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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 25, 2007 / 10 Menachem-Av, 5767

Writing: Art or science?

By Paul Greenberg


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Another editor here at the paper wants to know if I consider writing a science or an art. He's compiling a booklet on the subject for young writers, and would like me to contribute a chapter, maybe offer some practical suggestions. Glad to, I say. Writing about writing is so much easier than writing.


My take on his question: Writing is an art.


It's can also be an obsession. The shrinks have a term for it, Writing Behavior. H.L. Mencken, who knew writers well, offered his own diagnosis. He said "an author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression."


Surely that's only part of it. There is something more, some unattainable goal that would move a writer to put down words even if he had to publish anonymously. Or not be published at all. Call it a compulsion.


Flaubert said it: "Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap out tunes for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."


That mysterious longing is what makes writing an art, not a science. Yes, it does require some knowledge of the basics of the language — grammar, syntax, the rules and regulations. But language is not just grammar, as the road is not just the map. A racecar driver needs to know automotive mechanics, but it's the driving that's the art, and takes guts.


Something magical can happen on occasion: The words use the writer as their instrument instead of the other way 'round. The writer becomes a kind of amanuensis, and the words fall into perfect place of their own accord. Call it a compulsion.


As for practical suggestions, here are a few, most of them highly unoriginal:

Spare us that bane of journalism, Fine Writing — capital F, capital W. Oh-so-fine writing seems a particular vice of the young writer, who tends to serve whipped-cream, cherry-on-top concoctions in place of simple prose, which of course isn't at all simple to produce.

An old rule: When you think you've written some especially fine line, strike it. If you think it's Faulkner, it's probably not. Flannery O'Connor had the right idea: When the Dixie Limited comes roaring through, get off the track to a nice, safe siding. Leave the Faulknerian style to Faulkner; he could handle it.

A better model for mere newspapermen is George Orwell, with his prose clear as a window pane. Describe, don't declaim. Show, don't tell. That way, the reader himself owns the meaning.

Take risks. And get used to embarrassing yourself. Real writing is revealing. Safe writing is an oxymoron. If it's safe, it's just typing. Every idea, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, is an incitement. Often enough against its writer.

Get the meaning right and the sound will take care of itself. (Lewis Carroll)

Whenever a writer starts talking about technique, you know he's fresh out of ideas. (Raymond Carver)

"Love creative work; do not seek dominance over others; and avoid intimacy with the ruling authorities." That three-fold injunction from the Talmud, intended to guide interpreters of the Law, makes an equally good guide for journalists.

A good editorial is one that says something everybody knows but nobody has said before. (William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette.)

Edit, edit, edit. Then re-edit. Most of the time — just about almost all the time — good writing is rewriting.

The secret ingredient of good writing is time, or at least the illusion of it. The first sign that a piece will come out all right is when the writer loses all track of time.

Take a tip from the Shakers: Approach this job as if you had all the time in the world, and as if the work had to be finished today. A deliberate urgency is the aim. It's called concentration.


Enough. I used to think I could teach anybody to write before I taught a course in writing. Never again.


Yes, the techniques can be taught, but the writing can only be evoked. Nobody can teach another how to write, any more than a coach can teach an athlete how to excel. The coach may be able to offer some useful tips and explain the rules, that's all. A writer who can't teach himself by reading others has deprived himself of the best education.


All these are such good suggestions that I may consider taking them myself someday. Giving good advice is easy; following it is the hard part.


A final plea to prospective writers: If you really hate the actual writing, if you would much rather be a writer than write, if you can't stand having to search out just the right word or form or metaphor, if you see no point in going through a piece and taking out all the commas before re-reading it and putting them all back in, if you've never been grateful to an editor for raising a question, if you don't sense any magic or mystery in this writing business then don't try and try again. Give up. You may not be a writer.


Flannery O'Connor gets the final word — as usual. Once asked if she didn't think universities were stifling a lot of young writers, she replied: "My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

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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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