I got nothin’ today, so here’s someone better with some notes on the craft.
I think there’s some generational change going on here. The bad writers Z Man mentions by name made their bones in the legacy media. Most of us here are older, so we no doubt agree with him — William F. Buckley was pretentious; Jonah Goldberg’s frat-boy act got old twenty years ago; bad writers and chicks can’t string together three words without referencing themselves; etc. Unfortunately, though, I think all of those things are the wave of the future. I’ve seen lots of undergrad writing, y’all — “spastic, pretentious, sorority girl narcissism” covers pretty much all of it. That’s just how written communication is done in the Twitter age.
See e.g. here:
Instead of focusing on the subject, the writer focuses on himself, which suggests he does not know the material. Even when relating an experience or conversation, the good writer makes himself a secondary character in the story, not the focus. Bad writers are always the hero of everything they write, as if they are trying to convince the reader of something about themselves. Good writers avoid this and focus on the subject of their writing.
But he cites former President Obama as a hilarious example of this. As with all the praise heaped on Pres. Sort-of-God all these years, one must significantly discount for the Magic Negro effect. Still, with all allowances made, lots of people really did — really do — see him as a compelling orator. I suggest this is because he’s so narcissistic — what else does one do in front of a captive audience, after all, but make the most of the opportunity to drone on about one’s fascinating self? He’s only doing what they would do, given half the chance.
See also: Lots of big, popular blogs. For instance: the Internet being what it is, and the Right side of the Internet in particular being what it is, I’d predict that Vox Day’s “I am humanity’s greatest genius!” shtick would go over like a lead balloon. But he’s got a gazillion readers. Again, making all due allowance for an obvious — and obviously effective — Oscar Wilde-ish publicity strategy, this technique builds a loyal audience. For every casual reader like me (who has learned to skim the sixteen paragraphs of boasts to get to the one interesting claim), there seem to be five who really like that kind of thing.
Speaking of going on way too long, Z Man continues:
Another common habit of the bad writer is to use five paragraphs when one paragraph will do…They will belabor a point with unnecessary examples or unnecessary explication.
Here again, let’s note that the bad writers he specifically mentions — Jonah Goldberg, girls — are either well into middle age, or, well…. girls. As he says about the fairer sex:
Female writers only write about themselves. It’s why autoethnography is wildly popular with the Xirl science types on campus. They finally have a complicated sounding name for what comes natural to them.
There’s no thought so banal, no detail too trivial, to avoid describing in full when the subject is one’s own endlessly fascinating self.* Goldberg, on the other hand, came up in Grunge era and went to college at a self-proclaimed “most innovative” school. In other words, he learned the SocJus MadLib composition method back when PoMo was still largely confined to academia. Since every essay always boiled down to “and that’s how [subset of Pale Penis People], through [jargon], oppressed [Designated Victim Group],” the only problem was stretching it out to meet the professor’s page length requirement. That’s how you become a ninja master at unnecessary explication. Do that for a couple semesters, and you won’t be able to write a post-it note to your roomie in less than five paragraphs.
Nowadays the problem is reversed. Kids these days are so well-trained in SocJus MadLibbing that it never occurs to them to explain anything. To take one of our stock examples, if you ask a typical American college kid to write an essay covering the causes of the Civil War and you don’t specify a page length, you’re likely to get back one word: “Slavery.” Ask them why slavery was a cause, and they’ll say “because it’s racist.” Nothing else computes, so in order to make length they throw everything they’ve written down in their class notes onto the page (for those forced to “grade” this mess, the term d’art is “word salad”).
Left to their own devices, in other words, Millennial communication really would be text messages. It can’t be otherwise — since all the dogmas of the Proglodyte faith contradict each other, you can’t explain how they fit together.
Z Man concludes:
another common feature of bad writing is the disconnect between the seriousness of subject and how the writer approaches the subject. Bad writers, like Jonah Goldberg, write about serious topics, using pop culture references and vaudeville jokes. On the other hand, feminists write about petty nonsense as if the fate of the world hinges on their opinion. The tone should always match the subject. Bad writers never respect the subject they are addressing or their reader’s interest in the subject.
Here again, Goldberg was ahead of the curve. Like fellow blog-pioneer “Sports Guy” Bill Simmons, Goldberg got way out in front of an emerging trend. Just as Gen X was starting to take the sociocultural reins back in the early 1990s, Simmons and Goldberg brought a recognizably contemporary voice to moribund fields.
Before Simmons, sports reporting was either your basic box score, or a long George Will-type thumbsucker about how baseball shall save the dying Republic. Now, half the fun of being a sports fan is taking a child’s game absurdly seriously… but only half. Simmons got that. By snarking and over-sharing and throwing hissy fits and being the most shameless homer on God’s green earth, he showed his fans that he was in on the joke.
Goldberg did something similar with politics. We all know that politics is showbiz for ugly people, which makes nerding out over policy the equivalent of reading Playboy for the articles. The guys on political yak shows have exactly as much influence on the direction of the country as the bobbleheads on ESPN do on the outcome of a basketball game. It’s exquisitely silly, which is why political tv, like sports tv, features exquisitely silly people like Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow… and Jonah Goldberg. Like Simmons, Goldberg was in on the joke — you might as well compare the latest reshuffling of semicolons in the tax code to Star Trek, because We the People have as much chance of influencing things to our benefit as we do of fighting Klingons.
But that was the 1990s. Since then, we’ve rammed another two generations through the SJW indoctrination system, K-thru-PhD. It’s not that kids today don’t know how to match the tone to the subject; it’s that they have no idea there’s such a thing as “tone” at all. Feminists write about petty nonsense as if it were the apocalypse because they live their entire lives at DEFCON-1. At the risk of breaking one of the rules of bad writing, I’ll repeat for emphasis: Telling a feminist — which means “any American girl under the age of 40” — that she’s writing about petty stuff simply doesn’t compute. There is literally — literally, Millennials, literally!! — no difference in her mind between “the toxic masculinity at the McDonald’s drive-thru that forgot to supersize my fries” and “the toxic masculinity of the Red Army raping its way through East Prussia.”
In short, you should check out the Z Man’s ruminations on bad writing, especially if you’re a writer yourself…. but with the caveat that, in 20 years, we’ll be looking back on the twenty-teens as the halcyon days of clear expression.