Reading Like a Writer – All Writing Can Benefit From Clarity and Organization

I’m not fond of broccoli but I eat it anyway because it’s good for me. As a writer of nonfiction, I also do the writerly equivalent of eating broccoli.

Midway through the January 19, 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books, I came to an article entitled “The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics” by Steven Weinberg. I do not understand physics in general (let alone quantum mechanics) and I have no urge to become knowledgeable on the subject. But I subscribe to five journals that I read cover-to-cover, in part to stay exposed to subjects in which I’m not interested and opinions with which I disagree. So I heaved a large sigh and began to read.

I wish I could tell you that Weinberg’s article opened my eyes to the mysteries of quantum mechanics. It did not. But it was a joy to read because it was clearly written and meticulously ordered. I now know that newly-noticed behavior of electrons somehow broke down the distinctions between particles and fields and that there are two approaches to quantum mechanics (but please don’t ask me to explain either the realist or the instrumentalist approach) as well as two ways of approaching the shortcomings of those two approaches (again, don’t ask me to elaborate). I also know that Einstein himself thought quantum mechanics was “not yet the real thing.”

I won’t say I’m ready to engage in conversation with the next physicist I run in to. But I do know just a wee bit more than I did before reading the article and the reason I do is because of the clarity and organization of the material…two things I can put to use in my own writing. I’m also eager to throw out the Einstein quote at the first available opportunity.

So I will continue to engage in the writerly equivalent of eating broccoli. It’s good for me.