Monday, December 8, 2014

The Best Writing Advice Ever

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Concise writing takes more thought, more work, more drafts. However, the results can stand the test of time. Updated 3/30/16: See posts on Mary Oliver on 3/21/16 & 4/4/16. Her thoughts: Give your writing power and time--look for verbs of muscle and adjectives of exactitude.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, published 1935

Omit needless words (page 23).

          Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (62 words)

Gettyburg Address, 1863, the Nicolay version—thought to be earliest copy of the speech—is copied here:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow, this ground—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people for the people, shall not perish from this earth. (235 words)

I’m not sure I can legally print lyrics here, but these songs are surprisingly concise:

“Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, from 1971, is 128 words long.

“Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver, from 1971 is 113 words long.

“Three Times a Lady” by Lionel Richie, from 1978, is only 51 words long.

          Make every word tell. I think that is the best writing advice ever.

Please note: This advice refers to the polishing/self-editing stage, not during early drafts when the goal is to get all your thoughts down on paper.

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