Weekend Journal

This weekend, I edited an essay that Jonah was working on for his fourth grade class. It started off, "There have been many technological advances in recent years: airplanes, computers, rockets, cars, and tennis balls." Yes, he thought that the invention of little, yellow bouncy things was up there with travel to the moon as a pivotal advance in the human existence. I decided to not red pencil the tennis balls, because, after some thought, I decided that tennis balls were pretty cool things.

Alas, editing is much easier than writing. I was looking over Jonah's essay rather than writing my own essay. I've been writing a five page, quickie paper on a topic that I know backwards and forwards. I should have been able to pump that thing out in a couple of hours, but it has been really plaguing me for the past couple of weeks. I write a couple of sentences here and a couple there, but haven't spit the whole thing out at once.

Part of the problem is that five pages is too short for all the ideas I have. Also, it follows a different format that I'm used to. I also worry that the blog has interfered with my writing style. 

I write every day on a whole variety of topics. You would think that the daily routine of writing would be good for me. It would carry over to essays, book reviews, and research papers. Yes and no.

After five years of blog writing, I can write quickly, especially when there's no pressure. I can throw down an opinion and walk away. But I've also gotten more impatient about looking for citations and evidence, about proofreading my work, and doing the hard work of editing, editing, editing that is really need to make a sentence beautiful. There's such pressure to hit that publish button that I spit out words too quickly and never take the time to rewrite. 

A recent article in Atlantic Monthly speculated that google was making us stupid, by chopping up our thinking. I often wonder if blogs are making me smarter or dumber. In some ways, smarter. I certainly have developed an expertise in certain topics through our debates and the process of finding material. But I can also see an impact on my writing.

And so, I really need to tie together this post and add a good conclusion, but I'll do what I do so often with the blog. I'm going to hit the publish button, because I need to write another post, before Ian's bus shows up.

7 thoughts on “Weekend Journal

  1. Herb Caen, of the SF Chronicle, turned out a wonderful gossip column every day for, what, 50 years. And people would say to him, ‘you should write a book’… his answer was, so, someone who shaves every day is supposed to produce a great beard?


  2. um, for some reason, your style sheet is missing, but . . .
    Anyway, I’ve been in the process of converting many of my blog posts into essays and one thing I’ve noticed is that my writing did get better over time. It was more thoughtful, included more sources, and tied ideas together better. Still, there’s plenty of work to be done in crafting better sentences, cutting unnecessary words and sentences, writing whole new paragraphs to create transitions from one idea to another. So I think blogging has been good for me in terms of writing, but I rarely look at a post as a finished product. It’s a roadmap to something, a genre in and of itself. An essay tries for completion.


  3. I worry that blogging has hurt my ability to write in longer forms. (Russell, can I have a little of whatever is in your water?) I wanted to write something essay-like to mark Obama’s inauguration, but wound up with only one sentence. I think it’s a good sentence, but still.
    When I worked on the outskirts of the financial markets, I worried that my attention span was gone for good. It came back eventually, and I could even write papers for a while. But chat, ouch. Chat eats my brain.
    Laura, I’d guess that the problem with the paper is that you’re trying to put five gallons of thinking into a half-gallon container. A five-page academic paper is good for one, maybe two ideas, given even non-Holbovian lengths of explication. Slap on “to be continued” at the end and get the audience to tune in next week.


  4. I’ve never been a good rewriter. I can’t just knock something out and then work on it from there. For as long as I can remember, going back to my undergraduate years, I’ve found it very difficult to even start an essay or paper unless I could mostly connect all the arguments or points in it in my head from beginning to end. And then, when I would start writing, I would go from beginning to end, worrying over every sentence and paragraph, trying to get them to line up towards the distant, eventual conclusion. If I realized at some point that I needed to say something different or new, I would find myself going back to some earlier point or even the start, and working forward again.
    It’s a terrible way to write, I know. I long thought that blogging would help me become more comfortable with short takes, with just throwing something out there and accepting it as tentative, open to revision, whatever. As everyone who ever comes by my blog is aware, that isn’t exactly what has happened.
    I wish I could write true Holbovian posts. His are as long or longer than mine, but are usually actually funny. I’m too earnest in my blogging.
    (Tennis balls do hurt when they come at you at high speeds, it is true. But not as much as golf balls.)


  5. RAF,
    A man was walking to the subway carrying two tennis balls. As he didn’t have a bag, he put one ball in each of his front pockets. He got on the train and while he was riding, he noticed a woman was staring at him, looking slightly disgusted. So she wouldn’t think he was a pervert, he glanced at her and said “Tennis balls.” She replied, “You poor man. I had tennis elbow and that was bad enough.”


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