Sep 6, 2013

Some Advice on Writing

Even though some of Brian Doyle's advice here is not as relevant for academic writing, I think that there is still wisdom to be gleaned. Use the link above to read the entire article, but these two humorous paragraphs are what I found most helpful.

The best writers do not write about themselves but about everyone else. The best writers are great listeners. Learn to ask a question and then shut your mouth and listen. Use silence as a journalistic tool; people are uncomfortable with it and will leap to fill the holes, often telling you more than they wanted to. Women especially will do this. (Do not misuse this great secret, son.) Everyone has sweet sad brave wonderful stories; give them a chance to tell their stories. So many people do not get the chance. Listening is the greatest literary art. Your ears are your best tools. No one is dull or boring. Anyone who thinks so is an idiot. 

Many fine writers do not get credit for the quality of their prose because they were famous for something else: Lincoln, for example. The best writing is witness. The lowest form of writing is mere catharsis. Persuasive writing generally isn’t. The finest writers in newspapers are often sports and police reporters. When in doubt about a line or a passage, cut it. All writing can be improved by a judicious editor, except the King James Bible, and even there we could stand to lose some of the Old Book, I think. (Don’t tell that to your mother.) Do not let writing be a special event; let it be a normal part of your day. It is normal. We are all storytellers and story-attentive beings. Otherwise we would never be loved or have a country or a religion. You do not need a sabbatical or a grant to write a book. Write a little bit every day. You will be surprised how deep the muck gets at the end of the year, but at that point you can cut out the dull parts, elevate your verbs, delete mere catharsis, celebrate witness, find the right title, and send it off to be published. Any questions?

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