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Wednesday, 28 January 2015


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Your second quote reminds me of the old comment re bad music (e.g. acid rock and heavy metal)-'If you can't sing good, sing loud'.

"Perfecting Sound Forever" sounds really interesting. I'm curious to know whether it addresses a question my father and I have had for years: why were so many Jews prominent in the hifi era (Sol Marantz, Sid Harman, Avery Fisher)? As a Jewish kid who built Heathkits in the 50s, my dad is sure it's not a coincidence!

Mike, interesting post. I read Dillard book about 30 years ago and can't remember much of it except that I liked it. I may put it on the iPad and try it again. Really enjoy the posts on what you are reading, and glad you are not reading all photo books. Books like hers provide an eye toward life that we should appreciate and savior.

Mike Johnston's no slouch as a writer, either, though he writes in a different genre than Annie Dillard (at least in public).


did you ever see a classic episode of "thirtysomething" called Michael writes a story? That Annie Dillard sample brings immediately to my mind the story that Michael writes in the episode - a smart person trying to show everyone how clever she or he is.

I'm not trying to flatter but just to express my view, when I say that I much prefer your clear and engaging style.

Writing is easy. Good writing is hard. Really good writing is really hard.

Hard and enjoyable are not opposites.

From another crafsperson, and to make John Camp's advice even briefer, JUST DO IT!
There is no magic bullet in anothers methods, nor at all the workshops, books, and psycho-babble; JUST DO IT!

For what it's worth, all three of the Dillard books mentioned are available in a single volume called "Three".

Interesting discussion. Great quote, John Camp, regarding Henry James. That quote has been attributed to many people. Could well be that Mark Twain is the source, although I suspect that many witty sayings are attributed to Twain because he was a great wit, just as statements that sound intelligent sometimes get credited to Einstein. (Hey, why not?) Very possibly the source of the quote is Mr. Henry Adams, Marion Hooper "Clover" Adams. She was a fascinating, accomplished, tragic figure in her own right, and, among other things, a noted photographer.

Dear Mike,

Unless that quote from Greg's book is wildly out of context, it tells me it's a book I'm never going to read, because his take on Boomers' relationship to sound quality is total and utter crap. It is so deeply and profoundly off the mark that it's not even arguable–– it's in flat earth territory. It leads me to doubt any opinion he would have on the subject. Factually, the book may be brilliant, but as for his take on what it means… I am unconvinced. Or, more correctly, negatively convinced.

On the other hand I might pick up Annie's book… and Stephen's. They're both brilliant writers, absolutely at the top of the craft, and I'm always interested in how writers work. Not that I'd likely follow any of their advice.

I know a hell of a lot of authors, my personal friends, and I've listened to even more of them talk about the craft of writing and how they write and their recommendations for aspiring writers. My first observation is that every single writer does it somewhat differently from every other writer. There are possibly an infinite number of “workflows” that lead to being a successful writer. (And an even larger number that don't, it should go without saying.)

My second observation is that there are a couple of recurring themes that come up from the most highly successful ones I know. One is to write every (working) day. Set yourself a goal, one you can meet, and stick to it. It doesn't matter if it's 200 words or 2000, it just has to be something that's reasonable for you to do (for readers who have never thought about the math of it, you don't have to write a lot each day to be a productive writer: 400 words a day equals a novel a year). Some days those words will come to you very easily and you'll be done with the burden of production before you finished your morning cup of tea. Other days you'll be sweating past dinnertime. Doesn't matter. Stick to it until you produce that number of words. And then keep doing it day after day.

There's a corollary they bring up. The writers I know who work this way, a great number of them, pretty much agree that when the whole job is done and they go back and read the manuscript, they really can't tell the words they sweated over from the words that flowed like water. It's all equally good, it's just some of it comes easy and some very hard. The thing is to keep plugging away.

Sounds like very sensible advice. Didn't work at all for me. Oh, I can have a monthly goal or even a weekly goal, and write to that with some reasonable reliability. But daily? No way. Because on the days when the words come easy, they don't stop coming. There's a pivotal event in the middle of the book John and I are writing that runs four chapters. When it framed itself in my head, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it, and I wrote a chapter a day. I might have written them in three days or less, I don't remember. It just poured out. And, I wasn't breaking a sweat.

No way I was going to stop at my quota. I knew what I wanted to say and I said it. But the thing is, after that I was drained, wiped, exhausted. I didn't want to write anything for days, and I didn't. Which is pretty much the way it always worked for me. I can't pace myself. Some days I'll write a few hundred words. Other days I'll write thousands. But the days when I write thousands, I can't go back to the keyboard the next day and write some more. I've got a recharge my batteries. So this “write every day” idea? No good for me.

And the flipside of the coin… The words that I sweat blood over? They aren't as good as the words that flow like water. The quality of the prose just isn't anywhere the same. I can tell.

So much for the prevalent wisdom. You write however you're going to write. So long as you follow John's bit of wisdom–– finish the damn thing!

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

If you want to read about writing and actually become a better writer, the book I recommend to wannabe writers is "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser. It is, itself, well written, and if you read a chapter a week and actually put the disciplines of that chapter to work, you will become a better writer.

As a professional writer of non-fiction for some 40 plus years, I re-read this book every few years to keep my axe sharp. It will help anyone turn a flabby first draft into lean, muscular prose.

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