The hardest writing class I ever took wasn’t creative writing, or literary theory, or argument. It didn’t involve writing instruction manuals or legal things. It wasn’t even in the English department.
Nope. That hard class, the bane of my college writing existence, was Writing for Mass Media.
The journalism bit wasn’t too bad. We wrote stories for the campus paper about important things, like student road construction angst or the drama department’s upcoming Shakespeare production. But TV news… well, there’s the thing. Take that news story I wrote for the campus paper and cut it down to two lines? Brevity, clarity, and just enough to give a sound byte for a distracted culture?
It should be easy. It’s not.
I’ve gotten better at brevity since then, honing my skills on Twitter, learning to boil a thought down to the essence, quick and simple to digest. But, as most of my blog posts can attest, given unlimited space I can go way too long and convoluted; I even use semicolons now and then. (see?) And this is the writing I’m drawn to most. The experts say short and punchy, fast-paced, bullet points and don’t you dare go past 400 words lest the masses fall asleep and/or riot.
That’s why I was a bit intrigued by this article my friend Aj sent me: How Hard Should We Make Our Readers Work? He discusses the difference between literary and popular novels, and I kind of had a big “Yes!” moment reading it.
It’s interesting that “the more classical model” of reading, the one that requires “work,” has become “unfashionable.” As Ms. Smith suggests, nowadays we tend to approach books as we do movies — we want to be acted upon, rather than act. Among other things, the electronic age has heightened our expectations of a given media and lowered the requirements of participation. Rather than having to sit down and “work at a text,” we approach reading as a “spectator sport.”
So puzzling out a difficult text, engaging an author’s mind scribbling notes in the margins, is old-fashioned, too hard. What do we gain, and what do we lose? I love words, and style. I want my breath stolen by a beautifully crafted sentence. I want lines that sparkle, make me gasp, send me reaching for a pen to write them down with wonder. And I want to relearn how to have long, thoughtful discussions with fellow readers. I suppose I’m not the only nerd with hopelessly unbeachy books, and I’m okay with that.
Not so subtle plug!
If you’re done with reading just for entertainment and want to have a deeper experience with words, Greener Trees is at it again. We just completed a wonderful six weeks reading The Mind of the Maker together, and next week we’re starting Refractions by Makoto Fujimura. I promise, it won’t be quite as heady, but it will be rewarding. Plus, this is a great group of people to read along with.