Missing Mojo

Wow. It’s been more than a month. I’ve been especially productive at work lately, which kinda drains the writing mojo out of me most of the time. I’ve got stuff to say, but the connections between my brain and my fingertips kind of get white-noisy after I’ve written all day.

Work is the same, mostly, except I’ve been picking up more of these hey-if-you-have-a-moment tasks, which I seriously don’t mind. They tend to pile up though, while I do the main stuff of my job, and then I get a little stressed. I find it all satisfying, which pleases me.

Many years ago, I tried to explain to Reid why Larry McMurtry is such an amazing writer. I envy a lot of writers, and McMurtry is maybe at the top of the list — not because I want to write what he writes (I don’t), but because his writing is clearer than anyone’s. “Do you know how difficult it is to do what he does?” I asked. His response, which I didn’t like then and don’t like now although I kinda accept it, was, “The fact that something is difficult doesn’t make it great.” Fair enough.

For the past fifteen years or so, clarity has been my primary focus, and I think it’s paid off. I’m still not even in McMurtry’s area code, but if I can point proudly to one thing in my professional writing, it’s readability, an offshoot of clarity. And this past month, I’ve had a few reasons to look at my work and be proud. Which of course is rather satisfying.

The problem with writing very clearly is that people don’t notice clarity in writing and consequently they don’t care about it. Which means they don’t appreciate it or value it. I have a few coworkers (including my supervisor, thank goodness) who’ve seen what I do with the stuff they send me for editing and understand. They’re sorta in the minority though. Most people see the grammar and spelling corrections, not the corrections I make for flow, so they think what I do is a matter of knowing the mechanics.

It’s true I know the mechanics in a way I can’t explain, not quite in the way a gifted musician can compose music without knowing music theory, but something like it. I don’t know stuff English majors are supposed to know, like what the present imperfect tense is, or what the difference is between intransitive and transitive verbs. I do know what the language is supposed to look like and sound like, and that’s gotten me by most of the time.

However, since that stuff has just always come to me, probably from years of locking myself in my room and reading, rather than learning how to throw a ball or dance with girls, I’m unimpressed with myself for it. Editing for readability? That’s freaking difficult. Especially when I edit so many academics’ writing.

No one has ever asked me for an example, but I have one at the ready. There’s a school within the University of Hawaii called SOEST. The School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

This is the closest thing to a verbal version of FOIL (remember that from algebra 1?) I’ve ever seen. It’s a school. Check. What kind of school? A school of science and technology. In what realms? Ocean and earth. So it’s a school of ocean science, ocean technology, earth science, and earth technology. They condensed the whole thing down into something that needs parentheses, not in a language way but in a mathematical way: The School of (Ocean and Earth) (Science and Technology). FOIL it baby: first, outer, inner last.

If this doesn’t drive you mad, please be driven mad at least on my behalf. Have some sympathy: this is the kind of thing I have to work with all the time.

All of which is to illustrate that what I kick major butt at in my job is rewriting all this stuff in a way that makes sense to a general audience, in a way that reads smoothly and easily. This is the truly difficult part of my work, and with the exception of those few coworkers (and my supervisor, thank goodness), people don’t appreciate it.

Although Reid is probably right: the fact that it’s difficult doesn’t make it good. Or valuable, necessarily.

I’ve gone through quite a bit of agony over this, these past few months. I probably will again. For now, though, I’ve found a nice peaceful space where I’m proud of it on my own, and where I’m grateful for the appreciation I do get from coworkers whom I love, even if those coworkers aren’t the ones who decide how much I get paid.

I look back on the work I produced this past month and a half and I feel freaking good. I’ll take it.

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