On most Fridays, Evan Peterson rounds up five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
You can't do everything.
Writers are ideas people, but as we've all discovered at some point, our ideas for stories or writing projects aren't quite the same once you start typing. This week, a couple of posts take a look at realizing your limitations as a writer.
Also, why life experiences matter more than writing style, and a few words that no one's using—including "whom".
Assessing your own writing can be a bit like a new gym membership. Expectations are high until you have to actually start working out—or turn your idea into a great story. Writers have ambitions that don't always work out because—let's face it—writing is hard. And attempting to write for a new format or industry can be most humbling of all. New York Times Magazine
editor Hugo Lindgren writes about this in a piece for the magazine. It's refreshing to hear someone of Lindgren's stature discuss his long-held belief that being an editor was an “unacceptable outcome” and that “my confidence always collapsed under the weight of my withering self-criticism.” The article asks, but does not answer, another important question—why do some writers wind up writing that screenplay or novel, and others can't seem to ever break in? This was an article from January, but it’s important enough to highlight months later.
Writing forks in the road:
This week, Edan Lepucki, author of “Ask the Writing Teacher” column at The Millions
, had a similar take on the problem of matching ideas to results in response to a writer faced with three projects who could only take on one. According to Lepucki, indecision upon starting a project and self-doubt after starting it are common traits for writers. She sums up the issue this way: “A project that you haven’t yet begun can still glitter in the mind, but as soon as you set it down to paper, the thing is tarnished by the limits of your skill and talent.”
Living before writing:
Creative writing programs can be great incubators for developing writers. But they don't offer—and, in fact, may take away from—the real world experience that becomes fodder for novels and short stories. In The Atlantic
, John Reiner insists that knowing what to write is more important than knowing how to write, especially for young scribes. It's one more argument in the debate over the value of creative writing programs, but it may just mean students in these programs benefit from doing something completely different before enrolling in classes.
Words to watch:
Word usage patterns in writing evolve. We all know that. Just check out Google's N-Gram viewer
and you can prove usage frequency with a chart—and no one can argue with a chart. But it's surprising how fast the patterns change. The Economist
's language blog looked at a 1962 language guide from New York Times
editor Theodore Bernstein, and highlights a few examples of words that have either totally fallen out of use, or have become more acceptable since Bernstein's writing—"co-ed" and "convince" among them.
The decline of whom:
Speaking of Google's N-gram, check out its tracking of "whom."
The word has been on a slow decline for a long time, and if contemporary usage is an indicator, it'll be dead within the next 50 years or so. Megan Garber of The Atlantic
runs through the stats, and helps explain the decline. The primary culprits seem to be the rise of casual communication and technology.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.