This book is required reading for a class I am taking at Sierra College, but I also feel that it may improve my blogging and writing in general. It is a short biopic piece by Stephen King about his journey learning to write.
I think King’s advice would be to just start writing and then look it over and rewrite revise it. At the same time though, I can almost hear his voice from the audiobook version of On Writing enumerating his many axioms of “good writers,” like for example, he thinks I should try to avoid clumsily squeezing in adverbs for length. At that, I can hear his chuckle coming through to highlight something he did which he thinks was particularly clever. I suppose with time and practice, his rules will become second nature, and focusing on them won’t distract as much from the “just write” portion of the execution.
As I craft these self-representative examples of some of his rules, I visualize each of these devices laying in the toolbox in the basement from his metaphor. More than instruction, his stories were an expectation on his part of how I ought to write. Maybe that’s why it feels harder to write this less complex paper; because I do so with all his expectations in mind, telling me how to do it.
When I was much younger, I found writing to be very challenging. It wasn’t the structure or the research that was hard, it was the elaboration. In speech, I have always been very deliberate and very concise, and it has been a hard habit to break on paper. I find terse arguments to be the most effective. As Thomas Jefferson said, “never use two words when one will do.” Or Eric Schmidt in his book How Google Works said, “every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t… leave out the parts people will skip.” You may notice from my ironic use of ellipses that I am treating Eric to a taste of his own medicine. As a highly technical and analytical person, I strive constantly to be as precise, deliberate, and brief as possible. This makes writing verbose, expository prose a challenging departure from my chosen default-mode, but a healthy one which makes me more appreciative of the brevity of my more typical communication style.
After completing this class and particularly after reading this book, I feel like I can develop and compose appropriately clear and effective college-level writing. (What a great learning objective!) This will be important as I write essays for other classes I take, especially considering my STEM focus, and the necessary ability to analyze and evaluate research material on topics like chemistry and biology. This class helped to polish and dust off the tools I will need to succeed at these tasks in the years to come.
On the less refulgent side, I found the peer-review portions of the class very frustrating and unhelpful. Perhaps some of my peers completed the work on time and were able to give fluent and thoughtful feedback on the quality of the work of others, but I was not able to find these peers. The feedback that I got during peer review was very “yea that’s great” and did not help me to develop or improve my writing.
Overall, this class was a great experience which I think will help me in the years to come. I will certainly recommend it and my professor. In my peers, I did not find King’s “Tabitha,” or “Ideal Reader” to bounce my writing off of, so I will need to keep a look out for such a person to provide more effective “door-open” peer-review–style feedback in the future.