The Art Of Writing

It seems to me….

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.” ~ Barry Ritholtz[1].

While I would not describe myself as a successful writer, having edited a monthly column in a professional journal, worked as a corporate technical writer, presented papers at professional conferences, posted a weekly blog since 2010, and written several non-fiction books (only one still in print), I probably have a bit of experience in the field. Admittedly, as a retired university professor (degrees in math/physics and computer science), my motivation probably is considerably different than many writers: writing never will be my “profession”. Still, I occasionally receive requests for advice[2] from other people desiring to get a start in the field.

The best advice I can give if someone is serious about writing is to keep at it: do not become discouraged and give up. Writers receiving rejection letters from publishers are in good company[3]: Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis was rejected by fifteen publishers, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach by eighteen publishers, Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – twenty rejections, The Peter Principle by Laurence Peter – sixteen times, Dubliners by James Joyce – twenty-two times, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig – 121 times, and even Carrie by Stephen King received thirty rejections. Any hope-to-be author with only a single rejection has hardly even begun to write.

The best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell postulated that anyone could achieve proficiency in a profession after 10,000 hours of dedicated and intensive honing of their skills. This is comparable to spending forty hours a week for almost five years. Yes, depending upon natural talent some people achieve success with less effort, others take longer. But keep in mind that it is not easy to write a “good” book. In fact, 98 percent of books submitted to publishers and agents will be rejected. A quick perusal of bookstore shelves will show that most published works are at best third-rate. Anyone having submitted at least one manuscript for review is already one up on the pack as the majority of people who begin a book never complete it.

That said, I readily admit to having my own personal challenges when writing: some mechanical, others philosophical. While I normally try to adhere to generally accept styles of writing[4], [5], am not dogmatic in following any specific guide. One of the biggest challenges anyone attempting to write encounters, just as in so much else in life, is insufficient time to write everything they would like: much must always remain undone.

I share many of the questions raised by other writers and frequently return to the question of why I persist in writing on some topic every week. While I put my thoughts out there for anyone interested, I make no effort to promote them so obviously do not feel it that important for anyone to actually read them. There are many people writing on similar topics much more intelligent and informed than I am. The only unique aspect I can provide is to offer my personal perspective which I consider correct or appropriate at the time.

The majority of writers and journalists by training and inclination attempt to report fairly and evenly by stating both sides of an issue. It can be somewhat difficult for them to question blatantly false statements. It is not paranoid to be suspect of conservatives who frequently have goals other than those being stated; when questioned about policies, instead of attempting to rationally explain their goals, they tend to attack rather than resort to reason or facts.

This is not necessarily true for major network Sunday morning talk-show hosts with whom I’ve always been impressed. While not always agreeing with them, the majority of them seem well prepared and nuanced in their questions and background research. Granted keeping informed is their fulltime occupation and they have a research staff to assist them. Most of them also display a bias but that is one of the reasons why we watch them. I do not always expect news reporters to be completely neutral in their reporting – they are human. As long as they admit their bias, it is acceptable. I occasionally watch faux News though much of their reporting is conservatively partisan. Exposure to differing viewpoints is the only way to evaluate the correctness of our personal beliefs.

I’ve always found it best to discuss something I “actually” know rather than what I only “think” I know but, unfortunately, will admit to not always being absolutely positive. I readily admit to not always being right and have on many occasions changed what I might have previously thought or stated.

Looking back over sources of material I typically reference, they primarily tend to be those I have relied on in the past though those authors are not necessarily who I most commonly read on a regular basis. While not totally apparent, they probably reflect my own personal interests, are those I most trust, or are most likely to contain the statistics or observations with which I most likely agree.

Much of my writing represents my personal values, priorities, and aspirations; there never is any intent to imply non-prejudicial reporting similar to many of the reporters and journalists I admire: I do not claim otherwise. I pick statistics supporting my opinions and occasionally omit others less favorable. My perspective on an issue also can change depending upon circumstances: I opposed national deficits but favored increasing stimulus spending during the 2009 economic crisis which enlarged the deficit.

While I always attempt to provide basic facts, those facts primarily only quantify what is apparent. What is of most interest is the less apparent, the more basic or complex causes or sources of what is affecting our world and lives. Understanding can be more difficult as facts become hidden or even impenetrable and subject to individual biases and prejudices in their interpretation.

I readily admit the primary intent of much of what I write is intended to influence the opinion of readers. I also acknowledge the difficulty in persuading someone to accept my perspective when it is contrary to their preconceived views. Those already in agreement will be reinforced; those opposed will quickly reject whatever facts I might present. Hopefully, those less sure will find something sufficiently persuasive in what I write to consider an issue from my perspective.

It always is somewhat surprising when I start to write my thoughts or opinion about some topic and conclude my original ideas were not totally correct. Some of this results from not having known enough about the topic and learning more changed what I thought. Most frequently, additional information reinforces the opinion even though the attempt is to understand both sides of an issue.

That said, there have been many times in the past when I have reversed or in some manner nuanced my opinion. I voted for Nixon in 1960, not Kennedy, but quickly became a Kennedy backer after hearing his inaugural address – and then strongly opposed Nixon’s candidacy in 1968 (and even more strongly in 1972). I supported Johnson for his civil rights programs but did not care for him as an individual or his stance on the Vietnam War. While strongly supporting equal rights, I initially opposed same-sex marriage requiring time to accept it.

I have long suspected I must have something mentally wrong – why else would I continue to write weekly postings? Since I never attempt to publicize them, they obviously are primarily for my own benefit. Perhaps the most probable reason is simply to relieve the frustration of not being able to effect meaningful changes I believe to be necessary. Just my way of ranting when I feel no one is listening. Perhaps this is partly masochistic….

Since I blog on a variety of subjects, frequently either political or economic, I occasionally receive feedback regarding the content of what I wrote. While all comments are appreciated, it is preferable when a response states why they either did or did not agree rather than simply saying they liked or disliked what was written. There are many ways to terminate a conversation but probably the most dissatisfactory is by responding to an inquiry with a one-word reply: “Yes”, “No”, “Because”…. A simple like or dislike is similar to someone replying with either a “yes” or ‘no’ during a conversation – it gives the discussion nowhere to go effectively ending it.  Without further clarification or insight as to thought or motivation, further discussion on that topic is effectively ended.

I normally attempt to responding to responses to my postings but it is apparent there are opinionated individuals that never will actually engage in a reasoned discussion of issues. Some of the responses to what I write can be quite “interesting”; e.g., one recent responder implied I might be a communist. Given the obvious direction of the conversation, the option was to either further incite violence – which occasionally can provide personal gratification – or spread oil upon the water. At some point, when a conversation becomes increasingly opinionated, it is time to drop the discussion. When younger, my choice most likely would have been different. It isn’t that I have a problem with conservatives, I consider them a necessary counterbalance to liberal impracticality. I do not expect to change anyone’s opinion so rarely am disappointed.

There have been about an equal number of responses criticizing me of being either a liberal or conservative but they frequently differ in the general civility in which they are stated.

“While you obviously are a conservative, I do not believe you have fully considered all the ramifications of what you stated. For example,….” (Accept)

“You godamn liberals are all fucken assoles that should be taken out and shot!” (Delete, delete, delete….)

The tone of responses differs widely and while the first example is more typical, the second which was written in about 24-point bold font represents the extreme. Still, several have consisted of just one or more vulgarities (especially if what I had written was supportive of gun regulation) – see the initial quote by Barry Ritholtz. It occasionally would be interesting to know the socioeconomic background of some of the respondents. It is difficult to presume these types of comments are not reflective of the writers’ political beliefs but they appear to be representative of opposite extremes.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Barry Ritholtz is an American author, newspaper columnist, blogger, equities analyst, CIO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and guest commentator on Bloomberg Television.

[2] Bormann, Lew. Why Write?, WordPress, https://lewbornmann.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/why-write/, 22 September 2014.

[3] Balson, Ronald H.. Bestseller Success Stories That Started Out As Self-Published Books, The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronald-h-balson/bestseller-success-storie_b_4064574.html, 23 January 2014.

[4] Strunk, Jr., William, and E. B. White. The Elements of Style, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elements_of_Style.

[5] Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, University of Chicago Press, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Manual_for_Writers_of_Research_Papers,_Theses,_and_Dissertations.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Auntie Mame, Barry Ritholtz, Beliefs, Blog, Blog, book, Bookstore, Carrie, Conservatives, Dubliners, Feedback, Fox News, James Joyce, Johnson, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Journalists, Kennedy, Kon-Tiki, Laurence Peter, Liberals, Malcolm Gladwell, Manuscript, Nixon, Patrick Dennis, Personal, publish, Richard Bach, Robert Pirsig, Stephen King, The Peter Principle, Thor Heyerdahl, Writers, Writers, Writing, Writing, writing, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Art Of Writing

  1. The only way to keep writing is for own satisfaction. It has its own reward. I feel ill at ease if I don’t put down the words.

    • lewbornmann says:

      Agree. I always have a notepad available to write down those stray thoughts. Otherwise they are gone. Though I never will consider myself a “writer”, I spend a significant amount of time (probably too much) sitting at the computer doing just that — writing.

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