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Craft of Writing

Why Don’t Writers Have a Lingo for Their Writing?

When a police officer arrests a suspect it’s called a collar. If he plants evidence it’s called a ham sandwich. When a firefighter responds to a fire, it’s known as putting the wet stuff on the hot stuff, or humping the hose. Many professions use lingo to enliven the job, and create a sense of community—to make the members feel special. But writers? What have we got?

Writing terms are surprisingly uncreative. A writer plans and outlines. She writes and revises. He edits and researches. We have slush pile, but that’s about it. Maybe the most risqué act for a writer is submission, but alas, it only refers to sending work out to journals. Perhaps because we work in solitude, writers have few slang terms to spice up the profession.

Even the lowly coffee shop employee has a language that makes a writer’s sound dull: a non-fat decaf cappuccino is referred to as a “why bother.” A Midnight Rider is an Americano with an extra shot.

Recently, though, blogger friend Gwen Stephens wrote about Word Vomiting, the practice of putting every word in your head onto a word document, then coming back later to try to make it coherent.

In communicating with Gwen, she also informed me about pantsing, which means writing without a fixed outline. It comes from “seat-of-your-pants” writing. It’s what I did for 200 pages of a novel that is now on hold because I had no outline and it never made sense. Pantsing, of course, is also the act of sneaking up on someone and pulling their pants down, exposing their undies—so it’s still apropos to my novel, which was exposed as a mess.

I like this trend. If we really want to call ourselves “creative” writers, we need more of these. And, of course, you only needed to ask—here’s a few suggestions, some with examples of usage:

  • Percolating: Writing productively in a coffee shop.
  • Frothing: Trying to write in a coffee shop while sitting next to some jerk bellowing into his cell phone. I was percolating until this idiot came in, and now I’m so frustrated I’m frothing.
  • Writer’s Blockhead: A person who continually uses writer’s block as an excuse for not writing.
  • Sloshing: Writing while drinking heavily. Can be a remedy for writer’s block, although sometimes leads to Word Vomiting.
  • Kiting: Writing while high on drugs. I must be kiting, man. Everything I write sounds great! By the way, when a writer is whacked out on acid, he doesn’t have flashbacks, he has backstory.
  • Nostradamus Syndrome: Writing while knowing in advance the piece will be a disaster and receive nothing but rejection. I finished the book, but my Nostradamus Syndrome made me put it in the closet without even querying.
  • Enemy for Life: A writer you try to collaborate with.
  • Get Carded: Trying to write but giving in to the temptation to play computer solitaire instead. In the middle of writing chapter 3 I got carded and didn’t get back to the story for an hour.
  • The Colon: Where a lot of my writing seems to originate (as opposed to the brain). I thought I had a good idea for a story, but it was just another product of the colon.
  • Dressing the Pig: Editing your writing to make it acceptable to the mass market. If you put in a few vampires you could dress that pig and get an agent.
  • Book Naked: Not doing the above. I wrote my novel book naked, but no one wants it.
  • Writing from the Hermitage: Refusing to accept edits and criticism from other writers, agents, publishers, etc.

Alright, alright, I’ll stop. But clearly there is a need for more writer’s lingo. Let’s see what you’ve got!


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


29 thoughts on “Why Don’t Writers Have a Lingo for Their Writing?

  1. How’s about “the wisenheimer stall,” named for that section of a novel where the reader is delayed in following an exciting plot twist because you as author want to “explain” something intelligent and crucial about how that plot twist came to be? If done correctly, it can make the whole reading experience more rewarding, but if done too often in one book, it can become an annoying tic (often happens in good mystery novels).

    Posted by shadowoperator | October 5, 2013, 1:33 PM
    • You reminded me of another that is used more about movies, but still applies to books, especially horror books. The Idiot Moment is the suspension of common sense for as long as it takes to place the characters in harm’s way– such as when characters, threatened by a killer/monster, run back to the house instead of just calling the cops.

      Posted by jpon | October 5, 2013, 4:11 PM
  2. I’ve heard a number of SFF writers use the expression “cat vacuuming” or “shaving the cat” to describe procrastinating from writing,especially if you’re doing so by tedious, but ultimately useless fiddling with activities peripheral to the writing process.

    I frequently use the term “falling down the rabbit hole” for going to check something on the Internet, only to look up an hour later and wonder where the time has gone (like I’m doing now).

    Posted by arichaley | October 5, 2013, 1:45 PM
  3. Cf. The Turkey City Lexicon, also from the seamy underbelly of SFF:

    Posted by arichaley | October 5, 2013, 1:49 PM
    • Awesome list. Apparently I’ve been living in a Jar of Tang (or a Grubby Apartment) since I’ve never seen these before.

      Posted by jpon | October 5, 2013, 4:20 PM
  4. How about “Thesaurus Rex” – that person in writers group who delights in picking obscure synonyms, often misusing them, in an effort to sound lofty?

    Posted by arichaley | October 5, 2013, 1:53 PM
  5. “Ghostride the WIP”
    1. letting your current writing project coast wherever gravity and inertia take it; ticking off the boxes of a formula novel/story.
    2. What some well-known commercial authors do for a living.

    (If you missed the hip hop reference, check out this demonstration http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xLvlGVNInw4&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DxLvlGVNInw4 or look up “ghostride the whip” on Wikipedia.)

    Somebody stop me!

    Posted by arichaley | October 5, 2013, 2:17 PM
  6. Of course we have “McGuffin.” From Hitchcock-A piece of evidence hidden early in a story.of

    And from members of a certain writer’s group with which you are very familiar:
    “Nice magins”: A critique of a work for which you can find no redeeming qualities.
    “Chopstick” A comletely in appropriate deus ex machina,
    “Garbage” One friend of ours description of writing that is not badly written, but has been produced strictly for mass market appeal.

    And some of my own:
    “Word-stringer.” A person who may work hard and produce a lot, but who has no skill or art about their stories.
    “Crayon.” Description of a writer’s unintended childish style. (Not a terrible plot, but the style is so crayon.)
    “A two pager.” Indicating how far I was able to get into a story before giving up.

    (And I thought “Frothing” was a description of a writer’s frustration, while writing in a coffee shop and having to pause every time the cappuccino frother is turned on.)

    Posted by jonzech | October 5, 2013, 2:37 PM
    • I forgot about “nice margins.” That’s one of my favorites. I think your definition of frothing is better than mine.

      Posted by jpon | October 6, 2013, 2:42 AM
  7. A cashmere sweater: a fancy, expensive book jacket on a badly written book.
    Coming out of the closet: a writer who finally starts submitting their work.
    Puppy breath: a short story that’s going to become a novel.
    Mowing the grass: line editing.

    Posted by Teri | October 5, 2013, 9:16 PM
  8. tvtropes.org also has a lot of useful terms, like “moral event horizon” as well as a typology of triangular relationships. Most of their stuff applies to fiction as well as screenwriting.

    Great place to fall down the rabbit hole.

    Posted by arichaley | October 6, 2013, 2:40 PM
    • Guess I should have dome more research on this. But it was more fun to make them up.

      Posted by jpon | October 7, 2013, 9:50 AM
      • By all means, we need more! Making up your own local slang is fun. Plus, we like words, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this, right?

        Btw, I had to laugh last night, when I heard Internet guru Clay Shirky say he “fell down the rabbit hole” when his reference librarian mother introduced him to the Internet when he was 13. (This, on Michigan Radio’s “TED Radio hour” during which I had the ultimately meta experience of hearing Carl Kasell read LOLcat captions, for those poor Luddites who haven’t seen them online.)

        Posted by arichaley | October 7, 2013, 12:50 PM
      • Carl Kasell is great. He’s a human onomatopoeia — looks exactly like he sounds. Carl Kasell

        Posted by jpon | October 7, 2013, 3:15 PM
  9. you had me at writers blockhead…. 8-D

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | October 6, 2013, 8:06 PM
  10. The coo-coo’s nest (syndrome): used when referring to a writer’s group you’ve spent too much time in and the only reason you’re going is because it feels safer with the other nuts than it does to fly the coup.

    Posted by Robert Hoffman | October 6, 2013, 10:03 PM
    • So Jack Nicholson and those other characters in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” were just frustrated writers? Makes sense.

      Posted by jpon | October 7, 2013, 9:52 AM
  11. Flutterfuck. When you drop all your unpaginated pages on the floor.

    Posted by Averil Dean | October 6, 2013, 10:45 PM
  12. Hey Joe, this post is great! So many new thoughts in the comments. Lots of fun to read.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | October 7, 2013, 11:15 AM
  13. All I could think of was: “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble,” with apologies to Shakespeare. Also, I’m not averse to induction ceremonies complete with capes and masks, perhaps a few candles to illuminate the sublime loneliness of our creative work.

    Posted by nadiaibrashi | October 7, 2013, 5:21 PM
  14. Let’s not forget Stewart’s coinage “dick lit” — I’ve found that one quite useful!

    Posted by arichaley | October 9, 2013, 7:24 PM

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