I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.

        -C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, p. 555

Probably my most frequent mistake when writing is being ambiguous and expecting the reader to sort is out on his or her own. Why leave any gates along the path open?  


I sometimes thi…


Verbs that take no preposition (consider, infringe, commiserate) are frequently given a needless one by the same hidden influence of a synonym. ‘Infringe’ (your rights) suggests ‘encroach’ (upon) and out comes ‘infringe upon’. ‘Consider’ suggests ‘regard,’ which needs ‘as.’ If you are tempted to say, “I consider you as a fool,” remember that you are applying the epithet to yourself.

        -Jacques Barzun, Simple & Direct, p. 62

This one has a sharp edge at its end. 

Verbs that take…


Anyone who writes: “They wanted to, in a manner of speaking, eat their cake and have it too” is virtually deaf and blind to language and requires severe clinical treatment.

        -Jacques Barzun, Simple & Direct, p. 59-60

I’m sure I’ve done this. Does anyone know where the nearest writing intensive care unit is? 

Anyone who writ…


Linking is felt in the relation of pronouns to antecedents and of verb tenses in sequence, no less than in the order and aspects of the larger parts of sentences. In short, linking is for the writer a principle of construction. There is not much linking, or not good linking, in the spontaneous expression of the mind when it gropes toward a meaning.

        -Jacques Barzun, Simple & Direct, p. 56

Linking is felt…


The mind tends to run along the groove of one’s intention and overlooks the actual expression.

-Jacques Barzun, Simple & Direct (p. 6)

I’m hoping to learn to write better. Part of the process is reading books about writing. A particularly brutal book, but also a very fruitful one, is Simple & Direct by Jacques Barzun. It’s like learning to write from the cruelest drill sergeant of all time.


There is undoubted gain, if perhaps also loss, in finding ourselves in the present century sufficiently “postmodern” to understand that no-one interprets the past without both the help and the hindrance of inherited preconceptions. The historian has turned out to be not a camera but a darkroom.

Bockmuehl (The Remembered Peter)