Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I have but two talents: writing and baking. Fortunately both of them are highly prized in the Foreign Service. My bosses appreciate my ability to assemble words in appropriate combinations to produce relatively cogent reports, and my coworkers appreciate my ability to assemble a variety of chemicals in appropriate combinations to produce, say, cardamom-spiced molten chocolate cakes. (Although I have a sneaking suspicion that the latter are consumed rather more enthusiastically than the former.) As a result I am occasionally called upon to advise people on how to do one or the other.

The how-to's of baking are easy, at least at the entry level. There's a recipe: you follow the steps and end up with cake. Yes, it can get much more complicated, especially with bread. My father gave me a book called The Bread Baker's Apprentice which goes into such detail on the intricacies of flours and proofing and steam that I couldn't get through it (sorry Dad); clearly this is calculus-level baking when I haven't quite mastered algebra yet. Nevertheless, when someone asks me how to bake I can at least get them started in the right direction. When someone asks me how to write I don't have much more advice than "um, practice?"

A friend recently introduced me to Draft: the NYT's online series of essays by writers on writing. Not all of the essays are to my taste, but many of them fill my little word nerd heart with joy. For example, Verlyn Klinkenborg's piece "Where Do Sentences Come From?" does a splendid job tackling the difficult question of what exactly a writer is doing when he stares up at the ceiling before he starts typing, the part where all the actual writing happens. I also liked Helen Sword's essay on "zombie nouns", something bureaucrats in particular tend to scatter with wanton abandon throughout their prose. She has a handy writing analysis tool as well; this post is apparently shaping up quite well so far except for a preponderance of prepositions. I'll have to check out some of my professional writing at the office tomorrow - I suspect it will not score as well.

But anyway, when people ask me how to write, I can now simply tell them to quit bothering me and go read what smart people have to say about it. You're welcome!

1 comment:

  1. but you are a smart person, I want to hear it from you! :P