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To Become a Boring Writer, Attend College

Written by Gary North on April 30, 2016

I have written about 15,000 articles and over 50 books. I have written hundreds of advertisements. I have earned my living as a writer ever since 1967 — a very good living. I even wrote a Ph.D. dissertation. I know how to write.

They say that old dogs don’t learn new tricks. Well, I am an old dog, and I have just learned a new trick.

So, I guess the old saying isn’t true. I guess they are wrong. A universal negative is refuted by a single positive.

I have at last come to my senses. It has taken 60 years.

I am beginning to outline my magnum opus, the culmination of my calling, which began in 1960. I am going to write my book on Christian economics. It will be a treatise, not a textbook. I never intend to write a textbook, because textbooks have to be written to satisfy committees, and the worst thing that any nonfiction author can do is to write for a committee. I don’t mean the worst thing he can do financially; I mean the worst thing he can do aesthetically.

For about 40 years, I have been writing direct response advertising copy. This is the best possible way for a nonfiction author to learn how to motivate people. This is the best way to learn economy of language. As far as I know, the only two authors in the field of free market economics who write academic materials and direct response copy are Mark Skousen and I. We have both been doing this for 40 years. He has written a textbook on economics. I have not.

One of the earliest exercises we have in writing essays, at least in my generation, is the ritual return to school essay, “What I Did Over the Summer.” I could never figure out why the teacher wanted to know what I did over the summer. It was only after I was long out of school that I finally figured it out: she was trying to find out how well each of the students could write. This must have been a depressing exercise for her, just as it was for the rest of us.

Nevertheless, in retrospect it was a good exercise. It was a good exercise for one reason: the word “I” — the vertical pronoun. This word is crucial for honesty. It reveals to the reader a crucial fact about the writer. It personalizes the writer. With respect to nonfiction, the writer should be personalized.


Academia adopts a phony impersonalism as its rhetorical standard. We read this on Purdue University’s site:

Keep your language neutral

During your studies, it is likely that you will have the opportunity to write about topics that inspire or infuriate you. Regardless of your passion for a topic, academic audiences prefer clear, precise, and neutral descriptions to emotional or moralistic language. For example:

Education is the single most important factor in career success.

This is a statement that an overwhelming majority of people would agree with, but saying that education is the single most important factor tells readers more about your response to education than about education’s real role in having a successful career. When academic readers see this, it leads them to believe that you cannot help imposing your attitudes on a subject. A more neutral and persuasive way of writing would be:

[The plodding academic committee that wrote this forgot to include any example. Too bad. I would have had fun with it.]

Education is one important factor in career success. Don’t be extreme. Academic readers are often suspicious of superlative claims. These are statements that begin with “the most” or “the least” or end with “–est,” and are applied to all situations. You can make it less extreme by narrowing the situations in which the statement is true.

This cripples anyone who is trying to write persuasively for non-academics, which means (1) people with money to spend; (2) people who are willing to take risks; and (3) people who are in the real world of market competition.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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