Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Great Advice from Siskel and Ebert on the Craft of Writing: Be Yourself and Beware Political Correctness
So much good here. Indeed, political correctness as a governing rule for writing is a type of ventriloquism. We should always say what we mean when we write. This is great wisdom that all writers can learn from.
I was reading Roger Ebert's Journal as I often do each week. His writing is so precise and honest. Watching Siskel and Ebert--At the Movies was a ritual with my mom and dad when I was growing up, so taking my time at Ebert's site is a great and nostalgic joy.
There, I came across the above (and very helpful) interview on the craft of writing.
I am very interested in meta level questions about the writing process--which is why I like to linger on such questions whenever I have a chance to talk to accomplished authors.
And have you ever listened to a thing, and then realized it was reminding you of advice that you received at some point in your life, and then was reminding you of things that you had forgotten? For me, Siskel and Ebert's conversation about finding your voice, the role of truth-telling, and the courage to put your own opinions out for public scrutiny and criticism rang home.
They are both correct on a basic point: a writer needs to be comfortable with their own opinions, the vulnerability that comes with telling the truth, and also speaking one's own mind in public.
There are many styles of writing. Each requires a different, albeit (what is a a likely) complementary, skill set.
For example, there is much diversity in style and approach among those who write online. Some folks are news aggregators or archivists; others are skilled at writing pithy summaries; some people are analysts who connect the dots; there are essayists who specialize in short pieces as opposed to long ones (what are very different skills); while some writers are deep and thorough in their analysis.
Most who choose to write online and/or have adapted their print skills to the electronic medium just want to entertain, get some attention, validation, and receive immediate feedback. The strength and weakness of writing online is immediacy: worthy and important ideas are often not paid attention to because the Internet encourages disposable thinking and "drive-by" writing that goes for the cheap thrill. However, great and important ideas can also quickly circulate. Consequently, they can have an outsized impact as these claims are not bounded by the limits of print or an academic review panel.
When you choose to write online, and if you want to be successful at it, branding and voice are also important. As the Atlantic pointed out last week, even how a particular author writes a blog title is integral to their success. A reader should be able to see a title and know, with some likelihood and certainly, from where that essay or story originated.
We have a range of readers here at We Are Respectable Negroes. Most blogs do not last 3 months. For those of you who have been observers and fans of particularly successful blogs or other online forums, what tips do you have for those who are just starting out? For those of you who have written online for some time, what advice do you have for those folks who are just starting out?
My advice is simple. Be yourself. Do not try to imitate other people. Be confident and comfortable with criticism. Have little fear of rejection. And take risks so that you can get substantive feedback, mean words, some hate from the peanut gallery, and learn to welcome how those who despise you are gonna come hard. If you write for "hits" or comments you will end up hating and resenting the process of writing online because there is no rhyme or reason to the logic of a fickle public and Internet. If no one cares, responds, or comments, it is harder to proceed; but, this ought not need be a deterrent as you will be surprised how your work can take on a life of its own.
Ultimately, if you have nothing interesting to say about a topic, do not care, have no expertise on it, and/or are indifferent, it is best not to say anything at all. Silence can be a virtue.
And of course, write every day.
In keeping with my ghetto nerd professional wrestling roots, if people are booing you, at least they are reacting. Silence is death. Moreover, as Siskel and Ebert implied, most folks probably do not even risk trying and giving 100 percent of themselves because they are afraid of rejection. The latter is an especially bad habit; it can be crippling.
How many great stories, essays, blogs, books, and the like have we the public been deprived of, because a potential author feared the magic of conjuring up a thought, and committing it to paper or screen? I would guess that there are an almost infinite many.