Economical Writing by Deirdre N. McCloskey

By Deirdre N. McCloskey

Somebody who cares approximately direct, transparent expression should still learn this lucid, pleasant gem via an writer who practices what she advises.

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Remember that 37 the paper that took you days or a week to write will be read in about half an hour. You must read the paper yourself in this rapid way to get the experience the reader will have, and to make the experience good. The writer who wishes to be readable does not clot his prose with traffic directions. He thinks hard about the arrangement. Add headings afterwards if you wish, espe­ cially ones with declarative sentences advancing the argu­ ment, like the ones used here. Your prose, however, should read well and clearly without the headings.

Once at the desk, though, you will find your subconscious drawing on various reserves of strength to persuade you to stop: fear, boredom, the impulse to track down that trivial point by adjourning to the library. Time to go see Mary or John. Time to watch the basketball game. Time to get some fresh air. Don’t. Resist. It's time to write. One of these distractions is taste. The trouble with developing good taste in writing, which is the point of study­ ing books like this one, is that you begin to find your stuff distasteful.

Yet in truth the practice hours are not as stressful as the performances. Once you are equipped with a technique for doing it well, much of the rewriting is pleasant and not excessively hard. Rewriting for style does not have the anxiety of invention and arrangement—that you will not be able to produce anything at all. Look your audience directly in the eyes. Be honest with them. Ask who they are, aim the draft toward them, and keep hauling yourself back to facing them in revisions. Choose a reader and stick with her.

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