Writing: Quality or Quantity?

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This morning, an interesting article was posted on Write For Your Life, the writing blog. The post essentially argues that quality is most important when writing rather than quantity. You can read the article at this link for yourself, but I have some thoughts and opinions on this matter.

Basically, the author of this post thinks that quality is more important when practicing your writing and I think that quantity is more important. Part of my opinion is informed by the fact that I am heavily invested in National Novel Writing Month, which encourages quantity when writing. Because I’ve done a lot of my writing in that forum, it’s  been ingrained in me that writing as much as you can is important so that you can later go back and trim the fat, so to speak. You have to have a lot to work with before you can actually work with it.

The author of the post says that he believes quality is most important specifically when practicing your writing. This implies, I think, that you have to get things right on your first try. That’s simply not possible. In my Theories of Composing course, we’ve been discussing the idea that some theorists have that when you sit down to write, you will write your final draft immediately. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. I’m a big believer in “shitty first drafts,” as Anne Lamott might say. You have to write badly before you can write well. And oftentimes, that bad writing that you produce is produced in large quantities.

But that’s a good thing! Because then you can retrace your steps, edit the bad writing that you’ve produced, and make it into something of quality. To do that, though, you have to write in quantity. You might throw away a lot of what you produced, but you’ll be throwing away the bad parts and you’ll have enough that you’re able to throw bad parts away. The author of this Write for Your Life post says that “the bits inbetween periods of writing” is what really matters because that’s when you’re perfecting what you’ve written. But I would argue that you can’t get to that point without first writing in quantity.

What do you think? Is quality or quantity most important when writing? Leave your opinion in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

Fun for Nerds: Unconventional Typewriters

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Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890, Danish inventor, minister and principal at the Royal Institute for the Deaf-mutes, reads the website of the Malling-Hansen Society. I’m sure this man contributed much to the education and aid of deaf-mutes, but I’m afraid he will only be remembered for one thing: the writing ball.

Image source: http://http://www.malling-hansen.org

The tech, culture, and books blog, Boing Boing, featured an intriguing invention this morning that I simply had to click on to learn more about. Turns out that this device is called a writing ball. After poring over the instructions for its use for quite some time and trying to study the mechanics of the writing ball solely from this photo, I still can’t figure out how it works. Boing Boing did highlight this passage from the writing ball’s webpage for explanation on how it works:

The whole apparatus (the writing ball included) is mounted on a stationary foundation plate in such a way that it can be moved down against a spring, when the writing ball or one of its pistons are forced down by the finger. The foundation plate has an upright anvil under the centre of the ball and directly under the paper frame. When a knob of a type piston is depressed, the paper resting on the anvil, below the same receives an impression. When the finger pressure on the type piston knob is removed, the instrument swings into its normal position. The escapement mechanism moved the paper frame that held the paper on space until the end of the line was reached. By pushing the button on the left in front of the ball all the way down, the carriage was turned concentrically back to the beginning of the line and moved one line to the left.

See what I mean? Confusing. The Malling-Hansen Society’s website claims that this writing ball was the superior typewriter design, but it did not succeed commercially. At least, not when it was first invented. In 2007, the site states, the writing ball was sold by collector Uwe Breker for 80,000 Euros. If only Malling-Hansen could know somehow what his writing ball sold for in this age of admiration for oddities.

Know of any interesting designs for everyday inventions that we use? Post them in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

Fun for Nerds

 

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If you’ve found this literary journal blog, there’s a chance that you’ve been called a “nerd” once or twice in your life. I know that I’ve been called a nerd, and I’ve self-branded myself as a nerd as well. Personally, I wear that badge with pride because “nerdy” things are the things I like the most in life.

In this first installment of Fun for Nerds, we have an article from the website boingboing, which features fun news stories about technology, culture, and games. Earlier this week, boingboing posted a video entitled People and Their Desks. This is a fun short film about how creative people organize their desks.

Personally, I know that my desk is an important part of my life and my creative process. I’ve surrounded myself, through my desk, with the things that inspire me and put me in a creative mood. I have a shelf over my desk, which I’ve filled with some of my favorite books. I have a calendar, of course, plenty of pens (I’m something of a pen addict), and my paper journal is there as well. The desk is, naturally, close to an outlet for premium laptop charging, since I do virtually all of my writing on my laptop.

So, check out this short film and then comment about what your creative space looks like. What’s the space you have now and what would be your ideal creative space? How different are they?

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan

A Poem in My News Feed: Alan Dugan

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Before I talk about the poem that Slate featured this week in their online magazine, I wanted to address something that Dr. Jackie White pointed out in her comment on last week’s poem from Slate. Dr. White, for those of you who don’t know, is the chair of the English Department at Lewis University. On last week’s post, Dr. White mentioned that it’s quite natural for poetry and politics to be linked, and she mentioned poems throughout history that are very closely linked to political movements.  Dr. White has an excellent point here, one that I neglected to pick up on in my post, and I just wanted to mention it. I urge you to go and read her comment because she gives some great examples of poetry and political movements intertwining.

The poem featured this week by Slate, the online magazine, is entitled “On Finding Bloodstains in My Notebook After a Bad Party,” by Alan Dugan. Alan Dugan wrote many books of poetry in his lifetime and won several awards including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Dugan passed away in 2003.

Because Dugan is no longer with us, his poem is read by Robert Pinsky, who served as the United States poet laureate from 1997 to 2000.

Upon reading simply the title of the poem, I called up images of a dinner party’s aftermath, with scrawled words on a notebook page and spilled drinks in the dining room. The actual poem, however, presents a very different image. As I read the poem, I picked up on many nautical images such as mariners, knives, maps, the sea, and islands. It’s interesting to me that the title made me think one thing, and the poem itself made me think something completely different.

Since the poem is read by Pinsky, and not Dugan, the original author, this brings up the question of whether it is as “pure” as a reading from Dugan himself. Last week, Slate showcased a piece by Paul Breslin and Breslin read the poem himself, so he knew all the nuances and pauses and what they meant. If a person other than the author reads a poem aloud, can we be getting the full effect?

Perhaps not, but I would argue that we’re getting an even more interesting reading. Authors may not like the poem in question, they may wish they could go back and change it, they may be critical even as they’re reading it. A second party reader, however, is reading the poem just as we, the audience, would read it. Perhaps this second party reader adores the poem and doesn’t care if it has faults that only the author would pay attention to it. When a second party reads an author’s poem aloud, we get the same kind of reading that we would get if we were simply sitting down to read it ourselves.

Which do you prefer: a poem read by the author himself (or herself), or a poem read by someone else? Which do you think offers the most beneficial interpretation of the piece? Also, what do you think is the connection between poems and their titles? Leave your opinions in the comments!

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan

Societal Literature: Chain Letters, etc.

 

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There was an interesting article on Slate.com today that discussed the history of the chain letter, that dreaded and compelling piece of mail — or email — that we’ve all received at least once in our lives.  The article gives some intriguing stories about the first chain letters and notable chain letters throughout time.

This article made me think about all the kinds of societal literature that exists in our lives. Societal literature would encompass text messages, emails, Facebook comments, Tweets on Twitter, blog posts, ads or commercials, graffiti, and large-scale performance art or exhibits like ‘The Gates‘ — a site-specific art project — in New York City. All of these are ‘texts,’ so to speak, that we observe in our lives and analyse without even thinking about it.

During my time in college, I’ve had several professors introduce this concept to me — that things we wouldn’t necessarily think of as literature could be literature. I can understand why people would be trepedatious about  labeling something like a misspelled text message under the umbrella of ‘literature.’ But things have always been that way, there have always been new types of technology encroaching on our lives.

Two hundred years ago, professors and intellectuals were worried about the scourge that postcards and typewriters would have on the quality of our language. The exact same situation is taking place with text messages and Twitter. I can’t say that I appreciate when words are hideously misspelled or abbreviated in texts, and I don’t have a Twitter account, but I can see the merit of those modes of technology. They facilitate a new exchange of ideas and texts that we never could have imagined. They open up our language into new avenues that can only be beneficial in the long run.

What is your opinion on the idea of societal literature? Do you think we can consider these types of things — texts, emails, blogs, ads, graffiti, etc — as a form of literature in our fast-moving society? In addition, have you ever received a chain letter? What do you think is so compelling about them that makes us pass them on?

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan

A Poem Popped Up in My News Feed

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So, it appears that the online magazine, Slate, offers a poem read by the author every week. I’ve been subscribed to Slate for about a year now to get updates on the political news content. But this morning, as I was scrolling through their posts, I noticed there was a poem amongst them! This was a bit of a shock to me because when I think Slate, I think politics. And when I think ‘politics,’ my mind definitely does not jump to ‘poetry.’ Yet, here we are.

This week, Slate featured poetry from Paul Breslin. Paul Breslin is a Professor of English at the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences at Northwestern University. Yes, the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. What luck that the first time I notice Slate features poetry, the poet is from Northwestern, which is so nearby! Paul Breslin has written many books and won many awards, all of which you can read about at this link.

There is something special about hearing a poet actually read his or her work aloud. Because they are the ones who wrote the poetry, they know where the stops and pauses belong, they know how to pronounce all the words, and they know where to lay emphasis in order to wring the emotion out of you as intended. I would argue that you haven’t fully experienced a poem until you’ve heard it actually read by the poet him or herself.

In this week’s featured virtual poetry slam, Paul Breslin reads seven of his poems in a column called “Seven Octets,” so named because each of the seven poems consists of  eight lines. You might think that would get boring, the same format over and over, but Breslin changes the visual layout of those lines as well as the rhyme scheme over all seven poems.

The poems Breslin reads seem to flow in a rollercoaster fashion, beginning at the low end with his childhood memories, cresting at a peak with his middle-aged life involving the purchase of his own house, and then ending once more at the low end with more remembrances from his childhood.

My personal favorite of all seven poems is “Primal House” because it ties together all of the others, in a way, with the remembrance of childhood memories weaving into the speaker’s adult life. The mention of grief and loss recalls the final two poems, which mention the speaker’s dad. This begs the question of whether the grief and loss the speaker felt as a three-year-old, in that first house, was caused by his father.

Some very interesting poems here from Paul Breslin. I’d encourage you to check them out and definitely listen to Breslin actually read the poems himself. They gain a whole new meaning when you hear a voice put the author’s name.

— Honeycomb Editor, Mary Egan