Crumb – Advice for writers

I don’t often write crumbs for writers, but I read something and am incorporating it bit by bit into my writing, and, well, it kind of hurts.

It’s sideways advice from writer William Zinsser via his valuable book On Writing Well. It’s easily missed if you’re just scanning, but he reminds us that sometimes, maybe often, maybe almost always, the best way to fix an awkward line…is to scratch it, delete it. Cross it out and keep moving forward.

I’m experimenting with this and think my writing is better. This morning, going line by line through an essay and struggling with a sentence, I thought, what if I just cross it out? I stared at the words with love: they were so dear, conveying such sublime meaning, containing so much life, and I wondered if the whole piece would flop if I took out the words. I shrugged and did what Zinsser suggested: I read the paragraph aloud as iI wrote it, and then again without the sentence in question. No change. The paragraph was just as good, and the meaning held just as true.

So I’m madly deleting sentences now. “It’s about time,” I hear you say.


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