Sick and Writing

I was thinking about the first letter to the editor I got published. And this is all I’m going to post about this weekend, for two reasons: Firstly, I’m sick. I’m getting over a cold, and I have a fever. I’m also working on a special writing project, which I can’t tell you about just yet. But I’ll share the results sometime next month.

I had tried to write letters to the editor before, but nothing ever happened. One time, a column in WorldNetDaily got me so riled up I just had to respond. I sent off a dense, scathing rebuke that no one could understand, least of all me. It did not get published. Looking back further, some of my oldest USEnet posts even embarrass me now. I guess not all of them were crap, but if I said anything right, it was mostly by accident. Like a politician, even I could do something right occasionally. But how boring most of it is.

I so hope I’m not the only one who thinks I’ve improved since then.

At some point, I discovered Patricia T. O’Conner’s book Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing. I don’t remember how I got it, but it changed me forever. This was long before I began learning about stories and fiction, which also changed me forever. Words Fail Me helped me punch up my style and helped me make myself clear. I learned that even complex subjects, if you know them, you can communicate them clearly and simply to any audience.

After that, it became fairly easy for a time to get my lopsided, er, I mean, unique point of view published on WorldNetDaily’s “letters” page.

Before then, I thought that my mind was starting to go. When I was a kid, I’d read technical books about computers and electronics, just for the fun of it. That was my passion, design and solving problems. That’s why I ended up a software engineer. By the 1990’s, I could not read technical documentation any more. It stumped me. I used to soak it up; my mind was a sponge, as they say. But somewhere, sometime, I lost the ability to concentrate on this stuff. I thought I was just getting older, and my brain was not working so well anymore. I was wrong.

What happened was that the Internet happened. And software developers who never read Patricia T. O’Conner were writing documentation and getting books published to boot. I had not gotten denser. The stuff I was trying to read had. Going back to some of the early books I used to read as a kid, I can see this to be true. Some of these are pretty dense and filled with textbook prose. But even these are easier to read than some of the on-line documentation, which commonly has sentences so convoluted I have to read them two or three times just to figure out which part of speech is which.

In an ironic way, that’s encouraging. I look at how much things have changed, not just around me but also in me. And then I read something like Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller, which is an excellent book, and I note that most of what she says I already know, and only a few things I haven’t heard quite like that before, and a handful I disagree with, and here’s exactly why… And I think, Hey! I can do this!

It’s nice occasionally to feel like I’m not totally out of my mind.






One response to “Sick and Writing”

  1. […] They don’t know how to write. There are a few simple rules of style that can punch up almost any writing. Use the active voice. Avoid adverbs and nouns that refer to actions. Use strong verbs instead. Things like that. Though simple these rules are, there are plenty of so-called writers who just don’t know how to write. They’re incompetent, and they don’t even know it. And their ignorance keeps them from becoming competent. Fortunately, there is a way out of this conundrum, to wit, a good, swift kick in the incompetence. For me, that swift kick came from Patricia T. O’Conner and her book Words Fail Me. And it changed my writing forever. But that’s a different story. […]

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