Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Corsair? It's unequivocal

HOW I BECAME A HACK Part three. Returning from the USA in 1972 I looked back on two decades of journalism. The early years had included amateurish, unconnected writing; latterly I’d improved others’ stuff. Now, thanks to Plutarch, I was writing about a subject I was familiar with. At this shockingly late juncture (aged 37), and for reasons I cannot explain, I decided to learn to write.

“Learn to write” is open-ended; everyone dies a student. “Write more disciplined articles” sounds better. Later, the matter of style arose.

Earlier methods were a hindrance. Writing at 1000 words/hour meant finishing a sentence in such a way that a new sentence might be tacked on seamlessly. Nothing more. Optimism drove the process. I needed to plan. A tangential first paragraph, a significant interviewee quote three paragraphs in, the project’s difficulties ticked off one by one, a growing sense of enlightenment, success. Bingo!

Amateurs love the first, fine careless rapture; to them planning sounds dull. But from planning rhythm emerges, first between paragraphs, then between sentences, then within. How slow I was to recognise the short contrasting sentence, thrown like salt into a stew. And that sentences needn’t bustle in like Mrs Peg’s subject-verb-object but could sidle deferentially.

But we are what we are. My weakness is facetiousness (to the alarm of many Americans). A desire not to be taken as serious or – worse – earnest. I tried my hand at verse but lapsed. I enjoyed the cleverness but the very act of setting out to write verse seemed grandiose and smelt of academia, never my natural lair. The techniques I have half-learned are rarely employed on big subjects. The novels are an attempt to set this right but I may have left it too late. Le style, they say, c’est l’homme.

7 comments:

Rouchswalwe said...

Just finished reading this one, and I realized that I didn't really know what the word "hack" means. So I looked it up in my trusty wordbook. Oh my! How does one overcome being a hack? Optimism, love of words, insight into the mechanics and style, and planning! Then in your last paragraph, I misread "facetiousness" as "fastidiousness" and went to read the post again. It may be too early in the morning here, my coffee sits beside me, but I think you're right that it's an open-ended proposition. Sort of like brewing really. Always more to learn and tinker with. It is enjoyable, and that's the important thing.

The Crow said...

I've greatly enjoyed these last three posts, BB, for the revelations about the man and the insights into the writing life.

My path as a writer has been a crooked one and I have a great distance to go yet before I can be proud of what I do, but I like the open-endedness of the process, and will continue to work at improvement.

For what it's worth, I like how you write.

Relucent Reader said...

Nice photo: Ira Kepford's markings from VF-17. Leading American ace for a while. VF-17 took the Corsair and proved the beast could take off and land from a carrier.Tom Blackburn, CO, made 'em a crack outfit under conditions which would make us moderns useless.

Excellent post, wish I could write like that.

Barrett Bonden said...

RW )zS): I wouldn't worry too much on your own behalf; your comment is a well-told mini-article in its own right. Short sentences the key. I've re-read all three pieces and they suffer dreadfully from over-compression - the need to meet 300-word limit; but to have exceeded that limit here would have been sheer hypocrisy. I accidentally omitted the sense of cameraderie; you want to write and you're surrounded by others of the same bent. Ahhh...

The Crow: Don't worry about crooked path - there are no definitive rules. If you're doing what you should you will always be your own most useful critic. A subsidiary pleasure is in the revision: recognising errors and rectifying them. Knowing you're now superior to that initial instinct of ten minutes ago.

RR: You can't write like me any more than I can write like you: that meaty controlled style embedded with an adapted folksiness, and the gee-shucks throwaways. And me knowing all the time that this is a persona assumed for writing, and that behind it is a sardonic RR pulling a dozen strings. Keep writing dude.

Plutarch said...

It's never too late. As a late learner myself I say there is a reward with every rung of the ladder.

Avus said...

Enjoyed the work story, BB (or should we call you "Lunchtime O' Booze"? Sounds like you really came up through the mill and imbibed it all the "proper" way.
Did you ever keep a shorthand diary like Sam Pepys? Would it be good reading for future generations?

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: Quite true. By now I am revising and the pleasure in rendering something more concise, vivid and (best of all) unexpected outweighs that of getting it on to the screen in the first place.

Avus: I fear there was far too much boozing and this increased when I left newspapers, went down to London and started getting drunk during the day (at press conferences) on much more expensive stuff than mere beer. I could speculate that it shortened my life but that's probably presumptuous at 75. No I didn't ape Pepys. As I mention, my shorthand was badly written and from sheer self-protection needed to be transcribed within twenty-four hours.