January 14th, 2018

Subject matter and technical skill are not connected in creative endeavors. As we’ve learned in recent months, a lot of very talented men are assholes.

I learned this morning about racist statements made made by Eric Clapton. While I won’t be buying anymore of his music, I’m not about to toss all of his music that I already own like some Hannity fanboy.

So, when I came across John Miller’s A NR stalwart and journalism professor has some advice for fellow scribes on New Republic I didn’t automatically dismiss what he had to say in the way that I did the words of Lee Stranahan.

Miller writes:

As a professional writer, I’m always trying to improve. I’ve studied the work of the top writers. I’ve debated great opening sentences with colleagues. I’ve thought long and hard about things like serial commas, concluding that they are good and necessary (don’t @ me). These days, I’m not only a professional writer, but also a teacher of writing: I run the journalism program at Hillsdale College. The best way to learn how to write is to write, because experience offers the soundest instruction. Yet my students and I also consult sources such as The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, whose best advice has become a famous dictum: “Omit needless words.” Lots of writers share their wisdom through idiosyncratic lists. I collect the good ones and often give them to students.

Miller’s five include:

  • 1. When in doubt, start with when,
  • 2. Show, don’t tell,
  • 3. Omit needless words,
  • 4. Inspiration comes from work and
  • 5. Sleep on it.
  • No. 4, for me, is the most important and ought to be No. 1, but maybe Miller wasn’t ranking. What he says about inspiration deserves to be tattooed on the back of every writer’s hand:

    Lots of non-writers think that the opposite is true. The late movie critic Roger Ebert put it best: “There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration,” he wrote. “The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.” Many of your best ideas will come as you compose.

    That certainly is how my Calliope works.

    And I do mean works

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