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Posts Tagged ‘college’

Tips For Lousy Writing

Posted by crowbiz on January 3, 2010

Notice this post isn’t titled “Ways To Become A Good Writer.”  If I knew that, would I have a blog?  Rather, it’s a little cautionary tale about writing potholes that you’d rather not bend a rim over.

Now then, I could well conduct an authoritative set of lessons on good academic writing and good scientific writing.  I get paid to do that, though the outcome usually leaves me disappointed in the state of humanity.  Most of my directives can be boiled down into “cut the wordiness” and “this is not a ninth grade book report.”  But do they listen?  If they did, I’d never again have to read, “the conclusion of the data of this research on the study of the experiment’s work definitely points to a hugely important finding.”  From graduating college seniors.

Anyway, here is my bad advice for today, applicable to fiction writing:

Channel Your Inner College Sophomore.

Oh god.  I’ve been writing since I was eight years old.  It doesn’t mean I’m any good, but it does mean that I’ve gone through a lot of attempts at something.  My glory years were in college, unsurprisingly, when the world and your thoughts about it become ever more interesting, and you have time to write.  At that stage in my life, I enjoyed manufacturing angst the way cows make manure.  With no warning about a future life of mortgage payments, car repairs, permission slips, endless hockey schedules, and running out of ibuprofen at the worst times, making up strife is all you can do.

For a couple solid years, all my stories seemed to be set in a rather Prague-like place, or occurred sometime in October through March between the World Wars, or contained the desire for something unattainable (the dead lover; recognition; someone’s conversion to something).  Often, it was all of these elements in one dreary tale.

Aiding these criminal devices was my – at that time – fluency with German, which crept into every story.  “Schaden” this and “muede” that…  Characters were of simple means, living on the edge of…of… something, outwardly meager and inwardly a roiling stew.  Everything took place in a Lane Ward-like world of black and white, sharp edges, things divined but unspoken, genderlessness….(drift off here, but with feeling).  One of the most fabulously awful metaphors I produced was that of a tangle of deflated balloons and streamers swirling in the wake of a passing car to signify an unrequited love.  It was after a Halloween festival (October, of course).

Every story was like a shotgun wedding of dimestore Colette and Wal-Mart Kafka, with a little Kurt Weill side affair for both, all with a dash of too many late-night viewings of “Cabaret.”  And wordy.  Hoo boy.  No Hemingway concisely telling us that the sun also rose.  Why use four words when twenty-seven words, several of them German, would tell us how the sun broke bleakly over the ineffable troubles of my lost-soul characters and….  Wait, there was no sun in my stories.  It was November.  In Prague.  How I wish I still had some of these stories!  Alas, they were produced on both manual and electric typewriters, and didn’t stand a chance of lasting 20+ years.

We beg of you, please wait until you’re over yourself until you start writing something.  It’s OK to take notes.  Just promise to throw them out a few years later.

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