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Darren H

Writing is hard

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That's nice. I think there is a stat about made up sources for quotes. But I'll buy this one at face value. smile.gif

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Darren, have you seen Chris Marker's A Grin Without a Cat?

No, I haven't. If a movie genie gave me one wish, it would probably be for a complete Marker box set with English translations and interactive features that would allow me to access background information about each and every obscure image or reference. The few films of his I've seen -- La Jetee, One Day in the Life, and The Last Bolshevik -- are all so densely constructed, I feel like I'm only scratching the most banal surface.

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Darren, I must say I have always been amazed at how quickly I can fill my word count when I am writing a review about a film that I really don't care all that much about. Then again, I have to care about the films I review SOMEwhat, otherwise I just haven't got the urge to say ANYthing about it. There's a certain equilibrium there.

I have painful memories of writing my Attack of the Clones review because there was So. Much. I. Wanted. To. Say. and I was so conscious of how much attention the review might attract, and on top of everything else I had to keep it all under 1,000 words, so I wanted to make each word count, etc., etc.

Oddly enough, I wasn't as angst-ridden over Revenge of the Sith, and it flowed out of me a little more quickly -- possibly because I've ceased to care all that much about the franchise, possibly because I'd already blogged some of my thoughts (and my blog, like my posts here, never feels like a "review" as such, so I feel free to think out loud without editing or censoring myself too much).

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Darren,

When I did my dissertation I found that it was so consuming that I had difficulty doing my other creative work (sermons, reviews, etc)

Edited by Denny Wayman

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Your topic does sound like the equivalent of the "unified theory" for social/theological commentary.

You noticed that, too, did you? wink.gif

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Darren, for the record, for all the thought that is going into your project, A Grin Without a Cat is something that might aid you a bit. It is one thing to read about the rise and fall of the new left in the late 60s, it's another thing altogether to spend three hours with its imagery.

I will admit that I saw this film and much of it escaped me. For better or worse, I have so much distrust built into me (or perhaps acquired) that I'm not as politically minded as most others around here. I didn't vote in the last election and most likely won't vote in a two-party system ever. When only two options are presented, somebody somewhere has pulled the rug over your eyes -- it is only natural for man to long for only black and white. Regardless of my inability to fully understand everything from my own political era as well as others, I know that you would appreciate A Grin Without a Cat. I saw it on a very large screen early last year and can't forget it, whether I fully latch onto it or not. Someone like you would appreciate it at an even more mature level than I can arrive at with material I freely admit that I struggle with.

If you ever get the chance, don't pass it up.

-s.

Edited by stef

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I would have a hard choice between this or Histoire(s) du Cinema on DVD. I would probably go with the latter. This apparently has nothing to do with this thread though.

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Hi Darren,

I went through the same thing when finishing my Master's Thesis. My advisor at one point just yelled at me and told me to stop stockpiling research and do some writing. I also try to write plays and end up researching the subjects endlessly and have to push myself to write.

I read an interesting article recently bout the 14th myths of great writing. Most of the myths stated were that writing well was a result of various emotional states

one is in, rather than just the discipline of daily writing. The article mentioned a German word for that discipline (inexact spelling here) sitzfleisch, basically sitting your body down and doing your work.

TK

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Welcome TedK,

We have a writer's feedback group called Writer's Block. The next session starts up in mid-august.

Read about it here.

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Well, after a week of vacation, I'm back in the library. Still writing. And it's still hard.

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Oh man...I just sent that link to a buddy of mine who's in Darren's predicament.

If you ever find the Groening thing I want a link!

Neb

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I'm starting to write more than I used to. I used to write frequently in college, and then I went to lawschool. I'm still amazed at how destructive lawschool was for my love of writing. It literally obliterated it and forced my writing skills into so much legal dreck that I'm only starting to realize how bad it was. It's taken years for me to even start to hope that I can shrug it off.

Most of what I write just gets written and then filed or stacked away, perhaps never to be seen again. But the more I write again (and the more I read), the more I'm becoming convinced that the quality of my writing is not what it should be.

Problems I'm noticing:

1 - Living in California, my vocabulary in everyday conversation is very poor. I speak a legal vocubulary at the office, and then I speak an adolescent's vocabulary around most of the rest of my nonwork friends and family. The problem is that I'm tempted to write like I talk. The result, when I do, is not pretty. It's just coming down to the fact that I've got to force myself to start using a wider variety of words in the English language. I used to shrink back when friends would ask me why I was using big words. It seemed like an affectation. But, when it comes down to it, using lesser known words should not be an affectation, it's a sheer necessity if I'm going to force myself into learning how to meaningfully communicate with the nuances and variations that the English language has provided. The ability to write like the majority of average Californians talk may be useful for characters in fiction someday, but it's not very damn useful for an aspiring writer. This is a problem that had never even occured to me a year ago.

2 - Proofreading: Once I have a finished product, I force myself to proofread it at least twice. The problem here is that my brain often flat out refuses to cooperate. It decides in advance what it wanted written and then just pretends that what it wants is what's on paper or the computer screen even when it's not.

3 - I have a habit (probably another one obtained in law school) to catalogue what different authors have said on certain subject matter. Then, when I write on that subject matter, I excitedly find all the cross-sections and excerpts of what other favorite authors have said on the subject, slide them into the essay which is suddenly twice as long. I personally like this, but I have some friends who tell me they would be more likely to read what write if I only cut the length of what I write in half. Resisting the urge to make an essay consist of half my writing and half excerpts from favorite writers is a great temptation.

4 - Reading over what I write, even just a week or month later, I find that I go through periods where I'll use a specific phrase over and over and over again. Just looking over the last year, I think I need to ban the phrases "modern day", "nowadays," "these days," "in this age," etc. from my writing for a while. I'm writing like a parrot.

5 - Over the last year, getting feedback from friends and family, I've developed the impression that most of my writing is only designed for about 10% or less of the people I know. When nine out of ten of your friends fall asleep two paragraphs in, then that's a bad sign, isn't it?

6 - Writers eventually are supposed to find their own style, isn't that right? I don't consciously inimitate others, but I'm still finding that my writing sounds night and day different if I compare what I just wrote after reading a William F. Buckley book with what I just wrote after finishing a Hunter S. Thompson book. I write differently if I just finished a Charles Dickens novel than I write if I just finished an Ernest Hemingway novel. I must ... resist ... copying them.

7 - Oh yeah, isn't there supposed to be a way for you to control the time periods that you write in? I'm getting tired of suddenly being inspired to write an story about some memory I have from a couple years ago right in the middle when I'm supposed to be writing a 15 page summary judgement motion for work. Or, even worse, I'll have a whole day during the weekend where I'm free to write and ... nothing. I stare at the blank screen and every beginning sentence I try is crap. This is when I literally have 8 or more free hours. Then I'll suddenly wake up at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, wide awake, and suddenly inspired to write 2 hours worth. Then, at work on Monday I'm cursing whatever night-owl muse I have that refuses to help me during the day.

Anyone have these same problems? Any advice?

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The best way to proofread your own work is to finish a draft and then put it aside long enough so that you sort of forget what's in it. That way, when you come back to it, you'll be seeing it more like a reader would. That approach isn't an option when you're up against a deadline, obviously.

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The best way to proofread your own work is to finish a draft and then put it aside long enough so that you sort of forget what's in it. That way, when you come back to it, you'll be seeing it more like a reader would. That approach isn't an option when you're up against a deadline, obviously.

Seconded. It also helps to read the text out loud; you're forced to slow down and hear the words as they flow.

EDIT: Hmm. My comment seems a bit simplistic now that I look over it, but it's a method I swear by.

A couple other thoughts since I'm thinking:

On 3--I've not noticed it as a problem; it's kind of a style thing to me, particularly on your 'blog. But if you want to make the quotes flow more easily, a line or two leading into them would go a long way toward making the whole post seem more cohesive.

On 5--honestly, very few of my friends read what I write. "Write for yourself" seems like inane advice, but it's sound, I think. Your audience generally finds you, not vice versa.

On 6--it's a constant struggle. I had a professor at Covenant who apparently wrote his dissertation right after reading the complete novels of Jane Austen. Looking over it years later, he commented that it was virtually unreadable. I find it very inadvisable to try to write anything after reading Faulkner, myself. But re-writing generally takes care of that (though I hardly ever re-write 'blog posts. I honestly don't put nearly as much effort into them as you do).

On 7--a little notebook. Moleskine or something like that. If inspiration strikes at an inopportune time, jot down a couple of key words and leave it to simmer.

Edited by NBooth

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Wow, this thread is a blast from the past -- a depressing, soul-deadening blast from the past. And of course it re-emerges on my 40th birthday! wink.png

I abandoned my dissertation in the fall of 2006 for too many reasons to list. Most of the time I don't regret the decision. Occasionally, I do -- especially at the start of the fall semester when I still make a habit of walking through the university book store and seeing what books are being taught in English and film classes.

Edited by Darren H

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Happy 40th, Darren!! Yeah, I was thinking "blast from the past" when I read through the thread yesterday.

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Wow, this thread is a blast from the past -- a depressing, soul-deadening blast from the past. And of course it re-emerges on my 40th birthday!

Ah, well I didn't mean to bring up something that was depressing. For what it's worth, I've highly enjoyed your writing whenever you do write an essay or a film review. And, happy birthday too.

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It also helps to read the text out loud; you're forced to slow down and hear the words as they flow.

EDIT: Hmm. My comment seems a bit simplistic now that I look over it, but it's a method I swear by.

No, you're right. Proofreading out loud helps a lot, if not always with hidden grammatical errors, at least stylistically.

very few of my friends read what I write. "Write for yourself" seems like inane advice, but it's sound, I think. Your audience generally finds you, not vice versa.

I'm still not sure about this. There's something to be said about both, but writing for myself seems so much easier than writing for others.

On 6--it's a constant struggle. I had a professor at Covenant who apparently wrote his dissertation right after reading the complete novels of Jane Austen. Looking over it years later, he commented that it was virtually unreadable. I find it very inadvisable to try to write anything after reading Faulkner, myself. But re-writing generally takes care of that (though I hardly ever re-write 'blog posts. I honestly don't put nearly as much effort into them as you do).

Funny. Yes, I've personally found trying to write immediately after reading either Ayn Rand or Jean-Paul Sartre a hopeless exercise in futility.

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biblioklept, one of my go-to blogs for interesting stuff (seriously; I check them every day even if I look at nothing else) just posted H.P. Lovecraft's advice to young writers:

On reading:

No aspiring author should content himself with a mere acquisition of technical rules. As Mrs. Renshaw remarked in the preceding article, “Impression should ever precede and be stronger than expression.” All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading, and the learner must never cease to hold this phase uppermost. In many cases, the usage of good authors will be found a more effective guide than any amount of precept. A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook. Let every student read unceasingly the best writers, guided by the admirable Reading Table which has adorned the UNITED AMATEUR during the past two years.

It is also important that cheaper types of reading, if hitherto followed, be dropped. Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be skimmed over as lightly as possible.

On narration:

The essential point of fictional narration is plot, which may be defined as a sequence of incidents designed to awaken the reader’s interest and curiosity as to the result. Plots may be simple or complex; but suspense, and climactic progress from one incident to another, are essential. Every incident in a fictional work should have some bearing on the climax or denouement, and any denouement which is not the inevitable result of the preceding incidents is awkward and unliterary. No formal course in fiction-writing can equal a close and observant perusal of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe or Ambrose Bierce. In these masterpieces one may find that unbroken sequence and linkage of incident and result which mark the ideal tale. Observe how, in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” each separate event foreshadows and leads up to the tremendous catastrophe and its hideous suggestion. Poe was an absolute master of the mechanics of his craft. Observe also how Bierce can attain the most stirring denouements from a few simple happenings; denouements which develop purely from these preceding circumstances.

The whole thing's fascinating.

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Q&A: The Secrets to Not Being a Terrible Writer

How much space is there between writing well and not writing badly?

The not-writing-badly thing is a skill that can be learned, by reading, by following principles, by using the dictionary, by slowing down and all those things. Writing well is a little more mysterious. It’s art. There’s inspiration. There’s individual talent and style.

Certainly a lot of rules about writing and what’s good or bad change over time.

Grammar changes and spelling changes and punctuation changes. Pretty much all of it changes. But it’s a question of how quickly, and you don’t want to be out there before everybody else.

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In your book, you mention “grace” as a quality that you look for in sentences. Can you give an example of a graceful sentence?

[Reads from Roger Angell’s Let Me Finish]: “One spring Saturday when I was seven going on eight, my mother brought me with her on a automobile outing with her young lover and future husband, E.B. White.” That’s my nominee. That’s writing well. That’s not just not writing badly.

Oh, this is too good to pass up.

Good:
“One spring Saturday when I was seven going on eight, my mother brought me with her on a automobile outing with her young lover and future husband, E.B. White.”

Bad:
“One spring Saturday when I was seven going on eight, my mother brought me with her on a automobile outing with her young lover and future husband, Dan Brown.”

Edited by SDG

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So it's towards the end of June. 2013 is almost half finished.

I spent 2011 and 2012 writing again more than I'd been writing for years. I also started reading more heavily again than I had for years. But somewhere through the end of last year, something changed. I'm still reading. In fact, reading is becoming more and more easy. I can read most books at 2-3 sittings. I'm spending more time with a girl, with friends, with family, with books and writing and less time online and in front of the television.

What seems to have changed is a profound growing dissatisfaction with my writing. I'm sitting on a whole collection of film and book reviews that I've written. But they aren't satisfactory. On different evenings or weekends, I'll sit down and rewrite an entire piece. It improves. The sentences become clearer, turns of phrase more artful, the line of thought more coherent. But I still can't rid myself of a profound dissatisfaction with the end result. It's as if, slowly over this year, my standard for my own writing has raised itself to another level higher than I've demanded of myself before. I didn't set the standard higher intentionally. I've just been reading a steady diet of authors and writers who write well. Then, occasionally, I'll read a book that is written very poorly. Over the course of this literary diet, the standard just ... rose higher.

Looking back at what I've written over the last few years, I find that my writing is repetitive. I write in cliches. I over use certain phrases, I repeat turns of expression, and I keep reducing my writing to the same ideas. Sometimes I write as badly as other poor quality writing that I run across in the church and in popular culture. Sometimes the idea, that I try to pursue farther than it seems like anyone else is taking it, still seems, when I'm done with it, unattained and badly incomplete. My description of it is only a shallow comprehension of it and it's depth and form and interlinked connections. Numerous A&F'ers on this board have given me some great compliments, and, occasionally, even offered some great opportunities. I'm deeply grateful for this.

But I'm finding that compliments from here, or from friends and family, are not going to make unsatisfactory writing suddenly satisfactory. There's this fairly indescribable refining process that I've suddenly got to find my way through. My love for language, and for the English language in particular, has been growing over this year. There is a sensual quality to it that I had never really appreciated this greatly before. There are rhythms that no formula or outline can give to a paragraph, an essay or a poem. It's something that you have to feel and experience.

Then there are times, for a page or two at time, when the writing muse catches fire. Life fills what was, for days before, lifeless and reductive and tired writing. The flow and the rthymn inheres in the language, just appearing there as if on it's own.

This doesn't mean that the next book and film reviews I share here are now going to be better than what I've written before. This doesn't mean that I'm learning to think more deeply.

I'm not writing less right now. But I'm writing far less work that feels finished or complete. I'm also resigning myself to the idea that, if I'm going to keep sharing what I write, I will have to share writing that is less than satisfactory.

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I have this issue from time to time. I'm generally dissatisfied with the quality of my work, but I try to share it anyway because it keeps me writing regularly and a lot of times I find pieces I found frustrating to write are the pieces that people like the most.

Part of it is recognizing that over time you're getting better. I look at stuff I wrote a couple of years ago and it's a huge step down from what I write today. So while I still feel the same discontent with the level of my writing quality, there's no denying that it has gotten better. I'd much prefer this constant dissatisfaction and a desire to improve than a contentment with what I write. If I even write anything I unreservedly love, I will probably quit writing.

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Thanks for sharing those thoughts, James and Jeremy. I know this feeling too well. In high school and college, people told me that I wrote well—I took these compliments as permission to coast by, assuming that everything I wrote was good to go in first-draft form. I was foolish and pompous, and perhaps I still am. But writing has certainly become more difficult, especially since I seem to be consistently dissatisfied with my writing. I spend most of my time re-writing and re-writing. This, combined with the fact that seem to have an incredible inability to proofread my own work, is torturous. If I didn't have deadlines (which I often miss), I'd edit into eternity.

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Thanks guys.

Yes, there was a point where I would just proofread my writing for grammar, sentence structure and reasoning (just like I would proofread anything else as an English tutor or legal assistant). But now, I'm finding myself also proofreading my writing for much more intangible things - rhythm, music, sound, mood, tone, voice, feeling - with the ultimate goal of attaining some undefined level of unsatisfactory imperfection.

That, and since I do a ton of legal brief and motion writing at work (writing which is most often endlessly repetitive, cold and lifeless), I'm constantly attempting to entirely change writing personalities for the evenings. Reading helps with this the most. An hour of Buckley or Hemingway or Helprin or Chesterton or Charles Lamb or Hunter S. Thompson is like a cleanser before beginning a night of writing.

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