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Basic Advice to Writers: Don’t Be Boring

Written By : Robert Stacy McCain
August 19, 2009

Nothing is worse than a writer who takes the reader’s interest for granted. This mistake is particularly common in political writing: “I am a conservative, expressing a conservative viewpoint on an issue of interest to fellow conservatives. Therefore, why bother trying to make it interesting?”

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Bland, boring writing — however sound the political principles or accurate the facts such writing may convey — is now a serious problem in the conservative movement. Afraid to offend an imagined typical conservative reader (who perhaps may be the stuffy stereotype of liberal legend) or simply through sheer lazy inertia, too many conservative writers make no effort to produce work that is engaging, lively and potentially controversial. Force-feeding the pubic a steady diet of flavorless pabulum, of interest only to a handful of policy wonks and GOP insiders, further reinforces negative perceptions of conservatives as uptight and unimaginative.

Exhibit A: Michael Gerson, the former Bush White House chief speechwriter and dull-as-dirt columnist for The Washington Post. If you want to know how not to engage a reader’s attention, how to make your byline an instant cue to turn the page, carefully study Gerson’s method. The man has got tedious writing down to a science.

And guess what? His notions of political strategy are all wrong, too:

This is a classic example of what inevitably happens when bureaucrats attempt journalism. At nearly 5,000 words, this massive malodorous manure pile might be mined like a Comstock Lode of idiocy, yet its telling point is this bland sentence:
“Republicans will also have to put forth a comprehensive reform agenda.”
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. . . . Given the current powerlessness of the GOP, it is their duty as the opposition to remind Americans daily that the Democrats are leading the country straight to hell.
Republicans need not, and arguably should not, offer their own roadmap to heaven, which can then be picked apart at leisure by the Democrats’ own policy wonks. . . .
The Gerson/Wehner call for a “comprehensive reform agenda” is patent nonsense, the exact opposite of sound opposition strategy, a make-work project for underemployed former Bushlings.

Gerson is a wonk who writes for his fellow wonks. The GOP has too many of these dullards running around nowadays wasting words without purpose or benefit. It is saddening to think that a once-lively journal like Commentary would actually pay for such useless stuff.

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