Present at the Big Bang?

Tomorrow I turn 62. It’s been (to put it charitably) an odd year–but hey, I produced two excellent books that everybody should rush out and buy, so it hasn’t all been bad. Anyway, I got a present of sorts that made me feel even a bit older…

Michael McGrorty posted this at Library Dust. It’s his non-contribution to a meme I haven’t contributed to. Here’s the money quote:

I write a blog; actually a couple of them, this being one. I am primarily and essentially a writer; I predate the Internet. In fact, I predate the personal computer and the electric typewriter. I do not predate Walt Crawford, who was present at the Big Bang and responsible for the current dimensions of the visible universe.

It’s a compliment, to be sure–an honor, even, given the high quality of McGrorty’s writing.

In keeping with which, I think this might be a good time to clarify my opinion of my own writing quality, given that I’ve called myself a hack writer more than once.

I believe I’m a pretty good writer–OK, I’ll say one of the best X writers in the library field, but don’t ask me to turn “X” into a number. (Somewhere between 5 and 100?) I think my zero-draft writing is clear and coherent–that’s what you see in this blog, which is, 99% of the time, written and posted in a single setting without revision. I think my 1.25-draft writing works well: you see that at Cites & Insights. The books? Second draft. And when I have the help of good editors, as at EContent (and soon, Online), I point with pride.

I don’t regard “hack writer” as a putdown. I regard it as a label, maybe the wrong one. I’m not a literary writer–I don’t consider myself an Author. I aim for clear, natural, idiomatic prose; I try to organize, analyze, synthesize and produce something that is both informative and interesting. I don’t agonize over each sentence and paragraph. If I produce memorable phrases at times–and I do believe it’s happened–that’s nice, but it’s not my primary goal. Michael is a prose stylist. I have a style, but I’m not a stylist. Both good, just different.

I started using an electric typewriter while still in high school, incidentally. (We had a magnificent old glass-sided Royal manual at home before that.) I started writing with a personal computer in, I think, 1983. The Big Bang happened 4,000 years ago–or maybe a few billion, if you’re fact-oriented.

Oh, and I don’t work on the web. I work in Mountain View, and use the web as one of several tools…

20 Responses to “Present at the Big Bang?”

  1. Michael Says:

    Walt isn’t a hack, he’s a prack–a practical writer. That means, somebody who uses words to do certain types of work. A sort of mechanic who uses various tools to show, teach, explain. Walt uses writing to do other things, like a farmer uses a tractor to make vegetables. Before tractors, he would have used a spade; after tractors, well, who knows?

  2. walt Says:

    I can live with that–and, checking the source of all wisdom and proven knowledge (which shall go unnamed), I find that “hack writer” may or may not be pejorative, depending when and who you ask. I do write (ideally) for money; I don’t sell my soul to the highest bidder (but, of course, there haven’t been any ambitious bids). Ah, being paid by the word: If I could get fifty cents a word for my writing (much less the buck-a-word target for serious freelance work), I might not be rich, but I’d surely be comfortable…

  3. Daniel Cornwall Says:

    Happy Birthday! I’m a little younger than you, but I used a MANUAL typewriter back in high school and early college to write papers. I tried in turning in a paper using the primative dot-matrix printer that came with Commodore 64s and was told I’d be failed if I tried that again.

    Here’s to 62 more years of great writing in the moderate middle of technology adoption!

  4. walt Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, but I really have no desire to keep writing for another 62 years–or to keep breathing quite that long, for that matter. Mid-90s is my goal.

    I used a manual typewriter until I could afford a used electric. I may be mistaken: It might have been early in college. I don’t miss it at all.

  5. Mark Says:

    Happy Birthday, Walt!

    And for my purposes, reading and learning styles, and preferences you write beautifully!

  6. CW Says:

    Happy birthday Walt!

  7. walt Says:

    Thanks all. Mark: I can get behind that compliment with no reservations.

    And, doffing my bashful hat momentarily, I like my writing pretty well myself, at least at times: One of the pleasures of appearing in “traditional form” is opening, say, EContent, reading a column, saying “You know, that’s pretty good,” and noting that I wrote it.

    I continue the process of reading fairly old C&Is, old enough that I’ve forgotten them. Sometimes I note the typos that I never catch pre-publication. Sometimes, I say “You know, that’s pretty good.”

    Then there’s the pleasure I had over nine years, editing LITA Newsletter so that the contributions were readable, grammatical and reasonably fluid–but always retaining the voice and style of the contributor (well, unless it was totally hopeless, which almost never happened). I take considerable pride in that work, and hope to do something like it in the future.

  8. steven bell Says:

    Here’s an article you need to read Walt – the basic message – 62 is the new 42:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/10/AR2007091001839.html

  9. walt Says:

    As a pre-Boomer (Boomers aren’t turning 62 just yet…), I generally agree–with one big caveat: At 42, I anticipated 50 years ahead. At 62…I’ll be more than happy with 30 more, even though my family’s history suggests more like 35.

  10. Anna Creech Says:

    And the day after, I turn half your age. ;)

    Happy birthday, Walt!

  11. John Dupuis Says:

    Happy birthday, Walt. I’m turning 45 in a few weeks, during the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. I’ll buy the Public Libraries book today as a kind of b-day present.

    I never used an electric typewriter, going straight from a manual to using various word processors in around 1985 or 1986. I do remember composing term papers in one draft at the typewriter! I can no longer even imagine trying to type so carefully as to avoid any mistakes.

  12. joshua m. neff Says:

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Crawford!

  13. walt Says:

    OK, Joshua, I’m in a good mood today, so I’ll let that “Mr.” go…but, you know, the name is Walt. In that sense, 62 really is the new 42: “Mr.” makes me feel, well, older.

    The first book-length manuscript I ever wrote, and the only unpublished one, I wrote on an electric typewriter. I did two drafts. I had one copy and one carbon. Both of them disappeared many years ago. Given that I spent two years cursing at microfilm readers (the manuscript was on press coverage of the Free Speech Movement, so I had to look at a LOT of newspapers-on-microfilm), the miracle is that I ever tried another book.

    Fortunately, I learned good typing habits in junior high–70wpm then, about 80wpm now if I’m transcribing (adjusted for errors). I find it’s always easier to catch mistakes during initial entry than to try to find them later–particularly since spell checkers don’t handle “legal but wrong” words very well (e.g., if I’d used “then too” in this sentence–and an awful lot of people seem to use “too” when they mean “to”).

    Anyway, thanks all. I’m taking the day off today (legitimately)–but, of course, I’ll still be working on “my own stuff”: Essays for the next C&I, blog analysis for the Academic Library Blogs project. And a nice meal or two.

  14. Laura Says:

    Happy Birthday!

    I try to use titles when addressing younger people and first names when addressing adults–I like to throw the system off a bit–so I address my birthday greetings to both Walt and Mr. Crawford.

    I hope the day goes well and that the meals are excellent!

  15. George Needham Says:

    Happy birthday, Walt! No, you weren’t have been present at the creation, but that’s probably what’s wrong with it.

  16. George Needham Says:

    And what was that about careful typing? Maybe I should go back to high school and audit that typing class I ditched for a semester.

  17. Michael Golrick Says:

    Happy birthday. Mine is a week from Monday, and I am not quite a decade younger.

    As a writer you are grammatical, even on the blog. That is a highly prized quality in my book.

    Keep up the good work!

  18. walt Says:

    Michael, George, thanks…and Michael, thanks particularly for “grammatical.”

    I try, although my punctuation is far from flawless and I have no qualms about sentence fragments or terminal prepositions.

    George: Typing in high school? For us it was Junior High, what might now be intermediate school. Oddly, for a little while in college, I did plausible calligraphy (including at one point rendering the entire “A Elbereth Gilthoniel” in Elvish script)–oddly because even I can’t read my handwriting any more unless I use just the right micropoint pens.

    [For the one person who might care: Now that Uniball Roller Grip 0.2mm pens seem to have disappeared entirely, I’ve finally found that Uniball Signo Micro (0.5mm) 207 writes an equally fine line and seems unlikely to leak under airplane/high-altitude pressure, the problem with other Uniball Micro versions. And, for what it’s worth, it’s one of the Uniball pens with ink that apparently can’t be removed from checks by scam artists. Oh, and instead of a cap it’s a good old clicker.]

  19. Michelle Says:

    Walt,
    May this year bring you many blessings. Happy Belated Birthday.

  20. walt Says:

    Thanks again to all.


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