Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Most of your time will be spent making sentences in your head.
In your head.
Did no one ever tell you this?
That is the writer's life.
Never imagine you've left the level of the sentence behind.
Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed.
The rest will need to be fixed.
This will be true for a long time.
The hard part now is deciding which to kill and which
to fix and how to fix them.
This will get much, much easier, but the decision making will never end.
As you practice noticing, notice how thickly particled
with names the world around you is.
This will gradually become part of your noticing,
looking not for words to make us see the way you saw--
But for the names of what you've noticed.
Names that announce the whatness of the world to a single species.
It's hard to grasp at first the density, the specificity
With which the world has been named.
This is a planet of overlapping lexicons,
Generation after generation, trade after trade,
Expedition after expedition sent out to bring home
Name upon name, terms of identity in endless degrees of intimacy,
And all at hand, if you look for them.
In the syntax and rhythm of sentences,
In the page of thought, the intensity of movement,
The crescendo and decrescendo,
The trustworthy reader learns the writer's habitude and how to move with it.
You converse, in a sense, with the voice on the other side of the ink.
The kind of reading is the pleasure of being summoned out of ourselves by the grace,
The ferocity, the skill of the writing before us.
How else to explain our love of even difficult writers?
Their agility evokes our agility.
We move at their speed, elliptically, obliquely,
However they move.
Excerpted from Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Copyright © 2012 by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Verlyn Klinkenborg is a member of the editorial board of The New York Times, to which he also contributes meditations about his farm in upstate New York, collected in The Rural Life. His other books include Making Hay, The Last Fine Time, and Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile. Klinkenborg has a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton University.
Praise for Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing:
“No other book, old or new, is as well reasoned as this, as entertaining or as wise. . . . Best book on writing. Ever. . . . To paraphrase Voltaire’s statement concerning the Almighty, ‘if Verlyn Klinkenborg did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’ Because having read Several Short Sentences About Writing, I do not think that it would be possible to not have this book on hand. . . . Indeed, no other book is as filled with as much grounded, practical advice for putting words to the paper or electronic page or gives better, more helpful exercises.”
—New York Journal of Books
“Powerful . . . each sentence miraculously contains an idea or insight that lesser writers would have milked for several pages.”
“An exceptionally interesting and useful book about writing.”
“A fresh perspective on writing that goes against conventional classroom theory.”
“Klinkenborg does away with much of the traditional wisdom on writing and dissects the sentence—its structure, its intention, its semantic craftsmanship—to deliver a new, useful, and direct guide to the art of storytelling.”
“Expertise and zeal are required for an established writer to offer genuinely useful guidance to aspiring writers. It also helps if the writer teaches writing, as Klinkenborg has for many years. . . . The result is a unique anatomy of the sentence and the writing mind and a clarifying and invigorating ‘book of first steps.’”
"This is a very interesting little book about writing. Modest. Learned. Good-natured. Direct and sympathetic to its readers. You don't even have to read it front to back (probably you couldn't, anyway). You can just open it anywhere—as I did—and take away something useful."
“There have been good books on grammar and style, some classics, but none to compare to this one for understanding where sentences come from in the first place, where their vitality is found, and what distinguishes their energy, their authenticity, and their prospects for life after birth—that is, the art of revision. This book's long future will be a testament to its author's principles.”