A while back, I made a few remarks about how I go about writing. I like to think that I’ve improved somewhat since then; I’ve certainly added some writing experience in the intervening years, and I’ve amended how I present my writing in this webspace and in a few other places. (I think it’s obvious against the links to earlier materials.) I think, too, that how I go about doing this has changed, especially since I have abandoned the search for academic employment and, with few exceptions, any pretense of doing academic research. As such, additional remarks seem in order.
I still do some public writing at this point, generally taking one of four forms: on-the-job writing (including, for my present position, grant writing), freelance writing, the kind of writing I do in this webspace and others, and (less and less commonly) academic writing. Each has a different set of demands, though I will note that my earlier comments about writing to specific prompts still hold. Freelance clients still have detailed, individual requirements in terms of formatting and word count that I have to meet, and many will ask for specific wording for search engine optimization, while others want particular embedded links for marketing and the like. My academic writing tends to respond to specific calls for papers anymore; I don’t necessarily have a project I am burning to work on (at least not in that arena; it should be clear that I do in others). It has topic requirements and length limits, and I fear to have a clock thrown at me if I should transgress the latter. And much of the on-the-job writing I do functions similarly, with grants having their standards to follow, and required reports to state and federal agencies, as well. For such works, then, as I settle into where I’m writing–be it my work office or my amended home office–with a cup of coffee ready to hand and music playing, I look over the details of the writing task I’m responding to to see what all I need to write.
For writing in this webspace, though, and for some of the freelance writing I do (social media stuff for which I am under contract), I have a freer hand. Obviously, for work like the Robin Hobb Reread, there is a clear topic, and I have fallen into a common enough pattern that has emerged “naturally” from doing lots of that kind of work in other situations. But for entries like this one, or for other, freer work, I settle in and think about what all I want to have come across, what message needs sending. If I am writing on another’s behalf, I try to think about what will do that other the most good; if I am writing as myself, and not on a set project, I think about what all I need to get out of my head. Because that is a fair bit of why I write what I write here: I have things in my head that pester me until I let them out, and, while they may come to visit again, they don’t move back in.
As noted above, when I make to write, I do still tend to settle into one of only a couple of set places–I rarely write outside one of my offices, with the public library being the most likely outside location, though I do compose in my car on occasion, repeating lines of verse until they settle into my head long enough to be spat back out onto the page. I still drink coffee, probably more than is good for me, as I think about writing and do the work of writing, and I still listen to music that I’ve tried to curate to my tastes and needs. Owing to some political issues–I try not to give money to those who espouse policies I oppose, since the US Supreme Court tells us that money equates to speech (here and here, for example) and I try to be honest, however ineptly–the service I use for that music has changed, and the field of music open to me has expanded substantially (which I appreciate). But the basic situation remains more or less the same.
It is a pleasure to have some stability.
One change that has taken place in my writing process is that I have paid more and more attention to paratext. That is, I am not worried only about the words on the page; I am worried about how the words are laid out on the page, how they appear, what appears with them, and the like. It’s not a thing I was taught, either as an undergraduate or a graduate student. I did get a fair bit of instruction about how to form sentences and paragraphs, and I got quite a bit about how to find and deploy resources (and how to account for them on the physical page). But as far as placing the words on the page well, what I got was the old galley model, putting things in plain type on standard paper, double-spaced for ease of reading and review. And I understand why it would be so; like many, I was being trained to do research and criticism for publication, since, in graduate school, the assumption was that I would need to publish to acquire and maintain academic employment. (And, having scored physical papers, I find that double-spacing is easier to read than single, as well as admitting of interlinear comments that my students only rarely read. But that is another matter entirely.)
My older posts to this webspace, as well as my work in earlier webspaces, reflects that limited understanding. The text is plain and unadorned; I do use section headings where matters call for them, but the heading itself is the only indication. Images of any sort are absent or only minimally present. Occasionally, for particular exercises and demonstrative purposes, I colorize the text, but that has not always worked out well. Given the way that screens work, the text in my early posts is hard to read even aside from the opacity of my prose. (I know I’ve been an academic. I know what is said about academic writing. I know the truth of it all too well. Hell, I still fight the tendency, even in this very post.)
Owing to the work the most excellent Shiloh Carroll does for the Tales after Tolkien Society blog (which I curate and contribute to), though, I began working to incorporate images into my online writing, using them to illustrate and comment on things that I saw could use such. And I began using a bit more developed HTML in my texts, allowing for drop-caps such as appear in this piece and in others, both at the beginnings of the pieces and, as appropriate, at section changes and the like. I flatter myself that they help my readers.
I also flatter myself that they oblige me to be a bit more deliberate about my writing than I had been before. Often enough, I would simply sit and start writing, throwing letters at the pages in sequence and hoping that they would stick together well enough to be legible and make some semblance of sense. I’ve done enough reading of enough things throughout my life that they often have, even if they’ve not been particularly good. (Clearly not, or I’d not have had as many piece rejected as I have.) Knowing as I write online that I will be incorporating visual features beyond words in pixels on a screen, I pay more attention to the placement of words and sentences. Knowing that the screens will shift–I know better than to think that my readership will be primarily on a desktop–I try to set things such that tablet and phone readers can have an easy time of things. (The more lines of text a sentence takes, the harder it is to read and understand, I find.) Knowing, too, that character sizes matter, I try to lay words out so as not to isolate things inappropriately. And so I end up making some adjustments to my prose as I go along, such as rewriting the first sentence of the “Situation” section to keep letters and lines from being orphaned by the .gif.
I hope, as ever, that it makes for a better read.