Good writing is like golf, not bowling
An open letter to readers and writers that I hope will serve as my unofficial announcement of a new book, to be entitled ... (it's okay you can look at the bold font above)
"I have finally arrived at what I believe is a serious conclusion."
'And what might that be?'
"Good writing is like golf, not bowling."
'Would you kindly repeat that? I just "wanna" be sure I heard you correctly.'
“Good writing is like golf, not bowling.”
Back in the days when a nickel purchased just about anything ...
As a boy and teenager, I enjoyed golf and bowling, but I remember with special fondness the Nelson Burton Bowling Alley in Olivette, Missouri, on Olive Street Road directly across from where my mother, brother Ron and I lived for about five years at 20 Tower Hill Court.
Way back in the early 1960(s) the names of Nelson Burton, his son Nelson Burton Jr. and their bowling alley were icons in the world of professional bowling, but most of all in our world and that of the other kids of Olivette, Missouri.
All things considered, Nelson Burton's was a decent place to hang out. My brother Ron and I spent a great deal of time there, more than my mother liked but there was nothing she could do about it. It wasn't what you'd call a breeding ground for hooliganism although we did learn how to rig the pin-ball machines so that one could play virtually all day at the cost of a mere nickel. Yes, we bowled not as often as we should have, but we did, bowl that is, every now and then.
There are no two other games more disparate than golf and bowling, as opposite each other as the seven pin from the ten pin. Go ahead, ask any average league bowler after a beer or two what, he thinks, the most important of all numbers is from within the world of bowling. You got that? From within the world of bowling.
Oh, come on, it's not a trick question, you know, it's ... "
"threee ... hunnn"
"Three hundred, right? that's it. Three hundred. Bowling's most important number.
Because it's the score of a perfect game. Can you imagine receiving this kind of scoring reward for bowling a strike in every frame. Now, that's what I'd call perfection.
Now drop that same number into the world of golf. After one game, three hundred! Why you’d be stripped of your Titleist balls, huh ... golf balls, I meant. Maybe banned from the miniature golf park. Even if we were to agree to make it your score after eighteen holes instead of nine. I am so sorry, but it is, as the French say, a fait accompli. The damage has been done.
I guess I should have asked this earlier, but 'Is there anyone out there who does not know that the primary objective in golf is to get the ball on the green in the cup with as few strokes as possible. Thus a golfer who finishes out after eighteen holes with a 72 has beaten out the next guy who finishes with a 73.
Bowling is America’s mind set game par excellence; in a (pea)nut shell, the more the better. As one approaches “three hundred” the remaining pin count acquires incremental degrees of “holiness”; the bowling alley a place to which more people are drawn, temple-like in its attraction.
Now do you understand why I characterized these two games "as opposite each other as the seven pin from the ten pin?"
What brought all this on?
It wasn't quite fair of me but I meant well.
'Do you know how the scoring in bowling is different than that of golf?' My friend looked at me as if I were nuts. But to spare my feelings, he attempted to answer my question without the slightest idea that
our conversation was related to the paper he had written that he wanted me to read over.
"Still too wordy, " I muttered. I tried to come up with a catchy phrase, I hoped, might remind him and other writers that 'a better explanation' does not always mean 'a longer explanation'.
In Search of “Thorough Brevity”
It's a hard call to make. If not the worst, it is, perhaps, of all the bad habits of writers, the most difficult to break.
Verbosity, the nemesis of clarity. Now, I understand there will always be legitimate exceptions, and I 'm not suggesting that we under explain things in the pursuit of "short-windedness", “Thorough brevity” need not be dismissed as an oxymoron.
For those taught to believe that "thoroughness" requires more words than any definition of“brevity” could ever allow, now is the time to introduce “thorough brevity”, an old concept with a new name. It has the same meaning as "efficient writing"-getting the message across to your reader with as few well-chosen words as possible. A "good" piece of writing should be a source of inspiration and instruction for a reader rather than a cure for his insomnia.
"Good writing/thoroughly brief/efficient writing" should lead to "clarity" (which I have heard author and radio host Dennis Prager say he prefers more than being right) and from "clarity" well, my friends, let your imagination soar.
More about this soon.