What does this swan have to do with graceful writing? She is a “pen,” a female swan (the male is a “cob”), and is simply resting a leg, as some swans are wont to do.

Recently, a famous blogger responded to a complaint that he begins sentences with “And” and “But.” Readers rushed to his defense, agreeing the practice is acceptable. Here I dissent, mildly.

You can write clear, interesting, even memorable prose without beginning your sentences with the coordinating conjunctions, “And” or “But.”

In discussions of good writing, too much is made of “informality” and “conversational tone.” Frankly, I’m not sure what those words mean. Too often they are used to justify bad grammar and the weak writing that follows from it.

Graceful writing demands rigor, that you say precisely what you mean — but that is a necessary, not sufficient condition.

My preferred guide is William Strunk’s famous little book, The Elements of Style. His often quoted summation is this:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Graceful writing meets this test, and goes beyond it. Grace in language not only is an end itself, but also heightens our perceptions, helping the writer to convey the most intimate or weighty thoughts, and the reader fully to absorb them.

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One Response to Graceful Writing*

  1. Jim Fett says:

    I lament that with email, tweets, texting, etc. the kind of writing to which you refer is a dying art in our fast-paced society.

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