PROFANE BRACKETS: A TIP FROM MY FAVORITE TEACHER

Picture of the Author as a Stupid Teenager

 

I need to tell you a little about my High School English teacher, Thomas Hammond. He was one of those teachers that comes along and truly influences your life even if you’re a stupid kid who doesn’t realize it at the time. He was an awesomely awkward man straight out of a Far Side comic panel. We’d spend most of AP Literature laughing at all the sexual innuendo hidden in centuries old poetry. He introduced me to John Irving. And, he’s influenced my writing to this day.

Mr. Hammond was a writer himself. Most of his writing centered around academic papers. He would talk about the single book he had published – a dry volume on coin collecting. He claimed that the book was so boring that he inserted a 20 dollar bill in the middle of it just to see if anybody would read it. To my knowledge, that book still sits in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Library with said money still tucked inside.

Unfortunately, like all of life’s great teachers, he died way too soon.

But, there was one piece of his wisdom that stuck with me.

He explained that whenever he got ‘stuck’ while writing a rather long paper, he’d type in a long line of bracketed profanity in ALL CAPS. That way he’d later remember where he had left off. Of course, you had to remember to go back and clean out the text before you published!

[Brackets]

I still use them today. They are true lifesavers whether you’re on a writing roll or ready to toss your laptop out the window.

My usage of brackets was simple at first. I’d read through a chunk of horrible text and leave the [THIS SUCKS- REWRITE IT LATER] note. Or, if I my writing had took over several different documents I’d jot down [ADD SUCH AND SUCH PART].

If I was writing a fancy historical tale I’d use {} just to keep it period.

It’s only been during the last year or so that my use of brackets has really helped my writing flow. How many times has your writing rhythm been jarred because you had to stop and think of a character name? How many hours of writing have gone of the rails because you got sidetracked with some nifty new idea that didn’t quite fit in to the current narrative and you didn’t have that scrap paper nearby to scribble it in?

Just use brackets!

Hell, sometimes I’ll be speeding along and forget a minute character’s name that I haven’t used in fifty pages. So, they temporarily become [BAD GUY 7] or [THAT DUDE YOU MENTIONED EARLIER]. I bracket it and I keep on writing.  Some of my popularly used brackets include, but are not limited to:

[EVIL SOUNDING BIO-TECH COMPANY]

[NEBRASKA SMALL TOWN NAME THAT YOU HAVEN’T USED YET]

[DON’T FORGET TO TIE IN METAPHYSICAL CONCEPT]

[THIS IS CRAP. FELL ASLEEP READING IT. REWRITE LATER]

You get the idea. Just be sure to go back and insert the proper text later. I usually do this when I’m in doing a read-over or have had some time to google awesome names. Brackets are an excellent tool to utilize when you’re blazing through the words and you don’t want to get hung up on one thought. They allow your inner-critic to speak up, if only for a second.

Give them a try the next time you’re writing.

You’re still writing, right?

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One Comment

  1. I’m still writing. You’re one of the reasons. I’ll use brackets.

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