Thoughts by Richard Bleil
As I write this, a good friend of mine is using a wonderful tool to motivate herself to continue editing a research proposal. In fact, I am that tool.
Sometimes it helps to just not be alone, and that’s what she is doing. We are zooming as she is working, and since we’re not engaged in heavy conversation, I’m using this time to write this post as well. So, we’re motivating each other. But as she is writing, and I am writing, it reminds me of my own personal history of writing.
For example, her requirement is two limit her proposal to three pages (without going to font size 2). She’s editing like mad because, by the time she contacted me, she still had to lose about half a page. Basically, she is writing a technical, or academic, paper. Me? I’m writing for fun. It’s very different.
Do you remember being in school when the teacher would ask you to write a paragraph? And you thought, “an ENTIRE paragraph?” How could we ever put together enough words to write a paragraph, or half a page, or a full page? It will take forever!
My friend has written four pages (originally it was longer), but unfortunately, academic writing is very dense. It’s like writing for people who don’t like writing, or reading, so we punish ourselves to ensure there is no personality, no analogies, no humor, nothing at all that can be taken as personal. And I feel for her. That form of editing is just brutal. In the first pass, you try to keep the limit in mind, and when you go over you do so thinking that what you’ve written, every word, every line, every paragraph is necessary to express yourself completely. Then you start cutting, and cutting, and cutting like taking a hatchet to it. And you have to read and re-read it enough that it becomes dull. And you find entire paragraphs that you decide isn’t important enough to keep, paragraphs that can be merged by deleting a few lines, and as you struggle to get it smaller and smaller you start cutting individual words, and replacing longer words or phrases with shorter words, and if I can just find THREE MORE LINES!!!
My writing is more along the lines of creative writing, at least currently. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve done my fair share of academic writing in my day. I’ve written articles in chemistry, computer science, and prep books (like for the GED exam). And I’ve written a book (Vampire Genetics, which, by the way, a friend of mine tells me she read it to her mother which I found very sweet to hear). As I write this blog (about 950th post by the way), I have a goal of at least 750 words, which is about a page and a quarter depending on how many paragraphs I have.
Paragraphs, by the way, are often abused. Technically, paragraphs require a minimum of three lines. The first is to tell the reader what you are going to tell them in the paragraph, the second to tell them what you told them you would tell them, and the third to tell the reader what you told them and to bridge from the topic of that paragraph to the paragraph following.
And we always follow that format.
But even our requirement for paragraphs more or less kill our creativity. My poor friend is down to trying to find a more condensed manner to format the references just to save space, and yet each paragraph requires (if she’s being technically correct about it) at least three lines with built in redundancies.
Reading a textbook, by the way, is different from reading a book like Vampire Genetics, available NOW on Amazon (I dare you to buy it, I double dare you, I triple dog dare you). You use that format of the paragraph to shorten it so you can re-read it multiple times. The first time you read a chapter, you go through and look at all of the pretty pictures, which will give you an idea of what the chapter is about. Next you look at the pictures again and read the captions, so you understand what the pictures are about. Then you read the section headings, which will tell you the topics covered in the book. Then you read the sub-section titles, so you know what each section is about. Now you’re read the chapter four times, and you’re beginning to feel comfortable with the subject matter, but don’t stop here as some of the subsection titles can be misleading. Then you read the first line of each paragraph, which will tell you the information you need to know about each sub-section. Finally you read what you haven’t read yet, which are examples and applications.
But when you read Vampire Genetics, available on Amazon in pdf or paperback (buy the paperback; it’s much cooler and very thick so it looks impressive on your table for other people to see and want to buy), don’t read it like a textbook. Read that one straight through.
Okay, enough silliness. You’ll not see me mention Vampire Genetics in this post again.