Sparse Prose


English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...

English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Lloyd Arnold at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Weekly Writing Challenge asks “Go back through your blog archives and find a bloated, nasty, air-filled paragraph. Copy it in all it’s former glory into a new post. Paste it a second time so that you can edit it until it cries for mercy and we can see the strong, shiny, new version below. Strip out the adverbs, replace weak verbs with strong verbs, axe the bloated phrasery that takes up space and yet says nothing.”

It adds “Editing takes practice. Self-editing can be especially difficult because it’s often hard to see the problems with our own writing. Perseverance pays off — keep at it — the lean and mean prose you produce will be worth the effort.”

That’s true. Editing does take practice. Truth is that this exercise isn’t going to be easy for me as I’ve had practice. I spent several years as a magazine editor with some hard teachers. The two copy editors I worked with had both previously worked at a good newspaper and were patient teachers.

When I finished I could write tight prose and had little problem cutting a magazine contribution by a quarter. When I post something on this blog it’s already had a tight edit.

That said lets give it a try. First the original.

From “My Baby Pillow And Meditation”

The first baby pillow caused a huge rumpus; when my mother was at the University studying one weekend my father had to call the doctor and he mentioned how dirty my baby pillow was. My Dad took it upon himself to get rid of it. After he had thrown it into the incinerator my mother came home to discover a four year old frantic and screaming so the sewing machine came out and with an old throw pillow contributing the filling and a tablecloth contributing the black and white check cotton a new one (with one of the old baby pillowcases on it) was rushed into service. Mum said she first spent ten minutes telling my father exactly what she thought of his intelligence and thinking then not talking to him for two days.

Now for an edit.

My first baby pillow caused a real rumpus. Mum was out Saturday. My father had to call the doctor for me. He called my pillow “dirty”. Dad got rid of it in the incinerator and Mum arrived to a four year old frantic and screaming. The sewing machine came out, a throw pillow gave up the filling and a black and white check tablecloth the cover. The new one, with an old pillowcase on it, was rushed into service. Mum gave Dad her thoughts on his intelligence for ten minutes then the cold shoulder for two days.

134 words to 97. Not bad, I think I’ll take that. I’m not sure that the second version is better but it is tighter. The Weekly Writing Challenge named Ernest Hemingway as known for his “unadorned, sparse prose style” and so before attempting this edit I dragged ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ off the shelves and read a few pages. To me my edited version feels more like Papa Hemingway’s style than my own and I think I was subconsciously going for that when I did my edit.

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Kicking Goals


WordPress dashboard interface

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “When you started your blog, did you set any goals? Have you achieved them? Have they changed at all?”

What a question? I’ve had a blog for many years.

If you go back to my first blog then it was really just a pace on the ‘net I could call my own. It had some non-fiction, some fiction and a couple of tech articles.

My second blog was built when I bought my domain name, honestpuck.com, which I decided I needed since the name Tony Williams is far too common and I needed an alias less common. It was both a place for me to collect all my book reviews, and back then I was writing a lot of reviews of technical books, and a place for me to play with blogging software.

After several different blogging systems I spent a lot of time hacking on blosxom as at that time I was really enjoying Perl but at about the same time the rate at which I was writing book reviews was slipping I was becoming tired of Perl and switched to a self-hosted WordPress blog.

After that the aim of my blog was to develop an audience for some more technical posts and it wasn’t really successful. Developing an audience for a tech blog is hard and slow. That incarnation of my blog slowly died through inattention and a lack of an audience.

About two years ago my anxiety and depression started to develop some strength. I’ve suffered from both to some degree for many years and back then they started gaining strength again. My work and my relationship suffered. Then a little over a year ago my relationship collapsed and I went through some extremely hard times with my ex-partner. Severe major depression was one result.

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Are Your Paragraphs Too Long?


Paragraph-(capitulum)

Paragraph-(capitulum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today Lorelle (if you blog you should be reading ‘Lorelle on WordPress’) had a post giving excellent advice on paragraph length.

To distill the post to it’s essence:

Most people find the shorter length paragraphs easier to read on the web.

In traditional writing, paragraphs could go on for pages without breaking, as could run-on sentences, taking the reader on a journey across many words and pages, turning the page as the eye scans the story, gobbling up every word.

Few writers on the web can get away with that form on their sites.

In Colorado, I found a newspaper with an editorial policy that every sentence must be a paragraph.

All the news was reported in one sentence per paragraph.

Not a single paragraph featured more than one sentence.

It was painful to read.

I felt choppy, distracting, and quite uncomfortable.

You are probably feeling that way after reading the above example sentences, one per paragraph.

While I agree with the conclusion that we should write short paragraphs I disagree that traditional writing tends to have longer sentences and paragraphs.

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Pillow, Pig, Bears and Snoopy


Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt was “Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — whoever — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a verb. There’s your post title! Now write.”

So I turned to my daughter on the couch next to me and asked the question. Fortunately she’s studying linguistics so she knew what an article was. After a couple of false tries, she kept on choosing a noun instead of a verb (you can’t blame her, the brain tries to make a phrase), she gave me “the cuddly sleeping”. So here goes.

I have some strange habits, a few that are almost lifelong. In a previous post, My Baby Pillow And Meditation, I talked about my baby pillow without confessing that I slept with it every night until I was fairly old, about ten, when it was replaced by a brown corduroy pig.

The corduroy pig was left behind on a trip to Canberra when I was thirteen. I remember two things from that trip to Canberra. First, how disappointed I was to see the college, Bruce Hall, where my brother had lived. I expected something like the colleges of Oxford or Cambridge I had read about and seen in movies. Second, I remember Jane Simpson reading me an Asterix book that was in French. Jane went on to do a Doctorate at MIT, taught Linguistics at Sydney Uni for many years and is now a Professor back at ANU.

The habit continued, I needed something cuddly to clutch to my chest while sleeping. There was a bear, perhaps two, before someone gave me a cuddly Snoopy doll and for twenty years there was a succession of them. Each replaced once it got too old, dirty and worn. The last Snoopy currently has a proud place on the chest of drawers in my bedroom, he was replaced by a bear given to me by a girlfriend about twelve years ago.

There has been a period of a few years when I lived with Sonia where I didn’t need that worn, old bear but after she left me the need was back.

For my fiftieth birthday Sonia gave me a bear that wears a woollen jumper embroidered “Happy 50th Birthday Tony”. She may have left me but her gift is now the cuddly sleeping partner.

Mine, All Mine


Writing on the gate Verse written over the lych gate.

Writing on the gate Verse written over the lych gate.

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? How do you balance that? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it?”

An interesting question. The truth is that this site is almost entirely written for myself. It’s the act of writing that I love and this blog provides an excellent venue.

I write because I enjoy writing. In a previous post I wrote:

I blog because you provide me an audience for some of my writing and I can’t not write. Words to me are just like breathing – I read them in and I write them out.

That’s the core of this blog, it’s not written explicitly for you but instead because I am a writer. At the same time you, my reader, are essential as every art requires an audience.

In a perfect world I’d get more feedback, a little constructive criticism in the comments perhaps. At the same time the growing number of visitors and followers tells me I must be doing something right.

Is it designed to attract readers? No, it’s not really designed to attract readers. It doesn’t have a common thread to all the writing though I guess my reviews of the plays I see and the books I read would be the core. I also have a tendency to answer the daily prompt and the weekly writing challenge so that also gives this blog a certain feel.

Would I alter the blog to triple readership? I don’t think I’d change for increased readership but I might consider it for increased feedback. I really enjoy getting comments, even those that disagree with me, and I’d appreciate finding a way to increase feedback.

Why? Why Blog? Why Write? Why Breathe?


Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Why? With me it all comes down to the same question, why do I breathe, why do I exist?

I blog because you provide me an audience for some of my writing and I can’t not write. Words to me are just like breathing – I read them in and I write them out.

Even when I’m being paid to do other work I can’t help but write. At one job where I was employed as a systems administrator we ended up with the best documented systems you’ve ever seen, I journaled everything I did and wrote up a page or two for every decision made.

I have to write, it’s in my blood. If I don’t set aside some time each day to write I find myself writing sentences in my head, I’ll be looking at someone in the street and the words to describe them or their actions spring to mind.

If I’m doing nothing before you know it the laptop is in front of me and words are coming out. When I’m watching TV or a movie gets a little boring I’ll grab the iPad or Air and start tapping away.

A fair amount of what I write never sees light of day. You can see that I currently write two blogs and at any given time I have half a dozen blog posts percolating in the background being researched and written. Some of those posts are abandoned before publication, either they are too time sensitive and their time has passed or I never get them in a form I feel happy with.

Most of my writing is slow and goes through many drafts and edits before you see it. A blog post will be worked on for a few days at least, if it is one of my more researched posts then it will be a week or more.

That’s one of the reasons I quite like these “Daily Prompts” from the editors at WordPress.com, they provide a quick prompt for a quick blog post. For a “Daily Prompt” I write a quick five to eight hundred words, put them aside for fifteen minutes to half an hour before giving them an edit and posting them.

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The Haberfield Restaurant – Weekly Writing Challenge


Macchiato

Macchiato (Photo credit: Joshua Rappeneker)

Among the four men at the table he stood out. I don’t know if it was the huge smile or the boom in his voice or just that he was the brighter of the two men facing me. I’d seen him and his companions there before, almost always at the same table. The short cut, black and gray hair was in a slightly unruly wave. The face was lined with age without being too old or sad, it was just the face of a man who had known a few years while keeping happy and healthy. It was a dark face and I imagined him as a man who had worked outside, perhaps a building trade. He had on a white T-shirt with something printed on the front in black that was almost entirely hidden under the ‘azzuro’ blue nylon jacket emblazoned with a round logo containing a white ’N’ he wore over it. I’d even seen the jacket before, it must have been a favourite. I’m far too inquisitive and a few short moments with my phone and Google led me to discover the Napoli football team so I guessed that was where he had grown up, Naples, the southern Italian port.

The four were talking a mix of English and Italian, but the man who held my interest was speaking almost exclusively Italian and so fast I could only understand a few words given his speed and my bad Italian. I always wanted to understand more as he smiled and laughed.

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Wandering No More


Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo

I

Acheron’s waters wash me
Till Lethe slakes my thirst.
Eris breaks my mind
And the Maniae have moved in.

I am old with wandering
And cannot keep you safe.
I go to dance in a place apart
where even the old are fair.

I am not even an attendant lord, 
no Rosencrantz or Guildenstern,
but just a rude mechanical 
to dig a grave or play a wall.

This golden apple is not mine,
It passed to you awhile.
Keep it safe and close to you
Till time and times are done.

II

Now it lies in your hands and here we are,
At this moment where the dancer is and the dance.
The falcon in his gyre makes his turn 
through the past, the passing and the still to come.

Mind not mind, but that which is not mind,
Desiccation of the world of order,
Evacuation of the world of truth,
Inoperancy of the world of mind.

Hamlet’s question holds my mind while 
At my back cold blasts I feel.
I wish to strive, to seek, to find and 
Not to yield. The centre will hold,
For there you are, my golden light.

Published with (huge) apologies to W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot. I have torn and mangled and misquoted but they both inspire.

Like all my attempts at anything but non-fiction prose I am still not entirely happy with this but I post it nonetheless. It’s been three weeks ruminating and writing so I feel it’s now or never.

Iconic


A photo of an iconic picture. Arnold "Jack" Williams on the Bridge.

A photo of an iconic picture. Arnold “Jack” Williams on the Bridge.

I live in Sydney and in this town there are two things that can be described as “iconic” – when I was very young living a hundred miles north it was only one but then they built the Opera House. The first iconic landmark was the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Since 1932 the Sydney Harbour Bridge has joined the city of Sydney to the suburbs of the North Shore. It’s easily recognised not just for the central role it plays in transport — every New Year’s Eve it provides the focus for the first big fireworks display in the world with fireworks shooting up from it’s pylons and arch while more cascade from the deck.

A bridge across the harbour had long been dreamed of before it was finally built. Francis Greenway, a notable architect in the young colony of NSW, first proposed it in 1820. A century had to pass before construction started in 1922.

It was in 1928 that construction of the steel arch of the bridge started but by then Arnold “Jack” Williams had been a foreman rigger on the construction for just over a year. Jack wanted the high wages of the Bridge crew to support his wife and then his baby sons, in 1930 he was taking home twenty nine pounds a week when a carpenter, painter or plumber was getting four and a half.

By the time the bridge was opened on Saturday March 19, 1932 a lot had changed for Jack. He now had two small sons and his wife had left him, taking off to Perth with a sailor. He’d done well though, he was now a foreman rigger.

That Saturday was a big day, the culmination of years of work for many and Jack was filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment at what he had helped achieve. Jack wanted to share that pride with his sons but Roy was still too young, Eric at three and a half might appreciate the celebrations so Jack made a decision. Eric would come along with Jack to the opening including the march by the workers across the Bridge before it opened.

Years later Eric didn’t remember anything about that day but he did remember his father telling him that Jack had carried him on his shoulders for the march. It was one of those family stories, the ones you’re never sure are real but you sure do want them to be true.

Eric did well for himself too. Jack had made sure that all three of his sons got a good education and Eric had risen high in the steel company that had given him a traineeship to put him through University and lived in a unit right on Sydney Harbour where you could see the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Then in 1982 there were celebrations for the Bridge’s 50th Anniversary including a documentary. In the documentary there was some film of the opening celebrations including that worker’s march. There, about half way along the marching workers, was a lean man in his early thirties carrying on his shoulders a small boy.

So I live in Sydney where the Sydney Harbour Bridge is more than iconic, it’s probably the most recognised landmark in the country. To me though it has a special place in my heart, after all my Grandad carried my Dad across it to celebrate the construction all those years ago.

This post was written for the Weekly Writing Challenge entitled “Iconic”.