A cautionary tale In honor of 'How To Not Write Bad'
I worked at the Suncoast News at Port Richey, Fl. It is owned by the Tampa Tribune and covers Pasco and North Pinellas counties. It also had the distinction of being a free twice-weekly newspaper with a huge circulation of like 150,000 copies.
This one guy who had been there forever was the worst writer I have seen -- EVER. His stories made absolutely no sense. However, the editor above us was extremely lazy and also couldn't write a lick. Issue after issues the abomination blighted actual journalistic efforts.
It pissed me off that I was working my ass off writing great stories that nobody at the paper cared about, and this guy was walking around like he was dong an equivalent job. I decided to take some action.
Silly me, as a joke, I decided to mimic his style and see if anybody noticed the difference or if they would say anything. I was inspired by the example of John Robert Starr, my editor at the Arkansas Democrat who incidentally gave Bill Clinton the nickname "Slick Willy."
One day Starr shaved off half his mustache and walked around the newsroom all day waiting for somebody to say something. Nobody did. Either they figured it was just another day of weird or were too afraid he would fire them if they said anything.
So inspired, I set out to write like this fool. First lesson: It was REALLY difficult writing like him because it was so screwy. The closest I can think of was it was kind of like writing like Yoda speaks, but not nearly as "wise."
Despite the degree of difficulty -- stories took longer to write in this convoluted way and I was laughing so hard it hurt -- I approximated this guy's style for three issues. Grammar, basically, was free-form and words askew left and right. The stories were horrible bad full of sound and meaningless fury, signifying what.
Nobody said anything. Finally, I ended the experiment because, well, it was ridiculous and embarrassing to boot.
That wasn't the end of it though. When I tried to write back in my usual style, I flat-out COULDN'T. Writing like this freak totally threw my actual writing out of whack. It took like two weeks to unlearn that guy's style and get back to writing semi-well.
The lesson I learned: Writing bad is not as simple as it seems, so some reverse respect for people that take it to the limit (of bad taste etc.) And, writers, don't try this at (your) home (page).