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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Talent or Attentiveness?

Some academic writers are so insecure about their ability to create meaningful written utterances in their native language that they are almost paralyzed. What a talent for writing really is, though, is a kind of attentiveness. The ability to notice when a sentence isn't quite right, to learn one's own bad habits and learn how to compensate for them. One of the main talents I have is to look at a sentence I have written and see whether it says what I want it to say, exactly; whether it flows from the previous sentences and into the next ones, etc... I don't think the first sentences I write are any better than anyone else's. Here is a paragraph I found in something I am writing:
What if Spain really is different? Neurosis into ordinary unhappiness. A mystified, romantic notion of Spanish identity with the knowledge that its problems are very similar to that of any other part of the word in the crucible of modernity. In other words, it is a difference that simply is what it is. I am asking that differences not be fetishized for mystified (it is not accident that one of the tropes of Spanish identity is mysticism itself).
This is mind-bogglingly crappy writing, complete with incomplete sentences. Nobody but me would know what I mean by any of this.

So this kind of talent is at the opposite extreme from the conception of talent as being able to write the sentence or paragraph perfectly, every time, the first time around, with little effort. I don't know any academic writer who has that talent!

This means that writing is a kind of attentive reading. Aha!


Vance Maverick said...

These ideas seem close to Csíkszentmihályi's "flow" as it's usually described. Do you know if any of his writings on this are worth reading? Or is it a case of dancing about architecture?

Jonathan said...

I don't know him, but I think these ideas are in wide circulation. I'm sure you could listen to his ted talk and see if you want to read him after that.

Vance Maverick said...

Yeah, the fact that he has a TED talk is somewhat discouraging. I'll look at one of the books and see if there's more there than good intentions.

Jonathan said...

Now that I have heard his TED talk I realize I have listened to it before but didn't remember his name. His summary is kind of banal and doesn't tell me anything I didn't already know.