On Proper Terminology

On Proper Terminology

Years ago, my piano teacher told me that you don’t call your selected music a song – it’s a piece.

So I retroactively felt dumb about how I’d told my relatives about the ‘song’ I was playing at my recital.

I’m going through a similar panic about terminology. Do I sound like a dipshit when I talk to people about my unpublished novel story-thingy?

What do I call it? A manuscript? My work? A piece? A novel? A story? A book?

I hate the word manuscript. It makes me feel like I should wear a beret and smoke Gauloises and discuss semiotics.

I also hate referring to my writing as my work; it makes me sound like I’ve got a prodigious back catalog, full of fifty-foot bronze sculptures or a series of operas or whatever.

My work sounds better for visual art, though I don’t think that’s quite right, either. But ‘work’ connotes something onerous and while I dislike query letters and revision is hard sometimes, there is something so delicious about writing that ‘work’ is the farthest thing from it. I wonder if visual artists might agree? I tend to think of ‘work’ as cleaning toilets or digging ditches or, as the poet John Engman put it:  “doing something truly hateful for a low wage.”

My unpublished novel is not a piece, because it’s a whole. And though it’s formatted as a novel, I wonder if it’s presumptuous to call it that when it hasn’t been endorsed by the publishing industry. And something about story doesn’t seem fair, either. A story is something I tell my friends over dinner, something I blabber and embellish with too many details, something gossipy or trifling. Or something I read to my kid that includes illustrations.

(Yes, I know, technically, it’s a story. I get that. Though story somewhat diminishes how goddamn long it took to create. God, this is asinine.)

It can’t be a book, either, because a book is paper pressed together with a binding by a publisher, which hasn’t happened yet.

I don’t know why this is bothering me. I don’t usually have this problem, naming things I love.


  • Carrie on Oct 14, 2011 Reply

    yes, literally, actually.

    I live in fear of being called out by arty professional types who might say, “see here, girlie: it’s called a ______, not a _______, get it straight already!”

  • Holly on Oct 14, 2011 Reply

    hair splitting. need some conditioner?

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