Pretend this is Sportscenter and imagine the big, thunderous graphic-and-sonic show opening, finishing with me sitting at the desk looking at a teleprompter. “And now, some highlights from the past week in Writing for Digital Media!”
I do want to re-cap some of what we’ve been discussing and attempting to put into practice. First, we should remind ourselves that writing is a craft, so it can be taught and it can be learned. I learned it. No one is born with skills. So we work at developing the skills of writing and thinking. What cannot be taught is talent and passion.
This is where the chapter 1 exercises (due in class on Friday) come in. They are meant to allow us some fun with words, but more importantly to encourage us to think and to live like writers.
We also talked about the myth of writer’s block. Writing is a job, and we go to work just like everyone else. It’s difficult to imagine someone in the physical plant here saying, “You know what? I’m just not feeling it. I have mower’s block. I’m going to play videogames until the inspiration to mow hits me, until the muse of lawncare floats into my living room and writes something true and mystical on the wall.” We may not feel inspired to write, but we go to work anyway. If there is no wind, row.
We all want to write well right now. And we all want even the first draft to be crystalline prose that moves people to tears and buckles their knees as they bow before such profound writers such as we. And of course that’s ridiculous. As Hemingway said, “All first drafts are sh–.” So we should allow ourselves to fail, and we should commit to several phases or stages of revision.
Zen motto no. 1: Revise. Revise. Revise. (Re-vision? Seeing again, seeing afresh!)
We also talked about some commandments of writing. The first: Sit your ass in the chair (the flip of the first commandment for reporters, by the way, which is to get your ass out of your chair. The world will not come to your computer). And do this DAILY! Writing is all about good habits. Every good writer’s habits are a bit unique, but all good writers have writing habits. That’s the point. Discipline and practice.
Our second commandment: Thou shalt not be obscure. We talked about prohibiting ourselves from using “it” and limiting to a minimum the use of personal pronouns like “we”, “them”, “he” and “she.” We discussed being concrete, precise, and taking the time and care to richly describe.
And our third commandment: Thou shalt show and not merely tell. We aren’t going to say, “Nashville is an awesome city.” We’re going to take the reader there; we are going to so carefully describe some aspect of the city — what it looked like, smelled like, made us feel — that the reader will KNOW it’s awesome, and we’re going to engage the reader’s imagination in order to do this.
We also talked about the different readings we can give our work, to look for different things, to read at different levels. Here are some of the great tips you guys came up with:
- Read for grammar, spelling and punctuation (ground level)
- Read for comprehension, as if you were someone other than the writer, challenging assumptions
- Read for architecture, perhaps slicing it up at the paragraph level, laying it out and putting it back together
- Read for tone, flow and pacing, perhaps doing so out loud so you can hear that pacing, tone
- Read it backwards, to catch mistakes at the word level
- Read only for the verbs. Circle them. Now get rid of as many of the passive “to be” verbs as possible, which often will mean flipping the whole sentence around, or putting the object now as the subject.
In at least one of these readings, we talked about challenging every adjective, every adverb. We discussed beginnings — the first line, the first paragraph, the first line of each section. Try removing the first paragraph and seeing if the whole isn’t better off (it almost always is in term papers).
Find that one line you love most. The one that came from God, that demonstrates to the world that you, sir or madam, are a brilliant wordsmith. And get rid of it. It’s probably for effect anyway. Remember — as writers we are “architects of meaning,” not interior decorators (no offense to them).
You are allowed two exclamation points all semester. Use them sparingly, and wisely. Zen motto No. 2: Less really is more.
To great writing. To better writing. . .