06.18.08

Is writing the problem?

Posted in On writing, Press, Writers at 8:27 am by Marion

So in yesterday’s post we looked at the new Atlantic Monthly article questioning the affect Net surfing has on our brain.

Today, another reason I don’t think it’s time to cry wolf just yet.

When I moved to eastern Europe in 1995, I took armfuls of my press clippings with me to help me find work at the Prague Post. I had a considerable pile of them — feature stories, news stories, a weekly arts magazine.

After I completed my first freelance assignment for the Post, I packed those old clips away and didn’t look at them again for years.

Over the two years I lived in Prague, my writing changed dramatically. My thought chains extended for miles and my stories had depth. I explored people and their undertakings, I dug into public events and decisions.

When I returned to the states and found work as a writing teacher, I went back to those clips hoping to use them in my classes.

When I re-read them, however, I was shocked.

I was a professional journalist, and yet my language use was horrible! I regularly began sentences with “but” and “and.” I guess I thought since the “big writers” did those things it was cool, or maybe it felt liberating to break the old rules.

My students were not amused. Nor was I. I felt ashamed of my writing.

I also noticed those newspaper clips from 1990-1995 used choppy sentences and short paragraphs. My stories read more like police reports than good journalism.

It was eye-opening. I declared I would no longer … or ever again … take liberties with the language I love.

Gone! The sentence fragments. Gone, too, the dependent clauses parading as sentences. Gone, too, the short, choppy paragraphs on a first-grade reading level.

Today, I still struggle with my own writing flaws … my phrases tend toward the wooden, I can’t shake my writing inhibitions; I lack musicality in my writing.

At the same time, I have grown to respect the complex sentence, the long paragraph and the well-developed idea.

So what does this have to do with the Internet or the Atlantic article (“Is Google Making us Stupid?”)?

Writers have a responsibility to write well, and to experiment and enjoy what we do. We can’t blame the Internet or television if we can’t write, or if we abandon beautiful, complicated ideas or profound topics.

It’s a two-way street. We have to read … and we have to write … in ways that allow us to remain free and fully human.

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