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Only Words

by Linda Jenkinson


Photo Credit:Jon Bodsworth
Heiroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I

You may have heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but if that were true, we’d still be writing in hieroglyphics, wouldn’t we?

Thomas Mann said, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Our teachers teach us “the right way” to write. Because we want to be good writers, we listen. Yet, some of history’s most well-respected writers did not write the right way. They wrote their way, paying more attention to their words than their grammar.

Writing is often a labor of love. Sometimes, a long and painful labor of love. But when the birthing is over, you need to cut the cord ... and often more.

Truman Capote said, “I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

Sometimes letting go is hard. As Oscar Wilde noted, “I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence ... In the afternoon I put it back again.”

No matter how hard it is to give birth to them, words are not our children, they are only words. But to paraphrase the song, ‘words are all we have to take our readers’ hearts away.’

Less Is More.

One speech familiar to most Americans is the Gettysburg Address. Just 272 words long, it took less than three minutes for Lincoln to deliver. Still, after 7 score and 10 years, it continues to stir our hearts.

History records several differing versions of how Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address. One thing that isn’t a myth is that Lincoln was painstaking in choosing his words.

The keynote speaker of the day, Edward Everett, who the public lauded as a great orator. Yet, is there anyone alive today who can quote one part of his address?

Everett’s speech preceded Lincoln’s and took nearly two hours. The crowd grew restless and began wandering the grounds. At the end of Lincoln’s speech, Everett congratulated the President, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Beware the Grammar Police

Oscar Wilde once remarked, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”

Do you suppose that came after a run in with the grammar police?

The Ooligan Press notes,

There’s more to editing than correcting mistakes in spelling and grammar—it’s as much art as science — and it hinges on one question: Is the writer saying what they want to say as clearly as possible?

In their article, The Top Ten Snarky Editing Quotes, several authors and noted speakers put some levity into editing with a few tips that will help you get your words right.

“When you catch an adjective, kill it.” Mark Twain

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King

“An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I call for the immediate dismissal of the pedant on your staff (who chases split infinitives). It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly or to quickly go.” George Bernard Shaw

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put.” Winston Churchill

Carl Sandburg has the final word of advice that every editor should scratch into his/her desk, “Beware of advice — even this.”

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