Writing: Putting on the style

Writing is the core of my work nowadays. It took half a lifetime to find out, but this is what I do best. Specifically, I’m good at short, fast analytical comment on political and economic events and trends as they occur and evolve. I write a lot: too much, perhaps. Yet each piece is a pleasure; in the same way as I imagine a potter is proud of each pot, even if she makes many. (For more detail and examples, go to Samples or Employers.)

I enjoy writing. And I like using different voices. The fact that everyone who asks you to write for them has different house styles is to me not a nuisance, more of a challenge. Part of the art is to shape your own style to that of the organ you’re writing for. I’d find it dull to be always the same. Far more fun to be a chameleon and try to blend in.

This approach may have a downside, or several. Some people don’t trust chameleons: show us your true colours! Yet aren’t we all urged to be flexible nowadays? I am.

There can be a risk, though, in being that adaptable. You may start to forget what your own voice is any more. Mine has evolved over time – some might say, gone downhill – especially with moving away from academe into what is essentially journalism. Time was when I could wield footnotes and turgid obscurantism with the best of them. Why, I even wrote an article for New Left Review on the articulation of modes of production – whatever that was. (You don’t really want the reference/link, do you? Thought not.)

But even in those days of left-elitist false consciousness, I tried to render complex ideas intelligibly. While dead against intellectual laziness or dumbing-down – and there’s far too much of both around, in these shallow times – I was and am all for two things which seem similar, but are really different. One is legitimate simplification: simply, putting things simply and plainly. George Orwell is my great hero, in this as much else.

The other, less Orwellian trope (steady on: tha’ll be talking teleology next) is humour. I like to affect a chatty, irreverent style. Worse, I have a weakness for the good ol’ boys, in ya face tone of American journalism. If some people find this un-British and/or undignified, so be it: each to his or her own gout. (In Korea, needless to say, I adapt.)

My only worry, never entirely allayed, is lest lightness of tone be mistaken for lightness of weight. Hopefully, my oeuvre and track record show I’m serious about Korea. But deadly serious doesn’t have to mean deadly dull. Yes, I may spice the dish to help the medicine down. Maybe I sometimes over-egg the pudding. For sure, I mix metaphors.

But it’s all for the good of the cause. For every one who complains, there are a dozen who are kind enough to tell me I make it interesting and bring it alive. I don’t say there aren’t other ways, but this is my way. Mission statements are an abomination, but if I had one it would be this: I just want you to know more, and care more, about Korea. If this approach achieves that, I’m well satisfied – and can cope with the slings and arrows.

Now, back to the articulation of modes of production ….