Thursday, January 3, 2013

Documentary: Bad Writing

This doc really doesn't need an introduction, but it's going to get one anyway.

When I was 17 and a member of a writing program at a university, it was a revelation to learn I was not the best living writer I'd ever met. Of the fifteen in the program, I suffered the most by comparison.

So the worst sentence I've ever written, and there have been so many bad ones you'd think it would be hard to choose but cream rises to the top, happened while in this writing program.

At ages 17-24, we only wrote about love and sex, of course. Entirely confessional, life experiences. All we wanted to do was spill our guts on the page, then go out for some more life experiences an hour or two later.

Ok, on to my sentence: Blah, blah, blah ... "She felt he had sucked her soul from her throat and ... swallowed it."

"Well," the instructor said, "where to start?"

I think she had a 15-point summary of errors -- by way of metaphor, science, logic, just to name a few.

Rob jumped out of his chair. (There were no Bobs in the 70's, only Robs.) "I think what Karin wrote is perfect. Perfect!"

Rob was probably the best writer in the group, and he provided an impassioned argument in my sentence's defense.

Rob had a crush on me, and had been angling for a date the entire semester.

Moral of the story: Defend a girl when she's attacked by all sides and at her most vulnerable, she will agree to date you. Other moral of the story: Odds are, she won't let you suck her soul.

Here's the link to the doc:  http://vimeo.com/56625296. Only free in the month of January.

39 comments:

  1. This is going to have to be a damn fine film to live up to this introduction.

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  2. I definitely agree w/the people he interviewed... I have a cousin who to this day uses every flowery adjective or old wordage.. I think it makes him feel important and he knows the huge azz flowery words impress and intimidate... When I was in college we were taught NOT to use flowery adjectives to just get to the point... and it is possible to write w/out the b.s.

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  3. I'm loving it so thanks for sharing. I think he's so brave to let us hear his bad poetry read by such good sports. And so lucky that he kept it all in his mother's basement so he could revisit it ten years on. I'm constantly amazed by what I find in my old journals and blog posts...and not necessarily in a good way.

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  4. I always liked Sedaris, but now I'm all about George Saunders.

    Des, trust me, you won't be disappointed. Or if you are, let's talk.

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  5. Great post!

    We saw Bad Writing a few years ago at our local arts cinema. It's an excellent film! Some of it was filmed in Idaho.

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  6. Hmmm. I can't access the link from my iPad. I'll get it later. I don't believe you. I bet you were the best one in that program.

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  7. Reminds me of the poetry professor I had who I suspected wanted to sleep with my sister. I suspected, and wrote the worst poem I could come up with. The prof loved it and everyone in class hated it. I had my answer.

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  8. On the flip side, I must remember that technique if I develop another crush on someone.

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  9. That's so funny. I'll try to get around to the film before the month is over.

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  10. Oh my...I thought you were exaggerating at first, but then I read what you wrote and...well.

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  11. When I was a school we had to write about a week in our lives. One kid wrote my favourite ever title for a story 'The Day I Stayed off School for a Week'. Genius, apart from getting in trouble for writing about pretending to be sick and staying off school.

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  12. I'll have to take your word for it re: the film...streaming doesn't work very well in our neighborhood...the bandwidth up here isn't enough for general usage and when tourists come up it's even worse...so we have lot's of pauses for the film to catch up...makes bad writing that much worse!!!

    I can't imagine that you were the worst in the class...although...I have to admit...that sentence...is pretty...well...uh...b-a-d!!!

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  13. Tony and all, I think it would be therapeutic to say nothing of fair play, if you all shared your worst sentence of all time.

    Kenny Mac, the irony, of course, is that of the two of us, I'm the one who remembers it happened.

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  14. I know that it's all about the yuk yuks, but I thought the film, once past the premise of "bad" was both informative and familiar ground. Similar questions brought up in the visual arts.

    Ok...so I can't quote the worst sentence I've ever written, in youth or otherwise. But I do recall being approached by a boy, who was writing the character of a young virgin, and wanted my opinion on his draft. To this day I still can quote him

    "he entered her with the force of a Brahma bull"


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  15. Oh, I didn't think it was just yuks at all, nor intended as such. And I don't think the message was dare to be bad, but just dare -- take a chance. And another.

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  16. Wonderful intro and I'll definitely check out this documentary. I hated writing when I was in school, possibly because I read a lot of good books and thought my writing was horrible. Now I'm bummed I long ago got rid of all my school papers, especially a hand-made book called "A Golden Gate of Poems" that I created in sixth grade. I'm not upset however about tossing out the only book report I specifically remember writing from 9th grade that I titled (kill me now) "The Milk of Human Kindness Flows in the Grapes of Wrath".

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  17. "Do not grip the cutter while it is turning."

    Well, OK, it was for a machine instruction manual, and there were a few other gems in the safety section, but that one is my favorite. It's so obvious it's awful, and so bad it's humorous.

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  18. Ohhhh...I'm so glad I wasn't drinking any milk (or wine) when I read Katie's comment!!! My computer screen is safe...

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  19. I like your sentence.Do you have any other early writing examples?
    I'm planning on watching the video tomorrow, since today I'm having my first belly dance lesson.

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  20. Sheeeesh! Do we all have experiences like this. I thought it was just me.

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  21. Katie, I think that puts us neck-and-neck. Marjie, reminds me of the dry cleaner bag that says "Do not wrap around head."

    Patricia, somewhere there's a huge, unopened moving box full of notebooks.

    Birdman, so where's your entry?

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  22. I just finished watching the film and I'm posting it everywhere. I really enjoyed it.

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  23. Favorite line: "...locked in the basement with a tampon and a duck..."

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  24. Thanks to that line, I now have a stack of George Saunders books to read. I only knew him from the New Yorker.

    I find this doc so heartening, I've taken to listening to it in the a.m. before I leave for the "office."

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  25. They come off as a bunch of generous, interesting people.

    And now I'm going to lock myself in my basement with my tampon and my duck.

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  26. I was going to clean my apartment this morning, but watched Bad Writing instead, which was much more fun. Lots of good advice and insights about writing, not to mention quite a few laughs, especially the clips of the Mortified readings. (And yes the duck comment was also favorite.) Funny that he used a song by noted horrible singer Florence Foster Jenkins while talking about the supposed worst writer ever Amanda McKittrick Ros. Musical references are usually lost of me, but I saw the play Souvenir about Jenkins a few years ago. A real hoot! And I now feel less bad about my Steinbeck book report after reading an article in today's New York Times lamely titled: No Wrath, but Some Discontent, When Nobel Prize Was Awarded to Steinbeck.

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  27. WRITING is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols (known as a writing system). It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio. - Fbook

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  28. I watched it! Loved it, especially the music.

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  29. The video--I skipped around, but might end up watching all of it, damn you. Listening to people on this subject is like staring at a car wreck, as the expression goes. The video captures everything I hate about "the scene." But I'm old and jaded.

    Going back through my own college writing, or other bad writing, is painful but educational. (and sometimes amusing). Maybe pain and learning are inextricably linked. No, a lot of that moving around of words is enjoyable if you don't get obsessed with having a finished product.

    There are three questions and tests out there, which for me are THE most important factors:

    Honesty: if you really knew and cared about this subject, is this the way you'd write about it, or are you lying to yourself as well as the reader?

    Urgency/Exigency: Does this story/portrait HAVE to be told? Does every word, phrase, line, stanza really need to be (t)here?

    That's old, old stuff, but I read a lot of (beginnings of) stuff that seems self-indulgently unaware of those factors. See why I rarely finish novels? I'll stop now . . . . Did I mention damn you?

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  30. Patti, I really enjoyed his musical choices, too. Like Katie, I think my favorite was pairing Jenkins with Ros (Ross?). Would love to get my hands on something by the latter.

    Thank you for that Cafe, and Banjo, you'll stop damning me if you watch the whole thing. And those questions may be old, but true.

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  31. When I was about 22, I decided to self-publish a book. It was going to be called "Birds Fly Alone," and a compilation of what I considered the best of my vast supply of poetry and short stories. By the time I finished going through them, I only had one or two good ones. So crushing.

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  32. I wish he wasn't taking it down at the end of the month. I've watched it a few times and get a lot out of it.

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  33. ...and I too wrote a collection of angst ridden teenage poetry. Lots of tiny birds with broken wings stuff. Like most objects of my childhood, my mother threw them away.

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  34. I have crates of the stuff. I don't know if I should read my journals (mostly from my 20's) or burn them. I can't bear to either just yet.

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  35. hey there! Happy New Year! I don't have a good connection, so I'm letting the video load up for a while so I can watch it all at once. I've always written and have gone back and read some it at a later date and was mortified... I'm even worse at proof reading. I'll be back soon to catch up here!

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  36. Article in today's NY Times Science section: "Milk of Human Kindness Also Found in Bonobos". I say save all your old bad writing as it might actually get better with age!

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  37. It's fun to be late to your posts, as I get to read all the hilarious comments in one sitting.

    One of the benefits of having a terrible memory is I can't remember any of my earliest, horrific lines. And I can't find any of it. But alas, I do have journals from the past 20 years and each and every line makes me cringe.

    Katie, it sounds like the NYT is stealing from you.

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