Poor Timothy Egan, writer of five books and fill in columnist for Maureen Dowd, got his head handed to him in a recent writing fight with Joe the Plumber.
Egan decided to take on Joe the Plumber’s reported book deal. It should have been a no contest fight. Professional writer Egan vs. newbie, never published Joe.
Unfortunately for Egan, Joe had two volunteer corner men who KO’d Egan’s uninspired prose and vapid thinking before Joe even got in the ring. Tim Blair and Mark Steyn, two of the wittiest pundits writing, gave Egan a lesson in Writing 101.
Egan’s opening paragraph ripping Joe as possible wordsmith augured the rout:
"The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?"
"The clapped-out Warhol yawneroo in the very first sentence? What wordsmith's course did [Egan] learn that from? By the way, I'd certainly like him to fix my toilet, and would be willing to chip in the Greyhound fare up to New Hampshire. Oh, and, given the amount of lead in his prose, Mr Egan would seem to be a natural pipe fitter."
"If Joe turns out to be so poor a writer that he uses reeking Warholian clichés in an opening paragraph, I don’t want him writing books either. But it’s a fine publishing idea to have Egan fix a leaking toilet. Shared qualities of author and subject aside, Timothy Egan Fixes a Leaky Toilet (Houghton Mifflin, 2009) would naturally lead to a lucrative sequence of spinoffs: Timothy Egan Fixes a Leaky Toilet for the Soul, Timothy Egan and the Sorcerer’s Toilet, and an historical masterwork: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Toilet Bowl." [One of Egan’s five books is The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl]
Added to Egan’s writing style problems is an inadequate illustration base and contradictory reasoning. Egan faults Joe for thinking he could be a writer after having problems with paying all his taxes and not being a union credentialed plumber. Egan cites Mark Twain as a writing model far out of “failure” Joe’s reach.
[Blair quoting Egan:] "'With a résumé full of failure, [Joe] now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.'
[Blair:]"Hold that thought. Having condemned Joe as a 'failure' and therefore unqualified to write, here’s Egan just four paragraphs later:
"'Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty …'
"Obscure and broke, but you could never call them failures. (Incidentally, Twain – who left school at 12 and late in life filed for bankruptcy – seems also to fill the 'failure' requirement, as defined by Egan.)"
How embarrassing not to know that Mark Twain had failures similar to Joe’s and managed to escape Egan’s truism that failures can’t be great writers. Then Egan follows that with an even broader self-refuting illustration that most writers actually do live as failures in obscurity and near poverty.
Egan needs a little back-to-school writing and thinking help. Or maybe a couple of months of reading Tim Blair’s and Mark Steyn’s back columns will give Egan the remedial help he needs to pump up his pundit and writing skills.