Quote of the Day II

"I\’ve found that people who are great at something are not so much convinced of their own greatness as mystified at why everyone else seems so incompetent."
        — Paul Graham

No, I certainly don\’t claim to be great at writing nor do I think that everyone else is incompetent. But some people are kind enough to think that I write well enough to pay me to do so (sometimes): what confuses me is that surely everyone is capable of this?

It\’s not like writing is something difficult is it, like playing a musical instrument well, or acting, or riding a bike, something that actually requires more than just basic literacy?

9 comments on “Quote of the Day II

  1. Finding something to write about that other people are interested in is not easy. Deciding on a narrative and one or several points to make is not easy. Making those clearly and succinctly, and using accessible language (for those of us with technical specialities) is really quite hard.

    Put those together with the ego necessary to try writing for a living and you have a sufficiently rare combination of skills for it to be worthy of moderate reward.

  2. Timmy, the trouble is that too many people think they can write and your correspondent above is absolutely right. I don’t know too many people who can write a speech for a company VP inside an hour : A VP they haven’t met or for that matter, text about architecture when they have barely given it a moment’s thought. That’s why I get paid.

  3. Comparative Advantage?

    Although I do like Ms. Evil’s comment on the ego requirement for writing professionally.

  4. Peter Hain can “write”.

    In Fact, he was the author of a published book: Ayes to the Left (1995), in which he expressed trenchant opposition to Britain participating in a single European currency. Curiously, all that changed almost overnight when he became Minister for Europe in 2001.

    It was Gordon Brown, in the Treasury, who wrecked the fulfilment of Tony Blair’s aspiration for Britain to join the Eurozone:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2975560.stm

  5. Tone matters too. Some writers come across as grouchy and bad tempered, others as whiny or obsessive and still others as confused or manipulative (mentioning no names, insert your own suggestions as appropriate).
    If you can manage consistently to strike a note that’s good humoured, honest and straightforward, you’ve got us all fooled!

  6. No, not everyone can write.

    I used to think like this about software development – I found it so straightforward that I couldn’t understand why everyone couldn’t do it.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s so much about your “writing”. It’s more about your thinking. Most newspaper columnists can write a piece which is good english.

    But they don’t seem to think too hard, and they don’t seem do any research. They’ll advocate banning factory farming, 4x4s or junk food ads without spending a moment thinking about what the consequences of what they advocate would be.

  7. “No, I certainly don’t claim to be great at writing nor do I think that everyone else is incompetent. But some people are kind enough to think that I write well enough to pay me to do so (sometimes): what confuses me is that surely everyone is capable of this?”

    Tim:

    By the ordinary rule of references and their referents, you’ve managed an outstanding piece of subliminal motivation here.

    Brilliant! You’ve managed to take a fairly naked plaint that everyone is capable of (and, perhaps, therefore, should be) paying you, while yet providing yourself an “out’ against such a charge in the form of the acuity of those “kind” enough to actually do so.

    Are we (or am I, since I’m the one that noticed) to conclude that, at least sometimes, not-so-good writing can actually be better than its less-ambiguous counterpart?

    But even more importantly, do I (as the one who actually focused the attention of others on your modest proposal) qualify for a share of the swag?

  8. Ms. Robinson:

    Don’t be so bashful. Good bullshit has multitudinous uses and has, therefore, been highly prized ever since its discovery close to the dawn of time. I’d get in the business myself except that I’m a bit short on time (as well as talent, motivation, and attention-span).

    Here’s to you, Ms. Robinson!

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