Several Short Sentences About Writing
by Verlyn Klinkenborg
“The question isn’t, can the reader follow you?
That’s a matter of grammar and syntax.
The question is, will the reader follow you?” (128)
I’ve never written a book review, but I think it goes something like this: a brief description of subject, author and intended audience; list good and bad points; and a couple of pithy quotes. I shall largely adhere to this format. Though do forgive me if I find the implied rules of this genre too confining for my wild artistic tendencies.
So, to begin: a brief description of subject, author and intended audience…
This is a book written for writers by a writer about writing.
Too brief, perhaps.
While this text is applicable to writers of any experience or style, I think it is particularly useful for those at a turning point in their career as a writer – professional or otherwise. You might be taking on a new genre, or adapting to an alternative medium – you wouldn’t write an internet blog like you would a private diary entry, for example. Or you might be moving from school to university, or university to the working world, and experiencing the imperative to evolve as a writer as well as a person. It is this last writer to whom I particularly recommend this book.
I have personally struggled with the step up from school to university writing. It is a transition that leads to anxiety. Be more mature, be more sophisticated. Be “better”. While university is the place to improve and mature, a better writer grows, not by anxiously reaching, but by exploring and experimenting. Don’t be bogged down by the “rules” of writing as they were dogmatically put to you in the early years of education. Respect the rules, of course, but don’t be afraid to challenge them. Verlyn Klinkenborg is emphatic on this point. “And yes, you may begin a sentence with ‘but.’” (119)
(From here-on, I shall refer to the author as VK. Younger readers: feel free to insert drinking puns.)
A revised brief description: this book is for the reader who is struggling to find her voice.
… good and bad points…
I am loath to tritely fulfil this requirement. I shall rather offer a few points of interest:
On VK’s style: he really does practise what he preaches. Expect many short sentences about writing.
Don’t be precious about clichéd notions of “what it is to be a writer”. In fact, don’t be precious about clichés, full stop.
“A cliché is dead matter.
It causes gangrene in the prose around it, and sooner or later it eats your brain.” (45)
He isn’t a romantic. There will be no coddling.
VK follows the recent trend of using “her” as the generic pronoun in his text. I’m trying it out. I still find it odd on the ear, but then perhaps I’m antifeminist.
His style isn’t for everyone. He makes no exceptions and allows no excuses. But he does not patronise you. His is a clear, forthright voice. He does not seek to trick or beguile, and though witty at times, his humour is curt at best. Some may find him abrasive, others, refreshing.
At times you will feel like you are back at school. But, as I have already discussed, re-examining the confining and sometimes misleading rules of English school teaching is crucial. This is how you extinguish anxiety and allow your own voice to emerge confidently.
… and a couple of pithy quotes.
How about just one:
“You’re holding an audition.
Many sentences will try out.
One gets the part.
You’ll recognize it less from the character of the sentence itself
than from the promise it contains – promise for the sentences to come.” (101)
Klinkenborg, V. Several short sentences about writing (New York: Vintage Books, 2013)
“Several Short Sentences About Writing” Reviewed by Vinton Rafe McCabe (New York Journal of Books, 2012)