“The ramblings and grumblings of author Ad Hudler”

Blah, blah, blah: What happened to good writing?
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I recently came across the Baltimore Sun's obituary for poet Edgar Allen Poe:

"We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, EsQ., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathies for the frailties too often attending it. ..."

How often do we read something so beautifully crafted? Not often enough, that's for sure. I'm starting to think that technology has created a downward spiral in writing quality. Words are cheap now...and all over the place: blogging, texting, etc. There are tens of thousands of books printed every year in North America alone. Too much writing, too fast, and not enough thought going into it. I'm guilty of it as well. I don't take long enough to write my books because the expectation of the publishing industry for commercial-fiction writers is that they produce at least one book a year. Crazy, huh? How good can those books be when they're rushed like that? (Don't answer! ... Please.)

I'll admit that some good thought comes from such balls-to-the-wall deadline-writing, but what ever happened to reflection and revision? Here's an unfamiliar scenario in 2008: Write, sit back and reflect on what's been written ... then revise ... then let it sit for awhile and come back again and revise some more.

I'm also wondering if writing would improve if we had to write out in long hand instead of being able to pound it out so quickly on a typewriter. Compare this to two of my favorite pasta dishes: pasta bolognese and pasta putanesca. The latter is thrown together quickly ... the anchovies and capers and tomatoes and basil and olives not given much time to cook ... and the dish is good but very tentative-tasting. Compare this to bolognese, in which the meat and wine and milk and vegetables are best if they simmer and simmer and simmer for hours. Is one dish better than the other? I guess it depends on who's making that judgment. Honestly, I have written parts of manuscripts by hand, when I didn't have my laptop with me, and the writing, overall, was BETTER ... I kid you not ... because my brain could keep up with my writing hand. On the other hand (sorry, couldn't resist), I am a fast typist, and when I type I find my hands sitting idle, waiting ... "Okay," they say, "What's next? Give me another thought. Come on, dude!"

Remember the words of Orson Welles in that old Paul Masson commercial: "We will sell no wine before it's time."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just revisited Longfellow's "Evangeline" and "Hiawatha" and Poe's "Raven."


Methinks they took their damn sweet time.

October 29, 2008 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I share your sentiment. My favorite example of incredible penmanship is Lincoln's letter to Ms. Bixby, reproduced below. Incredible prose, to say the least.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

October 29, 2008 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Ad Hudler said...

Yes. Lovely writing it is.
Almost seems as if it's another language, doesn't it?

October 29, 2008 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Ad Hudler said...

Of course what I meant to say was this: "Almost seems as if it was written in another language, doesn't it?"

October 29, 2008 at 5:58 PM  

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