When a semester begins and academic energy runs high, we in the writing center sign up to lend something insightful to our humble blog archives. Invariably, I sign up for a late-semester date anticipating by then I’ll have something so original—nay, profound—splashing in the mental bucket, it will forever alter the lives of those who drink it in.
Alas, the well of profundity runs dry.
In these moments, I do what academics do. I borrow from other writers. (And, as any judicious academic does, I’ll give credit where it’s due. I’m indebted to Dr. Mardy Grothe and his collection, oxymoronica: paradoxical wit and wisdom from history’s greatest wordsmiths; HarperCollins, 2004).
In celebration of another semester of rigorous writing performed by persevering writers in the Marian E. Wright Writing Center, here are 15 gems sure to bring pause, a nod, or smile.
Mark Twain once penned, “It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense.” He would know.
William Hazlitt retorts, “The only impeccable writers are those who never wrote.” Critics be damned.
Dedicated to the self-doubters who frequent the WC, John Betjman offers, “I don’t think I’m any good. If I thought I was any good, I wouldn’t be.”
And to the self-confident Thomas Mann reminds, “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
John Steinbeck exhorts nonetheless: “A good writer always works at the impossible.”
To the procrastinators and “due date” driven among us (including yours truly) Karl Kraus reassures, “A journalist is stimulated by a deadline; he writes worse when he has time.”
Writing block? Gene Fowler mocks. “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper [or computer screen] until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Looking to turn a phrase? Jenny Holzer has a strategy: “To write a quality cliché you have to come up with something new.” See what she did there?
Wordy? Dr. Samuel Johnson’s counsel stings: “Read over your composition, and whenever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Ouch.
Similarly, Elmore Leonard adds, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Francis Bacon chided, “The most corrected copies are commonly the least correct.” That’ll rankle the Current Traditional crowd.
John Updike makes a case for proofreading: “There’s always something new by looking at the same thing over and over.” I wonder if he was an “out-loud” reader.
In honor of the lengthy collegiate research paper (not to mention this post), I’ll trumpet Thomas Carlyle: “The man is most original who can adapt from the greatest number of sources.”
And, in the event I erred in my representation or typing, I’ll invoke Hesketh Pearson: “Misquotations are the only quotations that are never misquoted.”
Finally, apropos to celebrate any writing’s conclusion are the words of Robert Burchfield (upon completion of the exhaustive Oxford English Dictionary): “To finish is both a relief and a release from an extraordinarily pleasant prison.” Perhaps you can relate.
Thanks to everyone for another memorable semester in the UM-Flint WC.