Monday, August 17, 2009

Concise writing is usually clear writing (5) – Jacques Barzun

Here’s another great example of concise writing that is also clear writing. It’s from On Writing, Editing, and Publishing, a collection of essays by the great historian, writer and teacher Jacques Barzun (photo).

In 103 words, Mr. Barzun summarizes his position on the controversial topic of the evolution of language:

There is no getting around it: meaning implies convention, and the discovery that meanings change does not alter the fact that when convention is broken, misunderstanding and chaos are close at hand. True, the vagaries of those who pervert good words to careless misuse seem more often ludicrous than harmful. This might give us comfort if language, like a great maw, could digest anything and dispose of it in time. But language is not a kind of ostrich. Language is alive only by a metaphor drawn from the life of its users. Hence every defect in the language is a defect in somebody.

The Takeaway: To improve the clarity of your writing (almost effortlessly!), spend at least ten minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly, such as Jacques Barzun. The topic you select doesn’t matter, because you’re reading for style not content.* If you would like a list of recommended writers and works, please email me at the address shown in my profile. Ask for my “List of Writers to Absorb.” I will respond via email.

*However, the content of On Writing, Editing, and Publishing, including essays on goals, discipline, bad writing, translating and writer’s block, will interest most writers.

1 comment:

  1. I just recently caught on to the reading out loud of my own work. Learning here!

    I will be giving the out loud 10-minute a day reading of other writing a try!