Eschew Obfuscation: The Art of Good Writing

Before we dive into this post, I want to make it clear that I consider myself a lifelong student of good writing. There’s always so much more to learn, and it’s my belief that good writing truly takes a lifetime to master. So this post is less a how-to from me, and more a study on good writing based on some historically-significant writers.

Power of Words

Since I’m an avid blogger and reader I pay special attention to written words, whether these words are online, in magazines, or on the back of a cereal box. I take special pleasure in breaking down different writing styles and admiring especially good ones. The awesome thing about writing is that it’s never static – it’s a constant process of improvement and every additional bit of knowledge goes a long way in evolving my own style. In the past several years alone I’ve already noticed some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) changes to my writing style, so who’s to say my writing won’t continue to evolve in the next five, ten, twenty-plus years?

About a week ago I came across an amazing quote by the late Gary Provost on good writing, which I’ll share here. I think it’s one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve seen, particularly on the art of flow:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

Every time I read this passage, I’m amazed by how well-written and true it is!

Another great piece I’d highly recommend is George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” which I vividly remember reading in high school (thanks to our AP Lang teacher Mr. Ryan). I love Orwell’s style, which is clean, minimalist, and very effective. Even more impressive are his observations of how language can be distorted in politics – many of his examples of then-events are eerily familiar in today’s context.

Great writing takes a lifetime to master, but every step takes us closer to that sort of perfection.

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