Know what you want to say before you say it, this chapter suggests, but let yourself discover what that really is in the act of composing orderly paragraphs. Democracy—not just art—depends on the lucid expression of careful and independent thinking. I write it in the knowledge that there are still a few of us left who know you can never know too much about how to write elegantly.
I write it for the people who have been my students for ten years now and for people like them, and I write it largely out of what they have taught me about what I thought I already knew about writing. The Little Red Writing Book has been insisting upon itself for five or six years now. About that time I heard its heartbeat within my teaching materials. But five years ago, I had no books of my own in the world.
It seemed precocious to write a writing book before writing a real one. Two, nearly three, books later, its time has come. But this book began before all that. It began when I did. And from twentyodd years before that, as a child becoming a man becoming a writer. But this is more than a philosophy and a critique of writing. I aim to be as practical as I can.
For the most useful things I know are sound first principles. But this book of big ideas is also a book of craft and technique. This book is for everyone who wants to write. This is a book of the disciplines of diction and structure, of thought and sentence construction that apply whatever one is writing.
All of it is writing. And writing is a profession, or something like one. Voice Stepping out 13 and personality matter more, you might think, to the writeras-artist than they do to the writer-as-parent or as businesswoman or policy writer. But, in fact, voice matters whatever you write, because writing takes place in sound. This book will show you how to write tunefully. For the trick to writing better is to make your writing less like you always thought writing had to be—to let it talk, no matter what.
Ten ways of saying the same thing well William Strunk thought the best writing was vigorous The Elements of Style. Here are ten tips for writing vigorous prose.
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all of his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject only in outline, but that every word tell. Learn to use them with originality and care. Value them for their strength and their precision. And remember: somebody out there is listening.
Most of it happens when you are not writing. It does not happen accidentally. It results from the care the author takes with word choice, sentence structure and organisation. If you wanted a model of humane and intelligent prose, of beautifully uttered sentences, and paragraphs as nicely arranged as the communities of lichen and moss on the sandstone rocks I passed this morning on my walk, you could do worse than study Arctic Dreams or one of his collections of fables— River Notes, say.
It was a nice thing to say. Gracious and apt. But untrue. Barry Lopez knows perfectly well how to write a bad sentence. Everyone does. Even you. Sentences fail for many reasons. You may not know enough about what a sentence is to get to the end of one with poise. Or you may, like Barry, know more than enough, but you give them too much weight to carry; you work them too hard.
And they break. I know that Barry Lopez knows how to write and right a bad sentence because he rewrites everything—from essays and stories to his longest books—four and five times. And because he works on a typewriter, he writes every sentence from start to finish through four or five drafts. Think about the discipline that calls for—the care and the labour entailed in it. Writing is the art of making an utterance perfectly natural through the perfectly unnatural process of making every word and phrase again and again, cutting here and adding there, until it is just so.
It is contrived spontaneity. What the writer wants is something just like speech only more compressed, more melodic, more economical, more balanced, more precise. Good writers take almost too much care with their work. You just have to be committed to making it right; you just have to make yourself hard to please, word after word. Until you make it seem easy. And you can compensate for a want of the first by a surplus of the second.
Work hard to make your writing seem to have cost you no effort at all. Struggle gamely to make it seem that your words came as naturally to you as the sun to the sky in the morning. Just as though you opened your mouth and spoke. I would ask for the stories, the voice of memory over the land.
I would ask to taste the wild nuts and fruits, to see their fishing lures, their bouquets, their fences. I would ask about the history of storms there, the age of the trees, the winter color of the hills. Only then would I ask to see the museums. I would want first the sense of a real place, to know that I was not inhabiting an idea.
Note how awkward, arid and inelegant they sound; how they fall apart structurally; how they could have done with another draft or five. See if you can improve them. See if you can even understand them. Quoll I saw an Eastern quoll last night, looking out my kitchen window.
A quoll is a marsupial a bit like a squirrel, but with white polka dots on the fawn field of its small body. Fleet and sharp-eyed and lean. She ran past my hut and around the feet of the two deciduous beeches standing there in their mosses; she was following her nose to dinner, though she found none here tonight, and then, before I could pull the camera from my anorak pocket, she was off down the drive with my syntax.
So you see, it was I at the sink, not the quoll. You have to be careful how you make your sentences—specifically, in this case, where you locate your modifying clause.
My sentence was loose; my technique let me down. You can rely on it to do that now and then. The trick is to catch yourself at your error before anyone else does. Neither of them struck its reader as strange until he and in the other case she read it out loud.
Between changing nappies, I wondered if you would consider writing a note to open the new issue of our baby directory. See if you can fix those. Lore 21 Writing is the best kind of conversation you never heard When you write, you talk on paper. When we write, using letters to make words, and words to make phrases, and phrases to make sentences, and all of it to make sense, what we are doing is making patterns of sound, just as we do in speech.
The signs are not silent. And the relationships among the letters and words have rhythm. Out of all of that signage we make, we hope, meaningful music, a matter of rhythm and orchestrated sound. Whatever you create by way of art or meaning—the description you offer, the story you tell, the argument you outline, the exposition you offer, the poem you utter—you make by patterning sound.
The noise of speech. The more you write as though you were saying something to someone, the better they are likely to understand, to be moved, to be changed, to be sold; the more likely they are to read on and still be awake at the end. Which would help. The more your writing sounds like the best kind of talking, in other words, the more like the best kind of writing it will be.
Writing that works is like the best kind of conversation you never heard. There is a shield of land in the north-west—the upper part of Western Australia and the Northern Territory—that is computed to have been above water for one thousand six hundred million years. It is probably the nearest approach to the surface of the moon that the earth can show. Water, wind, and its own excoriated surface have worn it down to something more final and enduring than time itself. One involves thermal expansion in the asthenosphere during partial melting Wellman b; Smith The second relates isostatic rise to igneous underplating and intra-plating emplacement at various levels of the crust Wellman b, It may, however, incite animosity or bring on sleep.
This is defensive writing. It cares less about making meaning than about not making mistakes. Such writing tries too hard to be exact and not hard enough to be clear; it tries so hard to allow only one meaning to arise that it generates no meaning at all.
So, even when it succeeds, it fails. At least, it fails as writing. It happens because she loses sight of her readers. There is a way of saying even the most complex and difficult things clearly and engagingly. That translates as something like what Aristotle had in mind: think like a genius; speak like everyman.
As beautifully and as clearly as you can. Charles Darwin managed it in Let his detractors try to match his grace of argument and expression: It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, 24 The little red writing book have all been produced by laws acting around us … Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
Note the way the writing moves, the ups and downs of it, the balance—its voice. Note the passages that are particularly lovely to say and to hear. Notice, too, where it is harder to read because the rhythm disappears.
The next book you decide to read, take turns with your partner or friend or child to read it aloud. Get used to hearing the way good writing goes. It will help you hear your own writing and practise it as utterance. I can recite Where the Wild Things Are from start to finish not only because my son Daniel wants it over and again, but because it sings. Lore 25 … you sing? Maybe you can buy—or rent for a while—the notion that writing is a kind of talking, but how does it become singing?
You may be wondering just how your letters and emails and business reports and essays might ever be anything like a song.
The singer, unlike the talker, rehearses. She needs to get what she utters exactly right. Not just nearly there.
There are matters of rhythm and diction and flow that have to be spot-on. There are matters of technique, for singing is not the natural act talking is. And in singing, the voice you hear clearly belongs to the singer, but it is something other than the one they speak in. Song is an artificial kind of utterance. But all its artifice is about affecting naturalness and clarifying diction and expressing oneself and the music without error so that the song might be remembered.
The song is performed, and its listeners will make the kind of judgments one makes of a work of art. The kind one makes of a piece of writing, as opposed to a passage of conversation. And when it works, a song goes in deep and stays.
Music will do that. Bach, on the other hand, turned them into the embodiment of calm and harmony. This is what I mean by the power of rhythm.
And so it is with writing. The message is in the music. So make a beautiful noise. Of all the arts writing is the most vulgar—the least like an art. It makes art out of something everybody does daily: out of words, out of speech, out of what we use to buy the paper and scold the children and write the report. The best writing sounds just like speech, only better. Here is an everyday piece of marketing copy.
Nothing special about it. But its writer has taken a lot of care with it—to vary each sentence, to make it speak, to inflect it with humour, to make it personal and engaging. In the warm months, dress your little cherub in a singlet body suit; when the weather cools, add matching long pants and a cosy hooded jacket. But be warned: you could spend your Baby Bonus all in one hit. Those people who write the notes on Fantale wrappers know how to do it, too.
Notice how much information they cram in here, while always keeping it chatty: Born When the handsome actor said he wanted to be a movie star, his father sat him down to watch old Jimmy Stewart movies to help him learn the craft. In he proved it, using his quiet charisma to fine effect in the blockbusters Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down.
Guessed who that is? Read on. It may be a book, a difficult letter, a report or an essay. Take ten minutes, no more. Now, start writing, as though you were talking to your friend.
Describe the book essay, report or letter and the difficulties you face. Just write, and keep on writing, for ten minutes. Then stop and see what you have. Try this whenever you find yourself stuck.
This often helps get your writing into a conversational register. It may help persuade you that when you write you talk on paper. When you think you have a piece of writing finished, read it aloud to yourself or to someone near and dear. Listen hard to it. Can you hear a voice? Does it flow? Does it have good rhythm? Does it sing? See if you can write it so it does: The little red writing book In order to facilitate the timely preparation of six-monthly Business Affairs Statements, it is a recommendation of the Australian Taxation Office that businesses implement strategies and utilise appropriate software to ensure that the keeping of reliable financial records is a continuous process, not a periodic one.
What do you think about that? Do you want to come and teach it for me? But to whom specifically is that duty owed? You need to remember them, for a start. Did they get it? Did they enjoy it? Did they nod in comprehension or nod off in boredom? The message is for them, not for us, whoever they may be. The poem, wrote Neruda, belongs to the reader not the poet. Make it the best thing you can for their needs, and give it away. The cause or purpose.
You write for a reason: to achieve some result, to describe some subject matter. You need to take care for the sake of the cause or purpose your piece of writing serves. Writing is a social act—we share it; it grows out of and makes or unmakes relationships, all of them human. Offer up the kind of language democracy and civilisation really depend upon—language that is original, rich, vivid, careful, accurate and true.
Speak so that everyone might learn something, including yourself. Your people. You might be writing a letter on behalf of a local action group, a tender for your company, or a report for your department. You might be writing a book about your grandfather or the pioneering family in the valley and the people they dispossessed. Take care of them. Your words speak for others, as well as for yourself.
Your writing represents them. The language itself. Whenever you use the language you contribute to its health and growth; you renew it and conserve what is essential to it, or you diminish it. Take your pick. We grow inured to bad language, George Orwell wrote once. Model what is best, not what is worst. And take every opportunity—this email, this school report, this letter to the editor, this brochure—to practise. Language is a gift. Be grateful, and honour it. T RY T H I S 1 Whatever you have to write today—make it all this week —turn it into an opportunity to improve your writing, to contribute to the health of the language.
Make a list. Keep those people and causes in mind as you write. Ask yourself how your sentences—in the way they sing or fall apart—hobble or advance the causes they serve. The thinking happens so fast, and the writing happens so slow I was working the other day up in my study, in the loft of this terrace house we live in now. All afternoon I could hear my two young boys talking, two floors down, to their grandparents.
Speaking all the time, as though naming things were as important as drawing breath. Lore 31 I thought to shut the door to keep the voices downstairs. When I stopped focusing on it, this was a kind of noise— the sound of people learning to make meaning—that seemed to help me write.
Until, finally, up the stairs, two whole storeys, came the sound of small feet on timber, and a voice asking whoever might care to listen, specifically me: Who can this be coming up the stairs? Perhaps we speak to find out who we are. Writing came much later. In abstracting—in setting down on paper—what our mouths and minds and bodies do when we talk, many of us lose our way.
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If we could answer these questions, we would have a good grasp of the gross ecology of a region. Writing is a social act—we share it; it grows out of and makes or unmakes relationships, all of them human. Speak so that everyone might learn something, including yourself. Then stop and see what you have.
Try this whenever you find yourself stuck. But this is more than a philosophy and a critique of writing.
Here is an everyday piece of marketing copy. But to whom specifically is that duty owed? Dissertation on marketing mix of nestle slideshare essay about loving yourself quotes exemple de dissertation litteraire universite roman english essay and letter writing app point essay about art of war books, dissertation university of washington salaries dissertation mental breakdown laws write research papers for money essay with phrasal verb hold up someone essay meaning slang talking questions to answer in a research paper format essay about internet in malayalam kolkali essay on international friendship day women's essay narrative text idea essay?????? Less, in other words, is more. When I stopped focusing on it, this was a kind of noise— the sound of people learning to make meaning—that seemed to help me write. Looking like a fool; making some egregious mistake of grammar or fact or argument; getting yourself sued; causing problems for your family?
It is always hard to say exactly what you want to say. Dissertation pdf marketing huey newton essay on leadership traits in management vs opinion essay giris kal? Guessed who that is? Into the gaps between the letters and the words, into the void of the blank screen, anxiety floods.
This is defensive writing. French, here, differs from English. We are here to witness. The best writing sounds just like speech, only better. Can you hear a voice? You write for a reason: to achieve some result, to describe some subject matter.
Good, sustained critical thinking underlies good, clear writing: you could almost say that good writing is critical thinking.