A place for a

28.12.2015

How do you write a good article?

Good question. What is an article? By what I gather so far, it is a arranged collection of anything between fifty and five thousand words. These collections of words usuallly carry a small phrase called title, meant to be representative of the content. But then, if it really was representative, you would only need to read the title and not the content, right? So the title is more accurately a small teaser to elicit associations with a particular topic. In a way, the title is more of a starting point for a chain of thoughts than a basket defining the boundaries of that which is to come. A title is an invitation to a dear friend, asking: Do you want to join me in following this particular chain of thought?

But I can also see how one would like to do it right and be structured and logical. To stay with the topic. But then, how much deviation is allowed? And before I write an article, do I already know exactly what I am going to say? If the title of an article is to define the boundaries of the content to come, it seems more reasonable to write the article first, see what comes out and then find an appropriate title.

But why would you need the title to be a boundary? Well, it is neat. You have a little box called How to become super muscular and everything in there is only there to precisely answer that question. It spans an idealized harmonical arc of narration, a perfect piece of art – and yet the idea is vague and once one starts writing, one starts to wonder how to translate this elusive ideal into actual words. One could argue that in such an article about muscles, it is pointless to even mention, for instance, women. One does not need to write about women to describe the motions of growing muscles. And yet, one may mention that women like muscular guys and this may, by pure accident, be the one raindrop of motivation surplus that the reader needs to get going. But strictly, it does not belong there, or does it? It would belong in an article called How to motivate yourself to become super muscular.

But then, what if women do not particularly motivate somebody? Does the article name then not promise something it does not deliver? Well, I guess you would need to become more precise: How to use women to motivate yourself to become super muscular.

And so on and so on, until the title of the article would in fact become the article itself. Because only the article itself represents the article itself perfectly.

And another question is, of course, whether an article about How to become super muscular has to incorporate absolutely everything you know about muscles. Or everything anybody ever knew about muscles. But then, how deep do you have to go? Do you just write about the basic steps and repetitions? Or do you dive deep into nutrition, biology and chemistry? Do you tell your personal story, because that may be important for understanding? How many words do you use? Is it better to be succinct or detailed?

When you talk to a friend, face to face, do the parts of your conversation have titles and clear-cut boundaries? Or do the topics flow freely into each other? Whatever the answer, is that a good or a bad thing? And what does it mean if it is a good thing? That there is an upside to it? More upsides than downsides? But what if you just deliberately forget to think of some downsides or when one of the downsides is more important to you than five of the upsides?

Questions over questions and who has the answer?

What is an article?

But let us go back to the question what an article is. The etymology of the word article says it comes from the latin articulus, which means small connecting part or joint. Duh. That makes no sense at all, right? Now, I could interpret this to say that articles connect people, but that would a pretty ridiculous attempt to make sense out of the nonsensical.

So who was the first person to write an article? Who was the first man to write down a bunch of words and be satisfied and see that bunch of words as a closed work in itself and then call it article?

And what is the purpose of this bunch of words, anyway? To speak the truth? To be preserved and adored centuries after the death of the writer? But then, would not a book be better? But a book is much much longer, approaching a hundred thousand words.

And what is a book? Well, it is a rectangular thing that you can open up and in there are many other rectangular things with words on them. You read this arrangement of words and afterwards you are enlightened. Know the truth. How mystical!

Now there are books that are regarded as great art and maybe even perfect. Some Shakespeare stuff. But how perfect – that is, how inevitable – is the arrangement of words he used in his works? Is it thinkable that there were a million other ways he could have written Romeo & Juliet and it would still be as popular as it is? Or is it a valid thing to look at each single word and sentence and say oh, it is perfect and it could not have been written any other way?

Did Shakespeare sit at every single word and did he contemplate it with utter dedication until he arrived at the one right way to write a passage? Or did he simply not give a damn and wrote it down as his crazy mind spat it out? Who will ever know.

When I start writing an article, should I first write down a plan on what exactly I am going to say? Seems like the thing to do to feel in control and disciplined and structured. But then, how detailed should that plan be? How do I avoid turning the plan into the article itself? What is the right way to write a plan? Should I use a few subheadings to get an idea of what I will write? But what if, during that process, my mind already starts spitting out lots of great ideas I fear to forget later? Should I ignore them and focus on the plan or should I write them down separately?

And what if, after having written down the plan, and whilst writing down the article, I come up with a fascinating and new chain of thought that I had not thought of before? Will it then be virtuous of me to have the discipline to keep this thought out of the article? Or not? What if this chain of thought blows the article up by 30%? But then, what if you had planned to make the article 30% longer from the beginning? How can I satisfy both my wish for controlling the outcome while also not becoming a slave of it? Can I at all? Do I need to? Maybe newspapers used to have limited space for writings, but here on my blog, who is to say how long my articles should be? Is the length of an article a historical habit borne out of the limitations of paper or is there inherent validity in it? Do I need to take into account the patience of my readers? But then, do I presume they get easily bored or rather that they sincerely enjoy following my words? Is it always the same? Does it depend on the topic, and perhaps, on the passion, mood and general persona of the persona reading it? And who decides what topic is important and captivating? Who decided it back in the time of newspapers? An editor. But I am the editor here. No?

When a reader exclaims What a long and pointless article, does that mean my article is bad or does it just mean that this guy did not resonate with it at that time?

Pursuing greatness?

Or how about analyzing the works of great writers? But then, how do I analyze them? The choice of words? The grammar? The pacing? Rhythm?

And how do I decide which writers are great? Are the great writers those whom my teacher calls great? But then, what if I do not think that they are great? Does that mean that I am wrong and still have a lot to learn? Does it mean that I am arrogant? Or does it mean that other people are arrogant for identifying with great artists and making me feel inferior to them? What if my teachers disagree? What isgreat writer? What is greatness? Yes?

Are you a great writer when people share your words on memes all around the world? When your words are chiseled into great monuments of the world? But then, what are great monuments? Those made out of marble and those who follow the golden ratio?

And when the great writer wrote those words, did he already know that they would later be chiseled into marble and read by millions? But if this is what makes him great and he did not know it would happen, it stands to argue that he was not actually great at the time he wrote those words, but rather retroactively elevated into greatness.

So can an article even be great without ever being recognized by many as such? Is there some kind of inherent greatness? Could an article be great whilst the whole world found it stupid? Should you appeal to that which everybody understands or pursue greatness in itself? But if everybody else fails to see that inherent greatness, how do you judge whether your work is actually great? By some rules? But who made the rules if everybody else is stupid? Logically, a stupid man must have made those rules. So you have only yourself to rely on to judge what is great, right? No? Who knows. And maybe there is someone out there who knows absolute truth, right?

And then how do you decide on the length, again? How do you decide whether a topic justifies a book, an article or maybe even just a sentence? Yes, how? By how a great writer would have done it? But then, no great writer wrote exactly the article you want to write, so you really have no idea how he would have written the article you want to write.

And if the length is neither a book nor an article, oh god, what is it then? Some weird kind of abomination. A cripple. A literary monster.

Is a great article one that is profound? But what does profundity mean?

Does it perhaps mean to make everything sound kinda Old-Englishy?

A man must always base his strength upon the virtues of his forefathers and it is only the moral fibre in man that guaranteed his success.

I just made that up. How about this one?

A man shall always wipe his arse with a clean clothe that hath been provideth by his woman.

Does archaic and cryptic language make one’s texts more wise? Do great words carry truth?

And what is wisdom? And what is truth? But should I even write about wisdom in an article about articles? Questions over questions.

Pursuing truth?

How will I judge whether the next line, the next word that comes into my head is worthy of being written down in this article? By using some standard? Some ruleset? But what kind of ruleset? Who made that ruleset and how do I know whether that person had the right idea about greatness?

And is such a ruleset not a restriction of a free flowing expression? And is free flowing expression important? To whom? To whom not?

When you have a conversation with another person, are you constantly concerned about how to speak a right sentence or how to say the right thing in the right way? Ideally, you are not. Ideally, you just speak your mind, freely. Or?

Do you fully understand and caringly construct every word you speak in a dialogue? Every intonation, every nuance of expression? No. It ideally just kind of flows, right?

Why should an article be any different than a careless and unashamed contribution in a conversation? Why should it be any more crafted and perfected than a dialogue that is alive? Why should it be more than a conversation? A part of a conversation? Just an ephemeral string of words never to be heard again?

Well, perhaps so that it can stand as some kind of eternal monolith of greatness that nobody ever has to alter again. But then, language changes with time and so do the meanings of words.

So does an article, read today, even mean exactly the same as it meant back then? And more than the words, individual people change and vary. When I read an article, does it mean the same to me as to you?

And when it means something different to you than it does to me, does that imply that it does not mean anything particular in itself before any of us reads it and our organisms start processing it? Or does it mean that one of us understands it better than the other? But who can judge who of us understands it better? The author? What if the author is dead?

In a conversation, every input I receive immediately afterwards stops existing in the form I received it and only exists forth in my mind, in the way I understood it. And yet, my mind will immediately come up with new questions and perhaps challenge, question or affirm what I have heard.

Do I know exactly how all that functions under the hood? No fucking idea. But I know that I feel most satisfied when I simply have a conversation or comment exchange. There is no pressure to write a good comment. And even if I write a good one, I do not feel pressured for it to be eternally valid. It was simply valid within that conversation, within that innocent exploration of ideas between two souls. I may even have written a great comment and later find that it is ridiculous. And yet, was there any way for me to know beforehand that I would later find it ridiculous? Maybe. Maybe not.

I do not know of any way to know beforehand whether what I write now will still be true for me tomorrow. And what does true even mean? One day, I read something and my mind harmonizes with it and it seems totally intuitive and reasonable. The next day, I read it again and suddenly my head hurts and spits out all kinds of ideas against it. Why did my mind not do that the day before? Because nothing changed about the writing or about any form of assumed inherent truth in it. Does it mean I have become smarter? Or dumber?

Pursuing structure?

All I know about words is that I can either express or receive them. When I express them, I am not constantly aware where they come from or why I express them the way I do. When I receive them, I am not constantly aware how they change and influence me under the hood. All I know is that I go into a conversation with somebody, we throw words at each other and afterwards, well, I feel smarter? But sometimes I feel dumber. So the only generalization I can make is that we throw words at each other and it makes me feel some way. But sometimes it makes me feel no way at all. So in a sense, I can not really codify conversation. Or words. Or ideas. They are just like waves swinging through the universe, gripping us, making us feel, making us indifferent, bringing us together, keeping us apart, making us remember, making us forget. Any attempt to predict what I will say, write, hear or read seems as ridiculous as trying to predict how I will feel when I will touch a girl or think of her.

Sure, you could create rules and follow them. How to thinkHow to write. Define ideas and rhetorics that are valid. Define standards of thinking that are easy to be followed. Define what logic is. But that is like enslaving one’s subconsciousness, one’s intuition. It is like restricting the free flow of energy and life. Or not?

And of course, before defining those rules and standards, you would have to ask: By which rules and standards do I define those rules and standards? Damn man!

Questions over questions. I have no answers. And if I have some, they may not be the same tomorrow.

Do I know where from I take the words that I am writing down right now? No. Do I know whether I have written this article with the perfect structure? Written it so that most people will understand what I mean? Yes, and what do I mean? I mean everything I wrote. Read it again. I can not put it into a single word. Or into a title. I just thought about writing a good article and wrote down all the questions in my mind about that. Now, do I anxiously await whether you will think that this article is great? Should I? Or not? Should I care about you? Or be indifferent?

I just know that am looking forward to read whatever your mind comes up with all on its own. And then seeing how my mind responds to it. I have no idea how that interaction will be. I have no idea who will comment. I have no idea what they will say. I just know I look forward to the interaction!

Sure, I can analyze and abstract that which has already been written. But I can not perfectly predict what will be written. What you will write. Even what I will write. If I tried to predict what will happen, to understand what I will think before I will think it, I would be making the same mistake as trying to find a perfect representative title for an article I have not yet written. Trying to perfectly express the future with a set of rules would basically mean to express future itself. The brain that perfectly understands everything that will happen is the universe itself.

And in the end, I guess that is what life is all about. Just letting stuff flow and trust that it will all work out. Or not work out. Or not trust. Who knows? Who has the answer?

Conclusion

Have I drifted too far from the original topic? Have I written too much? Or too little? Have I let my mind irresponsibly wander into territories of existential philosophy? Stop overthinking, Tom. But I am not overthinking. I am just writing stuff down off the top of my head. And if I was overthinking, what would that mean? How would you know? By me thinking more than you or others consider necessary? Have I overstepped some rules? Well, who made those rules? What gave them the confidence to do so? What was their motive? Why should those rules not be overstepped? Somebody will compare me to Shakespeare and say that this is shit. Somebody will compare me to Shakespeare and say it is great. Somebody may not know Shakespeare and think that my wandering mind is charming. Others will be irritated. Annoyed by my intellectual aimlessness and outcome independency. Yesterday, I listened to music from The Beatles; I found it extremely annoying and boring. Today I may listen to it and like it. So it goes. There seems to be no control you can exert over the ways you will think or feel. And if you could exert that control, you would surely do so at the expense of your future freedom.

But Bach created a great school of musical theory, you say? Well, if somebody attempted to do the same again, would he arrive at exactly the same conclusions? Or was it simply something he intuitively came up with without really understanding how he got that idea? Because if that is not the case, if his rules are truly the one obviously right way, how come nobody came up with them before? How come others without them created great music as well?

Does a great article need to come to a conclusion? Or can it simply be a lengthy exclamation of the ideas that float around in my head? A letter to a philosophical friend, perhaps? Or to many such friends out there? A letter respectful towards any answer that it may get in return? A letter that does not – like a good friend would not – attempt to make any prideful and final statements that the other is expected to blindly accept, just because? A letter not anxious to convince cattle in order to survive the intellectual onslaught of the mad? A humble letter to a valued friend of the intellect?

Does a great article need to portray a strong opinion? Be discriminating? Or all-inclusive? Are my musings here the the concrete foundation of future civilizations or just fleeting dust in the wind? Is there any answer?

But obviously, one like me who does not know any absolute truth can neither disprove its existence. Absolute truth, in that sense, is like god. Never graspable in perfection, and yet you can never quite shake off the feeling that you may be missing out on something better. Maybe absolute truth is simply to surrender to the moment. Maybe absolute truth is simply all that exists when we stop forcing anything. Maybe not. Who knows?

What do you think? Mind writing me a comment? Or an article in response? Or a book? Or something in between? Or just insult me? What is a good insult? What is a good way to mock me? A great way to mock me? Like a confident dominant man would mock me? Who is a confident dominant man? How do you know how he would mock me? Or will you simply mock me the way you feel like mocking me? On what grounds could you mock me? By what standards? Who defined them? Are they yours? Are they eternal or just whatever just fits your mood?

Bring it on.

And enjoy this little song that feels just right with this free roaming of the mind. Or not. Who knows.

0 votes

One Pingback/Trackback