Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up five online stories that scribes of all stripes should check out.
At least a few more writers these days are practicing their craft while standing, enough so that it prompted one writer to explore the trend by writing a manifesto about sitting.
Also, the meaning of essays, Lyndon B. Johnson's speechwriting rules, fossil words, and whether it matters that readers like or dislike you?
Should writers sit or stand?
Write with substance. Write with anonymity:
Plenty of doctors will tell you these days that if you work in an office, your seated position is slowly killing you
. Cue what might be a predictable wave of standing desks, which some writers are swearing by. Does a standing desk actually make sense for a writer, though? Ben Crair set out to explore the idea further in a piece for New Republic
. Turns out Philip Roth writes standing at a lectern, and Susan Orleans composes while on a treadmill. Although Crair is a fan of sitting, he determines that writing position is "a marker of his or her individual style."
LBJ speechwriter Robert Hardesty died this week. His obituary in The Washington Post
provides glimpses into LBJ's philosophy toward speeches and speechwriting; they are well worth remembering if you write speeches or create content. The first—that speeches need to make news—is admirable for its dedication to quality content. The second—that speechwriters must have a "passion for anonymity"—is an unfortunate aspect of the profession.
What's the point of an essay?
This is a review of two new books of essays, neither of which seems to have much to do with writing, but that's not why I'm highlighting this post. Buried in the article—and blasted across the headline—is an exploration of the question of what an essay should do. Leslie Jamison offers this definition: "It blends inquiry and confession into a hybrid weave that deepens each. It draws personal material into public mattering."
It seems there could be several answers to the question. Essays don't have to be introspective to be useful or good, but here is a question worth asking when you're writing anything: What's this supposed to do?
I had never heard of these before reading this post from Stan Carey at the MacMillan Dictionary blog, but have often wanted to challenge people who use "bygones" or "wreak" in a phrase other than ones we're used to finding them in. Fossil words are those that remain only in the use of an idiom, but rarely are used for their standalone definition ("let bygones be bygones," for example). Carey provides a nice rundown of what makes them valuable in our language today. So go ahead and use them without worry of perpetuating clichés. There's even a Wikipedia entry
with a list of commonly used fossils.
Does it help to be likable?
If you're writing articles, blog posts, or other nonfiction work, does it help to be liked by your audience? It seems that it should be a must, but it's not quite that easy. Jennifer Neisslein explored this for the Virginia Quarterly
and found that generally, yes, you won't get read if readers can't stand you. But they won’t keep reading if you come off as too self-deprecating or if you appear to fish for compliments. Then again, it's worth noting that most nonfiction writing, such as the kind you're probably doing for brands or clients, is about stories and ideas, not drawing "personal material into public mattering."
Evan Peterson, a writer based in Chicago, is the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.