How to Use the Power of the Printed Word collects writer wisdom from amazing writers, Kurt Vonnegut included. In the book, Vonnegut shares eight rules in his elements of style, and I’ve grabbed some highlights from my favorite five.
(HT to Maria Popova for turning me onto Vonnegut’s style guide.)
Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Great Writing
1. Find a Subject You Care About
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.
2. Do Not Ramble, Though
3. Keep It Simple
4. Have the Guts to Cut
If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.
5. Sound like Yourself
I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.
6. Say What You Mean to Say
7. Pity the Readers
Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, ever willing to simplify and clarify, whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.
That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.
8. For Really Detailed Advice
Read The Elements of Style, E.B. White
Image via Thomas Fuchs, New York Times