April 8, 2015
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Good Writing

A lot of harm is done by the notion of “good writing.”

Right now, I’m reviewing a big pile of papers for Web Science 2015. Many of these are dull and clumsy. The authors are not dull and clumsy – at least, the notional authors, the professors I know; many of the words are set down by students, no doubt, and so few people actually pay attention to the research literature that I suppose it can seem pointless to revise the text when, after all, one could be writing the next paper instead.

A lot of this writing is bad because it’s too careful: it adheres to tired formulae, it makes no particular claims, it takes no risks. The papers seem to know that no one will pay much attention, to aspire chiefly to avoid being noticed and culled as tall poppies.


On the flight home from a ghastly Chicago trip I started The Fault In Our Stars, another book that every teenage girl has read but I have not. It’s an interesting contrast to Rainey Royal and Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue: the sentences are not terribly interesting, the imagery is not remarkably original. Nothing much happens and nobody wants anything very much, and yet somehow it’s a page-turner.

In light of all the storming fulmination over “fun” in SF, I think this needs some reflection.


I've dusted off the hyperfiction project and plan to propel it forward in the next few days. When we left our young heroes at the end of November, we’d just arrived at the end of the story – the dissolution of the school. I thought we would end as the first shots were fired across those ancient, grassy lawns, but perhaps we do need to see what happens next.