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Richard Nordquist

Ten Pros on Prose

By June 16, 2008

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For tips on how to improve your writing habits and sharpen your prose, visit with these 10 authors from our series Advice From the Pros.

  1. Natalia Ginzburg: On Being a Great Small Writer
    "I try to capture the reader immediately," said Ginzburg, "to enter into communication with him, and not bore him. Above all, I want to be understood."


  2. Doris Lessing on the Compulsion to Write
    When asked by Bill Moyers why she continued to write, Doris Lessing said, "I have to. It is what I do."


  3. Norman Mailer on Writers and Writing
    Mailer claimed that he learned "the power of restraint" from Ernest Hemingway. "He showed what a powerful instrument English is if you keep the language simple, if you don't use too many Latinate words."


  4. H.L. Mencken on the Writing Life
    "Words are veils," Mencken once wrote to a critic. "It is hard enough to put into them what one thinks; it is a sheer impossibility to put into them what one feels."


  5. Joyce Carol Oates: "Don't Give Up"
    Even for an author who's as prolific and accomplished as Joyce Carol Oates, writing does not always come easily.


  6. George Orwell's Rules for Writers
    In his essay "Politics and the English Language," Orwell offers six elementary rules as an antidote to what he perceived as "the decay of language" in his time.


  7. Grace Paley on Writing
    Poet and short-story writer Grace Paley said that she was so "neurotically anti-authoritarian" that she couldn't read a cookbook instruction "without the furious response: 'Is that a direct order?'"


  8. James Thurber on Writing and Editing
    For Thurber, good writing meant re-writing: "I have never written more than a dozen pieces that I thought could not have been improved. Most writers who are any good have this belief about their work."


  9. Kurt Vonnegut on Writing With Style
    The author of Slaughterhouse Five encourages us to "Keep it simple" and "Have the guts to cut."


  10. Writers on Writing: E.B. White
    "English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education," said the co-author of The Elements of Style. "Sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across a street."

Comments

June 18, 2008 at 6:10 am
(1) Rita says:

Tip No. 11. Always proof-read your work. Is it Ginzburg or Ginsburg.

June 18, 2008 at 8:41 am
(2) grammar says:

Good catch: it’s Ginzburg with a “z.”

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