Reflections on Writing

In the last few years I have become more intentional about my professional writing. I wanted to document, for myself and others, some of the lessons I have learned and some parts of my journey as an author.

As a child I was homeschooled and never really mastered spelling. My mother would say that if I was going to be successful or take notes I needed to learn to spell. From my earliest years I can remember that I wanted my letters to be uniform and spelling correct. In many ways I think this inhibited me as an author. I was terrified to make mistakes. The summer before going into ninth grade I remember sitting at the kitchen table with a blank page and an assignment to write something like six sentences (essentially a paragraph). I sat there with a blank page for over three hours. As an adult discussing my past with others, I learned about reading and writing challenges people face. I would not be surprised if I have Dysgraphia. Ninth grade was transformative in several ways. I got a computer in my bedroom and learned to type my assignments on it. Spellcheck was amazing and liberating. I had written in a personal journal periodically prior, but that year writing effort exploded exponentially. I wrote my lab reports in science class with some ease. But it was really several short story assignments in English class which set me free. But even those were challenging from a compositional point of view. While I didn’t see Finding Forrester until several years later, I identified with Jamal Wallace who learned to write by extending a famous author’s text. That was my story too. When I found WordPress in 2006, typing became my way of thinking. By 2012, I counted that I was writing between 10,000 and 14,000 words a month. I knew I could write, but I wasn’t always refined. In fact I think I might always be in a state of refining.

What follows are some of the compositional tips I have learned along the way from other experienced writers. Along the way I have learned that writing is really about several skills coming together: composition, word choice, content, format, illustrations, and examples. None of the following have been the complete answer but now they inform me as I write. Sometimes people would tell me things about writing, but I wouldn’t understand what they were trying to communicate until five or ten years later.

  • My undergraduate philosophy professor taught me an outline with points, counterpoints and counter-counterpoints. As an undergrad I appreciated this, but it wasn’t enough to build a great paper. I still needed a greater understanding of the whole picture of a “good composition”.
  • Cindy Parker told me I needed a proofreader. I do. It wasn’t until my second graduate degree that I was able to form a relationship with someone who volunteered to read my writing and offer suggestions. Now that person is a crucial part of my writing process (BTW: Cindy is not related to the Steven Parker on this list).
  • Ken Olson taught me to lay hands on everything I reference and cite. He also pointedly told me to reference everything in the literature. I shouldn’t let my prejudice or theoretical persuasion preclude an investigation-of or desire-to reference some work.
  • Steven Paker, a UMass-Amherst graduate, boldly proclaimed in his class that if one didn’t agree with what was in the literature, one should publish against it. That is, be bold in one’s writing. Be oppositional! Call others out and show them with data why their suggestions have limits in their applications. Of course his area of research was optimality theory, specifically phonology, but the advice remains relevant more broadly.
  • Stephen Marlett taught me that my bibliography and references section is a social and political statement. It is a piece of social negotiation and pragmatics. It is the evidence of allegiances.
  • Gary Simons taught me that you can write a paper which just points out a problem, however, one should write a paper, and the better paper, is one that presents a solution to a problem. It is one thing to attack. It’s another thing to replace.
  • Michael Ahland taught me the five-point outline. Prior to working with Michael I wasn’t sure what the parts were or how to assess the “whole” of a written work. His instruction was life changing.
  • Diana Weber told me I didn’t read like other people read. This helped me better understand how I engage with text, composition, and opened me up to the possibility that others experience my composition in ways different from me.
  • Doris Payne taught me to define all my terms and critically consider what I accept as evidence. Defining my terms is not something that brings clarity to me, but rather brings clarity to my reader.
  • Keith Snider harped on removing unnecessary nominalizations and preposition phrases. Occasionally, I oblige. Long germanic relative clauses are still with me.
  • Andy Black challenged me in the tools I chose to use to compose and write. Now I use GoogleDocs to get short thoughts out fast with a wide blank page-like background. When needed, I then process them into LaTeX for formal publication or Markdown for storage or blogs. GoogleDocs also allows fast synchronous or asynchronous editing. I stay away from all forms of Microsoft products. Fonts have a big impact on my ability to read as I type. With the wrong font I can not compose as fast. Many times I find myself sketchnoting with an A5 size, unlined notebook and a 3B leaded pencil. Sketchnoting allows me to switch from outlining to drawing to graphing with ease. I bring these images into Figma for professional SVG creation. The outlines become the main points in my more developed writings. Andy’s tool XLingPaper was instrumental in allowing me to focus on specific portions of my text and also stick to and simultaneously stick to an outline format. I have come to learn that good writing sometimes means meta-writing. Or at least meta-outlining. It is where one writes the outline, the things to discuss, and then the reason why it is in the conversation or “discussion”. Finally, by using XLingPaper, I had to read my document twice, one time each in a different font. One in a code writer, and once in a stylized PDF.
  • Stephen Moitozo taught me that conferences are trade shows where what is on display and for trade are intellectual ideas. Truth matters less than the ability to trade and negotiate a deal. If one writes a paper that is just about the application of a process that paper has minimal impact. If one writes a paper presenting a tool that others can use that has a broad reach, especially if they are claiming that their methodology is better than other peoples methodology and those people can come to the author to negotiate a deal to use the methodology.
  • Alexandre François via “Phonotactics and the prestopped velar lateral of Hiw: resolving the ambiguity of a complex segment” and Alexis Michaud both inspire me in my writing via their clear style of writing which leads the reader along to their conclusions and simultaneously precludes any objections.
Content Mediums:
Hugh Paterson III
Hugh Paterson III
Collaborative Scholar

I specialize in bespoke research at the intersection of Linguistics, Law, Languages, and Technology; specifically utility and life-cycle management for information products in these spaces.