Category Archives: writing

The Writer’s Life

From A Solemn Pleasure (elaborated by Brain Pickings)

If your commitment isn’t to truth, then you are in the wrong line of work. The poetics of silence still exist in America, but as writers I feel we have a responsibility to engage in history, in painful history, to be responsible witnesses to our own time. We are not separate; we are not an indulgent elite. We are not blind to suffering. We are, in fact, aware of our intimate relation to all other beings, and are thus accountable, deeply responsible. We must connect the personal with the political, the political with the spiritual. And though we can only work from our particular place, our given spot in the world, the particular can be a place of great power — the cry of the human heart and the yearning of the human spirit are, after all, universal.

Truth is a funny thing. You think you live it, but you can’t help but confuse what you see with what is behind it all.

Writing Style Checklist: Step 1

So you want to write well? Great! Join the club! Most of us want to write well, but few know the path to take in order to get there. Let’s see if we can find that path. Ready?

Start off with a simple proposition

great writing is great editing

No one writes great pieces the first go round. We are just not hard wired that way. To write well, we need to get words out on the page and read them critically, making changes to improve the quality of the text.

So don’t do what I used to do as a young man. Stare at the page waiting for the perfect sentence to arrive like the king in his golden carriage. Don’t write write slowly as if each word has to be perfect. A sentence comes out. Then it is crossed out. No! It’s not good enough! Then again! Stop this silliness!

If you put pen to paper and create a writing flow, words will come and that is good. But they will not create a highly effective piece of writing. That only comes with editing. So let the words flow and be prepared to edit. That is step one.

Remember this and you will have a tool in hand. Onward!

Steve Pinker and Coherence Arcs

A Friend of mine — who is not a native English speaker — got frustrated with her English writing. Her frustration surprised me because I could see how much her writing skills had improved of the last several years. She could see the improvements too. But these improvements were about grammar. She wanted more improvement  in her writing style.

That led me to think a bit. “Is there a systematic way to accomplish that?” Good question. Of course, there are great resources on style, mostly books. But what about something you could use while you edit? Like a checklist? Using such a checklist could put principles to work.

So I have been working on that checklist and I will post about it here. The first step, of course, is to think through the path you want the reader to follow to the conclusion of your piece. Steven Pinker calls this a series of “cognitive arcs”, From words to sentences to paragraphs, chapters and so on to the entire work. Good style makes these connections work for the reader. Great writing makes the cognitive arcs very easy to manage. They are so easy that they seem invisible.