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The Anti-Intellectual Cult of Writing Advice

Too much writing advice is just good old-fashioned tent-revival anti-intellectual crap.

Writing experts intone their points with the cynical piety of anyone who broadcasts truisms—cynical because it positions those experts as having the solution to redeem people from their doomed attempts at thinking.

I’m old enough to remember when dogma dictated we should write for people at a 10th-grade reading level. Then it went down to 8th. The 6th-grade reading became the threshold. Now I see people seriously proposing 5th and even 3rd-grade reading levels as the gold standard for their content.

What’s next? Kindergarten? Pre-school? Baby-talk?

I have a few simple but not age-appropriate four-letter words for this dogma. But I’m holding them back.

What I will say is this:

  • Treat your audience as 3rd-graders, and you’ll get 3rd-grade engagement and decision-making.
  • The more you fetishize inattention and downgrade your work, the more complicit you are in creating a culture that can’t think and can’t engage with serious ideas.
  • If you think it’s just pragmatism, does that mean you litter just because you see a stray can or wrapper on the ground? Or might you actually consider picking it up and putting it in a waste bin?
  • Most attempts to “help” or “guide” the writing process are nothing more than ideology, mystification, and self-interest.
  • If you stop reading like a child, you’ll actually see “writing for a child” and other writing bromides for what they are. I suspect most writing experts tacitly know the truth and would be quite happy to keep things that way.
  • Just ask yourself: What if you thought, created, and wrote for the audience and world you want to have instead of those that others want you to be stuck having? If you threw away all the crap, what would happen?

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