Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Evolving

There are enough writers swinging by this blog to know this particular truth, but it's probably worth mentioning one more time – just because you're good at one kind of writing, doesn't mean you're good at others.

I learned this particular truth back in university when professors in one department would praise what I had written, while professors in another department would rip apart my writing style. It came to a head towards the end of my degree in history when my faculty advisors, perhaps sensing she was losing me, wrote the following on a paper I submitted. "It's sad to see the lamentable influence of the Muse (the campus newspaper) on your writing style."

That was just one more reason I made the switch about that time from pursuing a history degree into pursuing journalism. Writing for the Muse was fun. Writing history papers had long since lost any appeal for me. It was something I had a hard time wrestling with. Ever since I was in Grade 5, history was my favourite subject. I loved it. In high school, the only reason I didn't get 100% in the course (I pulled a 96%) was due to my teacher docking me marks for spelling because he hated giving 100%. I expected to become a history professor at one point (North Atlantic migration patterns in the 19th century and their impact on Newfoundland was the focus, in case you were curious).

But tastes evolve. So did my writing style. And it continues to evolve. After enough years as a journalist, I discovered that the news format was beginning to get on my nerves as well. I was having far more fun writing my columns and editorials than my standard news and feature stories. It was probably one more reason that after 15 years, on and off, of being a journalist that I was ready to try something new again.

That writing styles and preferences evolve over time is something that seems evident to me now. It might seem completely obvious to most people reading this blog. But it was confusing and baffling to me at the time. I hoped I might get better over time. I never realized that my interests and tastes would evolve as well.

When people met me, back when I wrote columns with the Packet and Express, one of the first things they used to say is "you talk just like you write." I never knew if that was a compliment or not, but I tended to take it as such. Especially since most people tended to like my columns. When my columns were right, when I was happy with them, I managed to make them funny and get a point across. And that, by the way, is also a lot harder than you think.

I've been blogging now for three years. And again, I'm surprised where my interests take me. I figured the blog would be an extension of the columns I wrote. That I would write something humourous on current events and pop culture.

Again, I confess some confusion as to how my brain works. I think regular readers of my blog would say that's not the way it's been…at least for the past several months. I rarely comment on Newfoundland politics anymore. Same thing with federal politics. I wrote a pop culture column with The Express, talking about TV shows, movies and music. And yet, I'm not even writing much about that lately.

To be honest, I'm not sure where my writing, and reading, habits are taking me. Given the amount I've written about curling lately, perhaps I should apply for a job with the Curling News (not really, no, but if they need an Iqaluit correspondent, they can let me know). I'm still struggling with novel writing, which at times feels very much like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. The grand novel remains about ¾ finished and a deeply frustrating experience that I've been dodging lately instead of facing head on.

But the form of writing I've been finding myself more curious about lately has been speech-writing. It's not something I've ever paid that much attention to before. It's very, very hard to craft a good speech and most fall well short of the mark.

The reason for the interest now is two-fold. First, I've had some occasion recently to dabble into the field of speech-writing lately. Obviously, I'm still learning. But I'm curious now about the process. I've never studied it before, never had any interest in it before, but that's changed.

As for the second reason….obviously I'm following the U.S. presidential election and I'm rooting for Barack Obama. I'm also reading his speeches, which are offering me insights into the process. There's more to it than just the words, of course. It helps that Obama is a gifted orator. But this speech yesterday on race is captivating to me. Some are calling it one of the finest speeches about race in the United States in a generation. My knowledge of speeches dealing with race is somewhat limited, and yet I've read this speech several times and have marveled at it. I'm no master of rhetoric, so I'm sure there are nuances I'm missing, but my God, that's a piece of artistry.

There are pieces of writing that you read that change your perspective. I'm not sure how much this has changed my perspective on race in the United States, but it has changed my perspective on speech writing. I'm not saying I'm going to be crafting anything like that anytime soon (or, let's be honest here, ever). But that's the gold standard for me right now in modern speech writing. That's what you shoot for.

By the way, I'm not now dedicating myself to the art of speech writing. I'm just enamored by it right now. And if I've learned anything in recent years, when it comes to writing I seem to have crushes, but there haven't been many times I've fallen in love with a particular kind of writing. So we'll see how long this lasts.

And hey, if it inspires me to improve my writing to the point where I can finally go back and finish that God damned novel, all the better. Because that's a deep love/hate affair going on right there.

5 comments:

Mireille Sampson said...

Isn't Ottawa on the list of places you might move next? The winter being a little shorter (though shit, have you seen the snow?) Christ only knows the speeches in Ottawa could use help - does anything a Canadian politician say register past 3 seconds of memory? Gaffs don't count.

dups said...

Craig, you can become my speech writer when I run for parliament...

towniebastard said...

I need a lot more experience and craft before I could do that, I suspect, Mireille. But it is a thought.

And Dups, I've been hearing of your mythic run for Parliament for years. This is going to happen when?

dups said...

Craig, I have a cunning plan. If I reveal it I will need to silence you. Yes the plan is very cunning, it will see me installed as Prime Minister. Trust me. Have I ever led you wrong?

towniebastard said...

No, but that's because I've never been stupid enough to follow one of your "schemes." It's likely why I'm still alive.