This weekend saw the latest in a cluster of career disappointments so this article on the “stoic career” on Modern Stoicism was quite serendipitous. The stoic career is one which focuses on lifelong self development and measuring success through improvement, appropriate intentions and a deliberate exercise of choice.
We tend to think of writers in a particular way, usually as some kind of post-modern beat poet with various hipsterish affectations. The reality is that all of us whose work largely consists of producing text in some way, shape or form are professional writers and need to work on our craft accordingly. This old article by Donald McCloskey (its about 30-odd years old but still highly relevant) was written with economics in mind but is applicable to anyone who writes non-fiction of any kind for a living, in much the same way as CK Mill’s “On intellectual craftsmanship” which I have written about before.
A couple of things I took from this – first of all, writing is thinking. Trying to defend your muddled text by saying the ideas are good won’t wash. If your writing is muddled, chances are your ideas are too. Clarity is vital. I loved this quote by Karl Popper “If a conscientious reader finds a passage unclear, it has to be rewritten”. You are not the judge of whether your writing is clear. Imagine, as Popper did, someone looking over your shoulder and pointing out the unclear sections of your writing.
Following on from “writing is thinking”, don’t agonise the first draft. Just get it all down, it will help you figure out what you are trying to say. The style in the text comes when you are rewriting and editing.
“Use your ear” – people are very often guilty of committing to paper crimes against language they would never dream of saying out loud. 50 word sentences, 2 1/2 page paragraphs, multitudinous verbiage as substitution for clear thought….You know the sort of thing I mean! The written word relies on rhythm just as much as the spoken version.
And one last quote from the article which is highly relevant (given my intense dislike of academic jargon) “scholarship depends on the quality of argument, not the level of diction”.