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Most of what you think you know about writing is useless. It’s the harmful debris of your education—a mixture of half-truths, myths, and false assumptions that prevents you from writing well. Drawing on years of experience as a writer and teacher of writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg offers an approach to writing that will change the way you work and think. There is no gospel, no Most of what you think you know about writing is useless. It’s the harmful debris of your education—a mixture of half-truths, myths, and false assumptions that prevents you from writing well. Drawing on years of experience as a writer and teacher of writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg offers an approach to writing that will change the way you work and think. There is no gospel, no orthodoxy, no dogma in this book. What you’ll find here isn’t the way to write. Instead, you’ll find a way to clear your mind of illusions about writing and discover how you write. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a book of first steps and experiments. They will revolutionize the way you think and perceive, and they will change forever the sense of your own authority as a writer. This is a book full of learning, but it’s also a book full of unlearning—a way to recover the vivid, rhythmic, poetic sense of language you once possessed. An indispensable and unique book that will give you a clear understanding of how to think about what you do when you write and how to improve the quality of your writing.


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Most of what you think you know about writing is useless. It’s the harmful debris of your education—a mixture of half-truths, myths, and false assumptions that prevents you from writing well. Drawing on years of experience as a writer and teacher of writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg offers an approach to writing that will change the way you work and think. There is no gospel, no Most of what you think you know about writing is useless. It’s the harmful debris of your education—a mixture of half-truths, myths, and false assumptions that prevents you from writing well. Drawing on years of experience as a writer and teacher of writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg offers an approach to writing that will change the way you work and think. There is no gospel, no orthodoxy, no dogma in this book. What you’ll find here isn’t the way to write. Instead, you’ll find a way to clear your mind of illusions about writing and discover how you write. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a book of first steps and experiments. They will revolutionize the way you think and perceive, and they will change forever the sense of your own authority as a writer. This is a book full of learning, but it’s also a book full of unlearning—a way to recover the vivid, rhythmic, poetic sense of language you once possessed. An indispensable and unique book that will give you a clear understanding of how to think about what you do when you write and how to improve the quality of your writing.

30 review for Several Short Sentences About Writing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jason Wardell

    This book is nearly impossible to rate. It's good. It's really good. But it reads like theoretical slam poetry On the topic of writing. An essay that could be in verse, But isn't in verse. And that might be off-putting to some readers. Every sentence in this book is valuable. I have visions of myself sitting and writing, Noticing, as Klinkenborg would put it, And consulting this book. The guy knows his stuff And that makes him a little pompous in his delivery. Reviewers have complained that they feel condesce This book is nearly impossible to rate. It's good. It's really good. But it reads like theoretical slam poetry On the topic of writing. An essay that could be in verse, But isn't in verse. And that might be off-putting to some readers. Every sentence in this book is valuable. I have visions of myself sitting and writing, Noticing, as Klinkenborg would put it, And consulting this book. The guy knows his stuff And that makes him a little pompous in his delivery. Reviewers have complained that they feel condescended to while reading. Klinkenborg is pretty condescending, But he welcomes discussion And disagreement. Read the preface, guys. It's all there. I loved this book. I loved reading the simple sample passages And discovering why the good ones were good And the bad ones were bad. Pick up a copy And forget what you think you know, If only while you have the book in your hands. You will become a better reader And, probably, a better writer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    I'd recommend this to newer writers since I think it's aimed at them. The tone rankled me, so did the direct address, second-person POV (also occasional first-person plural), particularly when it addressed someone I was not -- that is, someone lacking an apparently excellent education when it comes to writing (he condescends too often to "what you were taught about writing"). He also too often for me presents his assertions as objective truth. The format emphasizes sentence length and rhythm. It I'd recommend this to newer writers since I think it's aimed at them. The tone rankled me, so did the direct address, second-person POV (also occasional first-person plural), particularly when it addressed someone I was not -- that is, someone lacking an apparently excellent education when it comes to writing (he condescends too often to "what you were taught about writing"). He also too often for me presents his assertions as objective truth. The format emphasizes sentence length and rhythm. It's a bit pretentious and distracting but makes things easy to read. Midway through I more often agreed with arguments, especially about trusting the reader, not planning, and revision. But in general I found it too dry to love, too artistically constrictive, too much the wisdom of a well-established journalist maybe too sure of and admiring of his authority? The professional/canonical examples (McPhee, Didion, Cheever, Auden, Orwell, Oates) all share, to a degree, a staid and respectable style. The student examples remind me of the things teacher friends post on facebook, plus the edits are all the sort you'd make intuitively if you've been writing/editing a while. Overall, a good refresher about applying requisite pressure upon the prose. Again, recommended reading for newer writers, if not always so attractive in tone, POV, or attitude. (This is no Making Shapely Fiction.) Also the sort of thing that can get in your head and get in the way of writing well if you're too concerned with sentences at first instead of getting at the story. I've always felt that too much pressure on the sentences upon composition (ye olde thing about how writing is easy, you just sit till beads of blood appear on your forehead) gets in the way of deeply imagining. For some it's better to get out of the way. Also, for what it's worth, this review is overconscious of its language. It feels to me hampered by thinking about clear, precise, short sentences thanks to this book. Anyway, worth a look if you see this somewhere. Something helpful or something to argue with, depending who you are. For me, it was both. But of course I love long sentences and will probably go back later and revise this till it's one flowing yet tangled run-on -- economy be damned!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Funk

    I'm loving this book, here is my favorite qoute, from page 12 " The longer the sentence, the less it's able to imply, and writing by implication should be one of your goals. Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you, the prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields. It was nonexistent in the way you were taught to write, that means you don't know how to use one of a writer's most important tools: the ability to suggest more than the words seem to I'm loving this book, here is my favorite qoute, from page 12 " The longer the sentence, the less it's able to imply, and writing by implication should be one of your goals. Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you, the prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields. It was nonexistent in the way you were taught to write, that means you don't know how to use one of a writer's most important tools: the ability to suggest more than the words seem to allow, the ability to speak to the reader in silence."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    Hugely useful book. First of all, his name is Verlyn Klinkenborg. While you read it, you get to say things like "What in Verlyn Klinkenborg's name is going on here?!" Secondly, he likes sentences. He never says he likes them. He instead asserts some authoritative all-knowledge about sentences. Like God wants good sentences, more than good behavior. And sure, what does Verlyn Klinkenborg know? But I like sentences too. I read a bad sentence and think: "you increase the unhappiness in the world." Hugely useful book. First of all, his name is Verlyn Klinkenborg. While you read it, you get to say things like "What in Verlyn Klinkenborg's name is going on here?!" Secondly, he likes sentences. He never says he likes them. He instead asserts some authoritative all-knowledge about sentences. Like God wants good sentences, more than good behavior. And sure, what does Verlyn Klinkenborg know? But I like sentences too. I read a bad sentence and think: "you increase the unhappiness in the world." This book is a tonic for those of us trained by academia to write bad sentences -- to stretch each sentence until it includes everything, to cram it with the jargon of 'logic,' to hook on a transition at the beginning and one on the end. Klinkenborg -- Verlyn Klinkenborg, that is, not that other Klinkenborg -- also snubs the over-clever wordsmithing of hook-yer-audience copy writers. One needling discomfort: Klinkenborg (Verlyn) teaches how to write with confidence, authority, and trust in yourself and your reader. And he has these skills himself. His authoritativeness doesn't bother me -- I like to surrender myself to a strong writer. But . . . but writing . . . how can I put this? Everyone who writes about writing has to contradict themselves at least once a page. Because writing is strange and slippery and unbounded by rules. Verlyn Klinkenborg is no exception. But when he contradicts himself, he gets huffy. He says well yes it's this and it's also that and writing is contradictory so deal with it. This is only alarming because he's been so damn confident all along. If he confessed more to confusion, wonder, distress, ignorance, maybe he could let the contradiction rest there with its own weight and wisdom. But if I'm so smart, why aren't I an editor for the New York Times?

  5. 5 out of 5

    K.M. Weiland

    What a strange, funny, true, crazy, insightful book. Klinkenborg walks that fine line between pretension and crystal-clear truth. For the most part, the book is about writing better sentences, and in that respect, it’s deeply insightful and thought-provoking. But even better is what Klinkenborg’s sentences are actually saying about busting writing stereotypes. There were a few moments where the book’s relentless stylizing grew tedious, but mostly, this was a very fast, entertaining, and worthwhi What a strange, funny, true, crazy, insightful book. Klinkenborg walks that fine line between pretension and crystal-clear truth. For the most part, the book is about writing better sentences, and in that respect, it’s deeply insightful and thought-provoking. But even better is what Klinkenborg’s sentences are actually saying about busting writing stereotypes. There were a few moments where the book’s relentless stylizing grew tedious, but mostly, this was a very fast, entertaining, and worthwhile read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.

    While some ideas put forth in this book are valid and useful, I was put off by two things. First, the examples the author chooses of bad sentences were just too bad and uncomfortable to read through to the end. Second, I can't help thinking the emphasis on brevity and clarity will prove stifling in the end, turning all writing into technical writing. I'm reminded of my college poetry class where one student on hearing a beautiful sonnet by Shakespeare complained that Billy could have said the sa While some ideas put forth in this book are valid and useful, I was put off by two things. First, the examples the author chooses of bad sentences were just too bad and uncomfortable to read through to the end. Second, I can't help thinking the emphasis on brevity and clarity will prove stifling in the end, turning all writing into technical writing. I'm reminded of my college poetry class where one student on hearing a beautiful sonnet by Shakespeare complained that Billy could have said the same thing in one short sentence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Katey Schultz

    Hands down, this is the most inspiring, honest, and realistic book about writing that I have ever read. It is best to read this slowly and savor each kernel of advice. I have used Klinkenborg's advice in classrooms to inspired new writers away from their formal, stuffy training and toward their most authentic voices. His ideas are clearly stated and feel immediately true upon reading them, although no one has quite said them in this way before. I can't recommend this book enough. Hands down, this is the most inspiring, honest, and realistic book about writing that I have ever read. It is best to read this slowly and savor each kernel of advice. I have used Klinkenborg's advice in classrooms to inspired new writers away from their formal, stuffy training and toward their most authentic voices. His ideas are clearly stated and feel immediately true upon reading them, although no one has quite said them in this way before. I can't recommend this book enough.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

    “Here, in short is what I want to tell you. "Know what each sentence says, What it doesn’t say, And what it implies. Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence actually says.” “Your job as a writer is making sentences. Your other jobs includes fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences . . .” The title of Kinkenborg’s book encompasses the subject. It is an exploration of the sentence and it’s importance to writers. He offers advice, wisdom and insight gained over time in simpl “Here, in short is what I want to tell you. "Know what each sentence says, What it doesn’t say, And what it implies. Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence actually says.” “Your job as a writer is making sentences. Your other jobs includes fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences . . .” The title of Kinkenborg’s book encompasses the subject. It is an exploration of the sentence and it’s importance to writers. He offers advice, wisdom and insight gained over time in simple, organic prose that is easy to read and even easier to understand. Valuable information and a useful tool for writers of any age and genre. “What we’re working on precedes genre. For our purposes, genre is meaningless. It’s a method of shelving books and awarding prizes.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jan Priddy

    I see people love this book. I did not. You might. Good writing should be significant and delightful in every sentence. Or as others have said previously and more to the point: Every sentence does not need to be brilliant, but every sentence needs to be good. Klinkenborg addresses his "several short sentences" to a very specific audience, one exactly like himself, with the same education, writing experience, and arrogance that he brings to the table. All those basic principles and structures and I see people love this book. I did not. You might. Good writing should be significant and delightful in every sentence. Or as others have said previously and more to the point: Every sentence does not need to be brilliant, but every sentence needs to be good. Klinkenborg addresses his "several short sentences" to a very specific audience, one exactly like himself, with the same education, writing experience, and arrogance that he brings to the table. All those basic principles and structures and rules we have been taught about writing? Completely wrong and so far beneath him. You don't need them either. You just need to do what Klinkenborg says in this book. There are certainly "several short sentences" here, but there are also well over a thousand that are quite long indeed. I do not underestimate the reader's intelligence with, as one example, overly scripted transitions, but I wonder what I am supposed to feel about a writer condescending to me by breaking lengthy sentences into capped lines like old-fashioned poetry? I do not underestimate the reader's intelligence With, as one example, overly scripted transitions, But I wonder what I am supposed to feel About a writer condescending to me By breaking lengthy sentences into capped lines Like old-fashioned poetry? ...because that is what he's done on many pages. What works so very well for him in his published writing... might not work so well for every writer. All thoughts are not best expressed in short sentences. He writes sentences here of 40 words, which is not my idea of "short." The structure of sentences, long and short, serves the rhythm and meaning of the author. And as to meaning... and writing not leading to some sort of meaning... call me a fool, because I believe meaning need not be hidden to be necessary. Meaning may be achieved in the understanding of the reader. A great writer does that, not by stating "meaning" at the end, but by leading the reader to it... stated or unstated, meaning is the point. Music is desirable. Glorious sentences are appreciated. But all writing with any purpose has meaning, even if that meaning is music or glory or something quite mundane. A shopping list. I can't help wondering if he wrote some of this as an elaborate joke? If so, I am not ashamed to say that it took me quite a while to begin laughing. [Though I did laugh after a while. Hubris or humor? I really could not tell.] If you read only one book about sentences... not this one. Try How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish and certainly look at Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. [Oh, and the ellipses... that is me being particularly peevish.]

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    How to foster a certain quality of mind, the writing mind, which notices, lies at the heart of Several Short Sentences About Writing. As the quotes below show, Klinkenborg's writing advice is presented like poetry. Technically it IS poetry, as he’s controlling the length of his lines. This compulsively readable declarative poem runs for149 of the book’s 204 pages, the balance being examples of prose, good and bad, and concise commentary. Here are some of his gnomic stanzas that struck me as inte How to foster a certain quality of mind, the writing mind, which notices, lies at the heart of Several Short Sentences About Writing. As the quotes below show, Klinkenborg's writing advice is presented like poetry. Technically it IS poetry, as he’s controlling the length of his lines. This compulsively readable declarative poem runs for149 of the book’s 204 pages, the balance being examples of prose, good and bad, and concise commentary. Here are some of his gnomic stanzas that struck me as interesting: "If you notice something, it’s because it’s important. But what you notice depends on what you allow yourself to notice, And that depends on what you feel authorized, permitted to notice In a world where we’re trained to disregard our perceptions. . . . "Is it possible to practice noticing? I think so. But I also think it requires a suspension of yearning And a pause in the desire to be pouring something out of yourself. Noticing is about letting yourself out into the world, Rather than siphoning the world into you In order to transmute it into words." . . . "The longer the sentence, the less it’s able to imply, And writing by implication should be one of your goals. Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you . . . "Try making prose with a poetic seriousness about its tools— Rhythm, twists of language, the capacity to show the reader What lies beyond expression, But with the gaits of prose and a plainness in reserve That poetry rarely possesses, an exalted plainness." It’s up to you to decide for yourself in the crucible of your practice whether Klinkenborg’s opinions are true. He calls them conclusions, not assumptions. But he urges wariness about all dogma, even his. Contrary to so many process-based writing theorists, including the influential Peter Elbow, he says the creative and critical functions are not separate. They occur simultaneously. This is a classic! Very inspiring.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    This is probably one of my favorite craft books now. I don't agree with every point the author makes, but in this case, that fact does not detract from the text at all. Instead, the book is a celebration of the sentence. It encourages reader-writers to move away from expectations, rules, and rigid education to instead explore possibilities, experiment, and push the boundaries. It is a book about excitement and opportunity, not forsaking conventio, but embracing the agency of the writer while enc This is probably one of my favorite craft books now. I don't agree with every point the author makes, but in this case, that fact does not detract from the text at all. Instead, the book is a celebration of the sentence. It encourages reader-writers to move away from expectations, rules, and rigid education to instead explore possibilities, experiment, and push the boundaries. It is a book about excitement and opportunity, not forsaking conventio, but embracing the agency of the writer while encouraging freedom and confidence. Overall, it's a refreshing and inspiring viewpoint to consider and interpret in light of individual goals and experiences.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Muhammad Ahmad

    The author says it is better to write good sentences rather than bad ones. It is better to be inspired rather than uninspired. Very good advice.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lisa McKenzie

    Any reader who enthuses over this book is going to have a hard time writing about it. And that’s funny. Because it’s a book about writing. If a book about writing has done its job, then writing about it—writing about anything—should be easier, no? If that’s your goal…consult a different book. If your goal, as a reader, is to strengthen your writing…this might be just the book for you. Klinkenborg makes the claim that our educational system, and our culture at large, doesn’t get the point of the w Any reader who enthuses over this book is going to have a hard time writing about it. And that’s funny. Because it’s a book about writing. If a book about writing has done its job, then writing about it—writing about anything—should be easier, no? If that’s your goal…consult a different book. If your goal, as a reader, is to strengthen your writing…this might be just the book for you. Klinkenborg makes the claim that our educational system, and our culture at large, doesn’t get the point of the written word. The result is a lot of bad writing. And less and less reading. Less and less joy. All readers, and future writers, start off in a bliss state. Then we go school. There we are taught to approach the writing we encounter as though it were a conveyance of a unit of meaning. Klinkenborg proposes, “Our conventional idea of meaning is something like “what can be restated.” It means a summary. It means ‘in other words.’” Think back. When you were in English class, how much time did you spend reading a piece aloud? Just for the fun of it. Just to appreciate the rhythm. The nuances. The unexpected twists. The pure aesthetic bliss. Chances are, you read like that in kindergarten. In circle time. But as you progressed in school, all writing was presented as a puzzle to be solved. You heard the same question, “What does this story/essay/article mean?” Chances are, that question was met with a deafening silence. Every student was implicated in the silence…as being too stupid to answer the question. Klinkenborg proposes there is an alternative explanation for the silence. “What does it mean”…is not the right question to ask. “Writing isn’t a conveyer belt bearing the reader to “the point” at the end of the piece, where the meaning will be revealed. Good writing is significant everywhere. Delightful everywhere.” A student’s delight gets squelched by the teacher’s insistence that reading is merely a pursuit of meaning. “…what if meaning isn’t the sole purpose of the sentence? What if it’s only the chief attribute among many, a tool, among others, that helps the writer shape or revise the sentence? What if the virtue, the value, of the sentence is the sentence itself and Not its extractable meaning?” “What if you wrote as though sentences can’t be summarized? What if you value every one of a sentence’s attributes and not merely its meaning? Strangely enough, this is how you read when you were a Child. Children read repetitively and with incredible exactitude. They demand the very sentence— word for word—and no other. The meaning of the sentence is never a substitute for the Sentence itself. Not to a six-year old. This is still an excellent way to read.” If you were paying attention to the above quotation, you will begin to grasp my dilemna as the reviewer of Klinkenborg’s book. Your expectation for a book review probably includes a summary. Klinkenborg isn’t too fond of summaries. To tell you the truth, no writer wants their work summarized. They have already chosen exactly the words that would tell their story. Writing is so darn grueling because writing is the manifestation of an exacting form of thinking; a process of choosing precisely the right word, and then the next, and then the next, and so on. Klikenborg describes this process with laudable accuracy, which is why I find myself returning to this book again and again.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rachelle Urist

    This book was recommended to me by my youngest son who said he wished he'd discovered this book earlier in his life - but that would have been impossible, because the book hadn't yet been written! I liked this book mostly because it's a fun, fine book, but also because it was recommended by my son. From the preface: "The premise of this book is that most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but harmful. This is not an assumption. It’s a conclusion." You can start this This book was recommended to me by my youngest son who said he wished he'd discovered this book earlier in his life - but that would have been impossible, because the book hadn't yet been written! I liked this book mostly because it's a fun, fine book, but also because it was recommended by my son. From the preface: "The premise of this book is that most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but harmful. This is not an assumption. It’s a conclusion." You can start this book at the beginning and read straight through. Or open the book to any page and read whatever you see. Each section stands on its own. The insights in this book are wonderful, the advice simple, sound, and profound. Selections from other writers are wonderfully chosen and soothing to mind and soul. Ironically, I found that reading the book straight through became repetitive, even a bit tedious, in spite of (mostly) short sentences. So I ended up skimming some, until I got to inspiring excerpts of writing by other authors, and Klinkenborg's fine commentaries on them. Here are a few more selections from Klinkenborg's wisdom. Know what each sentence says, What it doesn’t say, And what it implies. Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence actually says. … make short sentences. Short sentences aren’t hard to make. The difficulty is forcing yourself to keep them short. There are innumerable ways to write badly. The usual way is making sentences that don’t say what you think they do. * * * …Imagine it this way: One by one, each sentence takes the stage. It says the very thing it comes into existence to say. Then it leaves the stage. It doesn’t help the next one up or the previous one down. It doesn’t wave to its friends in the audience Or pause to be acknowledged or applauded. It doesn’t talk about what it’s saying. It simply says its piece and leaves the stage.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alexandru Jr.

    One of the best books on writing ever. I do, intuitively, a lot of stuff he talks about: for example, I vary the length of my sentences, and I craft my long ones as a series of short sentences, separated by commas and dashes. I try to write texts which can be read aloud and sound natural (although I know writing is not natural - a point Klinkenborg makes too). I revise while reading aloud, too. I also believe the only honest form of writing is witnessing - writing what you notice and what you thin One of the best books on writing ever. I do, intuitively, a lot of stuff he talks about: for example, I vary the length of my sentences, and I craft my long ones as a series of short sentences, separated by commas and dashes. I try to write texts which can be read aloud and sound natural (although I know writing is not natural - a point Klinkenborg makes too). I revise while reading aloud, too. I also believe the only honest form of writing is witnessing - writing what you notice and what you think. But a lot of stuff he talks about is really new for me. And runs contrary to what I've been trying to do lately - that is, to create the habit of writing daily, thinking while scribbling row after row in a notebook. He says good writing is done, first of all, in the head (I remember Rousseau wrote like that - polishing a paragraph for hours in his head, and only afterwards writing it, with a minimum of revision on paper - and I think a lot of classics wrote that way too). You create a sentence about what interests you - try to make it as good as possible, and then write it. And then think about the next sentence - the sentence the previous one makes possible. This seems to be the approach he recommends. I tried, lately, to do the opposite. Write, and only then look closely at what I have written. And revise. But, anyway, he also says that research (which includes note-taking) is a different process than writing. And revision is indispensable anyway. I'll try to write 'his way' and see what changes. Anyway, I'm ranting now. The book is beautifully written and as clear and vivid as it can get, the sentences are cut as verse - in order to emphasize his points about rhythm - and the feeling I had about the text is that of a personal letter written by a highly intelligent friend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    I found this book annoying. It is written in the second person, with each sentence set apart from the next on the page, as though a Zen master was addressing a somewhat slow disciple and wanted to make each statement very, very clear. There's some good advice, some bad, and a lot of repetition. I found this book annoying. It is written in the second person, with each sentence set apart from the next on the page, as though a Zen master was addressing a somewhat slow disciple and wanted to make each statement very, very clear. There's some good advice, some bad, and a lot of repetition.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Walsh

    "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?" Klinkenborg argues that good writing is, principally, a collection of good sentences. He believes that writers should skip outlines, write each sentence like it's the final draft, ignore the idea of "natural writing" or "flow", read their own work aloud, and write shorter sentences. I'm unsure about some pieces of his advice (like writing sentences as if they're the fina "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?" Klinkenborg argues that good writing is, principally, a collection of good sentences. He believes that writers should skip outlines, write each sentence like it's the final draft, ignore the idea of "natural writing" or "flow", read their own work aloud, and write shorter sentences. I'm unsure about some pieces of his advice (like writing sentences as if they're the final draft), but maybe that's because those pieces are difficult for me to implement. I've found other pieces (like skipping the outline) very useful. Kudos to Klinkenborg for playing by his own rules in the writing of the book itself too.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    This is one of the best books about writing ever. It belongs on the shelf to refer to regularly. More like 4.5, though. I gotta take a half star off for the overlong section at the end correcting student sentences. (Which still was only a fraction of the book, the rest of which is terrific, including his look at some famous writers' passages.) Sometimes he was right, sometimes he was mean, and sometimes he advised edits that would erase the style right out of a sentence. I'm a writer, writing te This is one of the best books about writing ever. It belongs on the shelf to refer to regularly. More like 4.5, though. I gotta take a half star off for the overlong section at the end correcting student sentences. (Which still was only a fraction of the book, the rest of which is terrific, including his look at some famous writers' passages.) Sometimes he was right, sometimes he was mean, and sometimes he advised edits that would erase the style right out of a sentence. I'm a writer, writing teacher, and tutor, not with as many years as VK, but enough to know that style is a fragile thing, and it should be nurtured, not mocked.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I'm of two minds on this one. The first half of the book didn't do much for me (I found the author's tone a bit offputting), but I found the second half much more interesting and helpful. I was especially struck with his observation that that writing isn't about proof or persuasion: it is about testifying to what you've observed. "Proof is for mathematicians. Logic is for philosophers. We have testimony." I'm of two minds on this one. The first half of the book didn't do much for me (I found the author's tone a bit offputting), but I found the second half much more interesting and helpful. I was especially struck with his observation that that writing isn't about proof or persuasion: it is about testifying to what you've observed. "Proof is for mathematicians. Logic is for philosophers. We have testimony."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sainath

    This is a good book. It has some simple advice. Laid out in several short sentences. The tone can be condescending. Ignore it. The message is clear and refreshing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    I always enjoy an invitation to think further about writing well. I found a number of gems in this volume, bon mots for me as a writer and others that I believe will help my students. Yet aspects of the advice irked me no end. Klinkenborg sets up "school," and implicitly the writing teacher, as the straw man, although a human subject is notably absent from these sentences. All weak writing on students' part stems not from their own inexperience but, he asserts, from "what [they] were taught" in s I always enjoy an invitation to think further about writing well. I found a number of gems in this volume, bon mots for me as a writer and others that I believe will help my students. Yet aspects of the advice irked me no end. Klinkenborg sets up "school," and implicitly the writing teacher, as the straw man, although a human subject is notably absent from these sentences. All weak writing on students' part stems not from their own inexperience but, he asserts, from "what [they] were taught" in school. I never attended schools like the ones Klinkenborg makes out to be the enemy and resented his cheap shots at education. Is he not, after all, a writing teacher himself? Presumably his beef is with primary and secondary schools, which crippled so many aspiring writers before they arrived in his university classroom for true enlightenment. Yet he doesn't explicitly credit any of his fellow university professors with wisdom as teachers of writing; he condemns education wholesale. How lucky he is to have escaped joining the undifferentiated mass of writing teachers out there who are so miserable at their jobs. Or does his readiness to lump together all other writing education as misguided reflect a startling failure to notice detail in the world around him...? Klinkenborg has a knee-jerk aversion to questions of genre that seems the privilege of New Yorker essayists (it's no surprise that he holds up John McPhee as one of his models) or the carelessness of those teaching in English departments, who too often assume that all writing serves the same ends. Those reporting scientific findings or reconstructing history from the scattered fragments of texts are not writing according to the rules that Klinkenborg imagines govern all writers. Like his essayists, they are good scientists or historians inasmuch as they have noticed details and asked questions that others have not asked. But they do that noticing and asking upfront, in the process of setting up an experiment or choosing which files to request from the archivist. They write after months or years of asking questions about details and coming to conclusions. In these fields writing is not about noticing details in the world at large and pursuing rabbit trails at whim. The details were under the microscope earlier or in a text written by a person long dead. The scientist or historian's goal is to share findings and interpretations. Yes, he aims to write clearly, like any essayist. He aims for strong, engaging sentences. He values intelligence, even humor, in his phrases. But he crafts sentences to build a sustained, careful argument. Not all writing is testimony in the way Klinkenborg asserts. Klinkenborg abhors outlines, which he assumes are the equivalent of straitjackets. Of course outlines change as one writes. Of course an adept writer is flexible, open to adjusting her outline in media res. But when she is seeking to maintain a subtle line of logic (yes, logic) by marshaling the details she has so intelligently identified as significant pieces of a larger case, an outline can serve as vital discipline. It keeps her from becoming so engrossed in individual sentences that she finds herself telling a beautifully rendered story in which the point has fallen away. Does Klinkenborg suppose a Supreme Court justice doesn't need an outline to write a decision? That the justice's writing need not argue, or persuade? Or does a court decision not count as writing? What is it, then? Is it somehow beneath a "real" writer? Just how much is implicit in Klinkenborg's own sentences?? A piece that simply tells a story is deadly in my field, history, in which almost every significant story has been told before. Indeed, the writer herself has read multiple versions of her story, all already published, in the course of her research. If she completes yet one more narrative synthesis of those facts, as students too often do, she adds nothing to the conversation. Her writing doesn't count, no matter how beautiful. Unless she keeps her eye on persuading readers of a particular interpretation of the facts--a new understanding of what those details mean taken as a whole--she need not have written. Klinkenborg is smart about the rhythm of sentences, the grammar and vocabulary and flow that make them work. He is much weaker on the range of goals for writing. The result is an elegant book of striking myopia. And for him to conclude by beating up on pages and pages of awkward student sentences is just snarky.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ksenia Anske

    I never thought that what I had to say might be important. Never thought what I notice might be important. How could it? Who am I to have an important opinion? I’ve been told to pay no heed to my perceptions, to disregard my thoughts, to learn from the wise and from the important and from the established legerdemains of prose. I’ve been taught in school in analyze my ideas before putting them down on paper, and I grew to be afraid of them. What if they weren’t right? Of course they weren’t, I th I never thought that what I had to say might be important. Never thought what I notice might be important. How could it? Who am I to have an important opinion? I’ve been told to pay no heed to my perceptions, to disregard my thoughts, to learn from the wise and from the important and from the established legerdemains of prose. I’ve been taught in school in analyze my ideas before putting them down on paper, and I grew to be afraid of them. What if they weren’t right? Of course they weren’t, I thought, comparing my writing to that of others, big important people. I never got good grades on my writing, never an A, always a B or a C, always handed to me by the teacher with an irritated face. All that fantasy I dared to put in my essays, all that emotion. Of course, I grew up in Soviet Union and it might have been different for you, the native speaker reading this review. But if you’re a writer or are thinking about becoming a writer, this book is for you. It made me cry on every page. It made me feel like Verlyn held my hand and told me that what I have to say is important, the way I want to say it is important, because IT’S IMPORTANT TO ME. For no other reason. Yes, I’m a writer. I usually recommend to other writers only one book, ON WRITING, by Stephen King. From this moment on I will be recommending two books, ON WRITING and SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING. Because. Because you can open it in any place and find support. More. You will see your writing as a series of small steps. Sentences. It will remove your fear. All you have to do, to write a book, is to write a lot of clear beautiful sentences. And you can do it. One sentence at a time. Writing one sentence doesn’t seem do daunting as writing a whole book, does it? Now imagine someone standing by you, whispering to you, “if you notice something, it’s because it’s important” and “your job as a writer is making sentences” and “all writing is revision” and “one day you’ll write a sentence that says more than its words alone can say” and “what if the reader believed, somehow, in you…and thought about quoting you?” I can’t say enough good things about this book. You must read it. It will help you become a better writer. It will banish your fear, fortify your self-confidence. It helped me. It will help you. Read it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Ugh, after reading this, I'm painfully self-conscious writing this review. This book is a particularly stylized* examination of How Sentences Work, focusing on the weight of good prose (or of weak prose) on a reading experience as a whole. It's very much about the act of writing, about retraining yourself to notice, about training yourself to think sentences and write sentences. I was struck by how much like meditation this pre-requisite of noticing is: "Is it possible to practice noticing? I thi Ugh, after reading this, I'm painfully self-conscious writing this review. This book is a particularly stylized* examination of How Sentences Work, focusing on the weight of good prose (or of weak prose) on a reading experience as a whole. It's very much about the act of writing, about retraining yourself to notice, about training yourself to think sentences and write sentences. I was struck by how much like meditation this pre-requisite of noticing is: "Is it possible to practice noticing? I think so. But I also think it requires a suspension of yearning and a pause in the desire to be pouring something out of yourself. Noticing is about letting yourself out into the world, rather than siphoning the world into you in order to transmute it into words." It was revolutionary for me to think about composition and revision as one act, to collapse the distinction between thinking and writing via the structural unit of a sentence. I picked up this book hoping for insights into how prose enhances meaning and meaning guides prose. That's been on my mind recently following my annual binge of contemporary litfic (thanks, Tournament of Books and this year's disagreements regarding Pachinko's prose). And so there was a severe mismatch of reader and book, because Klinkenborg very definitely and intentionally de-prioritizes meaning and the pursuit of it during the process of writing, and that's what I was interested in learning right now--how prose works in context for a reader and for its writer, the purpose it serves. But the book was still interesting for what it was, and Klinkenborg's vision of writing and reading was challenging and enlightening. * The book is stylized like verse, and I found it both effective (I had to re-tune my attentiveness in a way that kept me engaged with the text) and super annoying. Also super annoying was the section critiquing student sentences, which boiled down to just banging on about grammar basics.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Len Joy

    On the cover of this book, there is a blurb from the New York Journal of Books: “Best book on writing. Ever.” It’s an excellent example of the Klinkenborg’s advocacy for the power of short sentences. Even if it is, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic. This is a book I am going to read again. I think it will take a second and third reading to maximize the potential benefits. Klinkenborg offers a philosophy of writing and it is a lot to absorb in one reading. One of his main points is that aspiring writers w On the cover of this book, there is a blurb from the New York Journal of Books: “Best book on writing. Ever.” It’s an excellent example of the Klinkenborg’s advocacy for the power of short sentences. Even if it is, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic. This is a book I am going to read again. I think it will take a second and third reading to maximize the potential benefits. Klinkenborg offers a philosophy of writing and it is a lot to absorb in one reading. One of his main points is that aspiring writers write too soon. They’re too anxious to get something on the page. Even if it sucks. He counsels that writers should have more patience. Think about each sentence, don’t put something down as a placeholder so you can get on to the next sentence. I’ve been trying to do that. Spend less time stressing on number of words and more time thinking about what it is I’m trying to accomplish. When I win some major writing award. Or secure an agent. Or find a publisher. I’ll let you know if his ideas have helped. It is probably a truism that we tend to like books and essays where we agree with the author, so I’m not sure everyone will love this books as much as I did. But I did.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Hands-down the best book on the art of writing I have ever read. Even better than Bradbury's. The essence of what it means to write is here distilled down to the only thing that really matters: How to make perfect sentences, and what that means, and why. Absolutely blew my mind, teaching me to do a ton of things differently, but also showing me how surprisingly much I've been doing correctly all the time and getting yelled at for it by schools. :) A fast, enjoyable, weirdly-like-poetry mental rom Hands-down the best book on the art of writing I have ever read. Even better than Bradbury's. The essence of what it means to write is here distilled down to the only thing that really matters: How to make perfect sentences, and what that means, and why. Absolutely blew my mind, teaching me to do a ton of things differently, but also showing me how surprisingly much I've been doing correctly all the time and getting yelled at for it by schools. :) A fast, enjoyable, weirdly-like-poetry mental romp through many different layers of what writing "is", this isn't like any other instruction book you've read -- though it does get *very* detailed, in some places more so than a textbook (the writer's dissection of sentences that need work at the end is brilliant). This will forever stand on its own as a whole different kind of book, a meta-writing tool that writers who haven't read it won't even know they needed, but will, like me, cry with joy when they find it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Five stars are too few to describe how much I love this book right now. This guy might be condescending to some, but his advice is giving me confidence and clearing out the clutter of voices in my brain right now. This is like the stripped down version of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: just get started and stop overthinking it. I will be obnoxiously quoting from this book for a long, long time.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Nichols

    I wanted a style guide and picked this one up for the same reason one picks up many other books—the author’s name sounded funny. Now, as it turns out, Verlyn Klinkenborg is a romantic brimming with individualistic nostalgia. He thinks writing is about un-learning all the bad things educators and so-called authorities taught you. And his prose is formatted like stanzas of poetry. It’s very strange, and kind of hard to avoid thinking about how pretentious that choice was. But, if you can lay those I wanted a style guide and picked this one up for the same reason one picks up many other books—the author’s name sounded funny. Now, as it turns out, Verlyn Klinkenborg is a romantic brimming with individualistic nostalgia. He thinks writing is about un-learning all the bad things educators and so-called authorities taught you. And his prose is formatted like stanzas of poetry. It’s very strange, and kind of hard to avoid thinking about how pretentious that choice was. But, if you can lay those two quibbles aside, he’s actually got some fairly insightful stuff to say about writing. The book is useful, sure. But it’s also generally enjoyable to read (fitting, for a book on style, yet not expected).

  28. 5 out of 5

    David Molish

    I feel that Klinkenborg has some interesting ideas about writing. I wouldn't say that it's the most informative book because of how arrogant and self-righteous he is but I definitely learned a few things. For instance, he questions why we use transitions in writing and I sort of agree with him in that they don't always serve a purpose. However I found it very hard to take him seriously all the time because he presented his ideas in a way that seemed to suggest "everything you know about writing I feel that Klinkenborg has some interesting ideas about writing. I wouldn't say that it's the most informative book because of how arrogant and self-righteous he is but I definitely learned a few things. For instance, he questions why we use transitions in writing and I sort of agree with him in that they don't always serve a purpose. However I found it very hard to take him seriously all the time because he presented his ideas in a way that seemed to suggest "everything you know about writing is wrong."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jena Ritchey

    I have been thinking about this quote: "Imagine a cellist playing one of Bach's solo suites. Does he consider his audience? (Did Bach, for that matter?) Does he play the suite differently to audiences Of different incomes and educations and social backgrounds? No. The work selects its audience." (p. 142) I have been thinking about this quote: "Imagine a cellist playing one of Bach's solo suites. Does he consider his audience? (Did Bach, for that matter?) Does he play the suite differently to audiences Of different incomes and educations and social backgrounds? No. The work selects its audience." (p. 142)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Akhil Jain

    Reco by https://alearningaday.blog/2020/12/29... My fav quotes (not a review): -Page 19 | "What if you value every one of a sentence’s attributes and not merely its meaning? Strangely enough, this is how you read when you were a child. Children read repetitively and with incredible exactitude. They demand the very sentence—word for word—and no other. The meaning of the sentence is never a substitute for the sentence itself, Not to a six-year-old. This is still an excellent way to read." -Page 44 | "T Reco by https://alearningaday.blog/2020/12/29... My fav quotes (not a review): -Page 19 | "What if you value every one of a sentence’s attributes and not merely its meaning? Strangely enough, this is how you read when you were a child. Children read repetitively and with incredible exactitude. They demand the very sentence—word for word—and no other. The meaning of the sentence is never a substitute for the sentence itself, Not to a six-year-old. This is still an excellent way to read." -Page 44 | "The problem most writers face isn’t writing. It’s consciousness. Attention. Noticing. That includes noticing language. The fundamental act of revision is literally becoming conscious of the sentence, Seeing it for what it is, word for word, as a shape, and in relation to all the other sentences in the piece. This is surprisingly hard to do at first Because our reading habits are impatient and extractive." -Page 45 | "Try reading your work aloud. The ear is much smarter than the eye, If only because it’s also slower And because the eye can’t see rhythm or hear unwanted repetition." -Page 45 | "To read as though the words weren’t yours, Mechanically, without listening, As though you were somehow hiding from their sound Or merely fulfilling a rote obligation." -Page 47 | "Noticing is always the goal. Actually, the goal right now is noticing that you’re noticing. One day merely noticing will be enough." -Page 49 | "Turn every sentence into its own paragraph. (Hit Return after every period. If writing by hand, begin each new sentence at the left margin.) What happens? A sudden, graphic display of the length of your sentences And, better yet, their relative length—how it varies, or doesn’t vary, from one to the next. Variation is the life of prose, in length and in structure." -Page 50 | "How many sentences begin with the subject? How many begin with an opening phrase before the subject? Or with a word like “When” or “Since” or “While” or “Because”?" -Page 58 | "Every reader is always two readers. One reads with a deep, intuitive feel for the way language works And yet with overwhelming literalness. This reader (no matter what he consciously knows about grammar or syntax) is troubled by mistakes, misspellings, And especially the syntactical miscues that cause ambiguity. This reader will always stumble over your errors. If a sentence offers an ambiguous path—two ways of being read—this reader will always take the wrong one. The other reader—literate, curious, adaptable, intelligent, open-minded— Will follow you anywhere you want to go As long as your prose is clear." -Page 65 | "It’s sometimes worth reworking the piece you’re writing as if it were A letter or a long e-mail to a friend, Someone who knows you well but hasn’t seen you in a while. What happens? The prose relaxes, the sentences grow more informal. You remember to use contractions, Even the words grow shorter. Suddenly things are clearer and simpler and more direct, as if they were being spoken. But something else happens too. There’s suddenly a wider variety of tone, an emotional latitude, A sense that the reader will be able to fill in the gaps, Even the possibility of humor." -Page 67 | "The memory of the excitement you felt when those words “came to you.” (Where did they “come” from?) You were protecting the memory of the excitement of really concentrating, Of paying close attention to your thoughts and, perhaps, your sentences, The excitement of feeling the galvanic link between language and thought. That excitement matters, and the memory of it is worth preserving, Even if those sentences aren’t." -Page 68 | "“Inspiration” is what gets you to the keyboard, And that’s where it leaves you." -Page 74 | "All writing is revision. That’s not what you learned in school. In school you learned to write a draft and then revise. But imagine this: You begin to compose a sentence in your head. You don’t write it down. You let the sentence play through your mind again. (It’s only six words long.) You replace one or two of the words. You adjust the rhythm by changing the verb. You discard the metaphor. You decide you like the sentence. You write it down. Is this composition? Or revision? It’s both." -Page 95 | "The piece you’re writing is about what you find in the piece you’re writing. Nothing else." -Page 102 "In fact. Indeed. On the one hand. On the other hand. Therefore. Moreover. However. In one respect. Of course. 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, As if the sentence had been written in the order the writer thought of the words, Without any reconsideration. 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." -Page 111 "You’ve been told again and again that you have to seduce the reader, Sell the story in the very first paragraph. (Nonsense, but it explains a lot of bad writing.) The reader isn’t looking for the tease of a single paragraph, Or numbingly clever prose, or sentences full of self-exhibition. The reader is in love with continuity, with extent, with duration, Above all with presence—the feeling that each sentence isn’t merely a static construct but inhabited by the writer." -Page 130 "The most valuable thoughts may be the ones that begin, “I don’t know if this is important but …” or “This will sound like nitpicking …”"

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