Writing That Works

Accomplished authors often seem to break the rules of self-editing dos and don’ts. In one of David Sedaris’ essays, “Genetic Engineering,” he writes:
“It was a question that had never occurred to me. Unlike guessing the number of pickled eggs in a jar or the amount of human brains it might take to equal the weight of a portable television set, this equation was bound to involve the word googolplex, a term I’d heard him (Dad) use once or twice before.”
David Sedaris begins a sentence with “It was.” By the next sentence Sedaris employs an “ing” word and rounds off that effort with the verb, “was.” He finishes not one but two prepositional phrases. What does this mean to the rest of the writing world?
Writing Tip for Today: Sedaris is able to get away with a departure from the rules because he has mastered them. His skill is great enough that the reader only sees the comedy, and that’s his secret. Aim to write so that it appears easy, natural, unforced.
My number one writing rule:
There are only two kinds of writing: Writing that works, and writing that needs work.
Every term, a student will challenge the Self-editing Rules by pointing to a well-known author who breaks them, even flaunts them. My answer is, first know the rules. Practice them. Master them. Picasso’s cubist art was scoffed at for its simplicity. “Any child could paint like that!” Critics said. But Picasso was a master of the human form and thus could manipulate it for great effect. Break the self-editing rules if you want to. Only, be able to defend your passive verb or prepositional phrase. If you can write so the reader perceives it as easy, you can probably break the rules and get away with it. The two kinds of writing are: writing that works and writing that needs work.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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