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Posts by Peter Grant

Food for writing thought

Three articles caught my eye in recent weeks.

The first is titled “Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper“.  It interested me, because most of us write fiction, and aren’t used to a more scientific exposition.  Could we learn something from that discipline, that would perhaps help us write better fiction?  Here are two examples of Mr. McCarthy’s advice.

  • With regard to grammar, spoken language and common sense are generally better guides for a first draft than rule books. It’s more important to be understood than it is to form a grammatically perfect sentence.
  • With regard to grammar, spoken language and common sense are generally better guides for a first draft than rule books. It’s more important to be understood than it is to form a grammatically perfect sentence. When you think you’re done, read your work aloud to yourself or a friend. Find a good editor you can trust and who will spend real time and thought on your work. Try to make life as easy as possible for your editing friends. Number pages and double space.

Seems applicable to me!

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Literature through Russian eyes – and what it says about political correctness

Today I’m not going to say much myself.  Instead, I’m going to quote several paragraphs from a very long, but very thought-provoking, analysis of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other Russian authors, and how literature came to represent a moral crusade for them, and for their fellow countrymen.  It’s in the New Criterion, titled “How the great truth dawned“, written by Gary Saul Morson.  It’s very different from our Western attitudes towards literature, but I think it offers a perspective from which we could learn.

That’s particularly important in an era when political correctness is more than ever a determinant of what’s put out by traditional publishers.  One’s work usually has to conform to “contemporary priorities” or “modern understanding” if it’s to have any chance of acceptance by a publisher.  By those standards, the Big Three of science fiction – Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein – wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance. Neither, of course, would Henry Miller, Dorothy Parker, and a host of other greats.  Nor would Solzhenitsyn.

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OK, let’s have a laugh!

Instead of my usual serious posts about the business of writing, let’s have a laugh this Friday.  I’ve been giggling over an article titled “24 Hilarious ‘Accurately Titled Novels’ ” at BoredPanda.  Here are three of their cover examples to whet your appetite.  I’ve reduced their size so as to fit MGC’s template better.


BoredPanda cover 1

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“Social and emotional learning” – but by whose standards?

I read last month that Tennessee is adding a new dimension to its school standards.

As the Tennessee Department of Education prepares to roll out new academic standards in math, English, social studies and science, it’s turning attention to creating the state’s first-ever set of standards in a completely new arena — social and emotional learning.

Tennessee will spend the next year on the task as one of eight states chosen to draft new standards focused on students’ emotional well-being and mental health in grades K-12.

That means setting benchmarks for what students should know or be able to do in each grade when it comes to skills such as decision-making, self-awareness, social awareness, self-control, and establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.

The idea is that setting grade-appropriate standards for social and emotional learning can help teachers help their students thrive both in and out of the classroom.

. . .

The standards will be developed in collaboration with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as CASEL, which announced this week that Tennessee will join the initiative along with California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington. The national organization previously has partnered with urban districts including Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools but is branching out into state policy to spread strategies around social and emotional learning.

. . .

“(The standards) will establish social and emotional learning as a priority in education,” said Conner, who has worked with at-risk youth in Tennessee for 30 years.

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Writing as cultural cocoon – or culture shock?

I was struck by a recent article in Business Insider titled “I moved from LA to a town of 2,300 people — here were the biggest culture shocks I faced in small-town America“.  Here are a couple of excerpts.

The media focus on the local community

I still remember one of my first big culture shocks: when I saw a picture from the local high school basketball team on the front page of the daily paper.

I used to read the nationally-minded LA Times. Now my local paper, the Jackson Hole News & Guide, runs stories about the debate team.

The issues people care about here are different than those in the city. Stories about land usage, grazing rights, and the Bureau of Land Management are hot-button topics over here, while they may not register with my friends in coastal cities.

. . .

Small towns are more intimate but also more isolating than big cities

You have a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts up here, and if you have issues with crowds and the bustle of busy boulevards, this is a great place. Acre lots are pretty standard in neighborhoods. You can always find parking, traffic is minimal, and there’s a real sense of “we’re all in this together” even if we’re all more separated.

On the other hand, there are fewer social events here, especially in the winter. And many people in small towns have had their friends for years, so it can take a while to build strong relationships, whereas in cities people are usually more interested in networking and trying to expand their social groups. Still, within a few years you begin to feel like you know everybody.

There’s more at the link.  Recommended reading.

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Losing our cultural heritage – and our readers

I was struck by a recent article comparing school reading lists from 1908 and today, and what it revealed.  It’s structured in such a way that it’s hard to pick usable excerpts from it, so I’ll simply recommend that you read the whole thing.  Briefly, the author pointed out that the books on the modern reading list were much less challenging to their readers, much less informative about our cultural and historical background, and very limited in their vocabulary.  She concluded:

Unless we give our students challenging material to dissect, process, and study, how can we expect them to break out of the current poor proficiency ratings and advance beyond a basic reading level?

Go read it all.  It’s worth your time.

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The distracted writer

My wife is constantly nagging chiding reminding me about the need to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  Of course, our definitions of what’s “healthy” are frequently not very well synchronized…

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