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The Day You Became a Better Writer (2nd Look) | Scott Adams' Blog

Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it. Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” You think the word “very” adds something. It doesn’t. Prune your sentences. Humor writing is a lot like business writing. It needs to be simple. The main difference is in the choice of words. For humor, don’t say “drink” when you can say “swill.” Your first sentence needs to grab the reader. Go back and read my first sentence to this post. I rewrote it a dozen times. It makes you curious. That’s the key. Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think. Learn how brains organize ideas. Readers comprehend “the boy hit the ball” quicker than “the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting). All brains work that way. (Notice I didn’t say, “That is the way all brains work”?) That’s it. You just learned 80% of the rules of good writing. You’re welcome.

Cycling as a vehicle to creativity

It is all very well to say to yourself that you are not thinking as you wheel serenely along: but you are, and that sure uncertainty of the cyclist’s balance, that unconsciously watchful suspension (solid on earth yet so breezily flitting) seems to symbolize the task itself. The wheel slidders in a rut or on a slope of gravel: at once, by instinct, you redress your perpendicular. So, in the continual joy and disgust of the writer’s work, he dare not abandon that difficult trained alertness. How much of the plain horror and stupidity is he to admit into his picture? how many of the grossly significant minutiae can he pause to include? how often shall he make a resolute fling to convey that incomparable energy of life that should be the artist’s goal above all? These are the airy tinkerings of his doubt; and as he passes from windy hill-top to green creeks and grazings sometimes the bicycle sets him free. He sees it all afresh; nothing, nothing has ever been written yet: the entire white paper of the world is clean for his special portrait of all hunger, all joy, and all vexation.

Different runs bring different mindsets

Long runs tend to brew essay or story ideas, but the fast work of training — sprints, hills, lifting weights — simultaneously sharpens and blurs those ideas into actions. Training sharpens ideas by cutting away the chaff that tends to accumulate during that long time on the trail, where the mind can wander; training blurs those ideas to the surreal places where art is made. Since my body craved sleep, I could slip from the rational mind that stifles fiction.

From Murakami to Oates, Why Does Running Appeal to Writers?

running is process and proves especially useful for the type of cloistered, intensive work they do. But in many ways running is a natural extension of writing. The steady accumulation of miles mirrors the accumulation of pages, and both forms of regimented exertion can yield a sense of completion and joy. Through running, writers deepen their ability to focus on a single, engrossing task and enter a new state of mind entirely—word after word, mile after mile.

Tom Wolfe leaves Yale

e re-writes his thesis. He lards it up with academic jargon and creates a phony emotional distance from his material (he refers to “an American writer E. Hemingway”), and it is accepted. Then he flees Yale as fast as he can. He’s entering his late 20s with only the faintest idea of what he might do to earn a living. But he’s ambitious, eager to find his place in the world. His father introduces him to business associates. Wolfe writes to the head of a sales institute and sends “excerpts from work I have done on the subject of Communist activity among American writers and other ‘intellectuals.’ ” He applies for jobs in public relations. He writes to American Airlines to inquire about a post. He even considers, briefly, a position teaching economics

The veil falls for Joan Didion

. Her moment of insight came in 1971 or 1972, during a summer visit with Quintana, then five or six, to Old Sacramento, an area of the city reconstructed to look like downtown Sacramento, where Didion’s father’s great-grandfather owned a saloon, circa 1850. She began telling Quintana about all the ancestors who had once walked on those sidewalks, and then she remembered that Quintana was adopted. Quintana had no relationship to Old Sacramento and its sidewalks and saloons. And this thought made her realize, as she put it later, that, “in fact, I had no more attachment to this wooden sidewalk than Quintana did: it was no more than a theme, a decorative effect.” Looking back, she decided that this was the moment when the story she had grown up with—“the entire enchantment under which I had lived my life”—began to seem foreign.

Career as a Venn diagram

Jad Abumrad’s carefully planned vision came undone when he realized he wasn’t suited for the job he thought his major pointed toward. He had studied music composition and creative writing at Oberlin College and Conservatory, intending to score films. “That didn’t really work out. I just wasn’t very good at it. And so, at a certain point, I just gave it up. I thought my plan was wrong.” […]He was ready to start from scratch when his girlfriend reasoned that he didn’t have to abandon what he’d worked toward. “She made the suggestion, ‘You kind of like to write. You kind of like to make music. You’re not really good at either on their own terms, but maybe you could somehow find the middle ground. Try out radio.’ ” It wasn’t a seamless transition — he began by working for free — but he stuck it out, creating a style of radio that fuses science and storytelling with music and sound. As a producer and host of WNYC’s “Radiolab,” his job is eerily close to what he originally imagined for himself, scoring films; he just had to stretch his thinking to get there.

David Carr's 'Lasting Totem' - Stelter reflects

My wife doesn’t hoard email the way I do. But she’s glad she held onto the one David sent her when I was on the verge of two big life changes: Marrying her and joining CNN. Looking back, I couldn’t help but notice this email had no typos or abbreviations. “this next unfolding will be a pleasure to watch, although from a greater distance,” he wrote. “and of all the choices brian has made, you are and will be the most important one.” On the evening of the wedding, February 22, 2014, David arrived early and stayed late, taking photos with my family members and beaming with fatherly pride. Earlier in the day, I had sent a love letter and a necklace over to the bridal suite where Jamie had been getting ready. Nice touch, right? Until I recently reread his emails, I’d forgotten who deserved the credit.

Good fix for any tough situation

Clearly this was a problem for Dan MacTough. He groks pipes in Node. He's a plumber, I'm just a user. So I sat down and carefully wrote an email to Dan. With links, and citations to specific bits of code, and a theory of what was going wrong. I never sent the email, didn't have to. I found the problem myself.

More writers who run

Thompson is a 2:40 marathoner, Gladwell is a former cross country runner, and Peter Hessler, another New Yorker staff writer, has a 2:38 marathon PR.

Murakami writes about running (and vice versa)

Murakami’s style as a writer — accretive, looping, lacking in crescendos or dramatic leaps, self-effacing, each sentence building on the last, each sentence carrying us a few steps further on the path of tale — is very much the methodical rhythm of his running.

Ivan Klima recalls the early 70s

Klima began to fight back against these privations straightaway. "I organised a reading the week after we got back," he says. "I invited about 45 guests, which I'd worked out was the most I could get into our living room. And I prepared meatballs, 'Klima-balls' as they came to be known. There was some wine, and somebody read something that was newly written. That was how it went on, every week. I remember Havel read two of his new plays; Kundera, who was still in Prague at that point, came and read some things." After about a year, Klima's friend Ludvik Vaculik (the author of A Cup of Cof fee with my Interrogator ) brought along a man from Ostrava to one of the gatherings, a writer who had spent a year in prison. The man, who later committed suicide, had signed an agreement in prison to work with the secret police and he passed on the names of everyone who was there, and pictures were taken of people coming in and out. "So from that point," Klima says, "we were known." The writers were followed, and their houses searched. Meetings became more difficult but, Klima says: "We were determined to be in close contact." Someone suggested circulating typewritten pieces of writing, and books, as a way of continuing to spread ideas - samizdat ("self-published"). Novels or poems or plays were typed up - originally by Vaculik's girlfriend - copied, and circulated among the friends, to begin with in editions of 14 copies, later 50 or 60 and eventually, in an underground network of printing and binding and copying, several thousand.

Murakami’s advice on business and writing: make (at least) a few customers very happy | pullquote

If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what.

Am I a writer yet?

Students who ask a lot of questions about time management, blow deadlines, and whine about how complicated their lives are should just give up and do something else. Their complaints are an insult to the writers who managed to produce great work under far more difficult conditions than the 21st-century MFA student. On a related note: Students who ask if they're "real writers," simply by asking that question, prove that they are not.

Sachs: we float in a sea of memories, only some of which are our own

We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

Caring for others, Dean Smith catalyzed a caring community

For as long as anyone can remember, Smith devoted several hours every Monday morning to corresponding with former players, coaches, team managers, almost everyone associated with the Carolina basketball family. His memory for even the smallest events in others’ lives was legendary. […] “I never really thought about a legacy, except the nice thing I’m probably most pleased with, the real high graduation rate: 96 percent. But the fact they all stick together. They call themselves the Carolina Family. I didn’t plan that. They’re really good people. I think they all like me now. They might not have liked me when I played. I don’t know whether that’s a legacy, but I’m very proud of all of ‘em.”

Chaucer's day job

Chaucer’s London job was always a precarious one. The king’s own advisers and allies in the City of London colluded to put him there, as their fall guy in a major profiteering scheme. His job as controller of customs was to certify honesty of the powerful and influential customs collectors – including the wealthy and imperious Nicholas Brembre, long-term mayor of London – and to ensure the proper collection of duties on all outgoing wool shipments. This sounds routine enough, until we realise how much was at stake: in the 14th century, wool duties contributed one-third of the total revenues of the realm. What’s more, the collectors of customs whose activities Chaucer was expected to regulate were themselves wool shippers and wool profiteers on a grand scale, taking advantage of their positions to accumulate immense fortunes at public expense. Their wealth enabled them to become donors and lenders to the king, and to multiply their privileges and profits. As lone watchdog of customs revenues, Chaucer was hardly likely to bring them to heel. His job was, essentially, to look the other way.

Rejected in job search, PhD launches online writing workshop

“Applying to creative writing assistant professor jobs is a yearlong process, and I got four interviews, and I didn’t get any of those jobs. […] I’d spent so much time investing in getting what I thought was going to be a tenure-track job, and it didn’t happen. And the critique that I got was that I was too young, that I didn’t have enough out there yet in comparison to other people who were ten years older than me […]And I had developed all these classes I wanted to teach, like ‘Science Fiction Fairy Tales,’ and I had no outlet for this anymore, and I was really, really sad. There was this group that I joined on Facebook of other female science fiction writers, and I floated this idea to them in August, and everyone was like, ‘Do it! Do it! Do it!’ And without their support and love I never would have gone through with it.”

Despite creating entire worlds, authors are anonymous in ours

Unless you’re Stephen King, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised.

This Is Your Brain on Writing

As the scientists report in a new study in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of expert writers appeared to work differently, even before they set pen to paper. During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.“I think both groups are using different strategies,” Dr. Lotze said. It’s possible that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice.When the two groups started to write, another set of differences emerged. Deep inside the brains of expert writers, a region called the caudate nucleus became active. In the novices, the caudate nucleus was quiet.The caudate nucleus is a familiar part of the brain for scientists like Dr. Lotze who study expertise. It plays an essential role in the skill that comes with practice, including activities like board games.When we first start learning a skill — be it playing a piano or playing basketball — we use a lot of conscious effort. With practice, those actions become more automatic. The caudate nucleus and nearby regions start to coordinate the brain’s activity as this shift happens.

2010, A Year in Marginalia: Sam Anderson

The writing I enjoy doing most, every year, is marginalia: spontaneous bursts of pure, private response to whatever book happens to be in front of me. It’s the most intimate, complete, and honest form of criticism possible — not the big wide-angle aerial shot you get from an official review essay, but a moment-by-moment record of what a book actually feels like to the actively reading brain. Here are some snapshots, month by month, of my marginalia from 2010.

To read a book is to write in it...

a way to not just passively read but to fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with an author on some kind of primary textual plane. […]Texts that really grabbed me got full-blown essays (sideways, upside-down, diagonal) in the margins. […] Today I rarely read anything — book, magazine, newspaper — without a writing instrument in hand. Books have become my journals, my critical notebooks, my creative outlets. […]marginalia is — no exaggeration — possibly the most pleasurable thing I do on a daily basis.

J. G. Ballard on how tools impact his writing

Every day, five days a week. Longhand now, it’s less tiring than a typewriter. When I’m writing a novel or story I set myself a target of about seven hundred words a day, sometimes a little more. I do a first draft in longhand, then do a very careful longhand revision of the text, then type out the final manuscript. I used to type first and revise in longhand, but I find that modern fiber-tip pens are less effort than a typewriter. Perhaps I ought to try a seventeenth-century quill. I rewrite a great deal, so the word processor sounds like my dream. My neighbor is a BBC videotape editor and he offered to lend me his, but apart from the eye-aching glimmer, I found that the editing functions are terribly laborious. I’m told that already one can see the difference between fiction composed on the word processor and that on the typewriter. The word processor lends itself to a text that has great polish and clarity on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph level, but has haywire overall chapter-by-chapter construction, because it’s almost impossible to rifle through and do a quick scan of, say, twenty pages. Or so they say.

J. G. Ballard on preparing to write

With short stories I do a brief synopsis of about a page, and only if I feel the story works as a story, as a dramatic narrative with the right shape and balance to grip the reader’s imagination, do I begin to write it. Even in the Atrocity Exhibition pieces, there are strong stories embedded in the apparent confusion. There’s even the faint trace of a story in “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan,” and the other sections at the end of the book. In the case of the novels, the synopsis is much longer. For High-Rise, it was about twenty-five thousand words, written in the form of a social worker’s report on the strange events that had taken place in this apartment block, an extended case history. I wish I’d kept it; I think it was better than the novel. In the case of The Unlimited Dream Company, I spent a full year writing a synopsis that was eventually about seventy thousand words long, longer than the eventual novel. In fact, I was cutting down and pruning the synopsis as I wrote the novel. By synopsis I don’t mean a rough draft, but a running narrative in the perfect tense with the dialogue in reported speech, and with an absence of reflective passages and editorializing.

J. G. Ballard on how he writes

Even in the case of a naturalistic writer, who in a sense takes his subject matter directly from the world around him, it’s difficult enough to understand how a particular fiction imposes itself. But in the case of an imaginative writer, especially one like myself with strong affinities to the surrealists, I’m barely aware of what is going on. Recurrent ideas assemble themselves, obsessions solidify themselves, one generates a set of working mythologies, like tales of gold invented to inspire a crew. I assume one is dealing with a process very close to that of dreams, a set of scenarios devised to make sense of apparently irreconcilable ideas. Just as the optical centers of the brain construct a wholly artificial three-dimensional universe through which we can move effectively, so the mind as a whole creates an imaginary world that satisfactorily explains everything, as long as it is constantly updated. So the stream of novels and stories continues . . .

Staying sane in suburbia

“I don’t know why I ended up here, really . . .” Ballard comments. “Actually, the suburbs are far more sinister places than most city dwellers imagine. Their very blandness forces the imagination into new areas. I mean, one’s got to get up in the morning thinking of a deviant act, merely to make certain of one’s freedom. It needn’t be much; kicking the dog will do.”