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All about words



Dreams, goals, and saving small lives

Posted by nancyfreund11 on December 31, 2016 at 10:10 AM

Last day of 2016 – time to throw in the towel. According to Goodreads, I’m four books shy of my reading goal, and although I’m actually in the middle of five books, I’m not going to rush to finish any of them. Having been whacked over the head way too many times recently by the word CONTENT, my New Year’s Resolution is now to avoid consuming content. Sorry Goodreads. It’s for good reason, at least, that I’m revising rather than accomplishing this year’s goal.

I’m dip-reading Tim Ferriss’ ‘Tools of Titans’ – an awesome book based on his podcast interviews with some really fascinating people. Lesson one: Know the difference between goals and dreams, and act accordingly. So yeah, I had a Goodreads goal of reading 52 books this year, but when I start picking up little shorties because they’ll give me the check-mark, NOT because they’ll deliver any kind of valuable literary experience, or worse, I’ll rush a read rather than actually slow down, stay reflective, and learn a thing or two, that’s evidence that the goal needs revising. A goal, ultimately, should serve the dream that inspired it. Note to self: do not lose track of the dream by chasing goals gone awry.

Another note to self: keep intrigued. Yes, it would be better to say stay intrigued. Remain intrigued. But rhyming’s good for memory. Keep intrigued.

I’m always intrigued by what books people recommend (or give!) to each other. Yesterday I had an unexpected introduction to a 23-year-old “kid” and his nearly equally young boss. Friends as well as colleagues, they’re in digital benchmarking, which I needed defined. (Essentially stat-gathering, for big corporate clients, I’d say. Sophisticated stuff – no doubt exceedingly useful in planning marketing). These guys were both smart, articulate, interesting ivy-leaguers working in New York. They really care about the work they do and the industries they serve (and are helping to shape, I’d add – though they did not specifically say this). They were both really down-to-earth, fun, fascinating guys. So the books – the boss is currently reading ‘Revenge of Analog’ by David Sax, a book confirming the livelihood of the “real.” Bricks-and-mortar stores, stationery, film photography, records, books in print. It’s sort of gratifying and confirming to see that Amazon is sold out of the hard-back of this book, in fact. (I push aside my cynicism that whispers “spin” as I point out this lovely irony). Fact is, I use a laptop, but I own a vintage typewriter and I keep an old school red-and-black ink ribbon in it. I taught in an old school. I like paper thank you’s. My brother’s got all the record albums we had growing up and the equipment to play them. David Sax is singing to my choir.

The boss had given the kid Josh Bernoff’s ‘Writing Without Bullshit’ as a gift. I’m always intrigued by writers’ guides, especially when they’re for non-writers. Every English major is assured that there will be jobs for the taking in big business because regular people can’t write. Those who can are worth gold in the workplace, we’re told. You will not be limited to a career as a writer or teacher with this degree – you’ll be CEO. I believe this may be true – in some cases – but more likely the CEO will be a smart kid with a life-long interest in business who learns to write on an as-needed basis, and books like ‘Writing Without Bullshit’ serve the need nicely.

Personal aside: I started my academic life as a Psycholinguistics major with hopes of discovering how words fit together to make meaning, only to learn Psycholinguistics was more about how sounds fit together to make words. One semester mapping diagrams of the tongue, bilabial stops and plosives and such, and I’d had enough. Obviously, the English major, emphasis in Creative Writing, was calling my name. I’ve never had a day of writer’s block in my life. There is ALWAYS another aside to explore. Not that those asides will hone your narrative or get you well published. But if anyone wants to publish a book called ‘Writing with More Bullshit,’ I’m your gal.

Back to the point. ‘Writing without Bullshit’ begins with the sad fact that the average reader spends no more than 36 seconds on the average digital news story and the comprehension tests out with only 37% of readers able to answer a question about a detail at the end of the article – a stat only a hair better than guessing. On-screen reading impairs concentration. And without good comprehension, good engagement with the material, your writing is perceived as bullshit. I mean, duh.

When your readers are quick-consuming content as opposed to actually reading your writing, they are not reflective, they are not analytical, they are not thinking deeply about your words and how they go together to make meaning. Never mind your beautiful rhythms. Forget your mind-blowing plosives. Forget the important stuff you’re actually trying to say.

No wonder people in business and the blogosphere and even traditional big-five publishing will write their stuff and throw it out there seemingly unedited. No wonder the world thinks so much writing is pointless. (A better word than bullshit, though one grabs your attention better than the other, holds on, and sells books. Which in itself, actually is bullshit).

So what’s the answer? You know that cute story about the father and son walking on the beach full of starfish drying in the sun, and the boy bends down and picks one up, throws it in the sea to save its life, and the dad sighs and says, there are too many, son, you’ll never make a difference, and the kid says, well, I made a difference to that one…?

Yeah, write on, my friend. Consume content as you must, and love literature when you can. On the page made of paper, on screen, fast or slow, retain what you will. Hear the rhythms in your head as you read. Pop your p’s when you encounter those plosives. Journey forth. Save one small star-shaped word at a time as you go.




Categories: education & literacy, writing & publishing, mental health

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