How to Write (Pretentious Ramblings from a Hack…)

My Wife and I in Cieneguilla in 2007 Probably!

How to write…

As if I know!
I’ve always made a point to tell my students in the various classes I’ve taught that my perspective on writing is probably different from theirs, and it’s probably going to be different from the other teachers and employers they’re likely to run into in their lives.  This is an important thing to mention and try to keep in the forefront of your thinking while you’re evaluating the writing of others…unfortunately, the people in this or any society that seem to make their influence the most harshly felt are those that declare THEIR way of thinking is RIGHT and NOBODY else knows what they’re talking about…
The fundamental thing about writing is that it’s not a science!  However, most people who are involved in the profession of writing or teaching writing feel a little bit of science-envy insecurity, and thus they try to force their round peg into the square hole by PRETENDING that writing is a science.
It’s absurd…but hey…it happens so we have to deal with it.
I once heard somebody say that if you give a paragraph without any punctuation to a hundred college English professors, they’ll all punctuate that paragraph differently, and they’ll all be right.  THAT’S the essence of English.  That’s the essence of writing.  There are a lot of different ways to do things and there IS no one single answer.
It’s strange, however, how much difficulty I have getting English teachers to admit this basic, fundamental principle.  They like to claim that the rules of grammar are hard and fast.
They’re not!
Take, for example, the rule of putting a comma after an introductory prepositional phrase.  According to the rule, if the introductory prepositional phrase is short enough, no comma is necessary.  However, I’ve never found ANY declaration ANYWHERE of what a “short enough” phrase is!  Is it three words, four, five?  What’s the CUT-OFF?
The problem with ambiguous rules like this is when some $8 an hour asshole is grading your college entry exam, s/he might be using three words as the parameter for the necessary/unnecessary introductory prepositional phrase comma, and s/he might end up giving you a lower grade on something that’s completely arbitrary!
You see…human beings are generally capable of remembering a single stupid rule, but they’re generally incapable of recognizing when that rule can just “float” (AKA…they DON’T take points off!).
But people ALWAYS want to nit-pick and take points off…so you’re screwed.
Another thing that everybody who knows just a little bit about writing (enough to be a big pain in the ass) is that you should avoid using the “passive voice.”
Passive voice is kind of boring.  For example this sentence: “The chair was built by the carpenter,” is FARRRR more boring than the sentence “The carpenter built the chair.”
I’m being sarcastic in my presentation, but it is true that passive voice takes the reader farther away from the action.
Still, that doesn’t mean that you should NEVER use passive voice when writing.  Unless…of course, you’re writing is apt to be read by some dipshit who read “the Elements of Style” and who KNOWS beyond a shadow of a doubt that PASSIVE VOICE IS WROOOOONGGGG!!!!!
Honestly, you can write a perfectly good story using the passive voice.  I’m sure I could pick up my copy of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and find plenty of examples of passive voice sprinkled throughout the story.
It’s amazing how people can be smart enough to RECOGNIZE passive voice, but still be fundamentally CLUELESS about good writing to the point where they MISAPPLY the rule so horrendously.
Anyway…it all comes down to this.
Find the people who like the way you write, and WRITE FOR THEM!  Overeducated assholes are always going to be critical of the way you write…but much of their criticism is unfounded.  Also, you always have to take into consideration who these critics are.  If they’re C-students who write a monthly newsletter for 12 people, than to hell with them.
Good writing comes from the heart.  If you’ve done an adequate job expressing something that you truly believe, then you’re a good writer.  Don’t let some frustrated hack tell you otherwise…no matter how many degrees they hold.
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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    I hate those hacks that love to point out any little flaw in your spelling/grammar. They want a reason to dismiss what you have to say simply because they found some writing flaw. They think if they can point out some grammar mistake in someone's writing that it makes them more superior. I am not the best at spelling and grammar so I have had to deal with some of these hacks throughout my life. For me most the time I don't even bother to put in many of the necessary comas as they slow me down.(I missed a number of comma’s in that last sentence…bite me) Einstein supposedly could not tie his own shoes and don't forget his hair so some hacks of the world back in his day might of just looked at him walking down the street with his shoes untied as a loser idiot and would not bother to listen to anything he had to say. What they would have failed to understand was that he was not wasting his time with such trivial matters and was instead spending his energy on figuring out what were the answers to some of the most difficult questions in physics and the universe.


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