Drunk in the day – and other tips on writing well

Writes William Zinsser in, “On Writing Well”:

…you have to strip your writing down before you can build it back up. You must know what the essential tools are and what they were designed to do. Extending the metaphor of carpentry, it’s first necessary to be able to saw wood neatly to drive nails. Later you can bevel the edges or add elegant finials, if that’s your taste. But you can never forget that you are practising a craft that’s based on certain principles. If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart.

For songwriters, we are tasked with building mansions in the mind of a listener on limited real estate. Each word must be necessary, otherwise it’s a loose nail. Often the right choice of an image, expressed simply and clearly, is so much more charged with emotion than verbal ornament.

As Jeff Tweedy says in “How to Write One Song”,

An “impatient red fiery orb loomed in the whiskey-blurred, cottony-blue sky” is rarely going to hit me anywhere near as hard as “I was drunk in the day.”


Banner image: Noah Van Sciver, from ‘Fante Bukowksi’.

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