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Several Short Sentences About Writing

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,711 ratings  ·  344 reviews
Most of what you think you know about writing is useless. It’s the harmful debris of your education—a mixture of half-truths, myths, and false assumptions that prevents you from writing well. Drawing on years of experience as a writer and teacher of writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg offers an approach to writing that will change the way you work and think. There is no gospel, no ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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 ·  1,711 ratings  ·  344 reviews

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Jason Wardell
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is nearly impossible to rate.
It's good.
It's really good.
But it reads like theoretical slam poetry
On the topic of writing.
An essay that could be in verse,
But isn't in verse.
And that might be off-putting to some readers.

Every sentence in this book is valuable.
I have visions of myself sitting and writing,
Noticing, as Klinkenborg would put it,
And consulting this book.

The guy knows his stuff
And that makes him a little pompous in his delivery.
Reviewers have complained that they feel condesce
Lee Klein
Oct 25, 2012 rated it liked it
I'd recommend this to newer writers since I think it's aimed at them. The tone rankled me, so did the direct address, second-person POV (also occasional first-person plural), particularly when it addressed someone I was not -- that is, someone lacking an apparently excellent education when it comes to writing (he condescends too often to "what you were taught about writing"). He also too often for me presents his assertions as objective truth. The format emphasizes sentence length and rhythm. It ...more
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm loving this book, here is my favorite qoute, from page 12 " The longer the sentence, the less it's able to imply, and writing by implication should be one of your goals. Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you, the prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields. It was nonexistent in the way you were taught to write, that means you don't know how to use one of a writer's most important tools: the ability to suggest more than the words seem to ...more
Kate Savage
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hugely useful book.

First of all, his name is Verlyn Klinkenborg. While you read it, you get to say things like "What in Verlyn Klinkenborg's name is going on here?!"

Secondly, he likes sentences. He never says he likes them. He instead asserts some authoritative all-knowledge about sentences. Like God wants good sentences, more than good behavior. And sure, what does Verlyn Klinkenborg know? But I like sentences too. I read a bad sentence and think: "you increase the unhappiness in the world."
K.M. Weiland
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a strange, funny, true, crazy, insightful book. Klinkenborg walks that fine line between pretension and crystal-clear truth. For the most part, the book is about writing better sentences, and in that respect, it’s deeply insightful and thought-provoking. But even better is what Klinkenborg’s sentences are actually saying about busting writing stereotypes. There were a few moments where the book’s relentless stylizing grew tedious, but mostly, this was a very fast, entertaining, and worthwhi ...more
Jan Priddy
Jan 14, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I see people love this book.
I did not.
You might.

Good writing should be significant and delightful in every sentence. Or as others have said previously and more to the point: Every sentence does not need to be brilliant, but every sentence needs to be good.

Klinkenborg addresses his "several short sentences" to a very specific audience, one exactly like himself, with the same education, writing experience, and arrogance that he brings to the table. All those basic principles and structures and
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
While some ideas put forth in this book are valid and useful, I was put off by two things. First, the examples the author chooses of bad sentences were just too bad and uncomfortable to read through to the end. Second, I can't help thinking the emphasis on brevity and clarity will prove stifling in the end, turning all writing into technical writing. I'm reminded of my college poetry class where one student on hearing a beautiful sonnet by Shakespeare complained that Billy could have said the sa ...more
Katey Schultz
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Hands down, this is the most inspiring, honest, and realistic book about writing that I have ever read. It is best to read this slowly and savor each kernel of advice. I have used Klinkenborg's advice in classrooms to inspired new writers away from their formal, stuffy training and toward their most authentic voices. His ideas are clearly stated and feel immediately true upon reading them, although no one has quite said them in this way before. I can't recommend this book enough. ...more
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
“Here, in short is what I want to tell you.
"Know what each sentence says,
What it doesn’t say,
And what it implies.
Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence
actually says.”

“Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Your other jobs includes fixing sentences, killing sentences,
and arranging sentences . . .”

The title of Kinkenborg’s book encompasses the subject. It is an exploration of the sentence and it’s importance to writers. He offers advice, wisdom and insight gained over time in simpl
Richard Gilbert
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
How to foster a certain quality of mind, the writing mind, which notices, lies at the heart of Several Short Sentences About Writing. As the quotes below show, Klinkenborg's writing advice is presented like poetry. Technically it IS poetry, as he’s controlling the length of his lines. This compulsively readable declarative poem runs for149 of the book’s 204 pages, the balance being examples of prose, good and bad, and concise commentary. Here are some of his gnomic stanzas that struck me as inte ...more
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably one of my favorite craft books now. I don't agree with every point the author makes, but in this case, that fact does not detract from the text at all. Instead, the book is a celebration of the sentence. It encourages reader-writers to move away from expectations, rules, and rigid education to instead explore possibilities, experiment, and push the boundaries. It is a book about excitement and opportunity, not forsaking conventio, but embracing the agency of the writer while enc ...more
Muhammad Ahmad
Feb 09, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
The author says it is better to write good sentences rather than bad ones. It is better to be inspired rather than uninspired. Very good advice.
Lisa McKenzie
Dec 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Any reader who enthuses over this book is going to have a hard time writing about it. And that’s funny. Because it’s a book about writing. If a book about writing has done its job, then writing about it—writing about anything—should be easier, no?
If that’s your goal…consult a different book.
If your goal, as a reader, is to strengthen your writing…this might be just the book for you.
Klinkenborg makes the claim that our educational system, and our culture at large, doesn’t get the point of the w
Rachelle Urist
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by my youngest son who said he wished he'd discovered this book earlier in his life - but that would have been impossible, because the book hadn't yet been written! I liked this book mostly because it's a fun, fine book, but also because it was recommended by my son.

From the preface:
"The premise of this book is that most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but harmful. This is not an assumption. It’s a conclusion."

You can start this
Alexandru Jr.
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of the best books on writing ever.

I do, intuitively, a lot of stuff he talks about: for example, I vary the length of my sentences, and I craft my long ones as a series of short sentences, separated by commas and dashes.
I try to write texts which can be read aloud and sound natural (although I know writing is not natural - a point Klinkenborg makes too). I revise while reading aloud, too. I also believe the only honest form of writing is witnessing - writing what you notice and what you thin
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing, teaching
I found this book annoying. It is written in the second person, with each sentence set apart from the next on the page, as though a Zen master was addressing a somewhat slow disciple and wanted to make each statement very, very clear. There's some good advice, some bad, and a lot of repetition. ...more
Patrick Walsh
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
"The question isn't
Can the reader follow you?
That's a matter of grammar and syntax.
The question is
Will the reader follow you?"

Klinkenborg argues that good writing is, principally, a collection of good sentences. He believes that writers should skip outlines, write each sentence like it's the final draft, ignore the idea of "natural writing" or "flow", read their own work aloud, and write shorter sentences. I'm unsure about some pieces of his advice (like writing sentences as if they're the fina
Kristin Boldon
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, new, own, writing
This is one of the best books about writing ever. It belongs on the shelf to refer to regularly. More like 4.5, though. I gotta take a half star off for the overlong section at the end correcting student sentences. (Which still was only a fraction of the book, the rest of which is terrific, including his look at some famous writers' passages.) Sometimes he was right, sometimes he was mean, and sometimes he advised edits that would erase the style right out of a sentence. I'm a writer, writing te ...more
Dec 31, 2020 added it
I'm of two minds on this one. The first half of the book didn't do much for me (I found the author's tone a bit offputting), but I found the second half much more interesting and helpful. I was especially struck with his observation that that writing isn't about proof or persuasion: it is about testifying to what you've observed. "Proof is for mathematicians. Logic is for philosophers. We have testimony." ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-reread, language
This is a good book.
It has some simple advice.
Laid out in several short sentences.
The tone can be condescending. Ignore it.
The message is clear and refreshing.
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it
I always enjoy an invitation to think further about writing well. I found a number of gems in this volume, bon mots for me as a writer and others that I believe will help my students.

Yet aspects of the advice irked me no end. Klinkenborg sets up "school," and implicitly the writing teacher, as the straw man, although a human subject is notably absent from these sentences. All weak writing on students' part stems not from their own inexperience but, he asserts, from "what [they] were taught" in s
Ksenia Anske
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I never thought that what I had to say might be important. Never thought what I notice might be important. How could it? Who am I to have an important opinion? I’ve been told to pay no heed to my perceptions, to disregard my thoughts, to learn from the wise and from the important and from the established legerdemains of prose. I’ve been taught in school in analyze my ideas before putting them down on paper, and I grew to be afraid of them. What if they weren’t right? Of course they weren’t, I th ...more
Mar 26, 2018 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
Ugh, after reading this, I'm painfully self-conscious writing this review.

This book is a particularly stylized* examination of How Sentences Work, focusing on the weight of good prose (or of weak prose) on a reading experience as a whole. It's very much about the act of writing, about retraining yourself to notice, about training yourself to think sentences and write sentences. I was struck by how much like meditation this pre-requisite of noticing is: "Is it possible to practice noticing? I thi
Len Joy
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
On the cover of this book, there is a blurb from the New York Journal of Books: “Best book on writing. Ever.”

It’s an excellent example of the Klinkenborg’s advocacy for the power of short sentences. Even if it is, perhaps, a bit hyperbolic.

This is a book I am going to read again. I think it will take a second and third reading to maximize the potential benefits.

Klinkenborg offers a philosophy of writing and it is a lot to absorb in one reading.

One of his main points is that aspiring writers w
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: do-not-miss
Hands-down the best book on the art of writing I have ever read. Even better than Bradbury's. The essence of what it means to write is here distilled down to the only thing that really matters: How to make perfect sentences, and what that means, and why. Absolutely blew my mind, teaching me to do a ton of things differently, but also showing me how surprisingly much I've been doing correctly all the time and getting yelled at for it by schools. :)

A fast, enjoyable, weirdly-like-poetry mental rom
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Five stars are too few to describe how much I love this book right now. This guy might be condescending to some, but his advice is giving me confidence and clearing out the clutter of voices in my brain right now. This is like the stripped down version of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: just get started and stop overthinking it. I will be obnoxiously quoting from this book for a long, long time.
Michael Nichols
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted a style guide and picked this one up for the same reason one picks up many other books—the author’s name sounded funny. Now, as it turns out, Verlyn Klinkenborg is a romantic brimming with individualistic nostalgia. He thinks writing is about un-learning all the bad things educators and so-called authorities taught you. And his prose is formatted like stanzas of poetry. It’s very strange, and kind of hard to avoid thinking about how pretentious that choice was. But, if you can lay those ...more
David Molish
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
I feel that Klinkenborg has some interesting ideas about writing. I wouldn't say that it's the most informative book because of how arrogant and self-righteous he is but I definitely learned a few things. For instance, he questions why we use transitions in writing and I sort of agree with him in that they don't always serve a purpose. However I found it very hard to take him seriously all the time because he presented his ideas in a way that seemed to suggest "everything you know about writing ...more
Jena Ritchey
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
I have been thinking about this quote:

"Imagine a cellist playing one of Bach's solo suites.
Does he consider his audience?
(Did Bach, for that matter?)
Does he play the suite differently to audiences
Of different incomes and educations and social
No. The work selects its audience."
(p. 142)
Akhil Jain
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reco by

My fav quotes (not a review):
-Page 19 |
"What if you value every one of a sentence’s attributes and not merely its meaning? Strangely enough, this is how you read when you were a child. Children read repetitively and with incredible exactitude. They demand the very sentence—word for word—and no other. The meaning of the sentence is never a substitute for the sentence itself, Not to a six-year-old. This is still an excellent way to read."
-Page 44 |
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Verlyn Klinkenborg is a member of the editorial board of The New York Times. His previous books include Making Hay, The Last Fine Time, and The Rural Life. He lives in upstate New York.

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107 likes · 10 comments
“Without extraneous words or phrases or clauses, there will be room for implication. The longer the sentence, the less it’s able to imply, And writing by implication should be one of your goals. Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you, The prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields. It was nonexistent in the way you were taught to write. That means you don’t know how to use one of a writer’s most important tools: The ability to suggest more than the words seem to allow, The ability to speak to the reader in silence.” 3 likes
“With luck, you were read aloud to as a child.” 2 likes
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