I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Posts Tagged ‘bad writing’

Day 1: It All Starts with God

Being LDS, this chapter grates a little. Not a lot, but the feeling is probably why I didn’t get further than the first chapter the last time I tried this.

Not that I disagree with any doctrinal point I can indicate here, at least, none which comes to mine. It’s the tone it strikes. (Also, I have a strong preference for the King James Version of the Bible — it’s what I’m comfortable with and I think it sounds better than any of the modern versions, which sound silly to me.)

No, I think the biggest thing that gets to me is this string of six words: “It’s far greater than your family.” And on the surface, that’s true. Ultimately, the Plan of God is much greater than my family. But what that sentence connotes is pretty disagreeable.

God’s purpose for me is inextricably intertwined with my family. Whatever ultimate plan He has for me, what He wants me to do, will have to do with my family. Yeah, it’s not just my family. But starting off with saying that it’s far greater than my family seems to turn my attention too far away from my family.

Also, our desires and interests are involved with the purpose God has for us. Our talents and abilities and passions can be used for God’s work, and there’s hardly a reason why he wouldn’t use that. Certainly we are required to align our will with the Lord’s, not the other way around. And if our values don’t match His, we have the wrong values. But when our hobbies, interests, and skills do not contradict His commandments, why wouldn’t an omnipotent Creator seek to use those abilities rather than have us ignore them? They’re part of the spiritual gifts He has given to us, after all.

However, a lot of that can seem like picking at nits. The main thrust of the chapter is to find our purpose from God. Just because I take issue with the feeling of his tone doesn’t mean that Warren is wrong in his meaning.

He’s right of course that unless the help is grounded in God’s plan, self-actualization isn’t going to get you to your purpose. He’s right that focusing on our own plan and will isn’t going to get us to fulfillment. If they are saying “I think” or “I believe” it’s not really coming from God’s word. And, in the end, his point to ponder is a good one. “It’s not about me.” It really isn’t.

Maybe I’m just a cynic, but the reasoning in the chapter is weak. The examples, while sometimes illustrative, aren’t very meaningful. And that’s irritating, because this chapter could have been so powerful. “There is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation.” That’s very strong. The word of God is powerful and sharper than any sword. Using it would be a lot more helpful than the simplistic examples I see here. Instead of telling us a story about being lost on a mountain to introduce a cliché phrase — skip the cliché and just tell us. Also: go light on the exclamation points. Putting one in doesn’t add power to your writing. It makes us think you wanted to add power, and if we don’t feel that power from the words themselves, we’ll be disappointed.

This is my problem. I read everything from a good writing analysis. And Warren is, honestly, not the best writer. And it’s hard for me (personally) to ignore when the flaws with his writing are so intimately connected with his message.

So now that this is out of the way, what about actual response to the message of this chapter?

The message is that it is futile to begin your search for meaning in any place but with God. You can achieve success, but not fulfill your purpose by looking elsewhere.

And I agree. I’m not sure that I’ve been the best practitioner of this concept however. I am very self absorbed. I look at my fulfillment primarily in my writing. This might not be the worst thing, but it doesn’t start with God, and it’s short lived. If I’m looking for long lasting change in how I feel about myself, I probably need to look more specifically at how God wants me to use this talent. What can I do to learn more about it.

Point to Ponder: “It’s not about me.”
Clearly, my attitude in the past has been, consciously or unconsciously, that it is about me. After all, it is me. I don’t expect anyone else to think it’s about me, but for me, it has been me. I’m going to make a conscious choice to try and look outside of me for purpose. Maybe it will make working easier, since I do that primarily for my wife and kids. But then, that’s still not thinking about starting in God, completely. It’s just a step closer than where I am. I’m hoping that the next 39 chapters will help me look to find other ways to make it less about me.

Verse to Remember: Colossians 1:16 – “all things were created by him, and for him.”
Note, I’m rendering these in the KJV, for my own reasons
Well, for Him, but didn’t He create the earth as a place for us to learn and grow? It’s to fulfill His plan for us, to save all His children. I guess I should see it as He didn’t create the earth just for me, but for all of us. And he has created so much more than just this earth. He cares for me, but as a specimen of His children, I’m a very small part of it all. He wants me to be there, but He wants my function to be about more than just me.

Question to Consider: “In spite of all the advertising around me, how can I remind myself that life is really about living for God, not myself?”
It’s a good question, and I don’t have an immediate answer. Prayer, however, is always an obvious answer. Praying as an act in itself should be a reminder of God’s presence in my life, and if I’m praying about His will, that should be a constant reminder that it’s not about me.

What Are You Writing For?

First of all perhaps I should disabuse you of the pseudo-scholarly nonsense that everyone’s opinion is of equal worth; it’s just not true. It’s as if people believe you don’t have to know anything about something to be able to say talk about it meaningfully. No, while it is true that everyone has a legal right to say anything they want to, in the name of good taste, some people should just please, please stop. I used to be somewhat of a libertarian, but since I’ve started writing this column I’ve started to believe that perhaps we need to legislate good sense.

What brought this on? The other day I wanted to find some good e-zines on the Internet. So I went to Google and executed a web search. Then, I executed a second web search that included a command to exclude the word “sex.” (If you don’t know why I had to do this, you need to do more web searches). I never found any good ones. If you know of some good e-zines, fell free to email me the address, because most of them suck.

What else brought this on? I read the Daily Universe a few times a week. Reading that even once is enough to send anyone on a rant (as you can tell if you read my last column). People who read, write for, and write to the Daily Universe are necessarily petty and lame. I provide no evidence for this, you have to read it to believe it.

So, in the interest of good taste and making it so I don’t have to hate everyone in Utah and on the Internet, I’ve come up with a list of guide lines for aspiring writers and web page makers. Note that this probably applies to all artists and multimedia gurus.

The first thing you should take into consideration is what your motivation is. Think about this. If you’re writing to make a living at it, get better before you tell everyone you’re worth publishing. If you’re doing it primarily for yourself, then please don’t inflict yourself on anyone else unless you realize what you’ve done is pure genius. If you’re doing it for the attention, then either be funny or have something insightful to say. If you’re writing because it’s glamorous, go to hell.

In short, don’t try to publicize your writing unless your writing is any good.

Here are some other tips:

A desperate need for attention is not sufficient time to waste a newspaper editor’s time. If you want to be published, don’t write a letter to the editor about how socks with sandals is tacky, or any other non-issue. (A corollary hint is that if the only option you have for publication is the school newspaper’s letters to the editor column, then you should just give up.)

If you are a sixteen-year-old posting on MySpace about how you like that guy in your math class, and Fluffy the cat was especially cute today, and mom is so mean because she grounded you even though you were only two hours late for curfew, and you were kissing that guy who’s too old for you but you didn’t use tongue, and your English teacher is mean, and the Gap has the cutest clothes, and that artist guy in your history is so creepy when he comes dressed in black, etc. JUST STOP NOW and never touch your computer again after you’ve deleted your web page and everything associated with it.

If the only thing you have for material for your web page is how old you are, where you go to school or work, and several unfunny pictures of your cat, don’t. (These last two reasons have led me to believe that it should be illegal for any girl under the age of 18 who has not had a CS class to publish a web page).

“Backstreet Boys Fan Fiction” is not a valid genre. Most fan fiction is not a valid genre.
Getting an idea from a good book does not mean that YOU will write a good book.

If you’re publishing on the web, make sure you provide links so a visitor reading can easily access the list of contents. Even better would be a link to the next story. (I’m referring here to online comic sites who think that a link to a .jpg or a .gif is sufficient ease of navigation. If your comics are in a certain order, please, please, please give me a “next” button.) Always remember that web surfers are lazy; otherwise they’d be outside playing. They don’t want to take the trouble to hit the “back” button in their browser every 30 seconds.
Format! (And make sure your colors contrast so people can actually read it. “Pretty” does not mean “legible.”)

In poetry, “free verse” does not mean “whatever obnoxious whim took me.” It means the meter and rhyme are determined by contextual artistic concerns, not a predefined format.

Please remember that this is only a partial list. Just keep in mind that when you write, you should be focusing on quality, even if you don’t want to be professional. I really would like to see a lot more amateur writing on the web and in the print world. But if you’re going to be published, you’ve got to think about someone other than yourself.