Tag: Writing

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Justice, What Nobody Really Wants

 

As some of you know, I contributed — along with Jonah Goldberg, P.J. O’Rourke, Ricochet’s own James Lileks, and a host of other writers — to The Seven Deadly Virtues: 18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell.

(And yes, there are still lots of people who think of me as “conservative.”)

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. English Composition for Dummies

 

3293117576_05f43d8305_zOur own Professor Paul Rahe asked in an earlier post if it’s possible to teach college students to write. Well, yes, anybody with average cognitive skills can be taught the writer’s craft. The better question is to ask why English composition is no longer taught in our nation’s high schools.

The short answer is that educators have been trained over the last half century to deliver a completely amorphous curriculum known as language arts. Students of George Orwell will recognize this trend as part of the effort to reduce the English lexicon into meaningless drivel. The precision demanded by the discipline formerly known as English composition has been replaced by a lumpy gruel with no clear purpose or distinction. The average student will study feminist perspectives on advertising before she’s ever taught how to sew a noun to a verb to complete a coherent thought.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Further Reflections on the Teaching of Writing

 

A few days ago, when I posted random ruminations on the 40 years I have spent in trying to teach freshmen how to improve their writing, I figured that next to no one would be interested. But I was wrong. As of this hour, some 86 comments have been posted, and the thread keeps on going.

With this in mind, I would like to direct the attention of Ricochet readers to a remarkable piece on this subject, entitled Getting the Words Right, which Tracy Lee Simmons published in National Review on Sept. 11, 2000 and sent to me when he read my piece. At my request, Tracy got the folks at NRO to post his article online at this link.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Can One Teach College Students How to Write?

 

Forty-three or so years ago, I had lunch in my residential college at Yale with Donald Kagan, with whom I had three years before taken a couple of courses on ancient history. I had won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, and I was considering getting a Ph.D. in history in due course and teaching college for a living. Don was encouraging, but he urged me not to underestimate the downside. Half of what you end up doing, he said, will be no more interesting than driving a truck.

I am not sure whether Don got the proportion right, but his basic point was correct — and I was reminded of his remarks yesterday and again today as I graded the first batch of freshman papers to come my way. I have been doing this, I realized, for four full decades now. I have graded something like 8,000 undergraduate essays, I thought, and what does anyone have to show for it?

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Member Post

 

How often does this happen to you? I spend twenty minutes writing and refining a few paragraphs, if not more, in a comment to a fellow Member’s post. Then I finally realize that I’m wrong, or too ignorant on the subject, or for one of a million other reasons decide to delete everything I’ve just […]

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. What Are the Worst Journalism Cliches?

 

shutterstock_158484926Earlier this week at the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada compiled a list of the 150 worst journalistic cliches. As a writer who’s not immune to falling prey to a few of these tics, I winced a few times. As an editor who stalks and kills many of these formulations in the wild, however, I was more often drunk with delight. Here are a few examples of instances where I think the Post’s contempt is deserved:

  • “Needless to Say”— This is a phrase that announces its own irrelevance. Taken literally, the words are committing suicide. I look forward to the day when word processors are programmed to automatically delete it 
  • “Broken System” — Worth banning if only to shut Norm Ornstein up for awhile. Seriously, can we get a blanket prohibition on thumb-sucking opinion pieces that elide the distinction between “Washington doesn’t work” and “Washington doesn’t work the way I want it to”?
  • Much Ballyhooed” — I’m more forgiving that most of writing-specific diction. I’d never write a column the same way I’d write a speech. Different styles are appropriate for different media. There’s only so much elasticity permitted, however. “Ballyhoo” takes it too far. Never employ vocabulary that could plausibly have been originated by Dr. Seuss.
  • “Twitterati’ — Italian for “writers who are falling behind on their deadlines.”
  • “The Narrative” (unless referring to a style of writing) — First, it’s just an incredibly sterile phrase. More importantly, though, it’s gateway to a sort of meta-commentary. I never trusts journalists who talk about “the narrative” as if it’s set in stone. They have the power to change it. Give me the facts and I’ll make sense of them for myself.

As with all such exercises, a lot of these judgments are subjective. The Post flags “inflection point,” for example, which I regard as a phrase with no ready substitute, even if it’s a bit overused.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Tom Wolfe at Work, Or, Care to Take a Break for Gorgeous Prose?

 

Tom Wolfe DeskOn the website of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation (yes, I know, but we take good material where we can find it) there’s a fascinating interview with Tom Wolfe about his classic 1970 article, “Radical Chic.” The story of a party Leonard Bernstein threw for a bunch of rich liberals on the Upper West Side at which the guests of honor were Black Panthers, “Radical Chic” may be both one of the must gorgeously written and completely devastating pieces of work of the twentieth century.

In the interview, the questions and answers appear in the text, questions in blue, Wolfe’s answers in red, in the form of extended annotations. A truly great writer at work. An excerpt:

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Member Post

 

The Carthusians have never encouraged any form of work that would bring them back into contact with the outside world. They do not preach retreats, they do not maintain parishes, and when, at times, Carthusians have gained a reputation as spiritual directors, their superiors have intervened to put a stop to it all. The one […]

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. A View from the Kids’ Table

 

kidsYou know the scene — it’s a holiday get together with tons of food and there are two tables. One table for the adults and off in another room is one for the kids (with one poor soul chosen to keep them in line). The reason was fairly simple: it’s hard to enjoy the company of other adults when there are kids talking nonsense, making noises, and just being “kids” at the table.

I consider myself to be a fairly smart guy. I’m no genius but I have a college education, read a great deal and in the last few years have tried to keep up with politics. I’ve always been a conservative I suppose. While working at a University (in IT) in the mid 2000s I started to read stuff at Townhall.com and the “Bigs” when they came online, because I was surrounded by a lot of lefties. Over time I learned a lot of the ins and outs of conservative ideas, read some Thomas Sowell and Mark Steyn, and found things like Uncommon Knowledge and PJTV.

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. College Application Essays Are Bunk

 

With three kids in college and friends who’ve needed help with their paperwork, I’ve spent a lot of time navigating the waters of college applications, and nothing is more irritating to me than the essay. Some schools mercifully don’t require it, but many do—and it makes me cringe.

According to the College Board, essays are important because they give students a chance to “reveal their best qualities and to show an admission committee what makes them stand out.”

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Does Scarcity Yield Better Results?

 

While at a weekend church retreat, we discussed those amazingly beautiful letters to home written by soldiers of even the lowest rank on either side of the American Civil War. The question arose, does scarcity yield better results?

Did having only a few pages of paper and one pencil (and maybe even a pen!) make the soldier writing a letter home want to write a letter with punch and vigor that said everything he wanted it to say? In contrast, look at the language and diction of tweeting and texting, of emails and even full-on essays in blogs.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

Herewith, Claire’s post: How to Write a Great Post: 11 Tips More

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Member Post

 

On Ricochetonedotoh Claire Berlinski had posted some thoughts about posting. It was a wonderful little compendium of advice, and had a special link right on the Member Feed so that we would never forget. Does anyone have a link to it? Is that still around? Will it be returning as a permanent link on the […]

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. National Poetry Month – Ricochet Challenge

 

April is National Poetry Month here in the U.S. I haven’t seen any mention here yet of that subject, so I would like to issue a Ricochet poetry challenge. Write a poem on any subject you would like and in any form. That is all there is to the challenge. You can post it here or in a separate thread if you think it deserves one.

Now, some might argue that the world has too much bad poetry already. But in defense of bad poetry, it sometimes leads to better poetry from the writer in the future. I’ve been writing poetry for more than 40 years, and when I started, it was all bad. Now, just most of mine is bad. Or in the words of my old friend Dave Steinke:

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. I Am Kurt Vonnegut

 

D.C. McAllister asked yesterday, “What Author Do You Wish You Could Write Like?”.

A few months ago, I discovered an online writing style analyzer. (http://iwl.me/) You enter some text and it compares the sentence structure, grammar and other writing characteristics against its database, and – voila! – it tells you which author’s style it most closely resembles.

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. What Author Do You Wish You Could Write Like?

 

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