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 ‚ÄėDoes this say precisely what I mean? Is it capable of misunderstanding? Have I used a clich√© 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.

 

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