Waugh’s Advice on Writing

Terry Teachout, drama critic of the Wall Street Journal and critic-at-large of Commentary, has posted on his artsblog a quote from Waugh on the practice of writing:

Never send off any piece of writing the moment it is finished. Put it aside. Take on something else. Go back to it a month later and re-read it. Examine each sentence and ask ‘Does this say precisely what I mean? Is it capable of misunderstanding? Have I used a cliché where I could have invented a new and therefore asserting and memorable form? Have I repeated myself and wobbled round the point when I could have fixed the whole thing in six rightly chosen words? Am I using words in their basic meaning or in a loose plebeian way?

The quote comes from a letter by Waugh to Thomas Merton. This was written at the time Waugh was editing Merton’s work The Seven Story Mountain for publication in England where it appeared under the title Elected Silence. The story of Waugh’s interaction with Merton over the next few years is retold in the recent book Merton & Waugh: A Monk, A Crusty Old Man & the Seven Story Mountain by Mary Frances Coady. The letter quoted appears at pp. 36-38.


This entry was posted in Letters and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.