At the end of my first full marathon, the only thing that inspired me was finding the nearest trash can.
Tomorrow, I’ll run my fifth half marathon, in addition to one full marathon, in the last two years. What started as a decision to get off my butt, get in shape, and kick a family history of heart issues, has turned into an addiction of sorts. I love running.
But something unexpected happened along the way. Running became a source of inspirational fuel for my writing. When I’m out running anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours at one time, I have a lot of time to think, pray, meditate, and seek inspiration for writing. So that’s what I do.
I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined in a conga line.
Not long before Infinite Jest was published, Harper’s Magazine gave David Foster Wallace a “plush” assignment: Go on a cruise and write about it. The preceding paragraph is how his essay about the experience opens.
The piece was originally titled “Shipping Out” but was renamed to “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” when it appeared in his book of essays by the same name.
Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
That’s what make the 100 books on the Time list so good. These authors have the ability to find the right words over and over again to express what they are trying to say. After all, it’s not just what you say–it’s how you say it.
When I write, I usually get my thoughts down during my first draft. And during my second review, I look for ways to express myself even better–to find the right words, so to speak.
Take a look at this video. Here’s a great example of the power of using the right words. Does your writing process include time to find the right words?
Here's the obligatory graduation cap stock photo. (Via Korean Resource Center/Flickr)
I think most of us can agree that commencement speeches at graduation ceremonies are generally lame and boring.
So I can’t imagine what the Kenyon College Class of 2005 (especially the English majors) must have thought when they realized David Foster Wallace would be giving their commencement speech.
The speech, entitled “This is Water,” has since been published as a book and featured in The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, and all over the internet. So as usual, I’m late to the game.
After reading the entire speech, I’m struck by the wisdom in it, and perplexed by the fact that a man with that kind of wisdom about life would take his own. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:
I love The Great Gatsby. No, check that: I really, really love The Great Gatsby.
In fact, if I was the type of guy who used multiple exclamation points to describe my enthusiasm about something, I would use precisely 14 exclamation points at the end of that opening sentence–that’s how much I love The Great Gatsby.
So the news that The Gatsby Mansion–or, more accurately, the mansion that inspired Fitzgerald’s Gatsby Mansion–was demolished last week saddens me. To borrow a line from Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, “so it goes.”
David Foster Wallace (why do I always feel obligated to say his full name?) was known to be a bit of a grammar nerd. His mother taught English in college, so he grew up in a house where proper English was militantly stressed. He taught writing and literature at Pomona College for many years before he died.
I thought we’d have a little fun today and take one of DFW’s grammar tests that I found online–over at HTML Giant.
Sadly, I only got 5 of 10, and I write English for a living and fake my way as a copyeditor on occasion. How well can you do? Determine what’s wrong with each sentence. Go here for the answers.
Here’s how DFW opens his quiz: “IF NO ONE HAS YET TAUGHT YOU HOW TO AVOID OR REPAIR CLAUSES LIKE THE FOLLOWING, YOU SHOULD, IN MY OPINION, THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUING SOMEBODY, PERHAPS AS CO-PLAINTIFF WITH WHOEVER’S PAID YOUR TUITION”
Only dorks like me have opinions on semicolons.
I love quotes and tips about writing, especially from the great writers.
So, on occasion, I’ll throw a writing post into the mix–especially if it has something to do with an author on the Time list. In fact, the most popular post in the history of this blog is about writing.
Anyway, here are two of my favorite quotes about punctuation from two authors on the Time list:
The plot is starting to develop.
Yes, I’m 500 pages into this book, and the plot is starting to develop.
I’m trusting that David Foster Wallace knows what he’s doing. To this point, it seems that the first half of the novel is focused on character development—the focal points being Hal Incandenza at the Enfield Tennis Academy, Don Gately at a Boston Drug Rehab Center, a guy named Marathe who is part of a group of wheelchair terrorists, and a “quadruple agent” (pretending to pretend to be a double agent) named Steeply who is dressed in drag.
You can’t make this stuff up.
I stumbled across this last month while we were discussing the longest novels in literature. An “author” named Nigel Tomm “wrote” a “book” that consists of 23 volumes, 11,338,105 words, 61,745,771 characters (with spaces), and 17,868 pages.
I haven’t hidden the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Mrs. Dalloway–which is currently last in my rankings of the books I’ve read to this point. Interestingly, though, I’ve noticed some similarities between Mrs. Dalloway and Infinite Jest.
Both David Foster Wallace and Virginia Woolf didn’t mind writing a sentence with hundreds of words. I believe a couple of sentences in Infinite Jest last more than a full page.
But the difference being, in my opinion, that David Foster Wallace’s long sentences actually make sense to my small brain.