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writing

Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash… The starting point for becoming a good writer is to be a good reader. Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose. Steven Pinker

I like to read style manuals for another reason, the one that sends botanists to the garden and chemists to the kitchen: it’s a practical application of our science. I am a psycholinguist and a cognitive scientist, and what is style, after all, but the effective use of words to engage the human mind? It’s all the more captivating to someone who seeks to explain these fields to a wide readership. I think about how language works so that I can best explain how language works. Steven Pinker

The curse of knowledge is a major reason that good scholars write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to them that their readers don’t know what they know—that those readers haven’t mastered the patois or can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention or have no way to visualize an event that to the writer is as clear as day. And so they don’t bother to explain the jargon or spell out the logic or supply the necessary detail. Why Academics’ Writing Stinks

I learned how to make my writing lapidary and action-packed, trying to convey as much nuance as possible in each word. These have been the most growing opportunities for me as a writer and presenter. Blogging forces me to be that brief on a regular basis. Blogging and the Value of Conciseness

Call it the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The term was invented by economists to help explain why people are not as shrewd in bargaining as they could be when they possess information that their opposite number does not. Psychologists sometimes call it mindblindness. In the textbook experiment, a child comes into the lab, opens an M&M box and is surprised to find pencils in it. Not only does the child think that another child entering the lab will somehow know it contains pencils, but the child will say that he himself knew it contained pencils all along! The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail. The Source of Bad Writing

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The idea that Perlstein could not have finished his book without Shirley is completely laughable. In fact, Perlstein was extremely gracious in his book to Shirley, thanking him in the acknowledgements for saving him “3.76 months of work.” All historians utilize the work of those who preceded them, and 3.76 months is a rather small proportion of the time Perlstein spent on this book. A simple glance at Perlstein’s thousands of endnotes shows how extensive his research was, and what a small proportion of the work relied upon Shirley’s book. It’s ludicrous to imagine that Perlstein’s in-depth critique of Reagan is nothing more than the theft of a hagiography by a conservative hack. Surely You’re Joking: The Outrageous Attack on Rick Perlstein

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Paraphrase with attribution is not plagiarism, and facts cannot be copyrighted. Is The Earth Flat Paraphrasing Sources With Attribution Plagiarism? Views Differ!

Anyone who thinks that lifting a summary of an idea or event, even intentionally, is morally equal to cutting and pasting someone’s original argument or analysis doesn’t understand the nature or the stakes of academic dishonesty. Jackson Doughart: The fetish of plagiarism-outing

Every book holds the seed of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac. By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought. The goblins of creative block have stopped snarling and have been shooed away, you’re dashing down thoughts, and your synapses are clanging away in a symphonic burst of ideas. And if you’re not, whip open another book. Pluck out another sentence. And ponder mash-ups of out-of-context ideas until your mind wanders and you end up in a new place, a place that no one else ever visited. Jessica Hagy

People don’t stop writing just because they don’t make it as professional authors. They never have stopped. They just stop playing your game. People who like writing but aren’t interested in turning it into a career don’t need an industry at all. They don’t need publishers. They don’t need editors. They don’t need cover designers. They don’t need Amazon, Kobo, or Nook. They don’t need your self-publishing startup. They don’t need to sell or buy publishing services or tools. All they need is a community. And community is the thing that the web offers in spades. Friends don’t let their friends become authors

But now that I’ve escorted two e-partners to the edge of the grave, I’m wary of this brave new world of digital publishers and readers. As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, writers like me could reasonably aspire to a career and a living wage. I was dispatched to costly and difficult places like Iraq, to work for months on a single story. Later, as a full-time book author, I received advances large enough to fund years of research. How many young writers can realistically dream of that now? Online journalism pays little or nothing and demands round-the-clock feeds. Very few writers or outlets can chase long investigative stories. I also question whether there’s an audience large enough to sustain long-form digital nonfiction, in a world where we’re drowning in bite-size content that’s mostly free and easy to consume. One reason “Boom” sank, I suspect, is that there aren’t many people willing to pay even $2.99 to read at length about a trek through the oil patch, no matter how much I sexed it up with cowboys and strippers. I Was a Digital Best Seller!

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