania. Do you:

  • Turn to a dictionary or thesaurus for one word, and end up lost in the book for ten or more minutes?
  • Read or hear an unfamiliar word, look it up, and use it several times that week?
  • Listen to people speaking and try to detect their repeated words and phrases, the rhythm patterns of their sentences?
  • Make a conscious and systematic effort to build your vocabulary?
  • Pause while reading a book to repeat a word or phrase and just admire the author’s genius in word usage?

If you answered yes to two questions, you may have the early onset. Three affirmative answers confirms the diagnosis. Four or more ‘yes’ responses suggest a severe, and probably incurable, case…one from which you don’t seek a cure.

Leximania, though rare, isn’t harmful and may actually extend your life. If you ‘suffer’ from it, my advice is to consider becoming a writer. Ending disclaimer: I’m no doctor, I’m just—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Top 10 Best Things about Being a Writer

Every week this blog reveals deep, mystic secrets about how you can become a best-selling author. See what you’ve been missing by posting cat photos instead of checking out my site?

But why should you want to be a writer in the first place? That is a question never answered in any of my posts…until now.

I interviewed every author on this planet (had to limit it, I only had a week), and compiled each of their reasons for being a writer into a vast database. Then I used artificial intelligence software to analyze those data and order the list by response frequency.

Either that, or I made up some reasons myself. One of those two methods, for sure.

Without further agonizing delays or obvious stalling tactics, I present, in the style of David Letterman, my Top 10 List of the best things about being a writer:

#10. Friends aren’t just friends—they’re character ideas.

#9. Free hobby; it only costs your time…and your sanity.

#8. Don’t like this world? Create your own.

#7. Get back at your Language Arts teacher by breaking rules she taught you.

#6. Commit crimes, but don’t do the time. (So long as they’re fictional crimes.)

#5. Free exotic vacations! Well, you go there in your mind, but you can visit outlandish places, like Antarctica, the Moon, the year 1850, Imaginationia, or even New York City.

We’re down to the top 4 best things about being a writer:

#4. Built-in excuse for insane behavior. “You’re a writer? That explains it. You’re free to go.”

#3. What other people call loafing, you call working.

#2. Sweet revenge on everyone who’s ever wronged you. Kill ‘em in your books.

And the number one top best thing about being a writer:

#1. Writer’s conferences—in the wee hours, hijinks ensue. A few shenanigans also.

If that list doesn’t make you want to be a writer, then you’ll have to make up, I mean compile, your own. Or you can go back to posting cat photos, it makes no difference to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Map of All Story Plots

When you’re stuck for a story idea, it may seem like other authors have already written all the good tales. Every time you think of a plot, for example, your head swims with titles that have covered that plot, worn it thin.

Are there only so many plots, you wonder, peopled with different characters, set in different places and times, portraying different themes, and written in different tones and styles?

Others have wondered that before you, and developed their own lists of all plot types. Prepare to be confused, and then (perhaps) unconfused.

In his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker declared there are seven plot types: Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, The Voyage and Return, Rags to Riches, Rebirth, Comedy, and Tragedy.

One year earlier, Ronald B. Tobias came out with his book, 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them. His list included plots such as Revenge, Transformation, and Wretched Excess.

Much earlier, in 1916, the book The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti introduced thirty-six plot categories, including Obtaining, Rivalry of Superior and Inferior, and Loss of Loved Ones.

Great, you’re thinking, but how many are there—seven, twenty, or thirty-six? That depends on the way you like to categorize things. You could cut a pizza into seven, twenty, or thirty-six pieces, and they’d still add up to the same pie.

That’s what I wanted to explore today. How do those categorization schemes compare to each other? Can you take Booker’s seven plots and see where Tobias’ twenty fit into them? Do Polti’s thirty-six plots fit somehow with Tobias’ and Booker’s taxonomies?

I couldn’t find any example of someone doing this, so I did it. I designated each of Booker’s categories with a B-number: B1, B2, etc. I did similarly with Tobias’ 20 (T1, T2, etc.) and Polti’s 36 (P1, P2, etc.)

Then the trouble started. Many didn’t fit well at all. In such cases, I read the descriptions the authors gave for their categories and chose the one in the other’s categories that seemed most like the one I was considering. You may disagree with the way I’ve mapped them, and I’d love to know your reasoning.

For your careful study, wry amusement, and utter disgust, here is my mapping of the three plot schema against each other:

By now, some questions have occurred to you. One might be, “Can’t a single story be a mixture of two or more of those plot types?” Answer: Yes, there’s no law against that.

Others of you are asking, “Why are the love stories listed as comedies?” Answer: Booker defined his comedy category as including more than humorous stories, and in particular included love stories in that group.

Lastly, there are those asking, “Of what use is this map? Come to think of it, of what use are the three taxonomies?” Answer: for those who asked that, I have no answer that will satisfy you. Go ahead and just write any old story whether it fits a pre-discovered plot category or not.

For those who didn’t ask that last question, you’re probably comfortable with the fact that some people like to take a mass of data and try to organize it somehow, to create filing categories like a Dewey decimal system or biological taxonomies.

Whether you think there are seven, twenty, or thirty-six plot types, or if you don’t see the point in dividing that pizza at all, there are plenty of stories remaining for you to write. Let’s see if the next one you create will be better than any authored by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Quit Your Job to Write Full Time?

Raise your hand if you hate your day job. Haven’t you had enough of meetings, projects, deadlines, office politics, commuting, performance reviews, and dealing with jerks? Sure, there’s a steady paycheck, health care, and someday a retirement package, but those are small compensation for all the stress and aggravation, right?

You’ve been writing fiction as a hobby at home for some time now, and have sold a few stories, received payment as a published author. What if…

Yeah. What if you quit that 9-to-5 grind and became a writer full-time? Freed of the hassle and pressure, able to write all day every day, you would craft higher-quality stories, right? You could crank out best-selling novels.

Yeah. You’ll be your own boss. There will be book signings, major interviews, and book launch parties. You’ll get an agent to do all the negotiating. When those advance checks and royalties roll in, you’ll hire an accountant to keep track of it all. You’ll get a faster car, and a new house. On an island.

Um, yeah. You’re hesitating. After all, that day job is the devil you know, and writing full-time is a leap into the unfamiliar. Those best-sellers aren’t guaranteed, are they?

You know you want to write full-time, so it’s a question of when, not whether. How will you know when the time is right? What are the signposts you must see before taking this off-ramp in your life? Here is my list of ways to know you’re ready:

  • You’re ready for the productivity increase. You’ve been used to writing on the fly, using time you stole from other aspects of your life. When you write full-time, that will be your new job. Now, time won’t be your problem, unless you waste it with nonessential activities. Do you have a long list of story ideas, ready to go?
  • You’re ready for the lifestyle change. Now, when your alarm clock rings, it’s time to wake up. As a full-time writer, you’ll set your own hours, but it will be tempting to stay in bed. Chances are your day job involves plenty of contact with other people. Your writing job won’t; there will be long hours of all-alone time. Maybe you’re used to several restaurant choices for lunch; for a full-time writer, lunch awaits in the fridge.
  •  Your housemates and dependents are ready. Your decision may affect others. What do they think of this? Do they understand you’ll be working at home for long hours and you require quiet conditions? Do they have unreasonable expectations of the chances of achieving fame and fortune? If your income takes a downward trend, will they suffer?
  • You’re ready for the financial changes. You may have been used to a steady salary; prepare for an erratic income with good years and bad ones. You’ll be self-employed, so there will be tax changes, too. That employer-obtained health care goes away, so be prepared to pick up those costs. Don’t forget your 401K, either.

While researching for this blog post, I came across some must-read sources. Mark (M.K.) Gilroy has a short but informative video about the financial aspects. This NPR interview of author Sonny Brewer discusses how your day job may still end up influencing your stories when you shift to full-time writing. Jeff Yeager’s guest-post on Brian Klems’ blog provides ten great questions you should ask yourself before quitting your day job. A post by Holly Lisle relates her experience, both good and bad, when she made the switch. Aurora M. Suarez interviewed romance novelist Ines Bautista-Yao about her fears, her preparations, and the lessons she learned. Check out each of these posts.

Are you ready to quit your day job to write full-time? It’s a difficult decision, I know. I can’t make it for you, and you have to decide based on the facts and feelings in your particular situation. Perhaps this post has given you some things to think about before you decide. That’s the hope of—

Poseidon’s Scribe