Tag Archives: writing

My experiments with the keyboard

Do not put state the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.

~ William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

Whoever said ‘writing sets you free’ was a prize ass. There is, to me, nothing more arduous or mind-bendingly frustrating than sitting down in front of my laptop and attempting to churn out a simple piece of prose. I cannot simply hammer away at my keyboard or scribble on a sheet of A4, and emerge half an hour later freer, lighter, calmer. Nor am I capable of throwing down sentence upon sentence, abandoning form, flow and finish for a little skinny-dipping in the stream of consciousness.

It is, as far as I am concerned, bloody hard work. It is painfully slow, very tiring, and therefore, no fun at all. You celebrate the little victories, of course: the little turn of phrase that came out just right, the perfect metaphor that you’re sure you invented, the use of the appropriate punctuation mark, even. But until it is complete, and you are satisfied with the end product (or discard it outright), there is a gnawing vacuum, like a blocked ear that will not pop.

For long, I thought this was because my writing was not honest. I don’t write for myself, it’s always for The Reader. And very often, there is an involuntary attempt to give The Reader what he wants, to make him smile, frown, react. This playing to the gallery does not attempt to reproduce your inner self. It is showmanship, mere entertainment, and you are no more than a literary Humphrey Boggart.

But what does honesty have to do with anything? What is wrong with a little paperback promiscuity? And so what if it is hard work? The purpose, as far as I am concerned, is for it to be effortless, for what is written to seem like nothing more than a happy accident. And that, if you can remember the first time you clambered upon a bicycle, is not easy.

There is no point to this post. I was attempting to do precisely what I said I was incapable of. I was also trying to see if my powers of concentration were as rotten as I thought they were.

On both counts, I was right.