To the journalist,
writing is a profession. To the student, it's a chore. To the poet, it's
an art. To me, it's the equivalent of a bodily function.
For the true lover of writing,
the craft is as inevitable as it is precarious. To try to corral with words
the flurry of activity that swirls within the skull is to tame a grudge-nursing
bull with yarn. To make it meaningful is all the more an accomplishment.
Yet for the rare occasion when the writer views his or her work with the
satisfaction that it is crisp and yet rich, informative and yet a cakewalk
for the eye, the quest continues.
I write because I cannot
help it; my brain would swell, bulbous, misshapen, if I tried to muzzle
my thoughts within my head. The same is true for most anyone in history
who ever took in hand a quill, pen, or keyboard. The thought that that
what I write might have some sort of impact on somebody else is tantalazing,
a seduction that keeps me tethered to my computer.
Given Saul Bellows' quote
below, among my favorite writers are Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Tony Kornheiser,
James Lileks, John Feinstein, William Zinsser, and Rick Reilly.
Bellows and others weigh
in on the most precarious of crafts: writing.
"We are all apprentices at a craft where no one is master."
- Ernest Hemingway
"A reader is a writer moved to emulation."
- Saul Bellows
"You dream of what you write having an impact beyond your block,
let alone beyond your state, let alone beyond your country."
- Mitch Albom, on the success of his Tuesdays with Morrie's
success in Japan.
George Orwell's rules for clear writing:
1.Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you
are used to seeing in print.
2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if
you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
As mentioned, one of my favorite writers is syndicated humor columnist
James Lileks. Lileks has the most impressive vocabulary of anyone I've
read -- not the biggest, but where most writers clog up their work with
Latinate words, Lileks knows the best one- and two-syllable words that
should still be everyday. Recently, I elbowed my way to the front
of his e-mail box and asked him about the effect of the Internet on writing.
My complete question and his intriguing response:
• Has the emergence of email and the Web
revived or destroyed reading and writing? On the one hand people do more
writing and read a wider variety of material thanks to the Internet. Yet
the result seems to be the "devastation of diction," as one commentator
put it, as the cerebral quality of email, chat rooms, and Web sites is
comparable to the nutritional quality of McDonald's.
Oy: that's a big question, and on Saturday
nights I usually avoid such big sprawling metaphysical disquisitions. Short
answer: this is the golden age of text. More words fly over the net in
the course of a day than were published in the entire 19th century. (Rough
guess, unscientific.) The level of disquisition isn't great, but for one
glorious moment in human history millions of people are banging out millions
of words every day and millions of people are reading them. Most of those
words, of course, seem to be an effort to prove correct the million-monkeys-typing-Shakespeare-by-accident
theory, but if I can judge from the scrawls on the back of my substantial
old postcard collection, people have been committing drivel for a long,
Chat rooms are nothing but bilge pumps. E-mail
is as good as the sender. Web pages permit the publication & dissemination
of ideas and projects that would have languished unread just 15 years ago.
On balance: it's good. Of course, I ate at McDonald's today, so that should
tell you something.