The Elements of Style & Tonic

Doug Howard

3/28/14 (Originally published November, 2005)

Recently I was quite surprised to find that I am, in some warped circles apparently now considered a writer. This in spite of the fact that I have two horrid little novels that actually speak to me in the middle of the night, just prior to my falling asleep… and plead with me not to finish them. They cannot seem to take it any longer and I do not blame them.

Now while I may be a songwriter (of sorts having written virtually nothing for the past decade or so), I am not a novelist, or a journalist for that matter, but rather it would now appear that I am considered a “web pundit,” an editorial satirist, a social commentator. And all this time I was under the impression that I was simply a functional alcoholic who had found in his laptop an acceptable substitute for making late night drunk calls to ex-wives and former employers. Who would have imagined? Amazing!

Now if this declaration seems presumptuous of me, I honestly could not agree with you more were it not for the ever-increasing amount of mail that I receive from readers. Outside of the occasional death threat from people writing in capital letters things like “Allahu Akbar,” or ‘Jesus Hates You”, which of course do not count as I have been receiving those since my very first album which I recorded with Charles Baudelaire in 1863 (loads of laughs… good times!), I have of late been receiving notes from people who actually think I know what I am doing. This I find hilarious of course, but once I get over it and wipe the tears from my eyes, a sense of deep concern washes over me when I find that some people are actually asking me for advice on how to become a writer. How deeply disturbing.

Well, far be it for me to let anyone down. And while under any normal circumstances I charge significant amounts of money to preach happy horse-shit to people who are silly enough to think that I actually know what I am talking about at an given time, I shall attempt to impart upon those who have been asking… some of the secrets of my success.

Firstly, try to write good. Don’t write bad. People don’t like that and it makes the baby Jesus cry.  If you are currently writing bad… try to write more good.

As well, and I paraphrase my good friend Tara in sharing with you that all writers for the most part simply want to smoke, drink and copulate and they find that writing as a career facilitates that well. So try to get in touch with your own personal vices. Know them well. There is method here… and in saying that I would ask the reader at this time to pause in review and mosey on down to the local Liquor Locker, and pick up a gallon of the least expensive vodka on the shelf. But something that sounds vaguely Russian of course and comes in plastic. I personally recommend Popov or Chernobyl.

I’ll wait.

Back? Dandy!

Now, get yourself a large glass and some ice, place the bottle near your chair and we shall proceed.

Oh, sorry… forgot. Do you have any cigarettes? Well, even if you don’t smoke, get some and start. Excellent! Now, where were we?

Good research is imperative when writing. A good writer always does his or her best to back up their assertions and premises with solid research. And this is where proper use of the web has become essential to good writing. By way of example, when researching an article on evolution and you wish to quote from “The Origins of Species” by Charles Darwin, I would recommend opening your browser and typing in “co-ed bondage hi-jinx” or “lathered suburban housewives” in your search. This may be considered by some to be the long way around to finding what it is you are looking for, but once you get the results back you probably won’t care.

By they way, you should require some more ice at this point, but if you are doing this at all properly then the ice, and very likely the glass itself for that matter will have become completely irrelevant… so go ahead and feel free to just start swilling it directly from the bottle at your feet.

Now would also be a good time to light up a few more cigarettes. So let’s take a break shall we, and have a smoke. It also would be appropriate at this time to take out a firearm or two and go out on your deck and blow off a few rounds. See if you can manage to take out the bird feeder or hit that wasp’s nest that your wife has been asking you to take care of since last May.

All done? Fantastic! Now let’s get back to it.

Continuity and flow are extremely important in both engaging the reader and giving you as the writer a clear line of sight as to where you would like to go. Thus you should begin every new effort by starting with the words “The End” on your very first page. Place this page to the side so that you can quickly grab it and slap it on the back of whatever you have put down when you get to the point where you just can’t stand the idea of having to write another word, or when you become so blind drunk that you have to hold your hand over one eye in order to find the letters on your keyboard.

Now then, spelling, proper grammar and punctuation always count. While artistic license is most certainly granted in creative writing, using acronyms such as LOL, ROFLMAO, or posting Smiley’s at the end of your sentences will likely make you appear completely retarded to any serious readers over the age of 9.

But then again …what the hell.  Do whatever you want. Who cares? It’s amazing how this paint thinner gets better tasting after the first 12 blasts, isn’t it? Next time we should try running it through a Britta water filter. I hear that works pretty well actually.

What was it we were doing anyway? Oh, right. An article on “Pipe Organs and Cat Feces” by My Favorite Martian… and a fine article it will be. So let’s refill our glass (or just suck back another pull), light up another ciggy and finally get down to it! Huzzah! Thus far we have done our research, begun our first page, and emptied half of the bottle… and it isn’t even 10 o’clock in the morning. 

Excellent! Well done! You are most certainly on your way!

Now in my experience, at this point in time there could possibly be a loud banging going on at your front door. This is either the fire department responding to the flames shooting out from your windows likely caused when you started putting your cigarettes out on the drapes… or you missed shooting the bird feeder entirely and the SWAT team has come to call.  

Write to me soon and let me know how this all works out for you.

Thanks for stopping by.

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