Tuesday, October 02, 2007

FROM OUR OVERSTOCKED ARCHIVES: A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT WRITING

[50 years ago last summer, your editor covered his first story in Washington. Throughout the year, the Review will exhume some of his writings]

Sam Smith

Just because we are able to speak and write doesn't mean we have to, As someone once said, what this country needs is more free speech worth listening to. Accumulating verbiage without regard to its content is more likely to lead to indigestion than understanding.

Speak United States. Avoid the private languages of academia, bureaucracies, technocracy and corporations.

As an English teacher wisely noted, you are allowed only three exclamation points in a lifetime. Use them carefully.

Remember that you are talking to a reader, not your therapist. Since you're don't pay your readers what you pay your therapist, you should give them something they will enjoy.

If you're having a hard time, write for one reader: a friend, a relative, your child, George Bush. This helps remove the speechifying and makes the task less confusing.

Do not use all caps except in headlines or acronyms.

If you suffer from writer's block, just sit down and write crap. Pay no attention to style, content, or spelling. Just write something. Then read it again tomorrow and save all the good stuff.

Capitalized words can be used for anything that would go on a door or a map, in an address book or at the beginning of a sentence. They are not for words you just think are important.

If you're being funny or ironic, don't feel you have to say so. Never explain a joke. It annoys your good readers and the dumb ones still won't get it.

Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker used to say if you can't be funny, be interesting.

Avoid abstractions. If the evening was indeed 'fabulous,' give us some solid evidence. And if you do a good enough job of describing an incident, you won't need to call it 'racist.' Think of yourself as a photographer using words instead of a camera. Good photographs speak for themselves.

Stories are almost always more interesting than opinions. Use the southern approach and argue by anecdote. - 2006

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal