Choosing words carefully

I recently read an article by René Barbier about a novel with no verbs, poetry with no Rs, and other intentional forms of writing. That’s right. People are writing this way intentionally.

In the case of the verbless novel, for example, French author Michel Thaler—who for a reason I couldn’t uncover considers verbs to be “like weeds”—set out to prove they aren’t necessary. His action-word-less novel, The Train from Nowhere, is 233 pages long. Barbier, who, apparently, actually read it, describes the story as “staccato, weird, and a bit exhausting, but oddly inspiring. And very French.”

I don’t read enough French literature to know exactly what it means to be “very French,” but Barbier goes on to say that exercises like writing without verbs are important and worthwhile. “They demonstrate that writing is about self-control and choice,” he claims.

Barbier cites other examples:

  • Georges Perec wrote his novel La Disparition (The Disappearance) without using the letter E. He then wrote Les Revanantes (The Ghosts) using the letter E but no other vowels (except for the As in the title).
  • Gottlob Burmann wrote 20,000 words of poetry in his lifetime, never using the letter R. This was, however, an exercise not so much in self-control as in obsession, as Burmann had a personal loathing for the letter R.
  • Francois Le Lionnais wrote poems of only word. Barbier quotes his masterpiece “Fennel” in its entirety: Fennel.


My first reaction was to assume that The Train from Nowhere was more novelty than novel. Forcing oneself to follow self-imposed restrictions might be entertaining for the writer, but does it enrich the reader? Does it enhance communication? Does it make the world a better place? If not, why spend time on it?

Then a sentence from Barbier’s concluding paragraph made me re-consider:

“At the very least, Thaler’s experiment with verb-free writing may be seen as a plea to think harder about the way language is used, at a time when much of the bestseller list is crammed with intellectual fast food, larded with adjectives and additives, written to an utterly undemanding, conventional form.”

(By the way, I don’t know if Barbier’s first language is English or French, or if his article was originally written in English or translated later, but I found the wordplay delightful! Take a look at the sentence above again. Phrases like “crammed with intellectual fast food,” a verb such as “larded,” and the alliteration of “adjectives and additives” and “utterly undemanding” are truly masterful! You’ll also want to read the full article just for the two clever limericks he ends with.)


So are you willing to engage in a little exercise, following Thaler’s lead? Try your hand at non-verb-al communication by leaving a verb-less comment below! Here are some samples, any of which you are welcome to plagiarize:

  • “Excellent post, Melanie!”
  • “Thoughtful. Engaging. Clever. As always.”
  • “Your usual brilliance on display!”

You get the idea. Give it a shot!

Or, if you think this kind of wordplay is pointless, leave a comment explaining why—and use all the verbs you want!

What writers (and others) can learn from Apple and Steve Jobs

As the delighted owner of an iMac, an iPhone, an iPod, and two MacBookPros, I have been a Mac enthusiast and evangelist for many years. It is not an overstatement to say that I love my Macs. (Whether this is healthy or not is another subject.) I believe that Apple products actually empower creativity in a way that nothing else ever has.

So I’m not sure what to make of the news of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple. I have heard it said that Steve Jobs is (or, was) the only irreplaceable CEO in America. That’s easy to believe, but I hope it’s not the case. (Tim Cook, I’m rooting for you!)

Apple and writing

The Steve Jobs news reminded me of a post I read a few months ago by Stanford Smith, whose blog is called Pushing Social. Stanford posts a lot of good stuff, including The Apple Guide to Copywriting Magic, which I encourage you to read. You don’t have to be a writer or a marketer to appreciate the lessons Smith has gleaned from all things Apple. The 5 points he makes apply to Christians who want to share their faith, speakers who want to win a crowd, teachers who want to make a lesson stick, and anyone who wants to tell a good story.

Stories from Steve Jobs

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. In his 15-minute speech he shared three personal stories as a way to illustrate three life lessons he wanted the grads to know:

  1. Follow your heart—even when it leads you off the well-worn path.
  2. Love what you do—it’s the only way to do great work.
  3. Every day could be your last—live it to the fullest.

Apple stories from you

I’m not sure how many LifeLines readers are Mac users, but no matter which platform you’re native to, I’d love to hear your comments about story-writing, story-sharing, and story-inspiring tools you use—software or hardware, mobile or desktop.

If you are an Apple enthusiast, can you verbalize why? If you are stuck looking through Windows, what keeps you there?

And is it true that Mac people are more likely to evangelize than PC people are? I have never had anyone try to convince me to use Windows because their own personal experience had been so exciting, or effective, or fun. But Mac users always seem excited about new apps, new uses, new discoveries. Am I right?

And feel free to use images to share your stories. For example, you could post a link to an iMovie you created. Or post a link to your favorite “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC.” commercial. (Don’t you just love those?)

By the way, I am not an Apple affiliate. I get no commission for any Apple sales that may be generated as a result of this post. I just love my Macs, and I think Apple empowers my writing. But I will keep an open mind, and if you share something PC-related that can do the same thing, I will honestly give it a try. I promise.