Roseta Stone: Redux

Craig Hancock hancock at
Thu Feb 10 18:04:13 UTC 2011

     These are great quotes.
     I apprenticed under the late, great Don Murray ("A Writer Teaches 
Writing," among other texts), one of the fathers of the process movement 
in composition, who was a great compiler of these sorts of statements by 
writers about writing. One main point Murray always made was not just 
that writers revise (as they do), but that revising is a kind of 
REVISION, not merely a stylistic tidying up or overlay.  One changes the 
words, phrases, clauses, sentences primarily because the work/goal of 
the writing requires it.  Writing is hard because meaning is hard and 
human contact is hard.  A sentence is not a "complete thought," but a 
move in a series of related moves.  It carries forward the larger goals 
of the text, including different kinds of coherence. What you find, over 
time, is that different purposes pressure the language differently. 
Elmore Leonard, as detective novelist, cultivated that sort of no 
bullshit spoken style for his noir world and his no-nonsense 
protagonists.  It's nice to know that there can be value in bringing 
writing back toward speech. At the same time, academic writing, writing 
in the technical fields, has other kinds of pressure, most notably 
toward a technical vocabulary (and a high level of nominalization.)  
This can certainly be made more accessible at times, but good technical 
writing differs in very predictable ways from speech.
    The general point, I guess, as a number of people have said, is that 
acquiring a language is a lifetime process.  It could very well be that 
the language itself is evolving to allow us to accomplish new kinds of 
work in the modern world. A good writer doesn't simply acquire it, but 
stretches it into accomplishing new things.
    I think functional approaches to language have the potential to 
enrich our understanding of literacy.  The bad news is that English 
teachers have drifted away from teaching/understanding language, in part 
because of the belief that language is primarily formal and that 
acquisition is inevitable.


On 2/10/2011 11:55 AM, Sherman Wilcox wrote:
> On Feb 10, 2011, at 8:35 AM, Craig Hancock wrote:
>> I think Hemingway was being a bit disingenuous with "getting the words right,"
> I don't know if he was being disingenuous. Mostly, I just thought it was a nice quote that reinforced, in a slightly different way, the point Dan was making. Here's another one that I love about the craft of writing:
> "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." (Elmore Leonard, Newsweek, April 22, 1985)

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