Learning to blog III: To write straight

Good writing is hard. Raining words down on a piece of paper (well, screen) is easy; but it is hard to carve the story out, to shave off the unnecessary fluff and stray side-stories.

Stray stories, long sentences and over-informing are my weak spots as a writer, so I try to be very disciplined and weed out the clutter. William Strunk sums up beautifully what needs to be done to stories (and blog posts):

  

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

– William Strunk

 

Giant Rubic's cube on Maroubra beach, Sydney

This cube has no unnecessary parts


 
To learn to write like a lean machine, I keep in mind the rules for how to write well :

  • Always cut a word out that can be cut out!
  • Never use a long word where a short will do
  • Never use passive if you can use active
  • Never use a complex word if a simple can do the job
  • Don’t use tired old figures of speak, make your own or don’t use any

to comply with my own unwritten rules about words’ vocal sounds, meaning, white spaces (‘silence’) and the pursue of a parsimonious writing style.

And then there is spelling and grammar.

Of course rules don’t create stories; they just help free stories from prisons of verbosity and other bad habits.

 
Intuitive story telling and rules are not enemies

I liked to tell stories about animals when I was a kid. The stories gravitated into fateful dramas, shocking surprises and fatal outcomes, but I didn’t deliberately shape them in that way. I actually had no control over my imagination and was as puzzled as anyone about the events that unfolded from it.

I was an infamous story teller because I refused to tell the end of stories. This is what usually happened: a story got scarier and scarier and spiralled towards disaster. Its creatures evolved and developed their own schemes (many still hang around years later); and I had no choice but to shut the story down. I freaked out and went into damage control mode, while people half laughing, half worried tried to explain to me that my story was not real! I did not count on their expertise in that matter.

I acquired control over my fiction world when I learned to read & write. I never thought there were rules about how to write well; writing was more like a river that grabbed me and carried me through strange landscapes. Stories were worlds I journeyed, identities and friends, wisdom I learned, oceans of time to dive in; and what I had to give.

Rules work best when they are intuitive; but so do bad habits. The rules are designed to free story flows from bad habits to make them faster, brighter and clearer; to serve as an inner compass. Hemingway says it beautifully simple:

 

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

― Ernest Hemingway

 
 

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14 thoughts on “Learning to blog III: To write straight

  1. Lori Degtiarev

    You write beautifully. Clear and precise.

    Like you, I did not understand that rules actually existed. Writing is a flow for me, but it turns easily into an unweildy ocean.

    Rules are vital, but quite intimidating to me. If I focus on rules, I cannot create. My biggest problem is finding the balance between flow and form.

    The idea to express myself simply is the best compromise. I enjoyed your post.

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  2. Mados

    Thank you Lori, that compliment made my day! Particularly when it comes from you, because I admire your writing style (and illustrations:-). I admire the simplicity yet punch… it is a bit Hemingway-ish, actually.

    Your little everyday stories from situations some other parents would probably just try to forget are cute & wise, and they serve as reminders that the world is unique to whoever experiences it depending on perspective and priorities (like a fascinating candle, Japanese letters, elevators… ).

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    1. Lori Degtiarev

      I don’t know what to say. I’ve been blogging for years into space and is is so very nice to know that I am not alone out here.

      I appreciate your observations of my humble blog. I never think much about what I do. I create little pictures and stories because I must.

      I do not chug on to lunch with friends or go shopping for cute shoes. I am encouraged that someone apprecaites the little slices of life I share. Thank you!

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  3. Mados

    I don’t normally follow blogs about autistic kids. I read your blog because I enjoy the style and stories and would like to write as simple & beautiful. It is actually a really good crash course in ‘The Rules’, even though you don’t consciously apply them:-)

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  4. Mados

    Re. rules & flow:

    What works best for me is to write anything first, being in my flow with no regard for rules. Afterwards I apply my critical sense and shape & shave the story to clarify the meaning and weed out the (many) mistakes.

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    1. Lori Degtiarev

      I have scores of amorphous story globs. Shaving down a story is a challenge, because I cannot always identify a point.

      Sometimes, a magic curtain parts and I see meaning take shape.

      Mostly, it is just kilobytes in Word.

      The river that takes you to strange places is the key. The rules let everyone else in on your secret.

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      1. Mados

        I agree with you:-) The river is the key, that is where the energy comes from; it is the creative element. The rules are dams and other constructs to tame the water so it can be utilised and (if you are a professional) commercialised.

        ‘Rules’ do let everybody in on your secret… However, I don’t mind. I love to read great well written stories where the meaning is crisp & clear, I love the inspiration.

        I recognise the magic curtain that parts, and meaning begins to take shape.

        Here is a metaphor I’ve come across:

        An artist who made beautiful wooden dogs figures was asked about the secret to his creations. He said: ‘There is no secret. I just take a piece of wood and then cut everything off it that doesn’t look like a dog’.

        Making a story is similar except you don’t know in advance precisely what the final meaning is. It may start out as something else. When it starts to gain its meaningful shape, then it is time to branch the parts off that don’t look like that shape.

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  5. Emily (thoughtyautie)

    Wonderful. The weak spots you mention are mine as well. It’s hard for me to prioritize things, even if it’s just prioritizing information. It’s not that I think it’s all necessary; it’s that I’m not thinking about what is necessary and what is not. I’m learning to cut some things out though. Sometimes what helps me is just a parenthetical “but that’s a story for another post”, because then I feel like I’m at least saying “there are other things I want to write about” instead of not acknowledging them at all.

    Also, do you have a subscribe link? I can never find it, so I’m not notified of your new posts and I only remember to check infrequently.

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    1. Mados

      Thank you, Emily.

      Sometimes what helps me is just a parenthetical “but that’s a story for another post”

      Nice trick. If I like an idea but it will take the key topic astray, then I try to cut out the piece and save it as a new draft post. That makes it easier to prioritise the key topic.

      Ps. I have added a ‘subscribe’ button under the comment form. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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