Expository writing requires language to express far more complex trains of thought than it was biologically designed to do. Inconsistencies caused by limitations of short-term memory and planning, unnoticed in conversation, are not as tolerable when preserved on a page that is to be perused more leisurely. Also, unlike a conversational partner, a reader will rarely share enough background assumptions to interpolate all the missing premises that make language comprehensive. Overcoming one's natural egocentrism and trying to anticipate the knowledge state of a generic reader at every stage of the exposition is one of the most important tasks in writing well. All this makes writing a difficult craft that must be mastered through practice, instruction, feedback, and--probably most important--intensive exposure to good examples. . . . [A] banal but universally acknowledged key to good writing is to revise extensively. Good writers go through anywhere from two to twenty drafts before releasing a paper. Anyone who does not appreciate this necessity is going to be a bad writer.
-Stephen Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
The following links form a natural sequence, but they are also interactive. I suggest you begin reading them in order, but you can read each independently, and links are provided in each selection to other documents as appropriate.
[Early on] I approached writing as primarily a matter of wording. Like the beginning pianist who focuses on the notes rather than the music, I thought of writing as a matter of choosing and arranging words in such a way as to sound impressive, or intelligent, or amusing, or touching. I had not reached a point at which writing becomes an end in itself, a means of discovering meaning. Nor had I developed an appreciation for the mystery of life. It was not that I lacked [life-]experience -- I lacked reverence for experience.
Return to Mark's Home Page
© Mark T. Unno 2010