The Nonfiction Writer’s “Does My Writing Stink?” Test

December 13, 2011 § 4 Comments


How to Tell if You’ve Given Your Readers Adequate Olfactory Cues

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The Nonfiction Writer’s “Does My Writing Stink?” Test

A follow-up to Jill McCabe Johnson’s Craft essay The Art of Literary Olfaction, posted yesterday:

Randomly select ten pages of your own writing, and count the number of times you’ve referenced odors. Award yourself one nifty Nose for every reference to odor, then use the scale below to rank yourself among your fellow writers. Note: references in your writing to freshly baked bread, cut grass, flowers, or ground coffee count as only half a Nose.

0 Noses: Back to the editing table. As a consolation, you are in good company, with the same degree of odor-inclusion as most writers in your genre.

1 Nose: A good start. Extra credit if the odor is not a food, or gives insight into character, or, better yet, serves to progress the narrative.

2 Noses: Your readers are probably engrossed by your story and are making travel plans right now to attend your next reading.

3 Noses: Congratulations! Not only does your writing stink (in a good way), but your readers, in the throes of an oxytocin high, are secretly in love with you.

4 Noses: Your editor has marked your essay for a Pushcart nomination. Your readers are buying extra copies for their friends.

5 Noses: Ringer! Tell the truth—you started out as a poet, didn’t you?

6 or more Noses: Sensory overload. Your readers feel queasy and instead of picking up the Pushcart pen your editor has pressed the Panic Button.

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