↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Monday, October 05, 2009

Prune That Prose, Essay: When Writers Speak

It takes efforts to write simply ~t

I realize that this is what I've spent the past 10 years trying to do with prose: To write so that my ideas are sharply defined, vivid, and pleasurable. The process has required a painful unlearning of nearly all I'd been taught as a professional. Do you ever read your prose aloud, either quietly to yourself or at a public reading of your work? Too many academics would answer no to that question. We have a kind of reverse aestheticism—if our writing is dense and unwieldy, filled with technical terms and convoluted sentences, we wear its lack of accessibility as a badge of honor.
But pruning your ideas and simplifying your language don't have to eliminate the subtlety and significance of your thought. In "Scholars and Sound Bites," Gerald Graff, a professor of English and education, says that we shouldn't "exaggerate the distance between the academic and the popular, especially if doing so excuses bad academic habits of communication." He warns: "Don't kid yourself. If you could not explain it to your parents or your most mediocre student, the chances are you don't understand it yourself." Prune That Prose

The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, however, isn’t so sure. In an e-mail exchange, Pinker sensibly points out that thinking precedes writing and that the reason we sound smarter when writing is because we deliberately set out to be clear and precise, a luxury not usually afforded us in conversation. True, and especially true if one writes for magazines where nitpicking editors with expensive shoes are waiting to kick us around for every small mistake. When people who write for a living sit down to earn their pay they make demands on themselves that require a higher degree of skill than that summoned by conversation. Pinker likens this to mathematicians thinking differently when proving theorems than when counting change, or to quarterbacks throwing a pass during a game as opposed to tossing a ball around in their backyards. He does concede, however, that since writing allows time for reveries and ruminations, it probably engages larger swaths of the brain. When Writers Speak


Post a Comment

<< Home