kitchen table math, the sequel: No, it doesn't work this way

Saturday, March 29, 2014

No, it doesn't work this way

Peter Elbow on the composing process

I remember posting this before (or at least discussing it in Comments -- I think I recall gasstationwithoutpumps saying something about wives copy-editing their husbands' work) but I was just cleaning up some old drafts sitting in the queue and found this one, so here it is.


Still funny after all these years!


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I doubt that I said "wives" and "husbands", unless it was in a historical context. I'm much more likely to have said "spouses".

Giving your work to someone else for copy editing is standard practice for almost all writers. First, you do the best that you can with it—then you give it to someone else who will read what was written, rather than what you thought was written. It is incredibly difficult to see your own mistakes, particularly if they are subtle ones.

Auntie Ann said...

When someone else isn't available, reading it out loud can really help. You hear things clunk that you don't see on the page.

Getting the kids to actually do that is the hard part.

Catherine Johnson said...

gasstation -

I'm sure you're right (spouses, not wives...)

"It is incredibly difficult to see your own mistakes, particularly if they are subtle ones."

That's the difference between people who must write for their jobs and people who write for a living.

Professional writers hear their own work in their heads.

I remember one of the psychologists who studies writing -- Kellogg, I think -- saying that hearing your own writing is the last skill to develop.

Years back I read an article about Mozart that referred to a composition he'd written that had gone through something like 72 drafts.

The difference between Mozart and not-Mozart (one of the differences) is that Mozart could still hear the wrong note in the 71st draft.

btw, this is something I should write a post about one of these days .... the process method is based on the assumption that novice writers should act like accomplished or professional writers.

So, since accomplished or professional writers revise a lot, novice writers should revise a lot.

I don't believe that at all.

A novice writer can't hear his/her writing the way an accomplished or professional writer can.

Plus professional writers are obsessive, and you can't tell kids to 'be obsessive like a professional' - and nor should you, IMO.

If everyone who had to write on the job revised the way professionals revise, nobody would get anything done.

Lsquared said...

My spouse (husband) is my editor. He's also a professional editor (and writer). I found the comment "hearing your own writing is the last skill to develop" (Kellog via Catherine). My husband says he always hears writing--when he's reading his own stuff or someone else's: when I read, I visualize; when he reads he auditorializes - OK, that's not a word, but he hears a voice in his mind reading out loud. It makes it hard for him to increase his reading speed and still enjoy what he's reading. I wonder if that's why he ended up as a writer/editor?

Allison said...

Lsquared, I have been told that the word is "Subvocalize".

I am like your husband! I can't stop it. Every time I ever see a word, I hear it. I have tried to stop the voicing, and when I do, I basically can't comprehend what is being read. My comprehension loop is in the hearing.

I question whether this is what Catherine means, though--my hearing of words I read has been there forever...

(incidentally, I can't picture anything "in my head". At all. Close my eyes and I see black. I was in college before I understood that people meant when they imagined or remembered something, they *saw* it, somehow. I can't even "picture an apple". I just know and can list various features apples have, but certainly not a specific one.)

I have been told this subvocalizing means I can't read very fast (no way to compare, but I don't buy it), also been told this is not mathematical. Most mathy people visualize math symbols and they have meaning just as symbols. my husband never "hears" math equations, but I do. Which could be why I'm so lousy at complicated proofs, I can't read the symbols and make sense of them. I still need to hear them to remember/comprehend that what is shown is true.

Catherine Johnson said...

KSqared -- that is really interesting! (Your husband hearing a voice & you visualizing.)

I had no idea there were people who visualize without 'auditorializing' --- but it finally makes sense of something I've read over and over again, which is that when children read they 'should' visualize or they 'do' visualize.

I never visualize.

I hear a voice.

This is so much the case that I just recently decided I 'ought' to visualize, so I stopped mid-passage and visualized the gate being described in Island of Doctor Moreau.

Catherine Johnson said...

Allison - very interesting!


I do think that what I'm describing may be a bit different from what you describe....I don't hear 'words' so much as I hear a 'voice.'

I think I experience (or construct) an implied author/narrator.

Allison said...

But *I* am always the narrator. Even if I'm reading another author. I'm not sure how that's different than you hearing a voice, except I know it what I hear isn't really hearing-- the sound is entirely in my mind (whereas I would use "hearing a voice" to mean actually feeling the sensation of hearing.)

And i broke my brain with too much sleep deprivation at MIT, so whenever I'm very tired I actually "hear" music. As in, it sounds as if someone in another room has music on, and I can't quite make out which song, but this is a different sensation than the way I "hear" words. I know that in my tired brain, I am turning auditory noise--the random background noise that surrounds us, or the random neuron fireing "noise" when no signal is present--to something my brain tries to make sense of. This sensation is actually "hearing" as far as my brain is concerned, though, even if it is hearing something that isn't there.

ChemProf said...

I think subvocalizing is a little different than what we do (and I'm another person for whom reading a novel is like listening to a radio play). As I understand it, some people always read physically, moving their jaw muscles slightly, even when they read silently. I don't do that, but do hear the words as words. But I also read quickly. And I tend to skim long descriptive passages as I don't visualize the scene.

In physics, where you had to draw the picture, I used to do the problem mathematically, then draw a picture based on my results. But drawing it first was not helpful. I've always figured that's related.