Writing Inspiration from Clear and Simple as the Truth

by - Thursday, January 03, 2013

"Above all, I have clarity at heart"

Thomas and Turner argue that the heart of classical writing is that the truth can be known. They say in classical writing, the writer knows the truth and writes to position the reader to see it. The writer has to know what they know before they articulate it (this may seem like a no brainer, but it is NOT).

They also define writing as a conceptual activity- style is indivisible from the idea-making part of writing, and good conceptual skills lead to good style (not the other way around)- "Great painting are often less skillful than mediocre painters; it is their concept of painting- not their skills- that defines their activity" In this way, style is not the antithesis of substance but the result of it. At the same time, everyone writes with style, even though we can falsely consider our own voice authentic or without style (kind of like how each person thinks they don't speak with an accent, everyone else does).

Styles of writing can be actively and conciously chosen. You can put on a certain style like a role to play, which to a certain extent is adopting a specific set of conventions. Thomas and Turner characterize classical prose as pure, fearless, cool, and relentless; they happily concede this does not coincide with the actual human condition, but says classic style doesn't acknowledge the human condition. If you want to write in the classical style, you take on the pose of full knowledge (this is exactly what I have been missing this last year). They argue that the plain writer aims to be common, but the classical writer pushes past that to reach another intellectual acheivement.

Classical writing values truth and clarity over erudition. It treats its subject as beyond doubt and potentially accessible by anyone. It doesn't treat things as up for debate or make your personal feelings (or anxieties) visible. It is not about point of view, but treats the truth presented as independent of individual's experience, technical knowledge, or social position.

In presentation, clarity is key above everything else; the writer speaks with conviction. It is a perfect performance that requires preparation, but keeps that preparation hidden. It avoids the three hedges of writing. First, the hedges of process- no talking about your own project as if it is in progress. It is not about your perfect journey. Second, the hedges of liability where the writer attempts to disown information they are not as confident about. Lastly, the hedges of worth, where the writer attempts to compare the worth of her work to other people's. No more hedges! It treats every word as if it counts, but maintains a hierarchy of rhetorical importance.

Every page of this book helps me reflect on how my writing has become a naked display of my own neurosis and insecurity. I am now thinking a lot about how I need to be a better performer when I write. WOrking on it, right between feeling like I am a zombie and force feeding the Boy Nyquil. 2013 has had a very wimpy start, but at least I am being self-reflective in a productive way. I am getting somewhere, I think.

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