On most Fridays, Evan Peterson rounds up five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
Whether or not the world needs it, a new writing guide is scheduled to hit bookstores this spring, and the book’s author may come as a surprise to some.
Meanwhile, bloggers grapple with Google shuttering its RSS service; William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”) publishes an essay, the benefits of listening to music while writing, and more.
A new writing guide:
It comes from E.L. James, author of the “50 Shades of Grey” series. Critics and others in literary circles might double check to see if this article is satire (it's not) since the popular books became almost as known for their poorly written prose as for their steamy narratives. The bigger issue is: Do we really need another writing guide? Authors more talented than James have written about sentence structure, rules of style, and the finer points of the writing craft. On the other hand, James no doubt has a following, and there has to be an aspiring writer or two among them who is eager to see how she does it. The book is available May 1.
Google Reader shuts down:
These days, it's not enough to write and edit. You also have to know how your writing can produce results—that means site traffic, and site traffic is sometimes helped by a strong RSS following. This week, Google announced plans to shut down its Google Reader RSS, an announcement that elicited strong reactions on Twitter. But there's a whiff of irony that Twitter—a platform where virtually every blog or website shares new content in near real-time—was the place for so much of the complaining. I've used Twitter feeds in place of RSS for quite a while, and I suspect many people who consume a lot of content on the Internet do this, too—maybe without realizing it. The makers of Google+ might expect that the future is a place where social media renders RSS irrelevant. It's certainly the strongest sign yet that writers and bloggers should shift their dedicated readers to their social media pages. But for RSS stalwarts, this Reddit thread
lists some good alternatives to Google Reader, and at least one comment suggests there may be signs of life for RSS: “Christ I didn't even know what RSS or a reader was until I saw these posts. Now all I want is a Google reader!”
Writing is like deep-sea fishing:
Linda Greenlaw was one of the subjects of Sebastian Junger's “The Perfect Storm.” After that, she became a writer herself, and is about to release her ninth book. In this article, she explains some of the similarities between her first career as a fisherman, which she still does, and writing. More than a cute topic to promote a book, some of Greenlaw's lessons from fishing are surprisingly applicable to writing, such as “having to cut myself off for four to five hours [to write], it’s not like jumping on a boat and leaving for 90 days.”
If you know William Zinsser, it's probably from his book, “On Writing Well,” one of the best books about writing style. But he's also written essays for many years for The American Scholar
, and many of those essays are now being turned into a new book, “The Writer Who Stayed.” In this piece for The Washington Post
, George Will comments on Zinsser's style and his craftsmanship. It's a good reminder, even in the description of Zinsser's dedication to wearing a jacket and tie everyday, that writing is a trade. It isn't easy, and it needs some measure of discipline and rule following to do it properly—even today. As Will writes, “Zinsser’s style of clarity and economy derives from a sensibility that recoils from blurry words.”
The role of music in writing:
When it comes to writing environment, people prefer different venues. I require a mostly distraction-free environment. That's why I found this piece from Ben Witherington interesting. He's a musician, and says familiar music helps writers write. “Music stimulates parts of the brain which are closely related to the regions which control imagination and writing,” he writes. He even suggests headphones if you're having trouble concentrating. There are few greater threats to my productivity than music in headphones, but it is also hard to argue with science. What do you think?
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.