Each Friday morning, when I sit to write to you, I usually have no idea what I will write.
I look for some inspiration in the books around me, the emails I have received during the week, or articles on my reading, and invariably something jumps at me, and a story starts to develop.
Today, I was reading an email when the following words jumped at me - good writing is valuable, and what you read matters.
Lately, I have been disgusted by the junk I have been reading on social media and online platforms. I keep putting off reading good books because I am too busy reading articles on Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, and newsletters. It is supposed to be uplifting and inspiring content, yet it leaves me unfulfilled and dreary.
I am finding that I am getting trapped into an easy-breezy-bloggy kind of writing myself. A perfect scenario of garbage in, garbage out.
My soul is craving good writing.
This was when I stumbled upon Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg.
It is not a usual kind of book. It has no paragraphs, just sentences stacked on top of each other in a manner that the whole thing almost reads like a poem.
Yes, the book is about writing good sentences, but more so, it is about other things: thinking, noticing, mapping the mess inside your head.
There’s a lot of writing advice out there: books, quotes, articles, and I have written some myself. But Klinkenborg challenges our complacency with mediocre writing and urges us to lift our bar at the sentence level.
Good writing is excruciatingly difficult and, at the same time, inexplicably exhilarating. Yet Klinkenborg's advice is surprisingly easy to work with.
Here are some pointers:
Keep sentences small. They’re easier to work with that way.
Long sentences often tend to collapse or break down or become opaque, or trip over their awkwardness.
You don’t have to “grab” anyone with the first line of your story. Just write a simple sentence that says what you want it to say. It’s harder than it sounds! And also very effective, if done well.
The subject of a sentence should appear as close to the beginning of a sentence as possible.
Noun phrases (“the realization that…”) almost always sound clunky and dead. Try rewriting them as verb phrases (“realizing that…”).
Understanding a word’s etymology will teach you how to use it. Words contain imprints of their histories.
Good ideas need no introduction or conclusion.
“A writer’s real work is the endless winnowing of sentences, the relentless exploration of possibilities, the effort, over and over again, to see in what you started to say the possibility of saying something you didn’t know you could.”
If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a problem with one or more of your sentences. Listen to that feeling. Try to pinpoint exactly which word or phrase is triggering it. Naming exactly what’s wrong, in grammatical terminology or otherwise, will come later.
Klinkenborg advice is beautifully implemented in the following piece by Roua Horanieh in The Damascus Journal.
This is about Damascus, the city where I was born and raised. Today I live in London and my contact with Damascus is painful.
I met a lovely old lady in our community allotment garden a couple of months ago. We had a nice chat about growing plants and growing children. My daughter was running around, her grandchildren too, we talked about the beautiful things in life. And then, in the conversation, I mentioned that I was Syrian. She looked at me and said:
“Oh, you poor girl, I want to hug you and cry.”
It’s important that the memory of a place survives the horror that overcomes it. So I find my Syrian voice in the sweet memories of a grand city.
Here are the links to this week’s articles on Medium.
That’s it from me this week.
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