Derek Sivers

Several Short Sentences About Writing - by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Several Short Sentences About Writing - by Verlyn Klinkenborg

ISBN: 0307266346
Date read: 2021-03-28
How strongly I recommend it: 9/10
(See my list of 200+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

The 2nd-best and most-radical book about great writing. It tells you to focus entirely on the sentence, an approach that was already my favorite, which is why I bought this book. It recommends you boldly eliminate transitions and conjunctions, split compound sentences, don't save your point for the end, and revise by deleting. This is the first book I've seen printed as one sentence per line — a way I've been writing for many years, and now printed in my book “How to Live”.

my notes

Keep the space between sentences as empty as possible.

The space between the period and the subject of the next sentence often gets filled with unnecessary words. Most sentences need no preamble - nor postlude.

Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed. The rest will need to be fixed.

Writers worry about genre long before they’re able to make sentences worth reading.

Genre is meaningless. It’s a method of shelving books and awarding prizes.

Don't overlook the shape of the sentence itself to get to the meaning.
Pay attention to all the subtleties embodied in a sentence.

Forget transitions. You can get anywhere from anywhere, almost instantly.
You can start anywhere and end anywhere. There is no necessary order.

Writing isn’t getting the reader to “the point” at the end of the piece, where the meaning will be revealed.
Good writing is significant everywhere, delightful everywhere.

Recall the moment, as children, when we came upon the phrase “And then one day.”
You know exactly how those four words feel. You know exactly what they do.
Use transitions only for this kind of transition.

What are the choices? That’s like asking, what are the nuances? It depends on how perceptive you become.

If you notice something, it’s because it’s important.

The only link between you and the reader is the sentence you’re making. There’s no sign of your intention apart from the sentences themselves.

Both models are useless. I should qualify that sentence. Both models are completely useless.

Long sentences often tend to collapse or break down or become opaque or trip over their awkwardness.

The end of a long sentence commonly forgets its beginning.

Strong, lengthy sentences are really just strong, short sentences joined in various ways.

Why were you taught to dwell on transitions?
It was assumed that you can’t write clearly.
That the reader needs a handrail through your prose.
What does that say about the reader? That the reader is essentially passive and in need of constant herding.
Are you that kind of reader?
Do you tumble, uncomprehending, through the gaps between paragraphs?
Do you trip over ellipses?
Do you require constant supervision while walking down corridors of prose?
Do you lose the writer’s train of thought unless you’re reminded of it constantly?
No sentence can afford to be merely transitional.
If you’ve written clearly - and you know what you’ve said and implied as surely as you know what you haven’t said - the reader will never get lost reading your prose or have trouble following you without transitions.

A crowded sentence means the writer is worried that the reader won’t follow the prose if parted by a period.

Practice noticing.
Noticing means thinking with all your senses.

Don't aim to turn fleeting observations and momentary glimpses into metaphors and “material” as quickly as possible.

Don't aim to turn the world into words.
Get your words closer to the solidity of the world you’re noticing.

Your mind never relinquishes what really matters.

Sentences often volunteer a shape of their own and supply their own words as if they anticipated your thinking.
Those sentences are nearly always unacceptable, dull and unvarying, yielding only a small number of possible structures and only the most predictable phrases, the inevitable clichés.
Only revision will tell you whether a sentence that offers itself is worth keeping.

A cliché isn’t just a familiar, overused saying. It’s the debris of someone else’s thinking.

You’re not considering the actual sentence you’re making.
You’re looking past it, toward your meaning or the intent of the whole piece.
But your meaning and the intent of the whole piece depend entirely on the sentence you’re making.

All the idea of inspiration will do is stop you from revising a bad sentence.

Read aloud. The ear is smarter than the eye, if only because it’s also slower and because the eye can’t see rhythm or hear unwanted repetition.
Read the words on the page as though they were meant to be spoken plainly.
Catch the rhythm of the sentences without overemphasizing it.
Read until your ear detects a problem - a subtle disturbance. Stop there.

The point of learning grammar and syntax isn’t correctness or obeying the rules.
It’s keeping the rules from obtruding themselves upon the reader because you’ve ignored them.
The reader is just like you, full of subtle, distracting feelings when things are going wrong in a sentence.

“Natural” is a word that invites suspicion.
It should always present itself in quotation marks, a sign that its meaning is slippery.
Humans can justify almost anything by calling it natural.

Humans have a language instinct but not necessarily a writing instinct.
The difference between talking and writing is the difference between breathing and singing well.

Write as if it were a letter or a long e-mail to a friend.
Why the difference?
It’s the change in the reader.
You’re writing to someone who knows you, who understands you.
Someone able to fill in the gaps, even the possibility of humor.

Of all the requirements writers imagine for themselves, the need for any one of them will prevent you from writing.
Anything you think you need in order to write becomes a prohibition when it’s lacking.
Learn to write anywhere, at any time, in any conditions.

The emotional power the reader feels depends on how clearly you know what your words are doing.

It’s artificial, the result of hard work.

Squander your material.
Don’t ration it, saving the best for last.
You don’t know what the best is. Or the last.
Use it up. There’s plenty more where that came from.
You won’t make new discoveries until you need them.

Try this: No outline.
Reread your notes, and take notes on what interests you.
Notice your thoughts.
Notice that some of your thoughts interest you and some don’t.
Resist the temptation to start organizing and structuring your thoughts too soon, Boxing them in, forcing them into genre-sized containers.
Postpone the search for order.

Let the first sentence begin the piece.
Don't introduce it.
Make a second sentence that arises from the first sentence.

Writing becomes intrinsic to the act of thinking, completely intertwined with it.
The piece you’re writing is about what you find in the piece you’re writing. Nothing else.

You’ll become more interested in what you’re able to say on the page and less interested in your intentions.

The simplest revision is deletion. But there’s often a fine sentence lurking within a bad sentence, a better sentence hiding under a good sentence.

You can almost never fix a sentence by using only the words it already contains.

Don’t give in to the assumption that logic persuades the reader instead of the clarity of what you’re saying.

There’s little actual logic in good writing. There’s a current of thoughts and ideas and observations.

Writing rarely persuades. It does something much better. It attests.
It suggests the possibilities of the world around you.

On the other hand. Therefore. Whereas. Thus.
These are logical indicators. Emphasizers. Intensifiers.
They insist upon logic whether it exists or not.
They often come first in the sentence, trying to steer the reader’s understanding from the front, as if the reader were incapable of following a logical shift in the middle of the sentence.
These words take the reader’s head between their hands and force her to look where they want her to.
Imagine how obnoxious that is, that persistent effort to predetermine and overgovern the reader’s response.

If a piece is truly assured in its order, it needs no logical indicators.

Try removing “but” wherever you can, and see if the sense of negation or contradiction - the feel of a reversal taking place - isn’t still present.

Resist chronology.

Undo the adhesiveness of the evidence you’ve gathered.

Pay attention only to what interests you in it. Break the complexity of what you’ve learned.

Use the one detail you need as you need it. Beware of the way it sticks to other details.

Authority always rests in the hands of the reader, who can simply close the book and choose another.
“Authority” is another word for the implicit bond between writer and reader:
The desire to keep reading. The desire to follow the writer wherever she goes.
The question isn’t, can the reader follow you? That’s a matter of grammar and syntax. The question is, will the reader follow you?

Discipline is nothing more than interest and expectation, a looking forward.

Recover your interest by fixing sentences, looking for problems in the sentences themselves.

You’ll be tempted to ask, “Who is the reader?”
The better question is always, “Who am I to the reader?”

Trusting the reader is a way of controlling the temptation to over-describe, over-interpret.
It lets the reader share the burden of comprehension.

Read your own work as a reader, not as its writer.