Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on Buckley

From today's Wall Street Journal excerpts of the late William F. Buckley's writing and speeches:
"I am lapidary but not eristic when I use big words."

Lapidary: "Characterized by an exactitude and extreme refinement that suggests gem cutting."

(ME lapidarius, relating to stone cutting).

Eristic: "Pertaining to controversy or disputation."

Derived from the Greek eristikos, eris meaning discord.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Death of a sesquipedalian writer

William F. Buckley Jr., who for decades warmed my father's heart and chilled the necks of liberals, died today at 82. Died at his desk. Died writing a column.
The New York Times' headline must have Buckley raising a heavenly martini in toast:

William F. Buckley Jr., 82, Dies; Sesquipedalian Spark of Right

The Times indirectly defined that fabulous word we learned as kids when it made reference to Buckley's use of "ten-dollar words."

On writing

Roy Peter Clark at Poynter has an interview this week with legendary sports writer Frank Deford, famous for his work, among other places, at short-lived The National (I have a copy of the last issue) and at Sports Illustrated.

The interview got me thinking about writing techniques. Deford has a couple of good ones:

· He types his written notes to get a sense for what he has, doesn’t have and needs to get.

· He uses colored paper to block out chunks of his stories (the historical background on blue, for instance).

· And if he has writer’s block (I’ll dedicate a post to this at a later date), he just starts somewhere and works from there (say in the middle and writes to the end and then figures out the top).

Writing in business is straightforward: You’re trying to communicate simple messages effectively; not elaborate on chaos theory. There’s always a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is what you’re going to say; the middle is what you want to say; and the end is recapping what you just said.

Visualizing that structure is relatively simple.

Deford’s techniques (and others) are effective on much more complex writing projects. The most valuable book I ever read on writing is “The Art and Craft of Feature Writing” by William Blundell, a onetime editor for The Wall Street Journal. Blundell taught me to use 3x5 index cards to frame both major and minor points, including quotes. You can then lay the cards out in front of you, pushing them around to where they best work.

Adopting outline and prep techniques like Blundell’s or Deford’s make the act of sitting down at your laptop to write much less daunting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An abundance of fodder

Andy Kessler, who wrote "How We Got Here," is one of my favorite business columnists. I catch him in The Wall Street Journal whenever he makes it onto the op-ed page. Today, he has a column titled "Internet Wrecking Ball," about the so-called "net-neutrality" issue.
I call out a couple of minor boo-boos (not to pick on Kessler but because I've got to post an item, and a bird in the hand is twittering at me):

"I personally would climb telephone poles on my street..." If you're doing the climbing, Andy, you can't outsource it. It's going to be personal.

"Yes, despite an overabundance..." (Part of the definition of the word abundance is "oversufficient quantity or supply," so overabundance is overly oversufficient and going over-over the top. But aha! you say, as if you've lured me into a rusty bear trap that has snapped violently around my ankle: Why, then, is the word overabundance in the dictionary? Because smart people who write dictionaries sometimes screw up.
Can you use overabundance? Sure. You can use colloquialisms too. But my point is: edit paranoid. The more critically you look at every word, the more you will whittle your copy into cogent prose and communicate clearer thought.


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