Sunday, March 08, 2015

Writing: The Craft

INK BOTTLE“A man who would tell me that I am pretty, unless he is over seventy, ought to be kicked out of the room. But a man who can’t show me that he thinks me so without saying a word about it, is a lout.”
~ Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn

Do you know what “sprezzatura” means? How about “starboard out, starboard home”? Secret frames of reference govern writing

Universities have become businesses, and businesses now generate knowledge and culture. In such a world, what’s the role of the Writer?

Via –  Seven ways to grow the e-book business while helping libraries and readers: Ideas based on my two decades of writing about it –  E-book sales are not posting impressive sales increases, at least not among big publishers. One major reason is that much of the technology is difficult to use. Even increased library statistics for e-loans are not resulting in corresponding increases in funding and support for libraries around the country. Based on more than two decades of writing about e-books, David Rothman suggests seven library-and-consumer friendly ways to boost e-book growth.
In our bite-sized content driven culture, there is a tendency to read without considering the craft of a well-written piece of work. We focus on devouring the content, without paying much attention to the words, the rhythm, the fun, the mystery. An article by Joel Achenbach on Princeton Alumni Weekly harks back to this in a delightful tribute to his former professor, John McPhee.
McPhee was known for his passion and dedication to his craft. It was contagious. His sharp wit was also a trait that his students appreciated.
McPhee’s teachings on writing were rich and numerous. I’ll share a few here.
  • On structure: “Readers are not supposed to see structure. It should be as invisible as living bones. It shouldn’t be imposed; structure arises within the story.”
  • On words: He taught his students to revere language, to care about every word, to use a dictionary, to pay attention to rhythm and to refrain from treating synonyms interchangeably.
  • On simplicity: Sometimes writing a simple description can take days (“if you do it right, it will slide by unnoticed. If you blow it, it’s obvious”).
  • On restraint: “Novice writers believe they will improve a piece of writing by adding things to it; mature writers know they will improve it by taking things out.”

Bringing the Brain Up To Speed

There are always going to be things competing for our time or attention. Some people like to organize their lives by spending less time on the mundane and more time on the good stuff. The important not the merely urgent. But it seems there’s always room for improvement – who doesn’t want to have more fun?
A recent article in Fortune by Laura Vanderkam offered some tips from neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on how. Levitin explains that part of the problem is that our brains are stuck in the hunting and gathering age due to the slow pace of evolution, so we have to find ways to bring it up to speed.
His suggestions (with some personal perspectives):
  • Give things a place to reduce the amount of mental energy you spend trying to find things again. Keys on the hook, cellphone by the door. Freedom within a framework.
  • Create triggers to help you snap out of auto-pilot. Modern technology helps. Set reminders on your cellphone to chime at certain times or in certain locations – so you remember to buy milk when you’re at the store instead of before or after.
  • Keep track of your networks. Don’t rely on your brain to remember the names of people you meet or the things you talked about – it’s not always up for the job. Our ancestors had smaller social circles. Make a note.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t indulge in this nonsensical multitasking behalf….where 3 things get done averagely (at best) simultaneously.
  • Don’t agonize over things you can’t change.
  • Finally, sleep. It’s one of our biggest weapons for cognitive success. Get enough of it.