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Evelyn Waugh Writing Advice


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From English author Evelyn Waugh’s letter to American author Thomas Mertonon Aug. 13, 1948, quoted in Mary Frances Coady’s “Merton and Waugh: A Monk, a Crusty Old Man & The Seven Storey Mountain” (2015):

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 English language is incomparably rich and can convey every thought accurately and elegantly. The better the writing the less abstruse it is. Say “No” cheerfully and definitely to people who want you to do more than you can do well.

All this is painfully didactic—but you did ask for advice—and there it is.

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