As a student, being able to wield language to evoke an emotional response saved my ass a few times. I wasn’t a massive fan of working. The history library was hard to figure out and smelt like mold and anxiety. So possessing the ability to disguise my distinct lack of topical knowledge through meticulous word choice was the buffer between my backside and the curb. Having the ability to craft shallow, one-dimensional arguments that could influence the contrarians through sheer aesthetic prowess and emotional connection was my power play.
It was a truly stupid way to harness a skillset I had a natural propensity for.
But burrowed amongst the recklessness and idiocy of my approach towards academic study was an important life lesson. Being able to write well makes life a whole lot easier. My studies of political philosophy instilled the notion that nothing is more important for the intellectual progress of humanity than the freedom to make new ideas. Which I guess is kind of obvious, really. But equally as obvious is that if people don’t learn how to articulate their ideas properly, their opinions erode, they spread misinformation, and the message their trying to convey becomes ambiguous.
I’ll illustrate this point with a semi-reliable anecdote. Some of the members of my degenerate gang of university scallywags were a lot better at it than I was. They knew the topics. They’d done the graft. They’d bothered to get out of bed before midday, and their well thought out arguments held up to scrutiny far better than my thinly veiled nonsense. But they just couldn’t write. They kind of got the mechanics of language that made sure it was semi coherent and not all broken and Yoda-like, but their work failed to establish a dialogue between author and audience. Their inherent inability to clearly convey their reasoning and establish an emotional connection when it came to putting pen to paper meant they often shared the same pitiful grades I did.
What was the difference?
It’s pretty simple, really. And I don’t just mean your weekly Heat mag or the scathing comment section of Jessica Valenti’s bi-daily Guardian articles, but the great towering works of fiction that act as the gold standard of artistic expression. The philosophical works that have shaped the way we conduct ourselves as conscious beings. I’ve read as much of it as I can practically fit into my life without becoming that weird hermit nobody bothers to ask to the pub anymore because I’ve ‘changed’. And the reasoning is equally as simple. Our minds are malleable. The more excellence we surround ourselves with, the more it will eventually rub off and transcend into every facet of our lives. It begins to shape our worldview and perceptions of life. It affects our intuition. And, most obviously, it influences the way we express ourselves both verbally and on paper.
The more great stuff we read, the better our writing will become. It’s like anything else that requires iteration. You’ll do some stuff and it’ll be crap, but the more you work on it the less crap it will eventually become. And this isn’t some huge lifestyle overhaul you’re going to have to put yourself through. Start small. Try switching out a couple of your ’10 Tips to a More Healthy, Less Sociopathic You’ articles for a couple of pages of Hemmingway a day. You’ll see the change in no time.
Intellectually, we are environmental by-products. Why not make that an environment of artistic excellence.