Verlyn Klinkenborg’s book on writing is really special.
I’ve been taking the bus to work for the past couple of months, which has afforded me more time to read. For years I’d told myself I’ve no time to read for pleasure; really, I wasn’t making the time for it. I’ve knocked out a few novels, a philosophy tome and most recently Klinkenborg’s Several short sentences about writing since mid-July — and saved a significant amount of gas money to boot.
All this reading has reminded me to keep my writing skills sharp. I write for a living, sure, but the concise, legalistic language my day job involves isn’t terribly inspiring. So I’m going to try and update this blog with fresh updates, beginning with this non-review of Several short sentences about writing.
Klinkenborg’s book is not a style guide. He does not lend his voice to the choir of dicta dished out by the likes of Strunk and White, Bryan Garner and Benjamin Dreyer. In lieu of correctives and rules, Klinkenborg explains what should we should be doing in our heads when we think about writing. It is not worth trying to summarize this, because his musings on method are better experienced than explained. You should read it yourself, preferably aloud (quietly if need be), like I did on the bus this month. I recommend it.
But I’m used to style guides and dicta dished out by the likes of Strunk and White, Bryan Garner and Benjamin Dreyer. So I noted some lessons I learned, which I’ll bullet-point in millennial fashion, for my benefit and, hopefully, yours too.
- Brevity is valuable.
- Adverbs are dangerous; prefer strong, illustrative verbs.
- Noun phrases usurp strong verbs. Don’t let them.
- Trust your reader to understand. Then see if they do. If they don’t, revise your prose. Clarity is key.
- “As” lends itself to weak sentence construction and passive voice. Use it sparingly.
- Center the subject and give it a strong verb.
- Carefully evaluate each sentence as you write it. Don’t write or type an unrevised sentence. Consider each sentence before you commit it to page. Sentences will volunteer themselves to you; be wary of them and consider how to improve them first.
- Write with a good dictionary on hand. Attend to it frequently, even if you think you know the meanings of the words you use. You may be surprised, and you’ll never be disappointed.
- Powerful word choice lends itself to rhythmic writing. Read your work aloud and consider how it sounds. Your ears are excellent editing assistants.