Writers come in as many species as there are birds. Some enjoy writing. Others resemble Gloria Steinem, who said, “I don't like to write; I love having written.” I like to write. But I lack the calling to teach remedial writing. I like to coach people who write decent sentences and who want to write even better. Let's focus on sentences that satisfy grammatical rules but that we can improve with small changes. Take this sentence by David Brooks of the New York Times: “The question should not be why they split up so much as how they stayed together.” Of the many ways in which that sentence can be improved. Here is one: “The question should not be so much why they split up as how they stayed together.” Making that change eliminates this awkward sequence: “why they split up so much.” Reading a sentence aloud allows a writer to catch awkwardness. Next, from the Times obituary of Barbara Walters, about her regarding herself as a “guardian of old-school journalistic values”: “She complained that for her final '20/20′ interview as co-host, in 2004, ABC News chose Mary Kay Letourneau, a schoolteacher who went to jail for having an affair with a student, over President George W. Bush.” The placement of “over President George W. Bush” not only clouds the writer's meaning, it provides a limp and clunky ending. Far better to write, “ABC News, instead of allowing Ms. Walters to interview President Bush, chose as her subject Mary […]
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