Thursday, August 23, 2001
What Is Good Writing?
By Howard Hobbs, Ph.D.
President, The Valley Press Media Network
-- Thomas Sowell said this week, "The only way I know to become
a good writer is to be a bad writer and keep on improving."
Laced with common sense and insights drawn
from his experiences as a writer, Sowells latest essay gives
an insiders account of the hard work that goes into the craft,
as well as the hurdles a writer must overcome when dealing with
the publishing and reviewing of his work.
This essay makes clear that writing is
a consuming craft for Sowell, requiring equal parts hard work and
perseverance, often for uncertain results. He says, "People who
want to be complimentary sometimes tell me that I have a gift
for writing," he writes. "
But it is hard for me to regard as a gift
something that I worked at for more than a decade unsuccessfully
before finally breaking into print."
There are no pat methods to follow for
successful writing, Sowell explains. Each writer must find his or
her own way. Dr. Sowells personal rule of writing is simple:
"I write only when I have something to say. My own particular idiosyncrasy
is writing several books at once," he elaborates. "The big advantage
of this offbeat way of working is that what I write is written when
I am full of ideas and enthusiasm about the subject even if these
periods occur only at intervals, with months or even years in between
for a given book."
On the long road to being published, the
writers ally is his or her agent." Agents can be very valuable
in freeing up your time for writing, as well as in getting you better
deals than you are likely to get for yourself," Sowell explains.
And, for Sowell, the writers nemesis
is the editor. Though, he notes, not all editors impede the authors
efforts to get his or her message to the audience of readers, most
do by binding themselves arbitrarily to editing style guidelines.
"Pedestrian uniformity and shriveled brevity
are the holy grail of copy-editors, the bureaucrats of the publishing
industry," writes Sowell. "Like other bureaucrats, copy-editors
tend to have a dedication to rules and a tin ear for anything beyond
the rules," he says.
Note: Thomas Sowell
is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow in Public Policy
at the Hoover Institution. He writes on economics, history, social
policy, ethnicity, and the history of ideas. His recent books include
Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy (2001);
A Personal Odyssey (2000); Barbarians Inside the Gates
(1999); and The Quest for Cosmic Justice (1999). Sowells
journalistic writings include a nationally syndicated column that
appears in more than 150 newspapers from Boston to Honolulu and
a column in Forbes Magazine.]
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