Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
You can now write like Ernest Hemingway, or at least have him “edit” your copy. Also, studies on why writers procrastinate, starting your career later in life, and the CIA's purported role in graduate programs for creative writing.
The Hemingway App:
Online and mobile grammar checkers have been increasing in frequency and accuracy over the last couple of years. There are even algorithms that will write stories for you
. So it should come as no surprise that programmers have figured out a way to adapt the algo editor to a specific writer's style. That's what Hemingway
The app, as you might guess, applies many of Papa’s rules to any piece of writing you enter. It points out where sentences are too long and it highlights adverbs, passive voice, and other editorial tics that Hemingway claimed to hate. But as several bloggers
found this week, even Hemingway's own prose sometimes doesn't pass the test.
Why do writers procrastinate?:
Lots of people procrastinate, but if you're a writer, you know that most people are amateurs when it comes to wasting time. Writers have a knack for it, and here's a theory why, according to The Atlantic
's Megan McArdle:
Writers who don’t produce copy—or leave it so long that they couldn’t possibly produce something good—are giving themselves the perfect excuse for not succeeding.
This is what psychologists call "self-handicapping" and McArdle theorizes that it's an outgrowth of an American education system in which kids who are good in English—i.e., future writers—are taught with written passages that are nearly perfect, so they fear falling short of those lofty standards:
Unfortunately, in your own work, you are confronted with every clunky paragraph, every labored metaphor and unending story that refuses to come to a point. “The reason we struggle with "insecurity,” says Pastor Steven Furtick, “is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Regardless of the reason, one near constant among writers—as McArdle notes and I can attest—is that the fear of handing in nothing trumps the fear of handing in something bad.
It's about the long game:
Staying on the theme of procrastination, one of the middle-ground roles in Hollywood is that of the screenwriter. It has a profile high enough that screenwriting Oscars get air time, but it is also a consistent victim of film's collaborative process.
This year's group of Oscar-nominated writers got together for an annual discussion this week with film students to talk about their careers and offer advice. One of them is Bob Nelson, screenwriter of “Nebraska,” who wrote the screenplay, his first, at age 57. He told the students, “As someone whose first film is coming out at the age of 57, I feel I may be the world’s greatest procrastinator ever.”
Did the CIA create MFAs?:
Paperback page-turners involving Cold War-era philosophical battles and the CIA are not usually what we consider high literature. But that's pretty much the story of how the creative writing MFA became a popular option for international students, according to this essay from Eric Bennett in the Chronicle of Higher Education
Bennett claims that the one-time director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop used a grant from the CIA to help popularize the program as a way to fight communism, beginning in the 1960s.
The University of Iowa disputes the claim and is understandably not happy about what it implies—that one of its proudest programs became proud under false pretenses. There's a good back and forth between Bennett and the director of the University's International Writing Program here
[RELATED: Get advanced writing and editing tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela!]
One interesting takeaway for writers is the self-examination that Bennett, a one-time Writer's Workshop student, applies to himself as he moved from aspiring novelist to reluctant doctoral candidate:
Were you right to be frustrated by the ethos of Iowa City, or are you merely a frustrated novelist? Were there objective grounds for your sense of creative stultification, or did the workshop simply not love you enough? Was the whole idea of your dissertation a guerrilla raid on the kind of recognition you couldn’t attain by legitimate means? And did the CIA really have much to do with it?
That’s something many writers can relate to, whether they're writing branding copy or a dissertation.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.