In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Mistaken Identity | Main | Murder in NYC »

May 16, 2006

Speedy Writing

Donald Pittenger writes

Dear Blowhards --

A favorite sport in this ol' blog is pounding on the Ivy League.

One reason we can get away with such cruelty is that those in the active blogging corps at 2Blowhards are, well, Ivy Leaguers of one ilk or another. Michael and Friedrich went to an un-named Ivy university as undergraduates. (Clue: it is south of Canada, north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of Pittsburgh. I hope this is helpful.)

As for moi, I went to an anonymous Ivy university I refer to as Dear Old Penn. Except I was a grad student, which is hugely different than being an Ivy undergrad. But I did come in contact with that species; you see, I was a teaching assistant ("Boo!! Hiss!!!"). I had my own little Introductory Sociology Quiz Section and graded my students on the general course questions.

Something that never failed to astonish me was the way those students would rip through blue books on exam day. They'd be sitting in the main lecture hall on those chairs with an attached writing board, scribbling like mad with one hand and puffing away on a cigarette held in the other. And the words just flowed onto those blue book pages.

More astonishing was how good those extemporaneous essays often seemed when it came time to grade them. They were far better than anything I could have done in the same circumstances.

Truth is, what got me into universities at all was my ability to avoid total disaster on those machine-scored multiple-choice exams.

Blue book exams were hell for me. My penmanship (especially using a ballpoint, as I usually did in those days) stinks. Worse, I write slowly. This is partly because of my poor penmanship; if I wrote too fast, my writing would be totally unreadable.

But beyond the mechanics of writing was the fact that I simply was not a fast writer. I'm still slow.

Contrast this with Michael Blowhard. You might have noticed that he posts a lot more than I do. (As this is written, I checked the last 60 entries in the blog log -- 41 have Michael's name, meaning he churns out twice as much content as I do.) When he's not doing linkage posts, Michael's articles tend to be longer than mine. And his e-mails to me can be long. How does he do it??

Me, I tend to spend time thinking about each sentence or two before I type the words. All the while I'm doing this, part of my brain is editing -- did I use a key word in the previous sentence and repeat it in the current one?; am I starting too many sentences with a passive clause?; do the sentences have good flow and rhythm? Then I spend a lot of time re-reading what I've written. Unless I'm rushed, I probably re-read each post four or five times before publishing. And the final article can be crummy in spite of all this work.

My pokey practices don't matter much these days. But if I had had Michael's speed and finesse when I was in school, my grades would have been a lot better. [Sigh]

I notice that 2Blowhards commenters tend to be good writers. Tell us, are you like Michael or like Donald? Or are there other alternatives?



posted by Donald at May 16, 2006


Donald writes: "Michael and Friedrich went to an un-named Ivy university as undergraduates."

Oh, great! Now you tell me. Am I allowed to retract my earlier statement that Ivy League graduates are "snots who attended giant day care centers for the children of the elite"? At least I think that's what I said.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on May 16, 2006 6:45 PM

Blue-booking is still around, but it's even more of an onerous task these days, since students seldom have to write anything by hand anymore and are out of practice. Exams are practically the only time I ever write more than a quick note that's meant to be read by anyone but myself. My handwriting has become absolutely wretched. I also find that my hand cramps up all too quickly -- I suspect that some of the smaller muscles used in writing may have atrophied -- making the experience all the more unpleasant. When you think about how infrequently this sort of breakneck, rigidly-timed outpouring of ideas is actually required anywhere besides the classroom, the whole ritual seems positively bizarre.

Posted by: Alex on May 16, 2006 6:55 PM

I'm like Donald. Writing is hard work for me. I am in awe of Michael's ability to write 2000 words of lucid, flowing, interesting prose seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on May 16, 2006 7:21 PM

Waht the hell are you scribbling about!?!? We all know Michael Blowhard is the name of some long forgotten band, ripped off of the droppings of Buffalo Springfield and the exhaust fumes of The Climax Blues Band. It is a collective of writers, all married to the one and the only Ms. Michael Blowhard, who happens to offer favors to one of the scrivlers who seems to show verbal promise that week. It is impossible that Michael B. is a singularity of personage; unless, that is, he is the famous 225 words per minute typewriting genius long tlaked about in the swamps of Jersey.

But, nah, on second thought, I'm sticking with the Michael Blowhard collective. I've heard they've even unionized lately, a pattern distinct from most underpaid overworked working blokes.

Posted by: DarkoV on May 16, 2006 8:27 PM

Drat, seen through once again! (Turning aside) OK, team, back to the salt mines!

BTW, Steve Sailer is envying someone else's ability to churn out prose? Have you seen what a prolific (and high-quality) writer Steve is? There can't be many who can keep up with him.

Charlton -- Ivy U's turn out snot-nosed dweeb elite-wannabes by the hundreds. Umm, unsure what that says about this blog ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 16, 2006 11:46 PM

Sometimes I don't have enough time to even read all of Michael's output, how does he do it?

I'm a slow writer like Donald, so I always hated the blue book exams -- Though, hey, at least they only lasted a set duration. I'd rather have two hours of hand cramps and frustration at my inability to record my thoughts legibly and quickly than six to eight hours of staring at Word churning out yet another undergraduate essay.

Posted by: . on May 16, 2006 11:58 PM

Michael Blowhard's yoga teachers might say I have "monkey head." That is, a hundred monkeys are always chattering away in my mind, not on the same subject, and faster than I can take notes. My problem is shaping all that stuff, keeping focused, and not writing my sentences inside out which used to drive Richard Stern wild. (It comes from having the basic sub-verb-pred word in mind but then getting a lot of late popcorn to stick on the end when it should have been a preface.)

My last sojourn on a campus was at the U of Chicago Div School where a sequence of six courses must be taken to guarantee that the student (who is NOT considered very divine, unlike the faculty) has at least a nodding acquaintance with the full spectrum of modern religious thought -- at least as it is in the Western world of white male Europeans. These exams allow the use of electric typewriters and they are needed, though prolixity is punished. I don't know whether laptops are now allowed -- probably. I was forty when I was there and my handwriting was wretched because I'd previously been an animal control officer and a cat bit me in the back of the hand, infecting it badly enough that it's been semi-functional and filled with arthritis ever since. The reaction to this explanation was generally hostile. Or maybe they were just trying to find something polite to say. U of C faculty don't tend to be around animals very much but they are QUITE polite.

I had a counselor once who explained to me that I was "flooding out" my own thought processes, so that the ideas got jammed in the doorway from their scramble in trying to win the competition. I mix metaphors quite a lot as well. So I do try to reread and edit even short bits.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on May 17, 2006 10:19 AM

As a recent graduate of Penn (two days and counting), I should mention that the university is actively trying to distance itself from the "snot-nosed dweeb elite-wannabe" stereotype. Our commencement address delivered by a woman famous for her roles as Iris Steensma, Sarah Tobias, and Clarice Starling clearly illustrates the point. To conclude our time at the nation's oldest university the collective student body was led in a rousing rendition of Eminem's "Lose Yourself."

Ben Franklin is rumored to have rolled over in his grave.

Posted by: Erroneous on May 17, 2006 10:32 AM

I'm a Donald.

Or a wannabe Donald. I write at least as slowly, if not as well.

What amazes me about Michael and the Minions is not the throw weight of his thoughts, but the calmness and confidence. He sets up camp on a notion and takes his time to explore every inch of the ground. I usually don't start unless I know where I'm going to finish.

Posted by: Sluggo on May 17, 2006 10:35 AM

We are basically ruled by Ivy League graduates. And I'll grant that they are, for the mostpart, brilliant, fluent, A-student types. But I think we are in trouble, governmentwise and corporatewise, because nowadays none, or very few, of the not so perfect types can even get into the Ivy League and then move up into leadership positions.

I for one feel much more comfortable with someone at the helm who has at least a modicum of self-doubt; as opposed to the I-can-do-no-wrong attitude that is characteristic of life's total winners.

Posted by: ricpic on May 17, 2006 12:28 PM

When I had the vaguest idea how to answer the question, I could churn out bluebooks pretty fast too as an undergrad. My problem was when I had absolutely no idea.. This happened occasionally in English class, when I hadn't, um, read the book all the way through (funny how that works) and with terrifying frequency in an operations management class I had in grad business school. I couldn't the life of me figure out where the "bottleneck" was and how to reorganize the production flow. You don't want me as plant manager. But I do write quickly when I have some idea of what I want to say (whether anybody else finds it very profound or not) and I'm not very into editing.

Posted by: annette on May 18, 2006 9:34 AM

I have a confession. I have always been fearful of writing and I have succumbed to this fear for a long time. I write slow and my writing is bad. But the urge to share my opinions and learning has grown much larger than my fear these days. And I decided if I could write sincerely, it’s still worth it if everybody else thinks my writing is rubbish. That’s how hard it is writing for me.

look from studio LDA

Posted by: look on May 22, 2006 10:34 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?