Tag Archives: writing

Edward Gibbon

It was on the day, or rather night, of the 27th of June 1787, between the hours of eleven and twelve, that I wrote the last lines of the last page, in a summer-house in my garden. After laying down my pen, I took several turns in a berceau, or covered walk of acacias, which commands a prospect of the country, the lake, and the mountains. The air was temperate, the sky was serene, the silver orb of the moon was reflected from the waters, and all nature was silent. I will not dissemble the first emotions of joy on recovery of my freedom, and, perhaps, the establishment of my fame. But my pride was soon humbled, and a sober melancholy was spread over my mind, by the idea that I had taken an everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion, and that, whatsoever might be the future date of my History, the life of the historian must be short and precarious.

Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings, London, 1796

Charles Bukowski

I never type in the morning. I don’t get up in the morning. I drink at night. I try to stay in bed until twelve o’clock, that’s noon. Usually, if I have to get up earlier, I don’t feel good all day. I look, if it says twelve, then I get up and my day begins. I eat something, and then I usually run right up to the race track after I wake up. I bet the horses, then I come back and Linda cooks something and we talk awhile, we eat, and we have a few drinks, and then I go upstairs with a couple of bottles and I type — starting around nine-thirty and going until one-thirty, to, two-thirty at night. And that’s it.

Charles Bukowski, Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews and Encounters 1963–1993, Northville, 2003, p. 78

Steven Pinker

Paradoxically, intensifiers like very, highly, and extremely also work like hedges. They not only fuzz up a writer’s prose but can undermine his intent. If I’m wondering who pilfered the petty cash, it’s more reassuring to hear Not Jones; he’s an honest man than Not Jones; he’s a very honest man. The reason is that unmodified adjectives and nouns tend to be interpreted categorically: honest means “completely honest,” or at least “completely honest in the way that matters here” (just as Jack drank the bottle of beer implies that he chugged down all of it, not just a sip or two). As soon as you add an intensifier, you’re turning an all-or-none dichotomy into a graduated scaled. True, you’re trying to place your subject high on the scale—say, an 8.7 out of 10—but it would have been better if the reader were not considering his relative degree of honesty in the first pace. That’s the basis for the common advice (usually misattributed to Mark Twain) to “substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be”—though today the substitution would have to be of a word stronger than damn.

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, New York, 2014

Francis-Noël Thomas & Mark Turner

To the classic writer, the difference between thinking and writing is as wide as the difference between cooking and serving. In every great restaurant there is a kitchen, where the work is done, and a dining room, where the result is presented. The dining room is serene, and the presentation suggests that perfection is routine and effortless, no matter how hectic things get in the kitchen. Naturally the kitchen and the dining room are in constant and intimate contact, but it is part of the protocol of a great restaurant to treat them as if they existed on different planets.

Francis-Noël Thomas & Mark Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose, Princeton, 1994, pp. 64-65

David Edwards

Write about the things that truly inspire you, and do it for the benefit of others—to reduce their suffering and to increase their happiness. That’s my advice. If you do that you will achieve real ‘success’, real passion, enthusiasm and fulfilment, with or without money and status.

David Edwards, ‘Outside the Machine: How to be an Ethical Writer’

George Orwell

The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’, in Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays, London, 1965, p. 186