I’ve ranted about this before, but here’s yet another article (this time in The New Yorker), “Why Simple Is Smart” about how using simple language is better, and using overly elaborate, verbose, or jargon-y language is a sign of insecurity, not knowledge.
Simple is smart. High school taught me big words. College rewarded me for using big words. Then I graduated and realized that intelligent readers outside the classroom don’t want big words. They want complex ideas made simple. If you don’t believe it from a journalist, believe it from an academic: “When people feel insecure about their social standing in a group, they are more likely to use jargon in an attempt to be admired and respected,” the Columbia University psychologist Adam Galinsky told me. […] Why? It’s the complexity trap: Complicated language and jargon offer writers the illusion of sophistication, but jargon can send a signal to some readers that the writer is dense or overcompensating. Derek Thompson
Aside from that central talking point, the rest of the article is also a nice read, discussing some basic tips towards better writing (writing musically is an interesting note, for instance). It’s a quick read, so just go read the article yourself.
Naomi Kritzer has a solid article on editing your work, with advice about doing your post-first-draft edits. A lot of advice out there is focused on just getting the first draft done, but glosses over the essential editing/rewriting process that takes it from a messy first draft to something you’d actually want to show someone else, so this is a welcome addition to the conversation.
I think this is a worthwhile thing to remember:
One of the really magical things about writing is that sometimes, that throwaway bit that didn’t mean anything when you put it there turns out to be the key that holds everything together. I think of those moments as gifts from the muse. Editing isn’t always about making the thing Not Suck; it’s also about spotting the really brilliant bits and polishing them up and focusing the lights on them so people can notice how very shiny they are.
Not sure why it resurfaced now, but from 2015 over at the New Statesman, there’s a delightful interview between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro, discussing genre and class and escapism and all sorts of interesting things. Well worth the read, and feels pretty topical even now.
KI I don’t have a problem, necessarily, about reading for improvement. I often choose a book because I think I’m going to enjoy it, but I think also it’s going to improve me in some sense. But when you ask yourself, “Is this going to improve me?” what are you really asking? I think I probably do turn to books for some sort of spiritual and intellectual nourishment: I think I’m going to learn something about the world, about people. But if by “improving”, we mean it would help me go up the class ladder, then it’s not what reading and writing should be about. Books are serving the same function as certain brands of cars or jewellery, in just denoting social position. That kind of motivation attaches itself to reading in a way that probably doesn’t attach itself to film.
Many of the great classics that are studied by film scholars are sci-fi: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Kubrick’s 2001. They don’t seem to have suffered from the kind of genre stigmatisation their equivalents would have done in book form.
NG I remember as a boy reading an essay by C S Lewis in which he writes about the way that people use the term “escapism” – the way literature is looked down on when it’s being used as escapism – and Lewis says that this is very strange, because actually there’s only one class of people who don’t like escape, and that’s jailers: people who want to keep you where you are. I’ve never had anything against escapist literature, because I figure that escape is a good thing: going to a different place, learning things, and coming back with tools you might not have known.
To Ursula Le Guin: You were an astounding writer, and by all accounts an equally astounding human being. I’m grateful for your stories and your thoughts, and what you brought to this world. Rest well.
In John Scalzi’s piece on Le Guin’s passing, he said it quite aptly:
Look at the top tier of writers in science fiction and fantasy today — names like Jemisin and Gaiman and Jeff VanderMeer and Catherynne Valente, as well as rising stars like Bo Bolander and Amal El-Mohtar and Monica Byrne — and you see the unmistakable traces of Le Guin in their work. Multiple generations of her spiritual children, making the genre more humane and expansive, and better than it would have been without her. And all with stories of her.
The speaking of her name and of her words goes on, and will go on, today and tomorrow and for a very long time now. As it should. She was the mother of so many of us, and you should take time to mourn your mother.
So You Want to Be a Writer? Essential tips for aspiring novelists over at the Guardian, by Colum McCann, who also has a book on the topic. It’s an enjoyable read, and has some good advice without being a shill or clickbait-y.
The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves. There is one simple word for this: empathy. Don’t let them fool you. Empathy is violent. Empathy is tough. Empathy can rip you open. Once you go there, you can be changed. Get ready: they will label you sentimental. But the truth is that the cynics are the sentimental ones. They live in a cloud of their own limited nostalgia. They have no muscularity at all. Remember, the world is so much more than one story. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves.
25 habits that will make you a writer by Shaunta Grimes — ignore the terribly clickbait-y title, the advice is actually pretty good. A lot of it may come off as pretty obvious (write every day), but I think it’s still worth a read, and includes some links to some other good books and resources. (Also, pretty relevant regardless of whether your chosen medium is writing or painting or sculpting, or any number of other creative outlets.)
I put the (ADD WORD LATER) in Procrastination! by Bonnie Burton, guest blogging over at Wil Wheaton’s blog.
A friendly reminder that we all procrastinate sometimes.
And sometimes that’s hugely painful or difficult, especially when we’ve been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it’s all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it’s risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it’s also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)
That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being–and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.
Read the rest of the post (and really, a lot of her posts lately). Worth it.