Several Short Sentences on Writing

The Passion of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

The Passion of Creation by Leonid Pasternak

Your job as a writer is making sentences.

Your other jobs include fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences.

I enjoyed reading this book.

I like how the author describes writing as making sentences.

It's a book I will come back to once in a while in my journey of writing, revising, and rewriting.

It changed my outlook on what writing is all about. I like the fresh ideas of composing and revision being the same thing, the importance of thinking, noticing, noticing what I notice, paying attention to my emotions, self-authorizing in writing, reading to examining the shape and rhythm of sentences and not to extract meaning, reading aloud to revise, not planning or outlining work, and many more.

Below are some practical questions for writing that are answered from the book, for my reference.

how to start?

Know what each sentence says.
What it doesn't say,
And what it implies.

how we know nearly everything?

The ways we know nearly everything about the world around us.

  1. what you've been taught
  2. what you assume is true because you've heart it repeated by others
  3. what you feel, no matter how subtle
  4. what you don't know
  5. what you learn from your own experience

you don't have to write short sentences forever. Only until you find a compelling reason for a long sentence that's as clear and direct as a short sentence

how to rewrite?

  • keep the space between the period and the subject as empty as possible
    • this space gets filled with unnecessary words
    • most sentences need no preamble - or postlude
  • remove every unnecessary word
    • see which words the sentence can live without
    • every word is optional until it proves to be essential
    • remove words one by one and see what's lost or gained

The longer the sentence, the less it's able to imply writing by implication should be one of your goals.

One of a writer's most important tools, the ability to:

  • suggest more than the words seem to allow
  • speak to the reader in silence

how to read to write?

you are two people, writer and reader

You can only become a better writer by becoming a better reader

you've read millions of words arranged by other writers

Don't read just to extract or deposit meaning

Be happy in the presence of every sentences as it passes by

A sentence has many qualities: it has rhythm, velocity, it uses metaphor and simile, it stirs and gratifies the reader's expectations, it identifies the reader, it names the world, etc.

You're the curator of all these qualities in the sentences you make.

how to interrogate sentences?

Every work of literature is the result of thousands and thousands of decisions. It's the living tissue of a writer's choice.

Imagine the reason behind each sentence.

  • Why is it shaped this way and not some other way?
  • Why that choice of words?
  • Why that phrasing?
  • Why that rhythm?

how to practice noticing?

  • noticing means thinking with all your senses
  • it's also an exercise in not writing.
  • it requires a suspension in yearning
  • pause in the desire to be pouring something out of yourself
  • let yourself out into the world, rather than siphoning the world into you in order to transmute it into words

why notice?

If you notice something, it’s because it’s important.

But what you notice depends on what you allow yourself to notice

The authority you feel has a great deal to do with how you write, and what you write, With your ability to pay attention to the shape and meaning of your own thoughts.

And the value of your own perceptions.

Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization.

No matter who you are.

Only you can authorize yourself.

You do that by writing well, by constant discovery.

What is the problems most writers face?

The problem most writers face isn’t writing.

It’s consciousness.



That includes noticing language.

The fundamental act of revision is literally becoming conscious of the sentence,

Seeing it for what it is, word for word, as a shape, and in relation to all the other sentences in the piece.

how to read aloud?

Try reading the words on the page as though they were meant to be spoken plainly

To a listener who is both you and not you—

An imaginary listener seated not too far away.

That way your attention isn’t only on the words you’re reading.

It’s on the transmission of those words.

As you read aloud, catch the rhythm of the sentences without overemphasizing it.

Read so the listener can hear the shape of the syntax.

How well you read aloud reveals how well you understand the syntax of a sentence

Remember how well some students read and others, how badly?

It was a difference in comprehension,

Not of the sentence’s meaning,

But of its texture, pace, structure, actuality

what questions to ask to revise?

  • How many sentences begin with the subject?
  • How many begin with an opening phrase before the subject?
  • How many begin with “There” or “It”?
  • What kinds of nouns do you see?
  • Abstractions? Generalizations?
  • Is the subject of the sentence an actor capable of performing the action of the verb?
  • How close is the subject to its verb?
  • How many of the verbs are variants of “to be”—“is,” “are,” “were,” “was,” and so on?
  • Are the verbs active, energetic?
  • Are the constructions passive?
  • How often does the word “as” appear, and in which of its many senses?
  • Are you using “with” as a preposition or as a false conjunction, a false relative pronoun?
  • Are there inadvertent repetitions—words repeated unintentionally?
  • Is every phrase in its proper place, every word?
  • Is everything next to what it should be next to?
  • Anything outright ungrammatical?
  • Words used improperly?
  • Do verbs that require direct objects (transitive verbs) lack them?
  • If there’s a modifying phrase at the start of the sentence, does it modify the subject of the sentence? (It must.)
  • Can the sentence be broken in two or three?

what to know for grammar and syntax?

  • the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.
  • The difference between active and passive constructions.
  • The relation between a pronoun and its antecedent.
  • All the parts of speech.
  • The different verb tenses.
  • The nature of participles and their role as modiGers.
  • The subtleties of prepositions—the hardest part of speech even for native speakers of English.
  • You need a toolbox of rhetorical devices, like irony, hyperbole,
  • And the various kinds of analogy.
  • You need an ever-growing vocabulary — and with it the awareness that most words carry several meanings

what to circle?

  • Circle the direct objects.
  • The indirect objects.
  • The participles.
  • The relative pronouns.
  • The metaphors and similes and analogies.
  • Any word that seems to be used in a way that distorts its meaning.
  • Any particularly rhythmic phrases or sentences.
  • Any spot where you sense a change in direction or time or voice.
  • Any phrase that interests you.
  • Any word that stops you.
  • Anything you notice, whether you think it matters or not. It matters because you noticed it.

why learn grammar and syntax?

(1) it's keeping the rules from obtruding themselves upon the reader because you've Ignored them

If a sentence offers an ambiguous path—two ways of being read—this reader will always take the wrong one.

(2) it's the precondition for being sure.

Your sentences say what you think they say.

why there's no writer's block?

Writing is not natural.

There's no flow. There's only:

  • loss of confidence
  • And forgetting to think
  • And failing to prepare
  • And not reading enough
  • And giving up on patience
  • And hastening to write
  • And fearing your audience
  • And never really trying to understand how sentences work
  • Above all, there’s never learning to trust yourself
  • Or your capacity to learn or think or perceive

what are characteristics of good prose?

  • They’re fairly short.
  • They’re rhythmic, often with the rhythms of actual speech.
  • The diction is simple—very few multisyllabic words.
  • The construction — almost no suspended phrases or dependent clauses.
  • An acute awareness of the listener’s attention and understanding
  • A sense of contextual alertness, and a vivid sense of the unspoken.

what is style?

It’s the fusion of your command of language and your commitment to your own intent

You don’t need to think about style.

Pursue clarity instead.

In the pursuit of clarity, style reveals itself.

Are my ideas good enough?

The first person who needs to be persuaded of your authority is you.

You're afraid your ideas aren't good enough,

But what if your ideas are coherent and thoughtful?

What if your perceptions are accurate and true?

Your sentences clear and direct?

What if allowing us to see what’s accurate and true is among the best work writing can do?

The only sure test of your ideas is whether they interest you

And arouse your own expectations

how to revise?

  • Work from the small-scale, start by fixing the sentences that need fixing
  • Explore the possibilities that open up.
  • Continue making small, incremental changes at the sentence level wherever you see problems, with no priority given to the beginning or end of the piece.
  • Listen for rhythm
  • Anything that strikes you — anything that causes a subtle, inward sensation of discomfort, an inner alarm, no matter how faint—stop there and figure out what’s going on.
  • there's often a better sentence hiding under a good sentence. don't just shift around with the same words, reimagine it, put effort into fixing it.
  • Curiosity, patience, and the ability to improvise are good tools for revising
  • So is the ability to remain open to the work and let it remain open to you.

how to know if a sentence is good?

  • you sense an inward difference, a subtle feeling telling you this sentence isn't the same as the others
  • learning this feeling is important. It's a guide and an incentive to making more good sentences.
  • it happens against the backdrop of your constant reading and unending exposure to superb sentences.

what is the foundation of writing?

There's nothing linear in your growth as a writer.

The moment you find yourself getting good at one thing, it's time to push on to unsafe terrain.

To do this work requires a balance between:

(1) your commitment to the sentences you're making
(2) and the knowledge that each of them could be otherwise.

make that simple distinction again and again and you'll get good at making this distinction.

This is the foundation of writing.

Living somewhere between certainty and flux.

Learning to remember that your sentences don't acquire their final inertia until you release them.

That your sentences, written down, are in the condition of waiting to be examined.

when to stop revising?

revise toward brevity – remove words instead of adding them.

  • Toward directness—language that isn’t evasive or periphrastic.
  • Toward simplicity—in construction and word choice.
  • Toward clarity—a constant lookout for ambiguity.
  • Toward rhythm—where it’s lacking.
  • Toward literalness—as an antidote to obscurity.
  • Toward implication—the silent utterance of your sentences.
  • Toward variation—always.
  • Toward silence—leave some.
  • Toward the name of the world—yours to discover.
  • Toward presence—the quiet authority of your prose

what questions to ask while reading?

  • Whether you like a passage or not.
  • Whether you like the author or not.
  • Whether or not you think the author likes you.
  • Whether you like what a passage is saying.

how to keep going?

Never stop reading
Say more than you thought you knew how to say
In sentences better than you ever imagined
For the reader who reads between the lines.