"Your idea of necessary will change as your experience changes."


Last weekend, I drove to visit a dear friend in New Jersey, an hour and a half away, so I took advantage of the opportunity to listen to a book on Audible: Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I can guess what you're thinking.


But, bear with me.

First. Any of you who wish to improve your writing skills -- for whatever purpose -- I enthusiastically recommend this jewel of a book. Audio or Kindle or old-fashioned paper, it doesn't matter. This book brims with smart advice. Every word may not be necessary for you, but Klinkenborg practices what he preaches. So, I suggest you take it in slowly and digest each morsel. A caution for those listening: his delivery is so measured that you may find it meditative and, thus, miss something. It is not lively. Keep this in mind while driving.

Second. Everything he says about writing magically translates to living an engaged life, lovingly, deliberately, and with compassion for yourself and others. Take this passage, for example. Yes, I know that this is advice to be a better writer. But just substitute "being a better version of myself" for any reference to writing, and see what I mean. Swap in "working with my feelings or emotions" for writing. Think of "writing" as living with compassionate self-respect and integrity.

  • Humans have a language instinct, but not necessarily a writing instinct. The difference between talking and writing is the difference between breathing and singing well. It takes years of work to write well and only part of that is learning to type.

  • People assume writing is natural. It is not…. “natural” is one of the words behind writer’s block. So, let’s suppose there’s no such thing writer’s block. There’s loss of confidence, and forgetting to think and failing to prepare, and not reading enough, and giving up on patience, and hastening to write and fearing your audience, and never really trying to understand how sentences work. Above all, there’s never learning to trust yourself, or your capacity to learn, or think, or perceive.

  • People will continue to think writing is natural. This harms only writers who believe it themselves.

Here's my point, in case it's not obvious. Being a good person is not necessarily our natural condition. We have to want to be a good person. We have to work at it. We have to learn how and, sometimes, unlearn what others who came before us have taught us so we can find our own way. Can we be a good person? Yes, of course. Is there a right "good person" we should be? Is there an ideal we aspire to? No. Not really. Believing there's one right way to be only harms us.

But how do we believe in ourselves? How do we set expectations for ourselves? We have to put in the work. First, Klinkenborg reminds us that our "assumptions and prohibitions and obligations are the imprint of your education, the culture you live in." "Distrust them," he advises. As to putting in the work, he tells us, "Your labor isn’t a sign of defeat; it’s a sign of engagement. The difficulty ... isn’t a sign of failure, it’s simply the nature of the work itself."


So, whatever that thing is that you're working on for yourself, do this: Put in the work. Think in short "sentences" about your feelings, reactions, beliefs. Question yourself. Revise. Get clearer. Do it again and get even clearer. You'll get better at it, and you'll make yourself happier.


Wishing you a week of satisfying discovery. Peace and love to you.