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Scott Lax Blog

How Do You Stay Afloat in an Ocean of Bad Writing?

There's so much bad writing on the Internet that I feel compelled to advise aspiring writers to ignore ninety-eight percent of it when it comes to learning to write.

If you're an aspiring author, and most of what you're reading comes from amateur blogs and badly or non-edited Web sites, I'm afraid you'll pick up a lot of bad habits. Your noble desire to learn to write well may drown in an ocean of polluted writing.

Put it this way: If you wanted to learn to play drums, you would need to watch, listen to and learn from great drummers. You wouldn't want to copy choppy paradiddles from the local rock knocker at the corner bar that's pounding away to "Moon Dance." (Sorry, but as a former professional drummer "Moon Dance" a good song, but with a cliched, deadly boring drum part, made to order for amateurs.) If you want to be a good or great drummer you should listen to Buddy Rich or John Bonham or any number (there are many) of great jazz and rock and blues drummers.

If you want to be a good or great writer, you need to read good and great writing. Go to the bookstore or library and get good books. Don't learn style from tweeters and bloggers. Learn style and usage from Strunk & Whites THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, not from amateurs that use substitute snark for prose.

Or you can learn from good or great writing teachers. They exist. But do your homework -- read their work and/or hear what others have said about them. Just because they have a Ph.D. or M.F.A. after their names does not necessarily make them good writing teachers -- or good writers.

And if you want to learn to write well, read well. Read often. Think about what you read and why it works and why it moves you.

And then, of course, practice. Just as if you want to play drums, after you hear and study with the good and the greats, you have to practice drums. So it is with writing, too. Read More 

Writing Perspectives & Wicked Curveballs

In an interview in "The Paris Review," Truman Capote said, "Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself."

In other words: Creativity without an underlying discipline and order tends to read as chaos. When you've learned the basics of grammar, usage and style -by all means, break the rules if you want, or bend them; use wild, original colorings and shadings in your writing, if that's what suits you and your work.

Think of a baseball pitcher with a screaming fastball and wicked curveball. If he or she can't get it over the plate, though, he or she will be off the team and throwing his or her pitches against an old barn somewhere.

First, get it over the plate.  Click for a selection of Scott's print and online magazine columns, essays, and features