In his newly enhanced newsletter, Dan Pink suggests a short column by Op-Ed writer Bret Stephens. It’s about writing — tips about writing op-eds to be precise. Here’s some of the advice that I think is worth keeping.
Cliches are bad. We know this. Stephens avoids the cliche in cliche bashing by comparing cliches to Velveeta cheese (for chefs) and noting that they are “indicative of the mental slop that lies beneath.” Ouch and indeed.
“If you find writing easy, you’re doing it wrong.” Pink loved that sentence, and I’d add that it’s exactly right most of the time.
Stephens ends well, too: “I’d wish you luck,” he writes, “but good writing depends on conscious choice, not luck. Make good choices.”
I’ve read and edited a mountain of writing. Ninth grade essays on Lord of the Flies, college admissions essays, the writing of college students, graduate students, and high school administrators. I’ve read and edited stories from third graders and aspiring sixty-year-old poets. I’ve edited police blotters and high school literary magazines. The writers worth reading make conscious choices.
They use vowel-loaded words when they’re talking about rivers and hard consonants when they’re feeling upset or broken. Even if their choices aren’t great, the fact that they choose words carefully, consider sentence lengths, and wrestle with imagery and symbolism signals an acute resistance of automaticity and the urge to tell too much. They disrupt silence, in other words, reluctantly and reverently. Kerouac and Ginsberg were heroes to me once, but their “first though, best thought” method was, is, and will be . . . bunk.