Several short sentences about writing

In recent years I’ve been writing, probably writing and sharing said writing more than I ever have in my life. I’ve gone to graduate school, but I’m writing more now than even during that 2.5 year period of time. It’s been amazing, wonderful, unexpected, and fun.

Because I’m working with editors on a regular basis, they are pushing me to think more about the words I use, the way I write, the way a piece fits an audience, etc. Over the past few months, I started to feel like I wanted to learn more about writing; I wanted to take some time to think about how I write and try to improve.

So, a month or so ago I made a big order of books on writing. Many of the books I ordered were recommended by my friend Nicole and I’m always grateful for friends who put lists like this online. Just over a week ago I started reading Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. This book is already changing the way I write, the way I think about writing—it made me want to learn sentence diagramming. Strangely surprising.

But the biggest thing this book did for me that was so important and I didn’t even realize it would be important: it freed me from the way I learned to write starting in high school. I was a good student in high school and beyond, I did well, but admittedly writing was always tough for me. I don’t feel like I know grammar well, I don’t really get how to diagram a sentence, and I felt like I had to have everything figured out before I sat down to write. This book told me that isn’t the case, to focus on the sentence, make it great. Then move on to the next one, make it great, and eventually it will come together to form a piece that is great.

Last week I sat down to write a draft, and as one of the editors who I’ve worked with can attest, it’s usually just a long brain dump and then I get feedback. But this time, I did things differently. I had an idea, but instead of focusing on the whole, I focused on the sentences. Each sentence got a new line (just as the book is written) and I looked at them hard as I wrote them. When I went back for my first pass at revision, I looked at each sentence again. I focused, I thought more about the words, and I think I came away with a better draft to send to my editor (at least I really hope so).

I highlighted so much in this book. I read a paper copy and I don’t think there is hardly a page where I didn’t underline, right in the margin, or just star away. Because of that, I’m not going to transfer them all here, but a few select quotes are below that really struck me in the gut.

Whenever you get a glimpse of your ignorance.
Don’t fear it or be embarrassed by it.
Acknowledge it.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too. (p 7)

You can only become a better writer by becoming a better reader. (p. 17)

Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization.
No matter who you are.
Only you can authorize yourself. (p 37)

Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer. (p 67)

Your labor isn’t a sign of defeat.
It’s a sign of engagement. (p 68)

Style is an expression of the interest you take in the making of every sentence.
It emerges, almost without intent, from your engagement with each sentence.
It’s the discoveries you make in the making of the prose itself. (p 84)

What makes the first sentence interesting?
Its exact shape and what it says
And the possibility it creates for another sentence. (p 101)

What if allowing us to see what’s accurate and true is among the best work writing can do? (p 132)