March 22, 2018

Horse 2387 - How To Spew Forth A Thousand Word Essay

It happens every so often that someone will be reading this blog and then realise that the posts number more than two thousand. Invariably I will be asked two questions by curious people. The first is how many word that is, to which the answer is about two and a bit million; the second is how I'm able to write so much. The "how" is adjacent to but not completely congruous to the "why" I write, which mainly has to do with an unexplainable enjoyment from the process. The question of "how" is mostly asked by people who have to write something for a specific purpose, rather than where I live, which is in the land of manufacturing entertainment for an audience of one (mainly me - but if you come along for the ride, then that's cool).
If you’d like to read an essay on why people write, George Orwell’s 1946 essay on that same subject is quite quite good, in my opinion.¹

I suppose that most people who ask the question of "how" are in that position because they've been given an essay question, which a teacher poses because they want to see how much you understand my material. Of course this probably goes without saying but if you know that you're going to be asked to write anything more than a thousand words on a particular topic, then it's probably a good idea to have read said material first.
Even though I don't write because I'm addressing any essay question in a learning environment, I will still go back and read something if necessary; indeed throughout many of these blog posts, you will find links to articles and statistics, or perhaps even direct quotes from people because not only have I read some material but I don't want to be accused of stealing from someone else² (especially when the truth is that I would have been too stupid to come up with it in the first place).

Some people who dispense advice about writing might give you suggestions on the form that a piece of writing might take. Very short things like newspaper articles require that you use an inverted pyramid because an editor will want to cut details from the end of the article for reasons of space but presumably you more than likely will not be writing for the dying media of print.
If you have been given absolute constraints, such as a word limit which you can not exceed or one which you must write more than, then the problem becomes one of addressing either the point that the examiner is trying to get at within the space limit, or addressing what is actually important and relevant to the question at hand. This might require a plan beforehand and for me that will involve putting down a few bullet points of no more than about three words apiece.
If you've been asked to write a piece either critiquing something, or expanding upon the ideas of something because you might be required to deliver a presentation, then the form of the piece should be to follow the line of logic (which again assumes that you've read the thing in question).

The grand question of "how" I'm able to write so much stuff also has to do with a very specific underlying form - the four act piece. Situation, Complication, Resolution, Denouement. This is almost burned into the synapses of my brain because the ideal length of a blog post is somewhere between 800 to 1200 words, and changes depending on the mood of the reader at any given moment in time.
I have been doing this for so long that the internal beat of the 1, 2, 3 and 4 of what a thousand odd words sound like, is almost automatic. The shape of what a thousand words looks like is so ingrained that I don't even need to think about planning it out. I don't have to write any paragraph in any order either because I can almost instantly tell where it's supposed to fit. In fact, in many rewrites and edits, I'll hack something out and put it back somewhere else or just cut it altogether, after a final read through because it simply sounds wrong. Sometimes there will be a problem with tense that warrants a rewrite or perhaps a disagreement in counting terms where there is a singular where there should be a plural and vice versa.

This also begs the question of where the initial question to be answered comes from. The reason for that is either because I'm curious about something or annoyed about something, mostly. The most enjoyable blog posts for me to write, and indeed any piece of writing for me to write, comes at the intersection of those two questions which put succinctly is "What the hell is going on here?"³
There's also the aesthetic appeal of words themselves, the rhythm of how they run together, or even the esoteric joy that comes when taking a hackneyed³ cliché and either burying it in something (like I just did) or taking a brand new metaphor and smashing its skull upon the rocks of outrage. (I should point out that no metaphors were harmed in that last sentence). I also just really like puns because although I'll never hear that annoyed groan from the audience, as a writer I've already been paid in advance.

The very last paragraph or sentence is almost always something which ties everything together, or perhaps a deliberately flat joke. I think that it's unfair to the reader to leave them at a point where they expect something else to follow and they never get it. There should always be some rather weak point to be made or a judgement or something because putting icing on a cake is a nice finishing touch but icing on an aeroplane after you've topped and tailed it, causes a crash at the end of the runway.

² Usually as a footnote if it isn't already in the main body of the text.
³ Which in my mind, is always in the voice of Chas Licciardello, from the beginning of ABC1's Planet America.

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