Writer’s Room: Make It Hard on Yourself

The scarecrow was made of straw ... so it applies

Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a piece in The Atlantic a few days back about how to be the best kind of political-opinion journalist. His advise is well-suited for those many who make their livings opinionating throughout the Beltway mediaverse and blogosphere, but is also a good rule of thumb for writers in general:

…To paraphrase Douglass, a writer is worked on by what she works on. If you spend your time raging at the weakest arguments, or your most hysterical opponents, expect your own intellect to suffer. The intellect is a muscle; it must be exercised.

He’s talking about the bad habits of political writers, who tend to pick the most obvious strawmen to go after as a way of formulating their own beliefs. This is an attractive way of operating, but ultimately lazy.

But everybody who puts pen to paper or key to blog is well served with this advice: Don’t do what you’ve always done. This isn’t to say that all writers shouldn’t identify their areas of strength, but to never venture outside those safer realms is to risk creative calcification.


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