Reverse Engineer Your Writing

watch maker

Last year, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker published The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

I found this comment from Dr. Pinker (from an interview in Scientific American) intriguing:

The main difference between good writing and turgid mush—academese, corporatese, and so on—is that good writing is a window on the world. The writer narrates an ongoing series of events, which the reader can see for himself, if only he is given an unobstructed view.

I also loved the spin he added to the familiar advice that would-be writers should read a lot:

Good writers acquire their craft not from memorizing rules but from reading a lot, savoring and reverse-engineering good prose, and assimilating vast numbers of words, idioms, tropes, and stylistic habits and tricks. (bold added)

This reminded me of the time, when I was about 11 years old, when I spent a summer vacation copying the first few chapters of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine into a notebook, trying to puzzle out exactly how he spun words into stories that captivated me. (And I’ve read that other writers do the same thing. There seems to be something about the physical, tactile act of writing words by hand, using actual ink and paper, that seems to hold some magic — or hope of magic.)

Reverse Engineer Your Writing

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