Reflections on the inauspicious debut of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

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Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the greatest single piece of music humanity has ever produced. I was, however, surprised to learn that this epochal work, rather than bursting successfully onto the world’s consciousness, had a problematic and stumbling debut and took years to be recognized. There is surely a lesson here for anyone attempting to create. … Continued

An editor’s notebook: coda

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All this week, I’ve looked for lessons from the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve edited in the last few years. Here’s a little of what I’ve learned. Writing is difficult. But with enough practice and good coaching, you can get good at it. Editing is a higher level of difficulty. The editor must understand … Continued

Unfair

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I was a math prodigy. But everything changed when I encountered an unfair problem more like the real world than mathematics. Math had always come easily to me. I majored in math at Penn State, and everyone in the department knew I was a student with special abilities. Math sort of shifts on you. In … Continued

My problem with books

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I have a books problem. My parents read Dr. Seuss books to me when I was a child, and that was where it started. Every weekend they would take me to the library. It started with the books on science and astronomy. Once I had read them all, they introduced me to the grownup side … Continued

I predicted Apple would die: “Wake up and smell the toast”

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It was 1996. Gil Amelio had just taken over Apple Computer. My job at Forrester was to predict the future. I was certain that Apple would crater and I said so in print. Steve Jobs had introduced the Lisa and then, the insanely great Macintosh, in 1984. It made a hell of an impact, and … Continued

Fall down seven times get up eight

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Inspiring, no? People keep using this quote (a Japanese proverb) to tell me to persevere no matter what. No matter how many times life knocks you down, you’re supposed to take it and get up again, right? I have just a few problems with this. First of all, who stays down? Short of suicide, of … Continued

Bullshit hiding in plain sight

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I talk about the bullshit in what we read all the time. I’m so deep into it that I’m inured to the whole concept. But I had an experience yesterday that helped me recognize just how pervasive the problem of bullshit is. Here’s the scene. I’m running a plain writing workshop for a group of … Continued

Harlan Ellison was a God damned pain in the ass. I’ll miss him.

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The writer Harlan Ellison died yesterday. He was a brilliant, irritating, iconoclastic, inflexible force of nature. I cannot imagine him being 84 years old, and death is exactly the sort of inconvenience he’d never put up with. Harlan (everyone just called him “Harlan”) began his writing career by joining a street gang, undercover, and then … Continued