LawProse Lesson #339: What is good writing?

LawProse Lesson #339: What is good writing?

Good writing is a marriage of good ideas with good expression. You must have both. The ideas need to be clear, and the language in which you express them must be clear.

Clarity is the touchstone. A vague, fuzzy idea can at best be stated obliquely; any clear, solid idea can be expressed clearly. Unfortunately, it’s possible to write many pages without expressing a clear idea. People do it all the time. They’re writing poorly. To be intelligible—to make yourself understood—is the fundamental aim of all serious writing.

As for the writing process, understand that frustration is a natural part of it. There will be times when you feel as if the material is simply intractable. You’ll struggle to find a sound approach. That’s normal, and it’s to be expected. Good writers come to know that’s just part of the process. Poor writers feel frustrated and give up without finding good solutions. They settle for unclarity. And they come to dislike the process.

Here’s what Barbara Tuchman, the historian, said:
“When it comes to language, nothing is more satisfying than to write a good sentence. It is no fun to write lumpishly, dully, in prose the reader must plod through like wet sand. But it is a pleasure to achieve, if one can, a clear running prose that is simple yet full of surprises. This does not just happen. It requires skill, hard work, a good ear, and continued practice, as much as it takes Heifetz to play the violin. The goals . . . are clarity, interest, and aesthetic pleasure.”

That’s exactly right.

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