Compassion, Existence, Philosophy, Spinal Cord Injury, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Writing Prose-y

Of late, I’ve been writing a lot. These have been of the erudite sort, research papers and such. Hence, my predisposition to thinking about the process and how my toolbox of writing “utensils” has grown over the years.

A few years ago I read a book about writing that changed my approach to putting words on a page. The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White, opened my eyes to how BAD my writing skills were (not hitting greatness yet either).

To keep my ego in check, I’ll just say that I’m a lot better at seeing the errors I make. I can see where I make mistakes and know how to improve poorly written sentences, etc. As important, I know how to help other people with their writing, because of the tips and tricks that Strunk & White in their awesome wisdom have imparted on me.

Of course, as an academic, the things I write are (for the most part) very technical and, to the layman, boring. That is because we write to convey information in its purest form. I can be creative only in that I don’t sacrifice objective communication. No fancy prose. For example, I can’t say this:

“After spinal cord injury, neurons met a spectacular end, never to regrow again–that is, until we came along.”

I’d lose my job if I wrote stuff like that. Instead, I have to resort to mediocre stuff like: “We observed neuronal death following spinal cord injury.”

Yes, science is predicated upon good, wholesome facts from-me-to-you writing styles. I guess this is where this blog post comes into play. I have the freedom to write whatever about my work (or my life and opinions) without the editorial axe murderer chopping my head off for prose-y things.

Anyway, writing should be fun, refreshing, a place of security and vulnerability at the same time; and for many of us who like to do it a lot; somewhat painful in a very, very good way.

Writing sounds a bit like love. 

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4 thoughts on “Writing Prose-y

  1. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one to have scanned or pored over The Elements of Style. It’s helpful but Robert’s Rules I’d say, rules for more funky writing. I’m glad to stumble upon a neuro-scientist who writes. Oliver Sacks is in good company.

  2. I think I good piece of academic work is clear and concise, and I do feel a sense of self satisfaction if I manage to achieve this. I find that academic science writing does tend to restrict my creativity though, as I get hung up on the details of sentence structure and grammar etc. I worry that after my PhD all my ‘creative neurons’ will be pruned away! So I’m blogging to see if I can hold onto both the academic and creative styles of writing. Maybe that’s a love of writing – being able to write in any style? Ultimately, I’d love to be able to write my academic work in a truly accessible form, but I’m not sure if this is possible…

  3. I’m very struck by your comparison of writing with love – very true. The slightly compulsive element of both fits in there too. Thanks – made me think of it a new way!

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