How to Write With Style – Kurt Vonnegut

January 13th, 2010

I recently stumbled on an old and brief article written by one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut.  Ever since I read Welcome to the Monkey House (1968), I’ve counted him among the most enjoyable authors to read.  He is also quite insightful, such as a statement that has stuck with me about smoking from the into of Monkey House:

The public health authorities never mention the main reason many Americans have for smoking heavily, which is that smoking is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide.

Anyways, earlier today I found a piece called How to Write with Style, which I eagerly sped through.  Certainly worth the five minutes it takes to read.  The version I found was published in 1980 and starts with this advice:

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.  These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful — ? And on and on.  Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

Here are the headers for the piece that give an even shorter overview of his advice:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers

Full article (PDF link)

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