Kellogg, a psychologist at Saint Louis University, tours the research in the field, where many of the landmarks are his own. Some writers are “Beethovians” who disdain outlines and notes and instead “compose rough drafts immediately to discover what they have to say.” Others are “Mozartians”—cough, cough—who have been known to “delay drafting for lengthy periods of time in order to allow for extensive reflection and planning.” According to Kellogg, perfect-first-drafters and full-steam-aheaders report the same amount of productivity. Methinks someone is lying. And feel free to quote this line the next time an editor is nudging you for copy: “Although prewriting can be brief, experts approaching a serious writing assignment may spend hours, days, or weeks thinking about the task before initiating the draft.”
The scientifically-tested fun facts abound. Ann Chenoweth and John Hayes (2001) found that sentences are generated in a burst-pause-evaluate, burst-pause-evaluate pattern, with more experienced writers producing longer word bursts. A curly-haired girl on a white porch swing on a hot summer day will be more likely to remember what you’ve written if you employ concrete language—so says a 1995 study. S. K. Perry reports that the promise of money has a way of stimulating writerly “flow.” Amazing! One also finds dreadful confirmation of one’s worst habits: “Binge writing—hypomanic, euphoric marathon sessions to meet unrealistic deadlines—is generally counterproductive and potentially a source of depression and blocking,” sums up the work of Robert Boice. One strategy: Try to limit your working hours, write at a set time each day, and try your best not to emotionally flip out or check email every 20 seconds. This is called “engineering” your environment.
This meandering by one Michael Agger at Slate was interesting to me.
As a successful writer at Dagblog (almost always assured of four comments and a couple hundred hits) I use a number of different methods to complete an opus.
Then I recalled as an attorney how I would put a brief together. And there were basically two manners in which I worked.
One method was simply to review several case opinions that were threaded together by a company known as Shepherd’s—a conglomerate that kind of won a monopoly over legal threading through hard work, tricks with the copyright laws and further twisting of our Law of Patent.
After properly cutting and pasting from judicial opinions over a period of hours or days I would begin to write a brief. Supposedly at some point in time I reached an epiphany of sorts with regard to the takes on issues that helped my case and go from there.
Another method was using a stream of consciousness, writing my thoughts without much reference to anything and then doing some legal research.
I have not thought about this for years but I really use both methods in weaving together my insignificant blogs.
I read fifteen or twenty or thirty articles off of the web and then cut and paste the most interesting quotes or paragraphs onto my Word (read Word clone) which is my ‘blank sheet’.
After a day or two or three I review what my fishing has wrought and see if I can find common threads.
Other times I read something that really pisses me off (or really intrigues me) and I just write.
So editing becomes everything.
Agger, to my way of thinking is just discussing these two ‘methods’ and when he opines that someone is lying he misses the point.
When Tiger Woods was ‘on’, he was on. Fairways and greens were the only places where his ball could land. And when some drive went errant, there was no look of fear or trepidation on the lad’s face whatsover. And it was more fun to watch at that point.
What is more fun than a miracle shot from the rough, under some errant branch of a tree and over some other tree standing in the way of him and the green he is searching for? When Tiger was ‘on’ it was more fun watching him stuck in some impossible lie!
Ted Williams had bad days but when he was ‘on’ he could hit anything.
The intentional walk rule came into play because Babe Ruth became so pissed off at being intentionally walked that he would step out of the batter’s box and swing away. Hahaha
But I digress.
When a good writer is ‘on’ (and give me a break folks, I am not talking about me) she can write and write and write without notes or cue cards or even bathroom breaks.
The words just flow.
I am really not a fan of Shakespeare (he wrote in a language that is long dead as far as I am concerned) but there are sections of dialogues and monologues that tell me he was on a run. You just know that as far as those runs, real editing just did not come into play.
Other parts of his works demonstrate that he is reading some history and working to acclimate it to his style and turn it into his plots. He became more of an editor than a pure writer during those sessions. Probably in a hurry to put on his next show!
And nobody was ever going to ‘correct’ Tiger’s stroke or Ted’s swing or the Babe’s bravado!
The same goes for us peasants. Nobody is going to tell you how to write good! Ha
Patton Oswalt does a riff on a comic he watched at some ‘open mike’.
The guy was a heroin addict.
But one night this nobody took the mike and rocked according to Oswalt. He could do no wrong. The addict would begin a story and then nod off—right on stage. And then magically, the comic would awaken and relate more chapters in the story.
Patton does another riff on a magician who was sooooooo very pissed off at being cheated monetarily on his contractual gig that he just acted like an ass.
And Patton relates that this magician was so goddamn funny in his anger that the act rocked.
Well, the audience was not impressed but Patton could not stop laughing.
So there is an element of context, of luck that might render a peasant writer a real gem in terms of language.
So I write and I advise others to write simply to see ‘what comes out’.
You never know what epiphanies await you.
Another article at Slate awakened me while I was numbly scanning meaningless crap:
Honestly I’ve never been persuaded by Ulysses. To my mind, Joyce’s best and most genuine work is the wonderful Dubliners; everything afterwards smacks of striving to write a “great” work, rather than simply striving to write—it’s all too voulu. Although there are, of course, beautiful and breathtakingly authentic things in the novel (who could not love that tang of urine in the breakfast kidneys?), what spoils Ulysses for me, each time, is the oppressive allusiveness, the wearyingly overdetermined referentiality, the heavy constructedness of it all. Reading the book, for me, is never a rich and wonderful journey, filled with marvels and (no matter how many times you may read a book) surprises—the experience I want from a large and important novel; it’s more like being on one of those Easter egg hunts you went on as a child—you constantly feel yourself being managed, being carefully steered in the direction of effortfully planted treats. Which, of course, makes them not feel very much like treats at all.
The tip-off, for me, are the Gilbert and Linati Schemas, now included in most editions: the road-maps to the books that Joyce concocted for friends, minutely indicating the novel’s themes, its labored structures, the Homeric analogies, etc.
Personally, to this day I can become lost in Ulysses. Jesus, one of Joyce’s colleagues wrote a tome on the ‘meaning’ or ‘meanings’ of Ulysses that was longer than Ulysses. Hahahah
When I say ‘lost’ I mean to say that I can be totally captivated by a section of prose in a tome with no plot. Other times I have no idea what James is writing about.
Juliet Lapados writes this critique at Slate and it harkens me back to my take on other ‘great works’ of art.
Like I have written, DaVinci’s Mona Lisa means so little to me in comparison to other paintings by the Great Masters or the lesser peasant masters that I have viewed.
But, like movies, I have to be in the right mood to appreciate someone else’s work or perspective.
If I am not in the right mood I just cannot take The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.
But if I am in the right mood, this film is the greatest western I have ever seen!
OK look, let’s be honest: Genesis has a knockout opening line. But it sure goes downhill fast: “And the earth was without form”; “And God said this”; “And God said that”; “And God said the other thing”; and on and on—I mean, did this guy sleep through high-school English, or what? No starting a sentence with and, pal. Not to mention his way with names: Arphaxad and Zillah, Mahalaleel and Magog, really? They sound like the baddies in one of those afternoon shows on the old WB network. Pretty hard to suspend disbelief when you’re tripping over your tongue and rushing to change the channel. I admit the part about the flood and the big boat and the animals is exciting (though could have been funnier), and the whole Abraham and Isaac thing certainly leaves an impression. But it’s just not well enough imagined to make you believe in it, and its style is so sloppy and varied it seems almost to have been written by committee. http://www.slate.com/id/2301312/
Now I can get into a minor argument with Lapados ever this critique. I mean there were at least four different authors of Genesis and if you take into account the fact that each story in Genesis was originally a song from some tribe far far away and long long ago, how could this compendium flow?
But if somebody just created this collection of short stories, I guess I would have to agree with fair Juliet.
Anyway, these two articles at Slate (that I had forgotten about until I reviewed my tossed Word notes) give some incites into writing and appreciation of reading the writings of others.