On Writing Well

Writing 2 Comments

Five points if you know the book from which I’ve stolen this title, and five bonus points if you’ve read it. I’m going to go dig up a copy of it later today (assuming I find a free hour in the afternoon to go to the bookstore). It will be my airplane reading next week, assuming I manage to actually get an eticket-enabled flight.

Writing well — like photography, music, martial arts and all other such disciplined human endeavours — is difficult and requires a lot of practice. I need to practice more. I write a lot, but due to the nature of the media I’m usually writing in, I tend not to revise rigorously. Email, weblogs, wikis — all of these are built for speed. Here we have rocket engines and racing stripes on our pens. Disciplined revision is tossed aside as email are dashed off at top speed. Brevity and concision take time, and so are abandoned to the wolves snapping at our heels. Churning out copy by the truckload is fast and easy — the raw materials effortlessly fall out of our heads and into the keyboard — but shaping that material into something of quality is much, much more difficult. These media also allow everyone to be a publisher, so there are few gatekeepers to remind us that sometimes quality counts.

I’m overstating the issue, of course, but the combination of new media and high-speed lifestyles simply encourages quantity over quality. Just this morning I sent out an email that contains a seemingly random comma. It’s just there, right in the middle of a sentence, exactly where a comma shouldn’t be. Had I taken the time to revise properly, that comma would have been extracted before I embarrassed myself in front of dozens of people. I can only hope that everyone reads that mail as quickly as I wrote it.

Writing well takes time, so in order to improve my writing (and photography) I’m going to have to find more time. To find more time, I’m going to have to do fewer things while not letting the remaining things expand to fill all available space. This is where real discipline will be required.

If you’re also interested in improving your writing, you might want to make some time to read these: Fifty Writing Tools.

2 Responses to “On Writing Well”

  1. psj Says:
    June 16th, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    I lucked out and found a twenty-five cent copy at the Glebe garage sale a couple weeks ago. Perhaps the best quarter I’ve ever spent, although now it’s harder to look at stuff I’ve written in the past.

  2. psj Says:
    June 16th, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    I lucked out and found a twenty-five cent copy at the Glebe garage sale a couple weeks ago. Perhaps the best quarter I’ve ever spent, although now it’s harder to look at stuff I’ve written in the past.

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