Writing style hinders message delivery
This is a belated response to the "Marriage decaying in society" column on Sept. 30. I recognize that the art of writing is not simple. At its easiest, when hypomanic or mildly drunk or, even better, both, the words seem to fall onto the paper like rain. At the other end of the spectrum, writing can become demonic — a winding trek through a desert of ideas or a troubling exercise of what you feel you can do vs. when it is actually due.
That said, there is a certain pain in reading the author's column. I have never heard mention of "the sanction of marriage," at least not by anybody defending the institution. I doubt it was the writer's intent to insult what I presume to be the "sanctity" of marriage, as she states elsewhere, but I do tend to get lost in the language she uses. She claims that marriage seems to be seen by many as "a feckless relationship that can be evacuated" when it becomes stressful. Add to this "ephemeral," "embracement," "frisson-filled" and "obnubilate" — a sample of the words peppered throughout her column — and I find myself wondering whether the writer is trying to impress the Merriam-Webster, shift+F7 crowd much more than she may be attempting to communicate with The Daily Targum's readership.
The author also distances the reader through her style. She states "mainstream American media glorifies centralizing personal desires and goals, which simultaneously mocks altruism and, in effect, damages marriages." This sentence is either redundant, nonsensical, teetering or hell, all three. This same leaden, overwrought style pervades her writing and, again, distances her from the audience that I believe she is trying to reach.
The net effect of this is that the style trumps the substance, far outweighing any meaning she is trying to convey. It alienates the audience because it is overwritten and jumbled with words that are either misused or nearly archaic. It is quite plain that, by using these devices, the writer is attempting to overcompensate for the lack of a clear, articulate argument and/or a lack of confidence in her own abilities.
I can only provide the guidelines given me. Write what you like, what inspires you, what you know. Keep your audience in mind. Do not even think of revising until a draft is finished. Use a thesaurus only when medically necessary — at this point, you probably have a large native vocabulary and a facility for rewording — and, if you do, check the word's proper usage in the dictionary. If you have doubts about your work, ask a close, blunt, literate friend to critique, and, most importantly, read. This may seem an insane suggestion to the already-beleaguered undergrad but read 20 or so pages a day of Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird," an excellent, humorous resource about writing, or any of the works of H.L. Mencken, as close to a master of the written word as you'll find in journalism, pungent, controversial and often hilarious to boot. To put it simply, you cannot know how to write unless you read.
No sane person will state that quality writing is intuitive and easy. Like every other skill, it takes practice and study. Otherwise, writing becomes a mindless chore like dusting and a pain and a bore to the reader who can just turn the page.
Doug Osoba is a Rutgers College alumnus from the class of 2000.