Squeaky toys and generalizations

squeaky toy cropTrouble is an inductive thinker: she notices specifics and makes generalizations out of them.  The clinking of tags on a collar means it’s time for a walk. The clinking of tags together with car keys means a trip in the car, possibly to the park. Trouble’s observations about Human’s writing are just that, observations: the description leaves it up to readers to figure out what, if anything, it means beyond the moment of the experience. In other words, if readers want to get anything besides amusement from the Underdesk perspective, they’re going to have to figure out for themselves why Human prints out her rough draft and what she does with it. When Human wants to explain something, she spells it out, and then gives an example.  That’s backwards, Trouble thinks. Who wants generalizations?

Readers who want to learn something want generalizations: the main idea, nice and clear, followed by enough specifics to back it up and make it real. If you want to teach readers something, it’s a good idea not to make them work too hard.  Quintilian said “We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.” It’s the writer who has to do most of the work.

Then what can we pull in the way of a general idea from what was left from last week’s efforts? It’s in the middle: “Human can’t just write something and be done.”  That sentence doesn’t, however, tell us Human does do, just what she doesn’t, so we’ll add “Instead, she writes a rough draft and then revises it.”  Everything else is a description of what that process looks like, mostly from Trouble’s perspective: Human scratches, sighs, throws out and begins again. Some of it is interpreted: Human prints because she wants “to see the whole thing – the whole shape of it.” For the readers’ sake, we’ll spell it all out.

revision spelling it outThat’s the result of revision – the yellow spells out the parts that then got deleted. Notice that when we’re revising we worry more about spelling it out than spelling it right. There’ll be time enough for getting it right later. You don’t paint your vase till it’s been fired in its final shape.

Trouble sighs audibly from Underdesk. All this revision is a bit like worrying a chew toy when its squeaker is dead – what’s the point? The With sighs too deep for wordspleasure’s gone out of it. And to Trouble’s way of thinking, a general idea is even less satisfactory than a real chew toy, even a soggy one with a defunct squeaker. Trouble, as we’ve noted before, is a contemplative canine. It’s the moment that matters.

She’ll never be an academic.


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