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Thursday, August 23, 2001
What Is Good Writing?

By Howard Hobbs, Ph.D.
President, The Valley Press Media Network

     FRESNO STATE -- 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, Sowell’s latest essay gives an insider’s 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. Sowell’s 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 writer’s 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 writer’s nemesis is the editor. Though, he notes, not all editors impede the author’s 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.

        [Editor's 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 Citizen’s Guide to the Economy (2001); A Personal Odyssey (2000); Barbarians Inside the Gates (1999); and The Quest for Cosmic Justice (1999). Sowell’s 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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