Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What do you mean?

Writer to editor.
“Writing is an instrument for conveying ideas from one mind to another; your job as a writer is to make the reader grasp your meaning readily and precisely. Do you always say just what you mean? Do you yourself always know just what you mean?”

~ Ernest Gowers

Gowers was the author of Plain Words, which has recently been revised by his daughter, Rebecca Gowers. Michael Skapinker, a Financial Times columnist, calls it "still the best book on English and how to write it."

Before we can transmit meaning to the reader, we must say what we mean. That requires that we know just what we mean.

Writing helps us to discover that. This is why writing is really rewriting. The first go is where we discover what it is we're thinking. The second draft is where we attempt to explain what it is we're thinking. It's where we discover that free floating thoughts don't translate easily to linear words on paper.

A final draft cleans it all up: Is this the wrong word? Will a reader get this?

That's when it's ready for an editor, who will point out that we're kidding ourselves.

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