May 162018
 

My dear friend Tierney Wisniewski, this website’s cofounder and coeditor, has started up a new blog devoted to her scholarly work and how she gets it done. I love her inaugural piece, “Good Scholarly Habits.” Tierney writes with great clarity and openness. It is a wonderful gift to have in her field (and in any field). Tierney describes a back-and-forth she had with scholar Raul Pacheco-Vega regarding … time, basically, how much time is spent on reading, how much on writing, how much on thinking.

I had always struggled with getting myself to do things, and even to know what it was that I wanted to do. What I learned from my theoretical framework (self-determination theory) was that you can’t make yourself do anything. Oh sure, you can for a short while, but it always falls apart. You’ll find a way to cheat the system, as I did when I hid a book inside my textbooks to drag out my homework. You’ll skip the parts of the process that are crucial but that no one will reward you for. And you will never be happily productive.

That’s why reading productivity books never made me more productive; I was targeting the wrong part of the process. I first had to find a meaningful-to-me reason to be productive, and then I would willingly experiment and adopt whatever habits and methods seemed right for me. And I had to continually reinforce my own reasons over the “pressure trap,” which is (I realize now) why GTD [Getting Things Done] incorporates a frequent review of visions and goals.

Why are we really doing this? Surely it isn’t to get straight A’s, get into a grad program, or get tenure. Surely it’s because, deep down, we love this work and we want to keep doing it. We should start by making sure we keep the work lovable.

One thing that seems to help is the idea of prep work as streamlining, and this is what Raul was getting at with his admonition to read lots and write only as much as you have to.

May 092018
 

The New York Times obituary of famed film editor Anne V. Coates is very charming.

Ms. Coates vowed to find a way to make a career in cinema. She would need to overcome not only her family’s resistance but also the fact that the industry had few jobs open to women.

“Things like hairdressing didn’t really interest me,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. “I found the most interesting job a woman could do, other than acting, was editing.”

Her [film producer] uncle relented enough to find her a job with the religious-film arm of his company, which made devotional pictures for churches.

“He thought, ‘That’ll cool her down,’ ” Ms. Coates recalled. “Didn’t work.”

After her apprenticeship there, where she ran the projector and made the tea, she caught on as cutting-room assistant at Pinewood Studios, the facility her uncle had established outside London. Early films to which she contributed included “The Red Shoes” (1948), directed by Mr. Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

At Pinewood, Ms. Coates’s boss was a white-haired editor who left each afternoon at 4 to tend his garden. “He would say, ‘You finish it,’ ” she recalled, and that was how she truly learned her craft.

By then Ms. Coates knew she had found her calling: Editing was one of the few branches of the industry relatively hospitable to women.

“Women are mostly mothers and directors are mostly children, so the two go very well together,” she said in a 2005 interview.

Apr 182018
 

Clarissa has a couple of words:

In a way, the censorship in US academia is worse than the Soviet kind. The Soviet censors were mostly dumb, uneducated people, and it wasn’t all that hard to pull wool over their eyes and make them think you are saying the opposite of what you were. Writer Vera Ketlinskaya, for instance, created a very realistic and poignant depiction of the horrors experienced by young people in Stalin’s industrialization projects. It was investigative reporting of the highest caliber. And she got Stalin’s Award in literature for it because she was smart about how she framed the story.

We don’t have any dumb bureaucrats censoring our work. We censor each other during the peer-review process. This means that the people keeping you in tune with the party line are very smart. If you hide your ideas so well that even they can’t find them, then nobody else will find them either.

Apr 052018
 

The Atlantic has fired Kevin Williamson.

Odd, though, that the publisher cited workplace-environment concerns as the impetus rather than the “especially violent belief” itself:

The top editor emphasized that Williamson’s firing was not a result of his being anti-abortion—a common position for deeply religious Americans of all political stripes—but because of what his especially violent belief could mean for workplace relationships with female colleagues who may or may not have had an abortion.

Mar 312018
 

Very few times in my life have I not believed my eyes. And the news on these occasions was never good.

This morning I had such an experience, reading a column in the New York Times by Bret Stephens, who was defending the indefensible hire of writer Kevin Williamson by the Atlantic Monthly. In 2014 Williamson tweeted that women in America who have had abortions and the doctors who performed them should be hanged. William has never retracted that statement; indeed, he has endorsed it repeatedly.

On this topic, Stephens wrote:

Shouldn’t great prose and independent judgment count for something? Not according to your critics. We live in the age of guilt by pull-quote, abetted by a combination of lazy journalism, gullible readership, missing context, and technologies that make our every ill-considered utterance instantly accessible and utterly indelible. I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry.

“Then I’ll worry.”

I have been reading the Times for about fifty years. When I was young, after church my family would drive to the local drugstore to pick up the Sunday New York Times. My Mom had a copy reserved for her there. Once we got home, we dove into it. I made sure that I did not rush to pick up sections my Mom wanted first: Arts and Leisure and the Sunday Book Review; also let alone was the Week in Review section, which my Dad grabbed right away. The entire paper came my way eventually, though, and I spent hours reading it, practically cover to cover if I had time. Very happy memories.

Anybody who has seen my library – indeed, who has been (un)lucky enough to get into a debate with me – knows that I spend a lot of time reading material that galls, bugs, or even angers me. This is necessary mental and intellectual hygiene. And it is how I hug the world.

Not to have unsubscribed from the Times this morning, though, would have made me … an accomplice.

Mar 202018
 

As a Stanford University graduate I am a bit sickened to have read this:

“Mindfulness begins with leadership,”  said Dr. Leah Weiss, who teaches compassionate leadership at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. told CMO.com. “The best way to introduce mindfulness and/or meditation into a company or organization is to train leaders in mindfulness and compassion. When leadership sets the bar or example, employees will follow suit.”

Each of Dr. Leah Weiss’s three sentences here uses a variation of the word “leader.”  But there is no *leader* in “mindfulness.” There can’t be. It is an individual practice.

Jan 212018
 

Biographer Robert Caro’s books are marathon-long, though very much worth the time it takes to read them. His laceration of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” is almost 1300 pages. In a wonderful interview published in The New York Review of Books, Caro notes:

The finished version I gave to my editor […] was about 1,050,000 words. That was a polished finished version, not a draft. The book you read is roughly 700,000 words […] the maximum that [my publisher] Knopf’s production people felt they could get into a trade book.

At the time, I asked, “Can’t we do it in two volumes?” Bob Gottlieb [my editor] answered, “I might get people interested in Robert Moses once. I could never get them interested in him twice.”

The amount of research – reporting, reading, interviewing, digging, and corroborating – that goes into Caro’s books is gargantuan. I literally cannot imagine how a person can get such work all done with such intelligence. Surely, then, he must *write* with unbelievable speed. No.

My first three or four drafts are handwritten on legal pads. For later drafts, I use a typewriter. I write by hand to slow myself down.

I’m a very fast writer, but I want to write slowly.

When I was a student at Princeton. I took a creative writing course with the literary critic R.P. Blackmur. Every two weeks, I’d give him a short story I’d produced usually at the last minute. At the end of the semester, he said some complimentary words about my writing, and then added, “Mr. Caro, one thing is going to keep you from achieving what you want—you think with your fingers.”

Jan 052018
 

In an early NoContest.CA post on editing, I described “the 9 C’s” I use when evaluating another writer’s work:

  1. completeness
  2. conciseness
  3. clarity
  4. convincingness
  5. currency
  6. correctness
  7. consistency
  8. congruency
  9. courtesy

I added:

Almost all writers need a second set of eyes to assess and improve the first four qualities in a document they compose, because they typically already believe they’ve been concise, complete, clear, and convincing enough. To assess and improve the rest often requires that second set of eyes, too.

My mentor Diane Middlebrook once told me, “You cannot edit yourself any more than you can tickle yourself, and for the same reasons.” I thought of Diane the other day when reading an excellent post by Hootsuite Content Editor Curtis Foreman called “12 Quick Editing Tips for Social Media Managers.” Tip #4: “Have Somebody Else Edit Your Work.”

Even if you’re a solo practitioner, there’s probably someone in your life with a decent sense of style and taste who wouldn’t mind glancing over your tweets before you release them into the wild. And if you’re at an agency or brand, you’ve likely got a team member (or an entire team) who will be more than happy to point out that you really should stop using commas to join independent clauses already.

You should read the whole post; it’s excellent. I have to take issue with that first sentence, though. I doubt even the most charming “solo practitioner” would be able to persuade another person to glance over his or her tweets prior to their publication. When we are outside of the workplace or academic setting, we almost always need to fly solo, using solid if less exacting methods of revision: reading the post or tweet aloud, double-checking for facts, or the always smart “sleeping on it” before publishing it.

– photo by Robert Basil

– installation view of Robert Therrien’s No title (folding table and chairs, beige) at Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY

 Posted by at 12:10 pm  Tagged with: