August 2nd, 2017 .

Why Good Writing Usually Isn’t

Pat Morden

A certain Canadian media darling who shall remain nameless has made a career of writing and speaking in baroque sentences using arcane words and elaborate metaphors.

A small example of his stylistic preferences from a recent essay:

American politics, post-election, is an embarrassing mess, a degrading and degraded spectacle, driven by rivers of frantic speculations, feeding on leaks, misreporting, and hyper-partisan narratives, and ultimately powered by the self-serving certitude of the side that lost to that clown, that they couldn’t have lost, didn’t really lose, and if they did lose was because — apart from a million lesser causes beyond their control — Vladimir Putin was out to get Hillary Clinton. . . Every day brings a fresh and more inventive excuse. This isn’t intransigence, this is fortified delusion: the inability to accept defeat having mutated into an ever uncoiling list of how “they” had engineered and rigged the results to rob her of her otherwise ineluctable victory. Most of the torpedoes that hit the Hillary campaign were launched by the captain of their own submarine. But she and her supporters simply cannot accept that. It is beyond their grasp.”

It’s the kind of writing that impresses people, even if they’re not entirely sure what’s being said. Here’s how I imagine the conversation between two co-workers who have both read this essay.

One: “Wow, that guy can really write.”

Two: “Sure can.”

[slight pause]

One: “So what do you think he’s on about?”

Two: [frowning slightly] “I think he’s against something . . .?”

One: [nodding wisely] “Sounds about right.”

Two: “Anyway, he has an incredible command of the language.”

One: “You got that right.”

Two: “Timmies?”

One: [with a sigh of relief] “Sure, let’s go.”

The thing is, words – whether in poetry, prose, or expositional writing – exist for one reason: to get an idea or feeling that’s in one mind into another mind.

There may be times when that requires words that most people don’t understand. But usually it means simple, clear writing that gets from A to B with a minimum of fuss. It’s not writing that wows: it’s writing that works.

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