I’m thinking of making lists of things that you can and can’t tell about a writer from their writing. Except I’m not really, I just like the hypotetical idea of such a list.

Quite often I can tell when a writer thinks they’re ‘clever’. I usually stop reading their work after a couple of paragraphs. They just sort of go OTT with clever wording and don’t know when to tone it down, administering an adjective to every noun. I like clever, but I also like subtle and concise. Usually the OTT clever wording is combined with a chatty attitude, which makes it even worse — it makes the writer smug, as if they could possibly talk to you so eloquently over bananas in a supermarket. And then they’re uncompromisingly authoritive in their bias, rather than honest and questioning in their subjectivity.

I remember reading that if you have a child with an unusual last name, you should give it an ordinary first name for contrast. And vice versa. I think these writers-who-think-they’re-clever forget the basic wisdom behind this and milk every sentence, word and paragraph for every piece of cleverness they think they’ve got. Cleverness with cleverness is dull on its own; dullness gives it its lustre.

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