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January 12, 2011

Do you write? Then "fill your paper with the breathings of your heart".


Wordworth's Muse: In the Lake District, you might hear "ghostly language of the ancient earth".

Writing is difficult. Even if you can't be perfect--and often you can't--please put your heart into it.

Writing--any kind of writing--is hard work. The most inspired "work moments" I've had are in this category: watching someone struggle with getting to the right word or phrase under pressure and when they are tired. The first time I saw it was watching a college daily editor--my roommate both in college and in DC for a while--struggle at 4:00 AM over a few words in the final sentences of a student reporter's story covering a public figure's on-campus speech.

He was also a student stringer for a well-known newspaper, and knew his bosses far away would see his article on the event. He had already phoned in the facts to an editor in Manhattan--and he had been careful to get those facts right.

The public figure had blown it--and had said some goofy and impolitic things that, given his government job, he should not have said, or said differently. The event was likely to draw attention from mainstream media around the country the next day.

And that happened. My friend, of course, couldn't have fully known in advance of any storms the speech or his piece might cause; I really doubt that would have mattered in his effort.

He still deeply cared, at four in the morning, about the writing--which was "good enough, but not quite there yet"--and it moved me. It still does.

We were both barely 21.


Getting it right under pressure was--and still is--Steve's life. He later worked as a reporter for two national newspapers, and wrote a best selling and well-regarded book on international trade.

Writing, any kind of writing, is hard work--especially hard for those who are good at it, or even just care about it.

Even if you can't be perfect, and often you can't, please put your heart into it. Half-assed writing in any genre and in any profession--letters, reports, summaries, briefs, memos, anything written--means (1) you don't care, (2) you don't believe it and (3) I shouldn't read it--especially if I am a client, boss, judge or other "editor".

Typos? Missing words? Bad documentation/citation? Horrible grammar? Long rambling inefficient sentences that tragically hide great ideas and points? Not getting to the point early enough? Lazy writing?

It all means you're either in deep personal crisis and should have someone else do it or, and much worse, you really hate what you are doing. You're telling me, the reader, screw you. If the latter, it's time to make an application over at that cool shoe store, amusement park or gas station that would just love to have you.


Note: This is my favorite WAC/P post. Nearly all of it was written by Dan Hull, who still does not like it. I did add the famous "ghostly language" quote (in caption) from "The Prelude", a long blank verse creature with a life all its own. Wordsworth wrote the first version of the poem before 1800. The poem was not well-known in any respect until after Wordsworth died in 1850; he kept revising it. HO

Posted by Holden Oliver (Kitzbühel Desk) at January 12, 2011 11:59 PM


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