Thoughts About Writing

One of the things that make writing difficult is that we forget we’re really involved in three projects at once, not just one. When we think about improving our writing, we probably think first of grammar—that’s the subject that has traditionally (or maybe I should say had traditionally) been regarded as the foundation, the dragon on the path no one could afford to ignore. Many of us (certainly I too) believe that’s true, but when we want to put our ideas into words, when we want to engage someone’s attention and convince them our ideas make sense, we need more
It is remarkable to realize just what language is trying to do. Think about a situation you found yourself in recently, and then think about trying to relate that experience to someone else. Almost any circumstance you can remember involved countless things—all the almost innumerable objects and events and emotions and thoughts that made the experience what it was. Realizing how complex even a simple everyday experience is can stun the mind, and sometimes even overwhelm us to the conclusion that it’s just not possible to put it all into words. And in that despair, we settle with just giving
Here is a beautifully written passage about the ocean coast by Rachel Carson, the pioneering and influential American nature writer. Carson is probably best known for her book Silent Spring, which in the early 1960s was instrumental in bringing attention to widening environmental dangers. The passage here is from her work The Edge of the Sea. I offer it as a model of fine writing, and as an illustration of a grammatical point I will make a few comments about: The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. All through the long history of Earth it has
Not enough is said, I think, about the importance of regular reading and its practical effect on our writing. The connection between the two comes as a surprise to many of my students: isn’t reading what we do after we’ve written something? In fact, reading is what we should be doing before we write. Because every word is so important in communicating one’s thoughts clearly and persuasively, accomplished writers understand the necessity of establishing a daily routine of private reading. It is not possible to improve one’s writing without reading––reading slowly and reflectively, with an eye on the structure and

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