Good Writing…

Alan Lenzi has a funny little post on a writing exercise for his fresher* class.  As he notes, the kind of uber-structured writing he is forcing them to do is “boring and formulaic” but it’s also the only way to get people to write well.

Writing is one of those things that people, for whatever perverse reason, think you should be able to just sit down and do well.  You hear all kinds of nonsense about writing “from the heart” and how writing shouldn’t be structured.  The fact is, however, that good writers are like good musicians.  The only way to make free, improvisational, artistically expressive music is to practice fundamentals until your fingers bleed.  Nobody picks up a guitar and “just plays” jazz improv.  Thousands of hours of practice go into “just playing.”  Same deal with writing.

Want to be a good writer?  Then go read Alan’s post, and practice until your fingers bleed.  Only once you can work through a pedantic exercise like the one he’s designed are you ready to “just write.”

This is a point driven home particularly well in my single favorite book on English grammar, Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax.  Learn the rules, and then learn how to break them.  That’s what great writers do.

*I’m picking up on the British use of “fresher” instead of the gender-exclusive “freshman” you find in NA.  HT to Mark Goodacre.


12 Hours Ago…

I’m just getting ready to pack it in for the day and as is often the case I popped open my browser to check on my blogroll.  I looked down the list at posts I had read earlier, around dinner time, and then I saw the most recent post over on 4712.  It’s a wonderful little question that I found in one of the comment threads and I encourage anybody who is interested to wander over there and check it out.  What surprised me when I was looking at my blogroll just now is that I posted that question 12 hours ago.  Twelve hours ago I was taking a 15 minute break from working on my major linguistics paper (pragmatic fronting of non-Predicate constituents in Obadiah…yeah, I know how to party).  I just now finished working on it for the night.  Twelve hours ago.  This is just silly.  Didn’t quite finish either.  I still have to write the conclusion.  In theory that should be easy, so I’m gonna leave it till tomorrow when I go back to the library and work for another 16 hours.  Two more days, two more days, two more days….