Category Archives: Writing

Anything Worth Doing…

Lord Chesterfield once observed that “whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And to this day, whenever I hear someone repeat that, I feel driven to respond with G.K. Chesterton:  “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

These are not contradictory statements. They are complementary. But in our efforts to achieve the one, I fear we frequently, and all too deliberately, overlook the other. It’s rather nice to think about something done well. Reflecting on the messy bits beforehand only gives us a headache.

“So pass the aspirin and the beer like a dear chap, won’t you?”

Writers are often guilty of this, especially young writers (and I speak as one of these). Sure, we talk a good game, all about getting our names out there and writing the Next Big Thing. We intend to make a splash. Only instead of picking up the stones and letting fly, we stand slack-jawed on the river bank with our hands in our pockets.

“Not yet,” we say, “not yet. One day, certainly. Just not today.”

So that novel remains unwritten and those notebooks gather dust and ambition is swept under Tomorrow’s rug. We want to spill ink like Bradbury and carve words like Faulkner, but we’re not willing to make fools out of ourselves to get there. We’re not willing to do badly so we can do well.

N.D. Wilson describes this attitude in Death by Living:

My work (entering middle school) clearly did not measure up to the work of C.S. Lewis (or Tolkien). And so I walked away from it, sagely planning to come back to writing later, when my writing would be better (without practice).

Yes. Well. Put it that way and it sounds rather silly, doesn’t it?

Pick up the stones and start throwing. We must write, even when it makes our eyes bleed and our stomachs quiver and our toes curl in revulsion. A lot of it will be dreadful. None of it will be wasted. It’s how we learn. We jump off this cliff and figure out the flying part on the way down.

Chesterfield: “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

They say variety is the spice of life. I say paradox is.

Hate for the Write Reasons

While reading from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, I came across this gem:

I have read nothing lately, except a foolish modern novel which I read at one sitting – or rather one lying on the sofa, this afternoon in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm. I think, that if modern novels are to be read at all, they should be taken like this, at one gulp, and then thrown away – preferably into the fire (that is if they are not in one’s own edition). Not that I despise them because they are modern, but really most of them are pretty sickly with their everlasting problems.

It is my personal opinion that the most infuriating species of book snob is the Time Lord.

(You, over there, in the Dr. Who costume. Yes, you. Sit the bloody Dalek down. I’m talking about something different.)

Now. The Time Lord considers it his God-given duty and privilege to inform us that his reading pile dates back to before the Flood. Nothing after that is fit for consumption, it seems. If you ask him about it, he’ll take you bunny-chasing on the brutally short trail of Circular Reasoning:

Why don’t you read modern fiction?
Because it is vile and vapid.
Why is it vile and vapid?
Because it is modern.

Clearly, they haven’t thought this through very well. And that is why I love Lewis’ little qualifier: “Not that I despise them because they are modern, but…”

If you’re gonna lay a steaming pile of hate on the dreck that all too frequently passes for fiction these days, at least do it for the write reasons. Do it, like Lewis, because they are “pretty sickly with their everlasting problems.” Do it for the dreadful prose, do it for the lazy storytelling, do it for the characters with all the intrigue of candle wax. But you should know why you hate something beyond its spot on a timeline.

Rejection (Dylan Moran)

“I am afraid your letter is most unsuitable for me at the present time, as I’ve just spent the entire weekend writing the novel which you have summarily rejected. I can only presume it is company policy to reject all manuscripts not submitted in ten foot high brail!”

Some mild language, but this is genius. Pass it on to your writer friends. They’ll love you for it.

No More Aspiring, Dingbats

A word from author Chuck Wendig:

No more aspiring, dingbats. Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not. Aspiring is a meaningless null state that romanticizes Not Writing. It’s as ludicrous as saying, “I aspire to pick up that piece of paper that fell on the floor.” Either pick it up or don’t.

As a former self-described aspirer, this hurts. And when I say it hurts, don’t think pinprick – think hot coffee to the face. It scalds. Truth has a way of doing that.

So I want to pass this on to any readers who may be laboring under the impression that they can’t call themselves writers until they’ve a) published a book or b) won a Pulitzer Prize or c) made the New York Times bestseller list. It’s all rubbish. Now buck up.

Writers write. So do it. Aspiring is for people who want to have written.

Futility, False Assumptions, and Irony

I like a good argument. Not the petty kind, fraught with oh yeahs and nu-uhs; nor the kind that doubles as an excuse for intellectual posturing; but the kind that sees two guys (with a bottle of Guinness each) trying to hash it out over, say, the doctrine of the Trinity or Keynesian economics. And they do this, not as a matter of semantics, but with the aim of getting at the truth of the matter. Or at any rate, closer to the truth than they may have already been.

blank_screen_on_computerWith the Internet, we carry our arguments into the virtual realm. Someone writes a blog post (like I am doing), or shares a link on Facebook, or tweets something on Twitter, and before you know it, a debate is in full-swing. Sometimes these debates are civil, and sometimes they are very uncivil. People sling arguments or they sling mud (or a very confusing mixture of both). Things get out of hand and soon people are losing sleep, punching their computer screens, and generally carrying on as if the world will end if they don’t get in the last word with That Bloody **** Who’s Wrong on the Internet.

This is badly done. And very, very stupid. And probably not good for one’s health.

It does not, however, follow that every argument on the Internet is an exercise in futility. Philip Sydney is my man: “What! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious?”

That is largely why I don’t appreciate it when someone comes along and – in an attempt to correct for all the abusers – ends up over-correcting. You’ve probably seen it before, variously worded, but driving at the same thing. An example:

“Wow, that’s a great point. You have caused me to change my mind.” – Virtually no one on the Internet ever

I guess this is intended to be a dash of reality for all the goofs who think living life means winning the War of the Webz. But I think it goes too far. I don’t like it, for a couple of reasons.

First, the assumption seems to be that the only arguments worth having are the ones you end up winning. If the person you’re chatting with isn’t a full fledged _________ by the time you’re done with him, well, why even bother? But you should bother. There are times when a thing just needs to be said, regardless of how many minds are changed in the saying.

Be discerning, of course. You should know when to speak and when to walk away. But don’t let that cow you into never touching a hot issue, simply because you’re afraid you won’t emerge with converts hanging off your sleeves. You may have given the other side something to think about, planted the first seeds of doubt; or you may have unwittingly strengthened the convictions of someone watching quietly from behind the battle lines. Human stupidity is a tremendous thing, but never underestimate the power of words. God could use yours in a way you never anticipate.

Second, and on a somewhat lighter note, the irony of it all just kills me. Here you are, waxing sarcastic about the futility of trying to make a point on the Internet, as you try to make a point on the Internet.

So I laugh a little, because it’s funny. And kind of pathetic, too.