13 Myths About the Writing Life

1. If you write mysteries, especially whodunits involving murder, then you will somehow become embroiled in all kinds of scintillating local mysteries, and will become an expert police consultant. I blame Hollywood for this myth—Castle, anyone? (Love that show, by the way.) Or cast back a little further to Murder, She Wrote . . . I have a secret theory: Jessica Fletcher is the ultimate serial killer and con artist, and she herself committed all the murders she supposedly solved. There’s just no way one sweet little old writer lady could witness that many murders—I mean, come on, she lived in a teeny little town in Maine! How could she always just “happen” to be around when all those poor people got killed? Coincidence? I think not.

2. Writers get to go hole up in beautiful, secluded resorts with stunning vistas while they pen their masterpieces. Um, maybe this is true for a lucky few (except that poor writer in Misery, for whom the secluded resort was a horrible idea), but most of the writers I know are scrambling to find ten free minutes, and we’ll take them anywhere we can get them. I’ve been known to scribble on scraps of paper in the bathroom in the middle of the night, to be sure I don’t forget an idea before morning. Most of us are on a first-name basis with the baristas at our local coffee shops—my children think I work at Starbucks! And day in and day out, most of us end up sneaking time on the laptop at the kitchen table—we sit down, tune out the shouts of the children, and ignore the damp Cheerios as they crust over and glue themselves to the table, and our story whisks us away, wherever we’d like to go.

Exhibit A: No joke—this is what my table looked like as I worked on this blog post this morning. Sadly, the Cheerios were not staged for the purposes of this blog. (Ahem. I did clean the table later, but when you catch a free moment, you gotta grab it.)

3. Writer’s block. Do writers occasionally get stuck during the writing process? Sure. Do we sometimes need to take breaks from our stories? Of course. Do some stories turn out to be dead ends—at least for a while? Yep. But I’ve found that “writer’s block” is an exaggerated, borderline mythical phenomenon that makes writing sound more agonizing than it actually is. It’s like, if a writer claims, “I haven’t slept in days; I’ve stopped paying my bills; I’ve behaved like an ogre toward my family and friends,” and their friend asks why, as long as the writer answers, “Writer’s block,” the friend’s eyes will widen in sympathy and all will be forgiven. (But having said that, I still reserve the right to claim a whopping case of writer’s block, should I ever need a romantic-sounding excuse for why I’m not writing, or why I’m stomping around in a horrible mood.)

4. Writing is miserable. I think we writers, being the dramatic type, sometimes enjoy making our work sound torturous and darn-near impossible—perhaps because we have so little to show for the countless hours we labor at our beloved projects, and we want people to admire and appreciate our efforts. But for me, writing is my happy place. If I don’t write, then I’m miserable. Writing is an escape, a thrill, a joy—the thing I’d rather be doing than anything else in the world. And I think most writers—at least most writers who stick with this crazy career long-term—would give that a hearty “amen.”

5. Writers are angsty. Okay this one is kind of true, but not always. But I prefer the words “ponderous,” “sensitive,” “insightful,” “creative,” “artistic,” “talented,” and “soulish,” thank you very much. Many of us are drawn to writing because we are captivated by people, by the difficulties and intricacies of relationships, the deep questions of life . . . and so we experience life in neon, where others may see only primary colors. But does that mean we’re all self-absorbed drama queens? Only when we have writer’s block.

6. Writers are emotionally fragile people. Most writers I know exhibit a fascinating dichotomy: They have extra strings on their sensitive emotional guitar, and this helps them to experience chords of emotional nuance that others may miss—and yet they’re tough. It takes courage to write about real life without glossing it over. It takes even more courage to write the truth about yourself, and lay it out there for the world to see—even in fictional form. And if all that doesn’t do the trick, the competitive nature of the writing industry makes us resilient and forces us to develop thick skin—although when we get those lovely rejection letters and bad reviews, we reserve the right to cry and throw the angstiest of fits. But you know we can’t help but crawl back to the computer a few days later . . .

7. The writing life is glamorous. This one’s actually true—of course we writers lead the coolest lives on the planet. I mean, what do Brangelina and their 18 kids have on me and Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome and our adorable 3.5 children and dog and snail, I ask you? I mean, I sometimes wear sunglasses and black clothes and no makeup, too. Where’s my paparazzi?

Okay but seriously: Again I blame the movies here—and not just for the existence of Brangelina. Movies offer us this iconic stereotype of writers, hanging out in Manhattan in their cliques of well-dressed writer friends, imbibing liquids that children’s writers should not publicly admit to imbibing, and hobnobbing with intellectuals who bluster with large vocabulary words about such elusive concepts as existentialism and postmodernism. I’m sure there are such writers, but they’re the minority.

Mostly, we work like crazy on our books as we juggle family life and several other jobs—not exactly a glitzy lifestyle. And when my beloved writer’s group gets together, we hang out in our little coffee shop and critique each other’s chapters, in between admiring pictures of children and grandchildren. And yet somehow . . . it’s glorious.

8. Writers are rich. Ha! HahahaHA! I mean, some of us—I should say them—are, but most of us don’t write The Hunger Games or Twilight. Many of us work for years without seeing a paycheck. And here I have to give an enormous shout-out to all the husbands and wives and parents and friends and babysitters who support us in our pursuit of our writing—who choose to see it as an investment, not a money pit—because they believe in our talent and embrace the insanity of our dream, and give us the time and freedom to pursue, not just what we love, but who we are, whether we ever get paid or not. They understand that if we don’t do this, we shrivel up and die—so who cares if we ever make a dime? (Although a few million dimes in the bank would be nice.)

9. Writers naturally excel at grammar. I’m a total grammar geek myself, and yet I have to acknowledge that on some level—that’s what editors are for! Some writers easily “get” grammar, but others, for whom grammar is a challenge, are great storytellers—and they should still tell their stories! (The editor in me can’t help belaboring the obvious: Every writer should work to improve in the technical aspects of our craft, and should always submit manuscripts that are as clean and polished as possible. Duh.) I heard Henry Winkler (a.k.a. the Fonz, of Happy Days fame) speak at a conference this January, and he shared that because he has dyslexia, he never thought he could be a writer. But write he has! He’s written (in collaboration with coauthor Lin Oliver) seventeen novels about a dyslexic hero named Hank Zipzer. How great is that? But let me finish this point by saying this: Every writer needs an editor, no matter how grammar-savvy you are. If you’re going the self-publishing route, please hire a great editor to help you produce a professional product.

10. Writers can only write when they’re inspired. We all love those “aha” moments when our creative Spidey Senses are tingling—for me, these hyper moments usually happen when I have significant amounts of caffeine zinging through my veins, so I suspect that they may be deceiving me with a coffee-fabricated, imaginary sense of brilliance and creativity—but if you want to be a writer who actually finishes a project, you’ve got to learn to discipline your creativity. I learned this about a week after I started writing The Thirteenth Summer, when the initial rush of inspiration had worn off, and I realized it was time to buckle down and write the whole book . . . and it was going to take a long time. When you sit down and start to write—something, anything, no matter how awful you think it is—if you do it enough times, day after day, the creativity starts to come when you call it. You may not feel inspired, but once you start putting some words on the page . . . they’re usually not as bad as you think.

11. “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is merely coincidental . . . ” You know this disclaimer at the beginning of books? Yeah, that’s a bunch of legal baloney. (But if a lawyer asks you, you didn’t hear it from me. My blog was hacked.) Of course writers watch people and incorporate their personalities and traits into our characters. But actually, most of our characters are an amalgam of our own selves and many different people we know—so they’re not direct representations of a single individual.

12. Writers sit down, and out pops poetry. Every once in a while, you write a zinger of a line the first go-round, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Comparing your first drafts—or even second or third drafts—to polished, published work is just not fair. First drafts are just that: first drafts. Practice words. A way to get the story out and get to know the characters. Most of us don’t get a beautiful line until we’ve wrestled with it for a while. Revision is where the magic happens.

13. Writing is a solo sport. One of my favorite things about writing is the community: the way we all work together to advise, inspire, and even commiserate with each other. Writers are team players—especially children’s writers. We share ideas, tips, advice. Some of the most generous-spirited people I’ve ever met are seasoned writers who gladly share their wisdom and experience with new writers—or who give newbies a pick-me-up when self-doubt starts taking over. I have to close with a big shout-out to my favorite fellow writers: my writer’s group, which has stuck with me even after I’ve moved—Emma, Gail, Muriel, and Susan; and to my first and forever writing companion, who taught me to love language in the first place—my dad. Thanks for making my writing life a joy.

My bestie-slash-writing partner, Emma.

My bestie-slash-writing partner, Emma.

13 Issues with Modern Public Restrooms

This might seem like the most random List of 13 yet, but it’s not. (Okay, it kind of is, but hang with me.) Like Rage and Crystal, I’ve been traveling a lot this summer—alas, I was not on a rock-and-roll tour of the nation, as they were—but I have traveled the entire Eastern seaboard, from Miami to Boston, and then some. And now, one blown minivan transmission and three thousand exhausting miles later, I’ve realized that one of the unfortunate side effects of so much travel is that you become an unwitting expert on public restrooms, including all of their modern so-called “conveniences.” And so, in honor of my fellow road-weary travelers, I offer you 13 Issues with Modern Public Restrooms. Read at your own risk.

1. Dyson Hand Blades: If you haven’t encountered these sleek, cutting-edge contraptions yet, they are supposed to be the Porsche of hand-drying systems. The only problem is, they are a little too powerful. Using them feels like dipping your hands into a tornado, or placing your fingers beneath a rocket during blast-off. When you’re done drying your hands, you have to check to be sure that you still have fingerprints. And don’t use them anywhere near small children—they’re sure to run away shrieking in terror.

2. Overzealous automatic flush toilets: There is no sensation more unpleasant or unsettling than that of a toilet flushing vigorously while you are still sitting on it. Some of these toilets get so excited that they’ll flush two or three times in a row while you’re still doing your business—and then you nearly hurl, realizing that your poor innocent behind has just been thoroughly misted, and possibly splattered, with every germ in the toilet. Every time this happens to my kids (which is basically every time they use an automatic toilet), they jump off screaming. And can you blame them? Meanwhile, I’m weighing the pros and cons of dipping their bottom half in Clorox, to sanitize them.

3. Underzealous automatic flush toilets: On the flip side, it is a uniquely modern humiliation to find yourself dancing the polka in front of a toilet, trying to convince it to flush. And the automatic toilet engineers, who apparently share a perverse sense of humor, have conspired to camouflage the tiny do-it-yourself flush buttons so thoroughly that they are nearly impossible to find. In order to find the flush button, you end up bending your head precariously close to the toilet—at which time the toilet finally decides to flush . . . in your face. Coincidence? I think not.

4. Automatic faucets: I am beginning to believe that one must know a secret automatic faucet handshake—or perhaps be able to conduct electricity through one’s skin—in order to convince these faucets to work. Even when they do work, my kids’ hands can never reach the sensors, so I end up dashing between three or four sinks at a time, waving my hands like a maniac, trying to get all of our hands clean at once.

5. Automatic air fresheners: The people who invent these aromas clearly do not understand the meaning of the word fresh. All these “fresheners” do is exacerbate an already perilous—if not borderline toxic—olfactory situation. Public bathrooms—if you’re lucky—already smell like bleach, which is never strong enough to mask the ever-present undercurrent of eau de sewer. So when you add to that a syrupy, overdone floral aroma—possibly inspired by your Great Aunt Bessie’s Hibiscus Heaven Perfume, on steroids—it’s hard to believe you’re not inhaling poison.

6. Automatic soap dispensers: These also require a Jedi Mind Trick in order to work properly. You stand there, waving your hand around beneath the dispenser—no soap. So you try a new tactic, and hold your hand still—no soap. You raise and lower your hand slow, then fast, then slow—still no soap. The moment you finally give up and start to back away, they shoot out an aggressive stream of pink goo, coating your shirt sleeve in stinky slime.

After a while, you can’t help but wonder: Maybe there is a secret conspiracy behind all these “automatic” bathroom installations, and they’re not automatic at all. They’re run by a top-secret band of Public Restroom Officials, who watch us like Big Brother from behind the bathroom mirrors—which are really two-way mirrors like the ones in prison interrogation rooms and dystopian novels—and these powerful people control the water and soap and toilet flushes, deliberately releasing them at the worst possible moments. At best, they are videotaping our frustrated reactions for some twisted version of “Candid Camera”; at worst, this is a sorting test, designed to evaluate our intelligence and personality, and predetermine our role in an automated society that is planning to take over the world. (What? You think I’ve been reading too many dystopian novels? Get out of town . . . but take your own bathroom with you.)

7. Dual-flush toilets: What is the deal with these so-called “environmental” toilets? I am an obsessive recycler and closet environmentalist, and yet I find these toilets baffling. Does it really save that much water to flush differently, depending on the—er, materials—you put in? And I, being the ultimate rule-follower, end up standing in the stall for an extra five minutes, reading and re-reading the instructions to be sure I am flushing in the right direction. I feel that this five minutes presents a new hazard: three hundred more seconds spent ingesting the floral-sewer-bleach concoction that is surely causing cancerous tumors to grow in our nasal passages. I ask you, America: Is saving four ounces of water per flush really worth the health care costs of a drastic increase in nose tumors?

8. In-stall advertisements: I love good bathroom reading material as much as anyone, but these in-stall ads are just ridiculous. There are a few sacred places where we should be free from the ubiquitous arm of the advertising machine that claws its way into every crevice of our modern lives. Come on, people! Leave us to do our business in peace! And consider this, you advertising execs who think you’re so clever: We really don’t want to read about your weight-loss system while we’re trying to survive a few minutes in a smelly public restroom—we just want to get in, get out, and get it over with, without being flushed on. Public bathrooms don’t exactly put us in a “buying” frame of mind, and we definitely don’t want to scan your ad with our smart phone while we’re sitting on the john.

9. Trash cans the size of Kleenex boxes: I just don’t understand the downsizing of trash cans—this trend is especially popular in hotel bathrooms, and I can’t figure out the logic behind it. Is this on the advice of interior designers, who cry, “streamline, streamline”? Or have hotel managers been inspired by Apple products, and the way the iPod is now small enough to wear inside a contact lens? Or is this another case of environmentalism, hoping that smaller trash cans will encourage people to use fewer paper towels? I hate to break it to you, but small trash cans = large piles of trash on the floor. Please. If you’re not going to clean the restroom every fifteen minutes, buy the bigger trash can.

10. The fluorescent lighting in public bathrooms: Interior designers will tell you that lighting is a key element in creating ambience in a room. Is it just me, or do public restrooms have the worst possible lighting? And I’m not just talking about gas stations and fast food establishments here. I once attended a wonderful church whose bathroom lighting was so unflattering that it made me nearly lose my faith altogether. It turned my skin a demonic shade of puke green and managed to highlight every flaw on my face. Perhaps the lighting was intended as a moral test of some kind—one I failed every Sunday. Every time I used that restroom, the lighting drove all pious thoughts from my brain, replacing them with a sinful concoction of vanity, insecurity, and self-obsession. Instead of the preacher’s sermon, I found myself pondering the theological implications of either vandalizing the church mirror, or getting a face transplant.

11. Uber-thin toilet paper: Why do proprietors of public restrooms insist on buying toilet paper so thin it shreds into tatters when you try to grab some? I realize thinner is cheaper, so theoretically, they are making an economical decision—but I’m sorry to inform you, oh cheapskate toilet paper buyers, that your plan is backfiring. We end up using five times the amount of toilet paper we might otherwise use, because most of what we pull off the roll ends up in a pile of wet papier-mâché on the floor, and we have to assemble an enormous wad of shreds in order to get a usable handful. Please, dear restroom proprietors, I’m begging you: Buy decent toilet paper. Your bottom line will thank you . . . and so will ours.

12. Two-second water faucets: You know the kind I’m talking about—for some reason (possibly another government plot), they are especially popular in parks: You have to press down on the faucet in order to turn on the water, then it turns off automatically after two seconds, before you’ve even had time to get both of your hands under the stream, much less put any soap on your hands. So you have to press it again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and again . . . at least eighteen times. You end up holding down the faucet with one soapy wrist while awkwardly trying to wash your other hand, then swapping positions to wash the other hand, thereby wasting ridiculous amounts of water. Again, I applaud the idea of water conservation, but it’s backfiring. I promise, if you’ll just give us a regular faucet, the vast majority of us will remember to turn the water off.

13. Metal trash containers built in to the walls of bathroom stalls: Ladies, you are all too familiar with these torture devices: These metal boxes are built into the stall, and they’re almost impossible to open. They are shut so tightly that you have to stick your entire hand into the slot to open them, and then the durn things snap closed on you, trapping your fingers inside. And worst of all, some of these containers open two ways—they are shared between two stalls—so that, against your will, you are able to see into the next stall, and you risk actually touching fingers with the woman in the stall beside you. (Yes, you may join me in a horrified shudder here.) Afterward, you need some surgeon-level sterilization to get the germs off your hands. Huh. Maybe those skin-removing Dyson Hand Blades aren’t such a bad idea after all.

13 Books I’m Dying to Read with My Kids

Meg Ryan’s character put it so beautifully in You’ve Got Mail: “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of you in a way that no other book does.” This list of thirteen classic books shaped my childhood and took me on the wildest adventures—all from the safety of my bedroom, or the back seat of my parents’ minivan. I can’t wait for my kids to experience them! It was really tough narrowing this down to only thirteen, so I might have to write a second list soon . . . And if you’re a grown-up and you missed out on reading any of these books as a kid, you’ll love reading them now.

Books for moms to read with kids

1. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks—This one’s boy-friendly, unlike the majority of my list. What kid doesn’t dream of their toys coming to life?

2. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson—I didn’t usually go for sad books when I was a kid (I still don’t), but—well you just can’t beat this book. It captures the essence of childhood like few other books do.

3. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce—This one’s not as commonly known, though it is a classic . . . and it is just beautiful. I discovered it by accident when I was ten, and was swept away.

4. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett—Yeah, I’m cheating, lumping two books together here. Every little girl HAS to read these magical books.

5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling—Okay, so I read these as an adult, but they made me feel like an eleven-year-old! Parents, please don’t let your kids cheat and watch the movies first. You’ll rob them of one of the greatest reading experiences of their life—one that could turn even anti-book kids into avid readers.

6. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery—I still watch the movie adaptation of these books regularly whenever I need to unwind—but as always, read the books first. They are delightful.

7. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter—I blame this book, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden for all of the orphan games I used to play as a kid. I had wonderful parents, and yet I always pretended to be an orphan—weird, I know. Sorry, Mom and Dad. Blame the books.

8. The BFG by Roald Dahl—It doesn’t get any better than this. Kids (and parents) will laugh themselves silly.

9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott—Makes you grateful for your sisters, if you’ve got them—and long for sisters, if you don’t.

10. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein—This one means more and more the older you get.

11. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein—A whimsical collection of kid-friendly poems and illustrations. I read and re-read this book countless times.

12. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis—I still kind of wish I could live in Narnia, and am tempted to look for doors in the back of my closets . . .

13. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder—We’ve actually started reading this one now, since it starts out when Laura is five years old. It’s such a fascinating portrait of life on the American frontier.

Let me know if you or your kids read these books, and what they think! Happy reading!

13 Words that Don’t Mean What People Think They Mean

1. Olympics—You might think this word means, “event in which athletes from around the world compete in thrilling displays of flexibility, strength, acrobatics, and skill, with the overarching goal of promoting harmony and goodwill among the nations.” But you would be wrong. It really means, “addictive televised athletic event that will keep you up until midnight every night—eating doughnuts or some other junk food which will assure that you yourself will never qualify for the Olympics or look like the gods and goddesses competing on TV—and make you exhausted, unproductive, and basically useless for three weeks.”

2. “athalete”—I don’t know why, but many English speakers feel that the word athlete lacks a vowel between the H and the L, and so they add an A. This mysterious affliction has been known even to affect journalists at the Olympic Games.

3. “triathalon”/”triathalete”—See #2. People give in to the same temptation with the words triathlon and triathlete, pronouncing them “triathalon” and “triathalete.”

4. sick—If someone says, “When Gabby Douglas does her bar routine, she is just sick,” you might think that poor Gabby—so adorable she’s almost edible—is vomiting all over the uneven bars . . . but you would, according to modern slang, be mistaken. It means that Gabby Douglas flies like—well, some would say a squirrel, though I’d pick a more majestic animal—over the uneven bars, taking the world’s breath away.

5. albatross—I’ll give myself a hard time with this one.
Word-for-word conversation that happened in my house a few years ago:
My husband, aka Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome, exclaimed: “Wow! Tiger Woods just hit an albatross!”
Me, gasping in horror, picturing a gruesome Death By Golf Ball for an innocent bird: “Oh no!”
Mr. TDH: Hysterical laughter at my expense.

You might think, if you are a girl who doesn’t watch golf unless forced—and it appears that we will all be forced to watch it in the 2016 Olympic Games—that albatross is simply the name of a bird. But you would be wrong. Embarrassingly wrong. (In my defense, I was picturing that legendary moment in 1980s baseball when the pitcher hit a bird with a fastball, and the poor bird exploded in a feathery mess, right there in the air above home plate. It was horrifying.) Albatross, in a golfing context, means a score of three under par.

6. ironic—This is one of those words that is misused all of the time. We say things are ironic, when really they are inconvenient, or unfortunate, or just a serious disappointment. For example, we might say, “Isn’t it ironic that McKayla Maroney, aka The Best Vaulter of All Time, fell on her second vault and had to settle for a silver medal?” That’s not ironic, just heartbreaking. To give a non-Olympic example, remember the Alanis Morrissette song from the 1990s, “Isn’t It Ironic?” My English teacher had a cow over the misuse of ironic in that song. Really, that song should have been called, “Isn’t It a Bummer?” Rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic, just a supreme bummer, especially if you’ve got an outdoor wedding with no backup plan. (My favorite correct usage of ironic, by the way, is in You’ve Got Mail—the scene where Tom Hanks is on the boat with his dad, discussing his dad’s marital history. Pitch-perfect.)

7. apart—People often write “apart” when what they really mean is “a part.” The difference in meaning is—well, they are opposites. So if you say, “I am apart of the Missy Franklin and Other Tall Swimmers Fan Club,” you have actually just announced that you are not a member of this club. You are not a fan of Missy Franklin, aka the Smiling-est Swimmer of All Time (you heartless soul, you), nor do you root for other tall swimmers. But if you say, “I am a part of the Missy Franklin and Other Tall Swimmers Fan Club,” then you are a card-carrying member of this noble organization, and a defender of tall swimmers everywhere.

8. nauseous—Technically, nauseous means “inducing a feeling of nausea.” So when we say, “I’m nauseous when I watch synchronized swimming,” what we’re really saying is, “When I watch synchronized swimming, the expression on my face makes everyone around me want to vomit.” Which could be true, I suppose, but even if it were—is it wise to go around telling that to people? You’ll doom yourself to solitary Olympics-watching and junk-food-eating for the rest of the Games. The word we’re looking for is nauseated, as in, “Watching synchronized swimming makes me nauseated.”

9. literally—Literally means “in actual fact; this is really and truly what happened.” But we like to use this word just for dramatic emphasis, and in so doing we end up betraying the meaning of the word and robbing it of its power. For example, a doughnut-eating Olympics-watcher might turn to a fellow doughnut-eater and say, “I literally had a heart attack and died when the US women’s soccer team scored the winning goal over Canada in the final seconds of overtime.” To which Doughnut-Eater Number Two might respond, “Oh my goodness! Are you a god? You have risen from the dead—where is your house of worship?”

10. inflammable—In one of those weird English language quirks designed to torment non-native speakers, inflammable is not the opposite of flammable, as you would think. Believe it or not, the Olympic torch is both flammable and inflammable at the same time. Somehow—and you’ll have to take this up with the dictionary people if you have issues with it—inflammable actually just means flammable (capable of being set on fire). Go figure.

11. “laxadaisical”—I hear people say this all the time, and I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not a word. For example, they might say, “In the 2008 Olympics, Usain Bolt finished the one-hundred meter dash in a laxadaisical way, and irritated the stew out of every other sprinter in the whole world, plus not a few doughnut-eaters.” Lackadaisical is the word you’re looking for . . . and it is indeed a fantastic one, so definitely use it, minus the nonexistent X.

12. awesome—A fantastic word that has been rendered anemic by overuse. This word means “expressing or inspiring awe.” So what does awe mean? “An emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” Sacred and sublime—now those are Big Deal Concepts (think God, the powers of the universe—really big powers like that). I confess, I have occasionally been guilty of using awesome to describe such mundane things as dougnuts or Justin Beiber’s hair (okay, I’m kidding on the hair thing, but I do love a good chocolate-covered doughnut . . . anyway, you get the idea). I’m sorry, but contrary to popular prepubescent opinion, Justin Beiber’s hair is not a divine object worthy of worship. Henceforth, I plan to reserve this word only for things related to actual deity. Won’t you join me? I have to say . . . it might almost be okay to call Michael Phelps’s Olympic career awesome. If his career isn’t borderline sublime . . . well it’s close.

13. “on behalf of my team and myself”—Okay, so this is a phrase, not a word, but it’s a phrase you hear every coach of every team say at every thank you speech. They love to say, “I’d like to thank you all on behalf of my team and myself . . .” Beloved coaches of the world, there’s no need for complex pronoun gymnastics here. Just say, “My team and I want to thank you.” I won’t bore you with a technical explanation of how to use reflexive pronouns correctly, but . . . well, when in doubt, don’t use them. And now, on behalf of my blog and myself, I’d like to thank you for reading—oh, wait . . . you get the idea. Thanks for reading.