Category Archives: writing

Winzip for Wordsmiths

I’m a little shocked this still needs to be said, because it’s just about the only lesson I remember from every writing class I ever took. And I’m really shocked that a blog post about omitting needless words and writing clearly is so repetitive and fractured. But just so we’re clear: be concise.

Holy crap. Did we forget that great writers sweat over sentence structure and word choice? Read some Hemingway or Steinbeck whydontcha!

Update: I have a modern, blogging example of this: Jorn Barger’s blogging and writing are so concise as to be nearly uncompressible.

Update 2: It further occurs to me that there’s a term for uncompressible, unskimable text that distills only the essence of meaning: poetry.

The End of Harry Potter… Just in Time?

Here’s an interesting argument that reading Harry Potter isn’t “real” reading–for adults, and it also debunks the “gateway” metaphor for kids–but simply participation in one more carefully-choreographed, highly-mediated event. I guess the good news is that culturally we appear to have some tolerance ceiling for carefully-choreographed, highly-mediated experiences. Maybe.

Getting past the idea of Harry Potter and his rabid fans being the philistines at the hedgerow of serious literature, this article also touches on the idea of the death of criticism and the ascendancy of the review. The difference is that a review is essentially a piece of marketing material, most often in favor of the piece, only occasionally against (in the context of defusing an over-hyped “project”). Criticism by contrast is comparative, attempting to get at the meaning of a work’s broad relation to other works and cultural memes.

The broader issue here is whether reading is purely escapist entertainment (book reviews perform the function of TV Guide), or whether it has deeper personal importance and meaning (the critical approach). This is an important distinction because in the former case reading is essentially trivial: like most mass media today, a base, simplistic reflection of populism and mediocrity (and what is Harry Potter, a book or movie consumed by millions of people over the same weekend, if not a mass medium?). In the latter case, if reading has personal meaning and importance, then the prevalence and condition of critical, thoughtful readers becomes a culturally vital issue. Harper’s has an extended article on this topic that I highly recommend.

Call it the Dvorak Gambit

It the section called “Why Bold Works,” this blog post about why you should be bold in your (blog) statements goes on to say…
  • You become an expert. This will be a controversial assertion, most likely, but I’m speaking from experience. If you talk about the same topics as everyone else, but you say it in a bolder way, over time you will begin to be see (sic) as an expert on the topic. Not only will you get people talking about you and linking to you and Digging you, but your credibility will go up. People will start to call you a “productivity guru” or an “SEO expert” or a “fitness guru”.
  • This immediately made me think of John Dvorak, who for 20 years has literally used bold type to shout at his readership. He says the same things as every other technopundit, and he’s wrong just as often (probably more, though I’d argue he’s more often wrong for the right reasons, being something of a technoutopian), but since people only remember the positive–hey look, Dvorak was shouting this at us in 1998: genius!–he’s considered an expert by dint of his tone. Consider that if he was any other writer, and had chosen italics instead of bold, his editors would have beaten him about the head and neck with a red pencil and he would have come across as simply shrill (as opposed to a shrill expert).

    I wonder if the world is ready for an all-caps blog.

    By the way, I think copyblogger is a stupendously-smart blog, and I can’t manage to apply a single one of its recommendations in my blogging. I read what he says, consider it, and then feel like I need to take a shower and a Xanax. That would be blogging for the man! Man.

    Moving On, Internet Style

    Now that the mourning is over, definitely time to move on to the self-congratulation. If you don’t want to read that piece of trash, I’ll summarize: “MSNBC: we’re so full of hot air we can toot our own horn while maintaining our 24×7 efforts to blow smoke up your ass.” It’s also worth noting that MSN redesigned their homepage at the last minute with a larger main image to “convey the magnitude” of the story, which is I’m pretty sure the ultimate Internet-era expression of “if it bleeds, it leads.” The example image they use is a bunch of people walking across a lawn, which I’ll admit has a lot more impact when you add 20 pixels of width.

    Is Blogging Anti-Linearity?

    Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to read blog posts sequentially without using an RSS feed? Look at any blog–, any Wired blog, even this blog. Read the entire first page. Then try to read the next posting. None of them end with a “next” link (my blog used to, before I started using blogger). They end with “archives” or nothing. And if you click “archives,” you don’t get the next item you haven’t read; you get a repeat of the posts you’ve already read. So basically if you fall behind by a few days (or in some cases a few hours) you’re screwed. What up with that?

    First Wiki Novel: Just as Bad as You Imagine

    Penguin’s massively collaborative novel experiment–A Million Penguins–seems to be off to a rocky start. It’s a wiki, so it could easily self-improve at any moment, but I wouldn’t count on it. Right now it’s execrable. I mean truly ghastly.

    “Big Tony,” a voice said, “There’s a call for you.”

    Big Tony carefully put down his cards and looked at the bartender, slightly raising his left eyebrow. “For you? But everyone knows not to call me here?”

    “They’re calling your mobile – how would they know where you at?”

    “Of course,” said Tony, nodding meaningfully as he took the cell phone out of his pocket. He might be “mean and dumb as a man can come” but he was also a little slow.

    “Hello” said the voice on the phone, “Is that Huge Tony?”

    “No, this is Big Tony.”

    “Sorry – wrong Tony.”

    I know, rather than complain I could simply edit it. In fact, just snipping it out like this makes it sound slightly funny–like maybe it’s trying to be a little madcap and ironic. It’s not.

    Start editing this? Might as well piss in the ocean on a rainy day.