Category: Writing

Do You Want to Be a Writer?

You might want to consider this forgotten classic about the craft

‘’[T]his is the best book ever written about how to write!’’ Carl Sandburg

A young man approached me recently, saying he wanted to start writing. I read one of his pieces, saw potential, complimented him . . . then beat the living hell out of his piece.

His grammar was fine. The story flowed fairly well.

I beat on the story for its style, rewriting paragraphs and deleting cliched’ writing.

But what I really wanted to criticize was his approach.

I wanted to say, “This is fine and honestly shows a lot of potential, but it oozes prose that tells me you’re not really interested in the art of writing. You need to strip down to your underwear — to your attitude, your disposition, your entire writerly outlook — and start over.”

I couldn’t bring myself to say such a thing, primarily because I do think he has potential and didn’t trust my ability to convey such a heavy message without crushing him.

So instead I focused on the style issues.

And then sent him Barbara Ueland’s If You Want to Write.

Leisure, the basis of writing

I rarely see Ueland’s book referenced, but it has remained in print since its first publication in 1938 for a reason.

It is, as Sandburg noted, the best book ever about how to write, which is not terribly surprising. Ueland … Read the rest


Language Poverty

The cold weather is coming back. That means it’s time to beat the “fuel poverty” drum. According to the mainstream press, a person lives in fuel poverty if he must spend 10 per cent of his annual income to keep his home acceptably warm.

According to this article, the Queen of England is close to fuel poverty, but then the article morphs into a discussion about how the Queen is trying to reduce costs by turning off lights.

I’m not sure how lights fit into the fuel poverty equation, but I’m pretty confident that, when the Queen of England falls within any definition of poverty, then the definition of poverty has gotten surrealistically, ridiculously, absurdly, Orwellianistically expansive.

On Orwell

I surfed to find the correct Orwell adverb for that last blurb. I couldn’t find one, so I made one up.

But in my surfing, I ran across Orwell’s excellent “Politics and the English Language.” About ten years ago, I was at a Touchstone conference in Chicago and speaking with David Mills. David, for those who don’t know him, is possibly the finest Christian writer alive, a man of ideas who could probably crank out a meaningful book every year, but instead concentrates so intently on his craft that he produces slowly. That, anyway, is my impression of him after working with him on a handful of articles.

While talking with … Read the rest


literatureCatholic Arts and Letters Weekly

Are you “flipping hamburgers” or “making magic”? It depends on where you work. At Disney, all the modern day indentured servants (“interns”) are making magic. . . . more

South of the Border. North of the Border. Across the Border. This guy walked along the Border, all of it, from the Pacific to the Gulf. . . . more

Baseball geeks know Bill James. Bill James is getting to know serial killers. . . . more

They caught bin Laden, but they’re making fundamental economic mistakes. Robert Higgs describes six of them . . . more

Would you rather spend five years in prison or receive ten lashes? It’s a no-brainer for me. And therein begins “In Defense of Flogging.” . . . more

The popular historian, Simon Schama, has published a book of essays, including some autobiographical reflection. It’s probably worth an afternoon of reading, or maybe an inter-library loan. . . . moreRead the rest


literatureCatholic Arts and Letters Weekly

Aristotle said metaphors are the mark of genius. Others today argue that figurative speech is dangerous. A new book explores. . . . more

Rikers juvenile detention: Where toothbrushes are weapons and pop tarts the plunder. But it pales next to its sub-unit, One Main, where “dayroom niggas” and “pop-off dummies” are relatively fortunate. And female guard hires aren’t helping matters. . . .more

Breaking down Graham Greene: Catholic, dry, clear, strong characters. . . more

They’re gonna make a car that goes 1,000 mph. ‘Nuff said. . . . . more

Can you game the game? Yes, and it’s not even that hard. Nerd Nirvana: beating the lottery. . . . more

Europe has cars that get 63 miles to the gallon. Why don’t we get those cars over here? Simple answer: too much regulation. . . . more

Porn paradox: PornoTube, RedTube, and YouPorn are bringing down pornography. Kinda. . . . more Related: Porn and the middle school dating scene. Warning: NC-17 LinksRead the rest


literatureCatholic Arts and Letters Weekly

Pedophiles. Abusers secretly moved to other posts. Rampant cover-up. Dang Catholics! Oh wait. They’re talking about the public schools. . . . more

A giant in his time, bigger even than the Blues Brothers. Cab Calloway is being remembered for more than Minnie the Moocher. . . .more.

Beatnik. And a feminist. And a libertarian of the nasty Objectivist sort. And good-looking. And not one of those Kennedies. Jeff Riggenbach tells the story of Joan Kennedy. . . .more.

The United States is in severe economic trouble, right? But babies might save the day. Not so for Russia, China, and all of Europe. . . . .more.

The Communists told Hungary it couldn’t make cars. So it made micro-cars. So ugly, they’re cute. With pics. . . . more

Lazy or oppressed? Twenty-somethings are reviled for playing video games all day. But maybe it’s not their fault. Let the debate begin. . . . more.

Slut or heroine? The former, for anyone with a shred of morality. Even the slut regrets her drunken, libidocoriac, power-pointed antics. . . . more.

Nouns have long been turned into verbs. Who can forget “to Bobbitt”? But verbing is spiraling out of control. . . . more.… Read the rest



“Do you really think Flannery O’Connor was a great writer? She’s such a Roman Catholic.” A moron actually asked that moronic question back in 1972 when O’Connor posthumously received the National Book Award. But she has weathered the decades and her popularity is growing, as evidenced by this good review-essay in Commentary . * * * * * Commentary leans to the Jewish persuasion, so I doubt you often see a Catholic novelist featured in its pages. Even more remarkable: I found the link through Arts & Letters Daily, which is run by an atheistic humanist (albeit of the intellectually-honest variety). And what’s shameful: I have this issue of Commentary in my stack of reading material and didn’t even notice the story. * * * * * Sorry about the Uchitel honey shot yesterday juxtaposed with the Flannery shot today. I hope it wasn’t too jarring. But then again, to be honest, I don’t find Uchitel nearly as attractive as others find her, and Flannery, at least in this picture, isn’t unpleasant. * * * * * Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Lehman Brother’s President championed perversity while Lehman exploded.

Mr Gregory, president of Lehman until he was ousted just before the end, should have been focused on the firm’s ballooning balance-sheet. Instead he allowed himself to be distracted by a crusade to turn Lehman into a model of political correctness. Mr Gregory

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From the Notebooks

notebook picture.jpg On Clichés

Language has its limits: Great philosophers have struggled to articulate the truths they’ve discerned. Mystics have been rendered dumb by the beauty they’ve seen. The everyday person has been reduced to exasperation when his neighbor doesn’t understand why something is humorous.

Even when language might be sufficient for the task, a person might not have enough aptitude. A man wants to articulate the sensation of returning to a vacation spot he frequented as a child. “Nostalgia” doesn’t seem to do it justice, yet that’s the best he can do and he knows it doesn’t convey the feeling adequately to his wife.

The shortcoming of language give rise to poetry. It also gives rise to silence, like Thomas Aquinas’ refusal to write any more after his mystical visions. Those are good effects of language’s limits.

Cliches are the bad effects.

Cliches substitute for thought. Too often, a person in debate throws out a cliché, expects it to be treated with the same weight of a proverb, and hopes the matter is ended. His opponent often counters with his own cliché, distinguishes the cliché from the present situation, or concedes the point. Rarely does the opponent dismantle the cliché itself.

Perhaps the essence of a cliché is that it can be dismantled by one of the oldest and simplest, yet most effective, philosophical tools in the shed: reductio ad aburdum.

Take a cliché to … Read the rest

Bad Writing Monday

China wins: 223-220. We finished just two dropped batons behind.

One of the most knowledgeable writers I’ve ever met sent the following story from The Associated Press. Boys and girls, study close the italicized phrases as great examples of what to avoid (“Hey, Scheske, we get enough such lessons reading TDE!”):

Tropical Storm Fay’s path Saturday crossing the Florida Panhandle vaulted the stubborn weather system into the record books.

The tropical storm crossed over the central Florida Panhandle at 5 a.m., the first in recorded history to hit the state with such intensity four different times.

George Sweat, 46, searches for his valuables after a large pine tree fell on his home, as girlfriend Peggy Mash, 53, played on her couch with her two cats, at right, during Tropical Storm Fay Friday in Hawthorne, Fla. Residents of the Ranch Motel RV Park and Campground rushed to save the woman, comforting her until rescue crews arrived.

The center of the storm was reported to be over the Florida panhandle about 15 miles north-northeast of Apalachicola, Fla., according to the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center.

Fay was expected to be near or over the western Florida Panhandle’s coast Saturday and near or over the coast of Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday, the center said.

Though Fay never materialized into a hurricane, its zigzagging downpours have been plenty punishing.

At least six people in Florida

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