From the Publisher
“Verlyn Klinkenborg has written an exceptionally interesting and useful book about writing. There have been good books on grammar and style, some classics, but none to compare to this one for understanding where sentences come from in the first place, where their vitality is found, and what distinguishes their energy, their authenticity, and their prospects for life after birththat is, the art of revision. This book's long future will be a testament to its author's principles.” –Tom McGuane
"This is a very interesting little book about writing. Modest. Learned. Good-natured. Direct and sympathetic to its readers. You don't even have to read it front to back (probably you couldn't, anyway). You can just open it anywhere—as I did—and take away something useful." –Richard Ford
“Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing is an invaluable book for anyone who wants to write well. The simple clarity and logic that he brings to the page is mesmerizing and inspiring—the ultimate cleansing process that leaves you wanting a fresh piece of paper and a brand new start. It is a book filled with great advice and wisdom. And it's fun, too!” –Jill McCorkle
“Expertise and zeal are required for an established writer to offer genuinely useful guidance to aspiring writers. It also helps if the writer teaches writing, as Klinkenborg has for many years…The result is a unique anatomy of the sentence and the writing mind and a clarifying and invigorating ‘book of first steps.’” –Booklist
“To paraphrase Voltaire’s statement concerning the Almighty, ‘if Verlyn Klinkenborg did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’ Because having read Several Short Sentences About Writing, I do not think that it would be possible to not have this book on hand…no other book, old or new, is as well reasoned as this, as entertaining or as wise…Indeed, no other book is as filled with as much grounded, practical advice for putting words to the paper or electronic page or gives better, more helpful exercises…Best book on writing. Ever.” –New York Journal of Books
“A fresh perspective on writing that goes against conventional classroom theory.” –Shelf Awareness
“Klinkenborg does away with much of the traditional wisdom on writing and dissects the sentence—its structure, its intention, its semantic craftsmanship—to deliver a new, useful, and direct guide to the art of storytelling.” –Brain Pickings
“Powerful…each sentence miraculously contains an idea or insight that lesser writers would have milked for several pages.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm. Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who's taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it's acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you're headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg's advice is neither radical nor especially profound ("Turn to the poets. / Learn from them"), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students' awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students' dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes. Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.
Read an Excerpt
Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Most of your time will be spent making sentences in your head.
In your head.
Did no one ever tell you this?
That is the writer's life.
Never imagine you've left the level of the sentence behind.
Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed.
The rest will need to be fixed.
This will be true for a long time.
The hard part now is deciding which to kill and which to fix and how to fix them.
This will get much, much easier, but the decision making will never end.
As you practice noticing, notice how thickly particled with names the world around you is.
This will gradually become part of your noticing,
looking not for words to make us see the way you saw
But for the names of what you've noticed.
Names that announce the whatness of the world to a single species.
It's hard to grasp at first the density, the specificity
With which the world has been named.
This is a planet of overlapping lexicons,
Generation after generation, trade after trade,
Expedition after expedition sent out to bring home
Name upon name, terms of identity in endless degrees of intimacy,
And all at hand, if you look for them.
In the syntax and rhythm of sentences,
In the page of thought, the intensity of movement,
The crescendo and decrescendo,
The trustworthy reader learns the writer's habitude and how to move with it.
You converse, in a sense, with the voice on the other side of the ink.
The kind of reading is the pleasure of being summoned out of ourselves by the grace,
The ferocity, the skill of the writing before us.
How else to explain our love of even difficult writers?
Their agility evokes our agility.
We move at their speed, elliptically, obliquely,
However they move.