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Good Sentences

Reading good sentences is a crucial part of becoming a better writer.

For more on how “to write good sentences, you need to read good sentences”:


Chapter 9 of Good with Words: Writing and Editing (“Good Sentences”)

The Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole and the Irish writer Colum McCann have each used the fictional exercise of putting together a letter to pass along concrete advice to authors who are just starting out. Cole’s collection is called Eight Letters to a Young Writer. McCann’s is simply Letters to a Young Writer.

Both stress the main lesson in the video you just watched: to write good sentences, you need to read good sentences.

Read the passages below and then vote on which one does a better job articulating that key point. Share your vote in the Comments.

1. “Read slowly, like someone studying the network of tunnels underneath a bank vault in preparation for a heist. What can you steal from the techniques of the masters? Understand what Joyce is doing with language in Dubliners. Immerse yourself in the slow, taut arc of Mann’s Magic Mountain. And then (a little brashness helps) ask yourself: what can you do even better than them?”

—Teju Cole, “Eight Letters to a Young Writer” (2010)

2. “Writers feel the grammar rather than knowing it. This comes from good reading. If you read enough, the grammar will come.”

—Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer (2017)

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Writing and Editing: Word Choice and Word Order

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