Writing — It’s Not for Sissies

Last week, I began what will become a four-or-more-part series on writing. As I wrote, I didn’t realize that my pedantic need for encyclopediana would pop up here. A friend’s comments brought me up short immediately after I posted, “My job as a writer is to get it right.”

My friend expressed surprise at “a bunch of white guys defending Sosa’s skin bleaching.”

Unfortunately, that piece was about writing. Equally unfortunately I broke two rules, one of which is my own.

About a century ago in Internet time meaning in about 1997, Inklings Magazine commissioned me to codify the rules of editorial writing. The result was a pretty good article (if I do say so myself), Dick Harper’s 10-1/2 Hot Tips for Small-town Op-ed Writers .

Tips doesn’t explicitly say “Write so well that your readers understand you.” Tips does explicitly say:

2. Keep to exactly one (1), uno, single point.
Multiple arguments in an op-ed confuse the reader, the editor, and, probably the writer.

Regular readers know my strong points do not necessarily include staying on task. In Writing — It’s Not Just Cosmetic Anymore I blew the stay-on-task rule because I introduced three points in that piece: (1) writing well, (2) “problematic” portraits of people of color in literature and, indirectly, (3) Sammy Sosa’s relative blackness.

Some readers noticed the diversion into writing while black or white. Other readers thought my mention of Sammy Sosa’s name meant I had taken Mr. Sosa’s side. Or, perhaps, Mr. Pitts’. Not enough readers recognized that I wanted only to talk about writing well.

Means I must not have done that. I’ll try to do better next time.

I have edited the original piece in this series to remove some of the ambiguity. Next I shall look at wilful disregard on both the writer’s and reader’s part as well as at “writing while black.”

2 thoughts on “Writing — It’s Not for Sissies

  1. One reason — not always the reason and not always -a- reason — but one reason a reader might find him or herself not getting the main point of the article relates to the “stay to one topic” rule.

    As a writer, I am inclined to want a catchy intro, a hook. Often that hook is some news item that leads me to one of my ADD-ish thoughts. If I use that news item to launch my opinion piece, and if my opinion piece is not directly related to that news item, it is possible for the reader to fixate on the news item, and miss the opinion. Or to derive a different notion, somehow wanting a more direct link between between the introductory item and the body of the article. They might then manufacture that link and draw a conclusion unrelated to the conclusion the writer wanted the reader to draw.

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