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When I write (non-formal essays for/to myself or others), I frequently stumble and freeze on trying to be deep. I usually have the argument or point, but I'll get stuck on phrasing that has a certain "punch" to it.

I feel like the "wanting-to-be-deep-ism" is impeding me writing anything. So, should I write a draft not in prose first, and then prose-it-up later? Or are there other approaches?

  • Read some authors who are concise and to the point, but still considered very good. It may help to read those in the particular field, especially essayists, otherwise I'd try to come up with examples. – Michael Jul 17 '17 at 18:58
  • Related, not quite a dupe: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/2027/… – Lauren Ipsum Jul 17 '17 at 19:47
  • By "deep," do you mean Latinate words? – kindall Jul 17 '17 at 20:54
  • @kindall, I was thinking moreso with regards to phrasing. I don't seem to have an issue with vocabulary (Anglo-Saxon or Latinate) to fit an argument; what I struggle with is creating a narrative flow through analogy or rhetoric that drives a train-of-thought more effectively than stating the point, verbatim. One of my favorite works is Thomas Paine's Common Sense, because of the analogies and narrative flow he uses to describe what could literally be considered to be "Common Sense." – Marco Jul 17 '17 at 21:02
  • Read "Politics and the English Language" by Orwell. If you've already read it, good. Reading is rereading. – August Canaille Jul 18 '17 at 12:19
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Write it down in whatever form: ideas, individual words or phrases, single unconnected paragraphs. The process of actually writing it down will make it clearer in your mind. As well, then you have something written to work with and to form. The main thing is to start getting it on paper (or computer screen).

  • Thanks, @S. Mitchell. Do you mean both, the attempts at deep phrasing, and the non-deep version, or only one of the two? – Marco Jul 17 '17 at 19:53
  • When I am really struggling to form an idea in my head before writing it down, I often try just writing and not worrying too much. Then I have a basic text I can work with, not just a blank page. As well, writing it down usually makes my idea much clearer. – S. Mitchell Jul 18 '17 at 15:33
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It's good that you recognize the problem - because authors frequently fill their prose with florid pleonasms in attempt to appear deep, and creating something simply awful as result, without even realizing this. Now, to deal with this...

Since the standard advice: "use moderation" - is difficult in your case, you may be more successful by turning "depth" way past the end of the scale of serious and epic - and well into the realm of comedy. A strong satire, a sharp wit can drive the point better than most profound-sounding solemn declaration. Instead of stating the concept in a deep and profound manner, mock the opposite through a rude, humorous parody. That way you'll easily steer clear of any uninvited pathos, and your writing will not only drive the point home - it will be a pleasure to read too!

  • This is fantastic -- I never thought of this. Most of the works I've read are serious dialogues; do you have any reference literature (off hand) that talks about serious issues in a comedic or satirical way? I'd love to read some. Satire is one of the few genres of political and philosophical literature that I'm not too familiar with. – Marco Jul 18 '17 at 14:18
  • @Marco: I don't recall any books at the moment, but I can suggest a couple movies. Starting with Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (Fascism), then "Idiocracy" (stupidity being fashionable), "The men who stare at goats" (CIA's dirty secrets), "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"(American culture), "Dr. Strangelove" (Cold War), "Fight Club" (Corporate culture), "M.A.S.H." (Vietnam war, Military) and "Monty Python and the Meaning of Life" (many different themes.) – SF. Jul 18 '17 at 15:08
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One suggestion might be to use more concrete examples, to give the reader tangible evidence of your ideas. You can use this method in a number of ways.

One would be to take an essay (or other piece) you are unsatisfied with and highlight the parts that you feel are too "wanting-to-be-deep", which I imagine (could be wrong here) to be a too-cerebral or "generalized" approach. For each of these parts, imagine some situation or analogy (from life itself) that illustrates what you mean. These would be separate, possibly unrelated examples of your ideas. Then see if you find a thread between the narratives/ examples that ties any of them together, or select one or two you prefer and see if you can use it/them to connect your abstract thoughts into a more tangible and coherent whole.

This sounds more convoluted than it really is! I find this to be a sort of focused brainstorming revision process, and hopefully can help to get your mind connecting less rhetorical and more substantive dots.

Another approach could be to scrap the previous draft and consider your idea from the ground up. Think first about the point you are trying to make. But remember to allow your writing to carry you beyond your preconceived notion about what it will be; use your objective as a starting rather than a finishing point. The best writing always surprises the author on some level. So then imagine that original "point" you're working on in various scenarios or applications. If what you come up with seems too "pedestrian", try to think of something that has emotional as well as cerebral content. Even mathematical concepts can form stories, so try to make connections.

Also consider visual or other sensuous illustration. Then, play with it. Try moving parts around. Or try asking questions instead of only declarative/ explanatory sentences. At some point something should "click."

Finally, think of clichés associated with your idea. See if you can twist or turn them around or make them unexpectedly surreal or different. People often think in clichés without realizing it. When you turn it around, this wakes the reader up, either by being true in an unexpected way or by creating a sense of renewal about the mundane. That's a cheap trick, yes, but oddly it seems to work more than you might think. Of course, here I am not giving you concrete examples...but I'm not sure about the type of essay you're thinking about. Cliché could be common phrases, familiar fables or fairy tales, pop culture references, or something entirely different.

Remember to avoid dull and expected generalization. All ideas are better presented using examples, metaphors or visual references, etc, something like a virtual power point. Also choose one basic thread or a few examples that can tie together from the examples you came up with. Then if you want to generalize at the end, see if you can find some kind of transformation or "turning point", appropriate to your subject. You only have to hint at it, if that's your style. Or be more forceful if that feels right.

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