Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blood on Brow.

"Interest lies not so much in a topic as in what a writer has made of it" -Thomas S. Kane

About a year ago I picked up a book called The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing. This is the sort of thing that I walk past on the shelf and naively whisk off to the register with the hair-brained idea that I can become a great writer overnight. It has happened once or twice. If there is one thing that really annoys me about writers that read books about writing it is the fact that they rarely write.

I've enjoyed writing on this blog and the ones before it for five and a half years now. Looking back over that vast body of hastily and poorly written meandering prose I've realized that I write only when it pleases me to write. Good writers write to some other end. I use writing as a crutch to balance out my lack of eloquence with the spoken word - as if to say, "Hey, look how well I can put things when I have a half hour or so to think about them first." Stupid things roll out of my mouth like bullets from a mini-gun. If only I had 30-45 minutes to formulate a response to any given interaction in real life - but alas. I think that is another big reason that I enjoy writing, it affords me that luxury of editing my thoughts.

I just read Don Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It was good. In it he quotes a writer who says, in effect, that he doesn't like writing but he likes having written. What a good quote. There you have a psalm of sorts that fits into so many different scenarios. We don't like accomplishing things - we like having accomplished them. Am I right? Think about whatever it is you do and I bet you'll see that the light at the end of the tunnel is what keeps you going. You want to know that you did something worth while but that doesn't mean it feels worth it while you're doing it.

Long story short I'm going to work on being a writer for "reals." Not the kind of writer that writes to have a couple of laughs or blow off steam and get comments from two or three awesomely loyal friends  (thanks guys!) but one that really and truly can backhand the English language into submission. As such I am going to start by doing some of the exercises at the end of the chapter in this Oxford book. This is not going to be pretty. My grasp of correct grammar, usage, and especially style and mechanics leaves much to be desired. I probably violated 12 or more rules in the above sentence alone. Nevertheless, I'll never get better without first writing poorly.

Exercise 1:
"List ten or twelve topics you might develop into a short essay" then "Selecting one of the topics off your list, compose a paragraph about the readers for whom you might develop it."

1) The meaning of life and Ecclesiastes
2) The Hipster: Looking forward into a new decade
3) The New Year: an underrated holiday
4) Setting Goals vs Forcing Changes in Behavior
5) All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Graduating into a Down Economy
6) Working for the Weekend (how life changes in the real world)
7) The art of contentment.
8) The Romance of Cheap Beer
9) Life in Shrink Wrap
10) One Month Without Facebook

9) In this essay I would explore the use of shrink wrap in the commercial industry to seal products. We think of it as a protective covering but I would argue that its purpose is less tangible. The audience is 20-something pseudo-intellectuals with too much time on their hands and an inflated sense of self-importance. Coincidentally, that also describes the author. They have grown up knowing what it feels like to rip the wrapper from a CD jewel case so they will connect with experience of breaking a factory seal and relate easily to the parallels and parable used to draw real life examples of how we mentally shrink wrap our friends, families, and ourselves in one way or another.
assignment one: finished

1 comment:

  1. I really like that you're working on being a writer for "reals." You have talent and lots of it! You should check out the Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It focuses on the rules: grammar, mechanics, usage and style. It's short and to the point; a bit bossy, but I found it to be a great resource. This was probably all grammatically incorrect. I should probably read that book again...