Thoughts About Writing

Let’s look at one sentence very closely to see how it works and doesn’t work. Imagine a psychologist writing about a young patient. The writer is making interesting, indeed moving, observations, but this first draft is overwritten, obstructing the free flow of her sympathetic attention: The argument crystalized and froze the boy’s psychological development which led to a breakdown in his education and homelife and interfered with his healthy psychological growth. How can we change the structure of this draft sentence to sharpen its force? We can see the sentence in halves, the first as an independent clause with two
To criticize—in the good sense of the word—means to evaluate something according to its intention. Criticizing is part and parcel of revising a draft composition, and to the degree that no one knows better than we ourselves what we mean to say, we are our own best critics. Often, though, what we’ve written does not accord with what we had in mind, and just trying to begin all over again from scratch will not necessarily produce another sentence any better than the original. Another route is open, however, and that is to look closely at the construction of what we
Early on in the study of grammar, we come upon a concept which is essential to understand: that a group of words can act as a single part of speech. This one idea will in one fell swoop reduce the complexity of a sentence we want to change, because we’re no longer trying to account for every last word, but we’re seeing instead the larger and fewer sections of phrases and clauses, each of which stands as a single part of speech. Here’s how it works. Let’s begin with this simple sentence: We took a walk in the woods yesterday.

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