Jewish World Review July 18, 2011 / 16 Tamuz, 5771
By Paul Greenberg
I went to the
Talk about writing? Rather defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Like driving somewhere to walk. Or attending a conference to learn how to pray in solitude.
But I accepted the invitation anyway. I had a few things I wanted to say about the current tendency to teach writing as a process. Much like churning out pre-cast concrete, no doubt. Or producing a political speech that, you can tell, has been written by asking all the politician's advisers for their, to use another unfortunate term, Input. Because that's the accepted Process. As in processed cheese.
There's a reason Mr. Lincoln wrote his Gettysburg Address, and the ineffable Second Inaugural, alone. Writing should concentrate thought, not diffuse it. But we live in the age of writing coaches. You find them everywhere:
At corporate headquarters. ("Let our professional Writing Coach teach you how to write your memoir, Mr. or Ms. CEO! He can remember your experiences so much better than you can!)"
At conventions of writers, which is an interesting concept in itself, considering what a solitary business writing is, or ought to be.
Or you can consult a writing coach on your own. ("Have a seat, Count Tolstoy, and let a real pro show you how it's done. First off, you'll want to foreshadow
As with any other craft -- like restoring furniture or auto body work or shoe repair -- there ought to be a way to teach writing. I used to think so -- before I tried to do it. Once a week at the
No talent, no writer. Yes, given enough time and inexhaustible patience, we might be able to produce a wordsmith that way -- but not a writer. Some of the well trained might even be able to pass for writers among the undiscerning. Often enough I feel as if I'm passing for one. A fellow could dine out on that kind of adulation. I know.
I've found that those impressed by the wannabe writer, the writer manque, aren't worth impressing. Unless maybe they have a nice big grant to hand out.
The surest sign of a writer worth reading is that he's not much interested in talking about writing at conferences or workshops. Or anyplace else. Talking is one thing, writing quite another.
Now and then, somebody will want to talk to me about this great idea he has for an article or a book, usually only vaguely. I make it a rule to do him a great favor. I tell him to just write it up instead. Write, don't talk about writing. Show, don't tell. That way, there'll be something on paper, or at least on the computer screen, to work with -- actual, written words.
For a year to the day, I attended an hour-long editorial conference every weekday morning at the old
But how do you teach anybody a sense of place?
Short answer: You don't. You just stand aside and get out of the way when a
Teach somebody to write like that? At a conference? In a classroom? At a writers' workshop? Please.
Maybe that's because so much talking is done in workshops, while writing -- good writing, at least -- is done alone.
Writers, like other dangerous criminals, should come to know solitary confinement. It does 'em a world of good. No wonder prisons have incubated the best political writing, certainly in
There are certain words that let you know at once that the kind of writing they describe will be certifiably, professionally bad. Words that sound as if they came out of an industrial manual. For excruciating example:
Writing is simple enough. All you need do is walk into a room, sit down -- alone -- and look at that blank page staring you in the face like a cobra. Then it is time to face the most terrifying of audiences, the one that can see through your every trick: yourself.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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