Good writing

It begins with savouring the good prose of others. It requires an act of imagination: maintaining the illusion that one is directing a reader’s gaze to something in the world.

Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions & rhetorical tricks, & with a sensitivity of how they mesh & how they clash. But the starting point for becoming a good writer is to be a good reader. Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savouring & reverse-engineering examples of good prose.

But writing is an unnatural act. Man has an instinctive tendency to speak, as we see in the babble of our young children, whereas no child has an instinctive tendency to bake,brew, or write. The written word is a recent invention that has left no trace in our genome & must be laboriously acquired throughout childhood & beyond.

In writing ,we enjoy none of the give-and-take of speaking.The recipients are invisible & inscrutable, & we have to get through to them without knowing much about them or seeing their reactions. At the time that we write, the reader exists only in our imaginations. Writing is above all an act of pretense.

The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, & he orients the reader’s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, & its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns language with the truth, the proof of success being clarity & simplicity. The reader knows the truth before putting it in words; he is not using the occasion to sort out what he thinks.

A writer of good prose must stimulate two experiences: showing the reader something in the world, & engaging her in conversation.

The writer’s brevity “comes from the elegance of his mind & never from pressures of time or employment.”

Good writing, with its assumption of equality between writer & reader, makes the reader feel like a genius. Bad writing makes the reader feel like a dunce.