Thursday, October 11, 2007

I am a strong writer

Kristen tagged me for this meme, which is pretty simple in theory: I am to identify five writing strengths. In reality, not quite so easy. That whole ego-or-lack-thereof thing gets in the way oftener than I'd like.

Still I do think I have a talent for writing (and editing--see my minor 'cheat' below), which makes it possible to follow through on this meme. The hard part, I found, wasn't so much in coming up with five strengths, but in not then talking about my various weaknesses. It almost seems like false advertising to go on and on about how great I am without saying...Ah-hah! See? I was about to fall into the trap again. I will have to save my writing weaknesses for another time, I guess! I am being FORCED to be solely and utterly positive. What a weird feeling.

1. Writing comes naturally to me. It is more a matter of simple dictation; of me writing down what is already in my head. I 'hear' what I want to say, and then I just have to type it. Often, if you watch me write, you'll see my mouth moving slightly. It's hard not to say the words out loud, frankly.

2. I have an innate sense of grammar. (Those of you who think that this is only a minor sort of strength have clearly never been an editor.) I cannot tell you what a preposition is, or point to a dangling participle and call it by name. Instead, I will simply know that there is something wrong in a sentence. I hear it; more to the point, I feel it. It's a feeling of discomfort that emanates from my stomach, as well as from an area both behind my knees and in front of my thighs. I know I've fixed the problem when both areas relax. (I find spelling errors the same way. It's like I was born with a physiological spell-check.)

3. If I think something is cool, I think everyone should hear about it. And I think a lot of stuff is cool. This is what makes me an especially good nonfiction writer: a passion for my subject matter. It is almost impossible for me to write engagingly about a topic I find dull. But get me excited about the work you're doing, and I will tell the world about it. (Cool new theory about the purpose of the appendix, anyone?)

4. I'm quite good at finding ways to make technical stuff understandable to "the lay person"--a term I've always found vaguely condescending, but is what scientists and science writers use reflexively when we talk about the audience for much of this type of writing. It's always seemed like a pretty simple thing to do, to me--you look at a story, think "what about this makes it interesting?" and then you just put it into language that points out the interesting core of the study. It's very rare that you can't find a way to do that sort of translation without using jargon. (The real challenge is to try to keep jargon from creeping into your everyday vocabulary...When you talk to scientists and doctors a lot, you can find yourself unable to differentiate between jargon and accessible language, and that's when you get into trouble.)

5. (Here's where I'm going to cheat, because this one's not about writing, but about editing, which was not the original question) I'm a good writer, for all the reasons I talked about above, but I'm an excellent editor. This is where my real talent lies. All that stuff about hearing the voice and innately feeling when the grammar is off also includes an ability to feel or see where the structure of a story is off. What I'm especially good at doing is taking the work of someone who might have significantly more style and flair than I do, and adding all that background/backbone stuff: moving sentences around so that they make more innate sense, picking up on a cadence or a theme and enhancing it in the piece, cutting excess verbiage, seeing where the hole is in an argument and giving the writer the direction he or she needs to fill it. I can see the big picture of a piece, and can find the problems in it, whereas a writer may be too close to the thing to ever see them without my assistance. I used to think I would hate giving up the spotlight of being the creative person in the process--the writer is, deservedly most of the time, the star--but instead, I love knowing that I've been able to take a really good piece of work and help to make it great. That's what makes it all worthwhile to me.

Now I'm supposed to tag five other people to do this meme. I tag Po, Jo(e), The Writing Mother, Mir, and Jess. (And I don't want to hear from you about how you're not a writer, because you are, you-who-knows-who-you-are. So shut up and do the meme. And I mean that in the most loving way possible, of course.)


po said...

You want me to THINK??? Dude, you SUCK ;p!

Luckily many of my writing strengths are similar to yours, so I can just rip off your post :). Of course, you are SOOOOO much more successful in the execution that it's not even funny.

kristen said...

Thanks for playing TC. I agree on the editing point--it is really a talent that stems from an understanding of words and sentence structure and rhythm and it should not be overlooked. It is writing, after all.

Jessica Ashley (Sassafrass) said...

Ha ha! Po basically said what I was thinking: I am a really good cut-and-paster, so thanks for writing the post for me.

I kid, I kid. I'm all over this bad boy.