I’ve thought of myself as a pretty good writer since I was in elementary school, having been told several times throughout my life by people worth listening to that I had a talent for it. I just haven’t had any training in writing since 12th grade—writing, that is, for the general public on topics like history, culture, sociology, political science…you know, things you might write an English or History essay about—I have had plenty of training in scientific writing and, much to my pleasure, I have mostly excelled at that.
But sometimes I’ll read an essay online at a blag or a magazine that strikes me as very professional, very analytical but accessible, very thorough but easy to get through, and formal without being pretentious. The individual sentences and paragraphs are phrased well and the entire article is organized and flows well. They make their point convincingly without seeming biased or like they had to try overly hard to make it. I say, “I want to write like that. That’s professional writing by a well-trained and -practiced person who doesn’t let their love of their own writing get in the way of the content.”
The two main aspects of people’s writing that I see often on the internet that highlight their lack of writing talent are: bad grammar and punctuation (obviously), and over-use of florid language and fancy words. Being bombastic. I can spot a mediocre writer who’s trying to impress people with his/her allegedly fancy writing skillz from a mile away. Writing well rarely means using complex sentences or SAT words, and when those are involved they are few and far between. Everyone should take Louisa May Alcott’s motto to heart: Never use a large word when a small one will do just as well. No, this doesn’t mean you have to write like Hemingway, but Hemingway is better than Faulkner.
Sandra Tsing Loh is a perfect example of this type type of writing fallacy. Contrast the aforementioned professional writers who impress me and make me want to write like them to this self-absorbed, pretentious douchebagette who writes for The Atlantic. (I italicized that not only because it’s the title of the publication but also for emphasis: this pompous hack who is in no way, shape, or form a better writer, a better social critic, or a better person than you or me writes for the fucking ATLANTIC monthly. If she can do it, I sure as hell could.)
I first heard of this Sandra Tsing Loh character from Fark.com, where a recent article of hers made the main page and was commented on extensively. First, read the article and then read the comments from Farkers. At least some of them. Go on, do it.
Okay, now that you agree with me and them, I can quote a couple Farkers who hit the nail on the head in the discussion thread:
“Oh my LORD that woman is in love with herself and her vocabulary. I love big words and intelligent writing but I wanted to punch her in her martini-swilling face.”
“Ughh. I honestly tried to read that, but it was like eating five pounds of potatoes. The first paragraph or two were okay, but halfway through I felt nauseated and bloated and I couldn’t continue.”
“I got about 1/3 down the page before my brain just couldn’t parse anymore.
That essay is an abuse of language that should be punishable by waterboarding.
You torture us, we torture you. Now put down the Thesaurus and get back in your cave.
/Oh yeah, and the essay contents weren’t any better”
Yeah, the comments on the substance of Loh’s article were more insightful and important, in the grand scheme of things, than the comments about the writing style, but I’m writing about writing right now, all right? Lastly: this Fark.com thread does some good to dispel my impression of Farkers as bitter, hateful, spiteful, religion-hating, government-loving zealots who would scarcely be more pleasant in real life than they are in anonymous discussion threads. They still wouldn’t recognize a property right if it smacked them in the face, but they sure can hit the nail on the head about some relationship/sexual/social issues.