Thursday, June 24, 2010

Concise writing is usually clear writing (13) – E. B. White

Here’s another good example of clear, concise writing. It’s the opening paragraph of Here Is New York (1949), by E. B. White. The late Mr. White is of course the author of the famous children’s books Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, and co-author of the popular guide The Elements of Style.

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

Using only 118 words, he conveys a great deal of the wonderful strangeness of New York City. I love his wry advice at the end.

The Takeaway: To improve the clarity of your writing, spend at least ten minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly. You will see, hear and feel the stark contrast between careful, grown-up diction and the careless, infantile diction that besets us every day. If you would like a list of recommended writers and works, please email me at joeroy(at)joeroy(dot)com. Ask for my “List of Writers to Absorb.” I will respond via email.

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