How to Write with Style

Published October 22, 2010 · Estimated reading time: 7 minutes · Share your thoughts
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A couple of weeks ago I discovered a rather cool Twitter account AdviceToWriters. The eponymous site “Advice to Writers” streams links and quotes about writers and I’ve found some of the resources quite helpful. For example, I discovered this comprehensive collection of articles by Caro Clarke, an editor and writer, describes the development of a novel from the start to publications.

To my great delight I also stumbled on “How to Write with Style”, a 1980 short piece written by Kurt Vonnegut for the International Paper Company. Where the article by George Orwell I posted earlier was concerned with the use of language to obfuscate and deceive in politics, Vonnegut’s article offers simple, sharp and compelling reasons why and how we can improve our writing. In Hamlet, a play which Vonnegut refers to in his article, William Shakespeare says “Brevity is the soul of wit“. I can’t think of an author more succint and witty than Vonnegut himself, and therefore who better to give tips on this subject matter?

*Scans are from Ebony/Spin magazines.

How to Write With Style

Kurt Vonnegut

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful — ? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.
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