I Have No Patience for Lazy Writers

A brief rant.

This morning, I got this email from someone who is apparently farming out parts of his books to people with better description skills than he has:

You are the perfect person to help me. I’m writing a book about birding adventures that I had in 2011. One tense incident happened along the Rio Grande when armed cartel waded across the Rio Grande. To make a long story short, for the next forty-five minutes or so two helicopters (border patrol) circled overhead. Here is my question:

How would you accurately describe the sound these helicopters make?

Border Patrol at Rio Grande
Photo of Border Patrol helicopter over Rio Grande from gallery on U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

For the record, I’ve never been birding along the Rio Grande while Border Patrol helicopters circled overhead for 45 minutes. How would I know what it sounds like?

Yet this guy was apparently there and can’t describe it. He figures that since I’m a helicopter pilot and a writer, I can describe it for him. So he sends me this email message.

Here’s a tip: if you can’t accurately describe something with words, you shouldn’t be a writer.

And yes, I addressed this in my blog back in 2009: “Writing Tips: Writing Accurate Descriptions.” If you do read that post, pay close attention to the first paragraph under the heading “Do Your Homework,” since it pretty much covers my thoughts on getting email messages like this one.

10 thoughts on “I Have No Patience for Lazy Writers

  1. Sounds like he wanted to know how to properly word a complaint. Some birders are like that. I’ve been under attack verbally in similar fashion. Hell, go learn how to use a thesaurus.

    • Actually, that could very well be the case. Who knows? More people seem to lie these days than tell the truth. I’m getting pretty sick of it.

  2. He knows little about helicopters.
    There is not a single description that can encompass the vast range of sounds a helicopter rotor can produce.
    A helicopter approaching the observer will likely sound like an insistent clatter which becomes a loud thumping whump as it passes overhead. As it moves on and away the engine sound dominates and that will vary according to the type of engine used. A turbine engine (as in the helicopter in your photo) will have a high pitched whine which your R44 will not produce.
    Other variables include speed, loading, altitude and number of blades in the rotor. A Huey with its two wide blades has a bass note far lower than a four bladed Hughes 500 of similar weight A twin turbine Boeing executive taxi, travelling at speed with its gear tucked in, has a volume and urgency that is unique.
    Every kid can recognise the wonderous sound of a Chinook from 5 miles out.

    • My observation from getting email messages like this one for years is that they want an easy answer. I used to reply via email, but now I just turn their questions into blog posts. My hope is that the folks who need the information will find it here before they ask. Or possibly prevent them from emailing me something that will generate a rant like this one. :-)

  3. I would have just messed with him for fun. For example I would offer these descriptions for his book:

    wuppa wuppa
    whop whop whop

    • Funny, but definitely not worth it. I’m very careful about who I email because I really don’t want too many people having my email address — especially if they have a reason to be pissed off at me.

  4. Come on now. EVERYONE knows that there is only ONE sound that helicopters make…just one.

    It’s the sound that every single helicopter in the movies always makes. It’s always the same, regardless of how many main rotor blades it has, whether it’s a turbine or a piston engine, how big or small it is, NOTAR, fenestron, conventional tail rotor, RC model, or whatever.

    ALL movie helicopters make the sound of a two-bladed Huey on a slow approach, with its oddly syncopated whupata whupata whup, straight out of the Vietnam era.

    If it’s in the movies, it MUST be right, right?

    Yes, this is satire, for those who cannot get their tongues properly in cheek.

    • Yep, and there is always Robert Duvall’s Colonel Kilgore on the beach praising the smell of ‘napalm in the morning’, as Wagner’s Die Valkyrie blasts out from the sky …and Lance takes to his surfboard on the Nung estuary.
      (Forever seared into what remains of my brain)

    • My R22 made that exact sound once – as I was coming in for landing, a gum wrapper got stuck on the leading edge of one of my main rotor blades. The change in the sound was so noticeable that the mechanic came running out of the hangar to see what was going on. When the blades stopped, the gum wrapper gently floated down to the ground.

    • It’s pretty alarming when you get weird noises from a blade, they pilots attention pretty fast. We used to use anti-erosion tape on the leading edges of our Schweizers 300s when I flew out of Scottsdale and Glendale, it really helped to protect the blades from sand erosion.

      Unfortunately the factory-approved method for attaching it was to use a coating of rubber cement on the blade AND the tape, which then had to dry forever till it was OK to fly. If you tried to run it up before it was TOTALLY dry, it would slowly slide off the blade tip and start making a really weird moaning sound. If you used it till you started to get pinholes (the erosion isn’t uniform) it would bubble up and whistle, so when you got back the mechanic would know right away he had a new job waiting for him. It actually worked MUCH better to skip the rubber cement and just use the adhesive that came on the tape. Not only did it stick better, you didn’t have to wait. I think that’s the new approved method now.

      I also happened to be on the flight line at at Cairns airfield at Ft. Rucker in Alabama when an AH-64 lost a foot or so of the leading edge strip on one blade. BOY, did that get every ones attention, every head outdoors swivelled right to the noise like they were all on the same string. It sounded like it was going to fall out of sky all at once, but in reality the Apache has a very damage tolerant blade, being designed to withstand being hit by 23mm rounds.

      The R-22 actually has a very sturdy and durable MR blade too, though not for combat of course. The entire leading edge is made out of very heavy duty stainless-steel extrusion, which the blade afterbody is basically glued to. I cut a few dozen sections out of a timed-out blade a few years back (OK, a lot of years back) and it was far more difficult to cut than the Bell 206 blade that I was also chopping up at the time. The chunks make good souvenirs, but they are a bit of work to produce.

What do you think?