Never be afraid to delete the piece of draft work which you think is imperfect. It is tempting indeed to keep it; for you had spent so much time writing it, deliberating the phrases and morphing metaphors, that you cannot bear to delete it all at once. You keep thinking that some part of it might be salvageable. Or maybe there are phrases in it that appear so beautifully crafted that you fear you might never discover them again. But these worries serve only to distract the mind. When begin writing afresh, all you will be thinking about is how to extract those pretty portions from the old draft and insert them in your present one. The result is an inorganic essay, straining to be original and full of awkward interruptions. Never be afraid to wipe the canvas clean.
I am a dumb writer. I write only things that are dumb – or at least, those are the only things I know how to write about. Could I ruminate for an entire day, pass a thought through my mind over and over and over again, whatever that comes out will still sound dumb. Sometimes, I try to make the things that I write sound intelligent, either by a configuration of perplexing words, or by a perplexing configuration of words. But one needs only lift the embroidered blanket to see the mess of dumbness piled beneath. Is dumbness really in my nature? Am I to be a dumb writer forever? That is surely frightening. But suppose it were my talent; to write dumb things – the dumbest of things, in which are contained not a sliver of silver sagacity – wouldn’t my readers feel themselves so esteemed, so privileged by ordinary intelligence? Maybe it isn’t all that bad being a dumb writer; at least I’m charitable.
Of the 4 essays which I have written this term, not one have I done as well as I had hoped for. In truth, I have done beneath the common standard. It is deplorable and disheartening. For had I not arrived at this new town full of exuberance, and excitement, and confidence? I have always thought my fluency in the language to at least render me an advantage in essay-writing, and sometimes, even more boldly, that the tutors shall be impressed by the things I write. But behold, to what foul-smelling pits I have been thrown, scoffed and laughed at by the academics who sit at the top:”Child, you have deceived yourself, thought too highly of your abilities.” Have I? Perhaps they are right. Perhaps this supposed talent in writing is no more than a talent in meretricious ornamentation; for which no astute reader would ever praise. I cannot write about things that matter, things of substance; but only trivial ones, ethereal ones that exists in the heart, and which if given to the world, the world will think it nonsense.
It is true that with a mastery of language and mastery of mind, one shall be almost invincible in one’s academic pursuits. For if one’s thoughts can flow so seamlessly, like a locomotive through the tunnel of the mind, that at every winding seems to present a capable distraction, then it remains only the duty of words to ensure that the tunnel is not broken; that the gaps are fixed and the thoughts able to forge into the light of reality, every carriage held as firmly to each other as in the ethereal realms, nothing amiss, nothing broken, nothing that might lead (mislead) the receiving station master into suspicious doubt.
As is with most worldly things, I seem to have lost sight of the joy in writing. I used to come to this space so full of enthusiasm, of optimism and the hope that some good will eventually blossom from its bountiful buds. And it was exactly that hope that gave me joy; for what human satisfaction can be greater than the act of improving? But I have persisted for so long and yet not seen the results I had expected that I find myself on the verge of giving up. How bold I was in declaring my resilience to failure. “Check-mate,” it now says, and I have lost the game.
The reason, I think, why thinkers do not make good writers of stories is that they are often too cluttered by their own thoughts, too distracted by the chemistry of thinking, to convey what is purposeful. They dabble their words in the lake of richness, believing that because they find such joy in expounding on the waters there, their readers too must enjoy that same process of discovery. And the story thus remains for an oddly long duration at that single turgid point, swimming from shore to shore, deep diving at instances of intrigue, but never meandering in an adventurous spirit towards some distant place of wonder. This especially bores readers; for what they wish to see is a movement of life and not, as is so tempting to write about, a prolix examination of its every frame.
When I read the stories of Nabokov, which have so far resisted the usurping efforts of other similar short stories and remains as my absolute favorite, I read them always with an unwavering interest. Every line reads splendidly, often almost magically, and every line contributes to a grander whole. And though he regularly brandishes his creativity and puts a metaphor to everything describable, it is far from that dreadfully dry ‘thinking of thoughts’. Furthermore, were his characters to reveal at every juncture their deepest thoughts and not hide them in their movements and words, would not the reader be left with no mystery to chase?
I sometimes don’t see the point in meretriciousness. I find sentences so overzealous in delivering an image or an idea that they inadvertently bury the image or the idea beneath a mountain of synonyms. In every instance where a word sounds too simple, too regular, too familiar to the novice’s eye, another that sounds more sophisticated or that doesn’t as often peek out the dictionary is sought; and no sooner do the sentences grow to extensive lengths, creating in themselves a labyrinth from which the reader can never escape. What is the point then in employing so many profound words, and disdaining their more diminutive siblings, when in the end nothing is established? Will it not be far better to write simply but with accuracy, and let the reader traverse the sentence comfortably to its destination?
It may seem as if I have a sort of distaste for fanciful words, but that is hardly the case. I love fancy and I fanciful writing even more so. But what I dislike is those words being used in a forcible manner. Sometimes they are used solely that a writer may profess his supposed talent in writing or his well-bred sophistication. And because that is solely his intent, he pays no attention to the subtleties of the synonym, taking heed only of its obscurity and the number of syllables it contains, and carelessly fixes it in the place where a simpler word used to lodge. Hardly does he realize that by unnecessarily replacing those words, the sentence begins to crumble – so light an idea was never meant to bear so heavy a weight.
If ever one develops a lust for ostentation, at least use those big words in a less blatant fashion.
I am currently taking class on how to write better emails. It is a compulsory class and I have doubts about its usefulness.
We are taught, in writing every sort of letter, to conceal the crux, only to reveal it at a more opportune time later on. Opportune here apparently refers to after we’ve finished rambling about some related affair or masking reality in a glittery masquerade. Why not just be straight-forward? To this we are swiftly answered that we must always ease the recipient into the information; drown him in preambles so that he may discover the true intention through blurry lenses, commend him so that he might plummet from an even higher place, and ever more indignantly, into despair, or let him stare into the telescope long enough for him to become frustrated at your not having told him what to look at.
Formalities, formalities. Yet business has no time for formalities. It dispenses with it in such haste that were they to be forced upon its citizens, volcanic fury would surely erupt. And then, would not the meticulousness with which the letter had been crafted have worked so disastrously to the contrary?
Often enough, I am so paralyzed by languor that I can barely cultivate the organic forms into which my thoughts may settle. I begin to wonder if others too are afflicted by this weakness of the mind. What of those glorified writers whom write all their lives; their pens never ceasing in its passionate pursuit of clarity? Were there ever days where Kierkegaard fumbled at every juncture of his dialectic or Nabokov at every opportunity to construct a metaphor? How heavy the heart rests on occasions like these. My thoughts are struggling to find form and yet I cannot amply express anything.
To what end should a literary style take hold of writing?
A piece of writing may be as beautiful as the Corsican stars or as nearly sophisticated as a Kierkegaard ramble, but if it is to everyone else (that is, apart from the writer himself) an incomprehensible tangle of words, a repulsive concoction of verbosity, a work of art whose smears and brushes none can decipher, then it might as well be garbage.
The primary motive of writing is to communicate ideas. Thus is formed the fundamental duty of a writer.
Were I to write something convoluted and full of obscured words, many would probably offer it no more than a quick glance. They shall consume the first sentence in ease, but upon realizing the tediousness of digesting the whole, retract their minds immediately. What I had intended to say is then smothered as much by the lyricism as by the incomprehensibility of it all, and as a writer, I am really no more masterful than a toddler who still thinks the pen a magical creature; as a writer, I have failed to perform my fundamental and foremost duty.
Should I then write as simply as I can, and for the sole sake of clarity? This age is one that demands instant information; not gouaches paintings that by its nature blurs the once definite landscape, and which invites the viewer to make sense of it all through keen observation and an expanding of the mind’s imagination. Clarity and simplicity thus becomes the sin qua non of every piece of writing that wishes itself to be read and understood, while flavorful adjectives, like goods no longer desired in the market, are miserly banished.
It seems that if one truly wished to be a better writer, or at least one more understood, one needs only write more simply. Yet, what if one found a tremendous joy in writing in those absurdly fanciful manners? What if metaphors and a queer configuration of words gave him a sense of delight that nothing else could? What if he tries to write in the tritest manner possible and in alignment with the single principle that is clarity, and finds his pen moving sluggishly, as if uninspired and languished by the sheer monotony? This is his dilemma. He has to wonder which is worth more to him – the satisfaction at being read and understood, or the joy in imaginative chemistry.