The book ‘The Art of Writing: Four Principles for Great Writing that Everyone Needs to Know’ is a short book written by Peter Yang. This book can act as a good starting point if one wants to develop and mastery the art of writing.
To be a writer, you simply need to write. There is a writer in all of us but simply due to lack of motivation we end up writing nothing.
The book in one paragraph
The author discusses about Artistic writing. Artistic writing is a conversation, not a lecture. It does not attempt to impress; rather, it attempts to communicate. Artistic writing in his broad sense, consists of four fundamental principles. These principles serve as a necessary foundation for anyone wanting to develop and evolve as a writer. Mastery in writing can only be achieved with structured practice. By consistently trying to improve your writing, you will become a better writer.
The Art of Writing Summary
There are five main attributes that distinguish every artistic writer:
- Artistic writers are meticulous in their work. They ask of every word, “Is this necessary? Could my writing do without it?”
- Artistic writers are cognizant of their audience’s values. They know who their readers are and what they stand for. They write not to the readers but for the readers.
- Artistic writers are sincere to their readers. They do not lie out of fear but testify out of courage. They ensure that rhetoric never stands in the way of communication and that their desire for acclaim never stands in the way of truth.
- Artistic writers are not obsessed with perfection.They acknowledge that perfection is a pointless and unattainable goal.
- Artistic writers are flexible with the four principles. They know that the principles in this book should always be weighed in the context of what they’re writing.
Principle 1: Economy
Economy is a matter of using the fewest words to produce the most meaning. It is often the excess of words and ideas, not the lack of them, that dilutes the power of your writing. Any words that can be cut out must be cut out, and any sentences that can be shortened must be shortened. Ask ruthlessly of every sentence, “Can I express this more simply?” Continue until you’ve reached a point where you have stripped away everything but the essentials.
A sentence is like a mathematical expression: The more it can be simplified, the more beautiful it becomes. There is nothing more fundamental to the artistic writer’s philosophy.
The evidence is definitely not irrefutable.
The evidence is
definitely not irrefutable.
The evidence is not irrefutable.
The evidence is refutable.
It is impossible for him to stop repeating that message over and over again.
He cannot stop repeating that message
over and over again.
He cannot stop repeating that message.
Crush Your Crutches
Crutch words also called “filter words” commonly manifest themselves in spoken English. Artistic writers should be able to express themselves without the need for filler language.
Jaxon would definitely never do that.
Jaxon would never do that.
Macy actually didn’t know what was happening.
Macy didn’t know what was happening.
Don’t Repeat Yourself
A tautology is an unnecessary (and often un-intentional) repetition of meaning.
He was met with an unexpected surprise.
He was met with a surprise.
It is estimated that two out of every one hundred people, or 2% of the world population, has green eyes.
It is estimated that 2% of the world population has green eyes.
Write with Conviction
Qualifiers are words or phrases whose purpose is to limit or enhance an adjective or adverb’s meaning. When used sparingly, qualifiers can improve the quality and precision of your message.
He was quite tired.
He was tired.
If you think a qualifier is necessary for some emphatic reasons, it may be better to change the qualified word entirely.
The dessert was very tasty.
The dessert was scrumptious.
Streamline your writing
Transition words create bridge between ideas in your writing, linking them together and strengthening their connections. These words should be used in streamlining the writing in such a way that each sentence leads naturally to the next.
Remove unnecessary cases of Which Is and That
The phrase ‘which is’ and ‘that’ are unnecessary most of the time and can often be omitted from a sentence.
Paul’s favorite toy, which is a teddy bear, is beginning to fall apart.
Paul’s favorite toy, a teddy bear, is beginning to fall apart.
Write in the Positive
Double negatives force your readers to uncoil otherwise simple sentences.
It wasn’t that Sam didn’t care about school. He just didn’t enjoy it.
Sam cared about school but didn’t enjoy it.
Be Judicious with the Information you provide to your readers.
Ask yourself, is this sentence bringing the reader closer to understanding my point, if only incrementally? If the answer is no, it has no place in your writing.
Use Punctuation Sparingly
Writers must also be economical in their use of punctuation. Limit the number of punctuation marks in your writer for a cleaner, more effective piece of prose.
Prefer the active voice to the passive voice.
As a rule of thumb, use the active voice for a cleaner, more powerful message. The active voice brings a sense of control and forcefulness to your writing. The active voice is best used when answering a question, addressing an issue, or whenever candidness is your top priority.
Akash kissed Rhea.
Rhea was kissed by Akash.
Use passive voice only when you want to emphasize the recipient of the action, not the performer of the action.
(Passive) The house was built by my grandfather.
(Active) My grandfather built this house.
PRINCIPLE 2: Transparency
Transparent writing is writing that is lucid and explicit. Writing that lacks transparency does not have meaning. Therefore, make sure that everything you write is written with the utmost transparency.
Planning is the bedrock of all great writing. Form a habit of planning your pieces, if only for five to ten minutes. Ask yourself what justifies your writing’s existence. Once you know why you’re writing something, it becomes much easier to know how you’re going to write it.
In doing these things, you will find that your writing becomes more engaging, you will find an instant upsurge in the quality and transparency of your writing, and you will find that your writing is more structured and beautiful.
Write to the Layman
Jargon is technical language that is used only in reference to a specialized topic. It is best to eliminate any jargon from your work.
If it is imperative that you use jargon, make sure to define it within the context of what you’re saying. UX is an abbreviation of “user experience,” referring to a person’s experience using a particular product in terms of its ease of use, etc.
Clichés are phrases that have lost their charm due to overuse.
Laughter is the best medicine.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Stick to One Interpretation
Writers are often not aware that what they’re saying could be ambiguous. Remember: Just because you know what you mean does not imply that the reader will necessarily know what you mean.
To identify ambiguities, you could try to look at your writing from the perspective of a first-time reader, but this can be a nearly impossible task. The best, and perhaps only, method to reliably pinpoint ambiguities in your writing is by giving it to someone else to read.
The rivalry between Johnathan and Adam has intensified since his promotion to COO. (Who got promoted?)
Create Sharp Distinctions
Artistic writing makes sharp contrasts between opposing ideas. The sharper the contrast, the more vivid the distinction, and the more powerful and transparent the writing.
Zackery was always extroverted, whereas Bethany always preferred being alone.
Zackery was always extroverted, whereas Bethany was always introverted.
Describe with Purpose
When using descriptive language, make sure you are not repeating yourself with adjectives that are too similar in meaning. Redundant adjectives are boring and serve no purpose.
The statue was beautiful, gorgeous, and ravishing.
Every adjective you use should elicit a different feeling in the reader’s mind. Some adjectives may have similar meanings but different connotations, as in the following example.
Fred was clever, knowledgeable, and wise.
Make Your Tense Shifts Deliberate
Unmotivated tense shifting throughout your writing confuses the reader and makes your writing ungraceful.
Never shift tenses midsentence or mid paragraph. Always wait for a break in the writing (perhaps a section or chapter) before doing so.
Be Meticulous with Your Modifiers
Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that give supplementary information about, or modify, another word or word group. Modifiers are often misplaced in sentences, leading to unwanted nuances in meaning. While these typically go unnoticed, some misplaced modifiers can have substantial consequences.
Michael had a warm bowl of tomato soup for dinner.
Michael had a bowl of warm tomato soup for dinner.
Stop Making the Reader Do Arithmetic
It can be annoying for readers to have to process an mathematical fraction describing the probability for a decline in gas prices. Statistics show that roughly ten out of every hundred people are left-handed. Statistics show that roughly 10% of people are left-handed.
Avoid Flowery Language
Flowery language is an unnecessarily elaborate way of writing. As far as transparent writing is concerned, steer clear of flowery language.
He was baffled by the sheer immensity of her pulchritude.
He was surprised a woman could be so beautiful.
Save the Best for Last
The Pareto principle is a general rule—applicable in all aspects of life—that states that, for any event, 80% of the effects arise from 20% of the causes.
80% of all the meaning derived from any sentence comes from 20% of the words. In other words, there are only a few words in any given sentence that convey the bulk of what it’s trying to say. These are the emphatic words of a sentence.
David says pizza is his favorite food. David says his favorite food is pizza.
The emphatic words of a sentence should be last. The last words of a sentence should be emphatic.
PRINCIPLE 3: Variety
Writing that lacks variety is like food that lacks seasoning: Both are boring and unartistic. Diversifying your writing means giving it a sense of style and sophistication, resulting in a more pleasurable and stimulating reading experience while delivering your message with flair.
Vary Your Sentence Structures
Sentence structure plays an integral role in bringing rhythm to your writing.
The semicolon and em dash
The semicolon and em dash are infamous for their history of misuse in writing. When used improperly, they make your writing look amateurish and awkward. When used properly, however, they can enhance the presentation and flow of your writing.
Ethan drives a BMW; Elsa drives a Tesla.
An em dash is an extremely versatile punctuation mark. It is typically used to interject subsidiary information into a sentence.
Elijah called his coworker—who happened to be on vacation at the time—to discuss their project proposal.
Vary Your Paragraph Structures
While there is no ideal paragraph length—as a rule of thumb, writers should aim to stay within a difference of two to three sentences between paragraphs to maintain balance in their writing.
While longer paragraphs are more explanatory, shorter paragraphs can pack more of a punch. A one-sentence paragraph, for example, can be extremely effective in emphasizing a fundamental proposition or idea, particularly if there are longer paragraphs preceding it.
A lingering paragraph is an unnecessarily long, and therefore unsightly, paragraph.
Readers simply cannot keep track of every idea being expressed in a thirty-sentence paragraph. They will lose themselves and must reread, possibly multiple times. It is therefore best to cut paragraphs into shorter chunks to make them easier to digest.
Each paragraph is readable, structured, and purposeful.
Vary Your Word Choice Word choice is vital in helping writers bring out their voice and style. Words, like paint colors, can shape the way a work is perceived. Bright, playful words can signal cheerfulness and optimism. Dark, serious words can signal gloominess and pessimism. Whatever palette writers choose to use will impact the message they are trying to convey to their readers.
Variety is especially important for avoiding repetition and improving syntax in your writing.
Keep an inventory of commonly repeated words, striving to replace them with fresh synonyms. The habitual use of identical words, especially when placed close together, dulls your writing.
PRINCIPLE 4: Harmony
Like how the constituent elements must work together to form a unified beautiful music, the sentences, paragraphs, propositions, arguments—must all operate in harmony for something beautiful to be made. The sentences in a paragraph must mutually agree just as the underlying assumptions in an argument must mutually satisfy.
Harmonize Your Language
Harmony of Language refers to the agreement between the linguistic units of a piece of writing.
The writer will begin in one voice and then change to a strikingly different one, using incompatible words, expressions, punctuation, and tone. Suddenly, the style will have shifted from upbeat and outspoken to solemn and introspective.
Switching between personas in your writing is amateurish and confusing to the reader.
Create your own personalized style guide (of course without breaking too many rules): Include information about your preferred font sizes, line spacings, and spellings for words with more than one acceptable possibility. In doing this, you will bring a sense of consistency, harmony, and brand identity to your writing.
Harmonize Your Thoughts
Harmony of Thought refers to the agreement between the logical units of a piece of writing.
Argumentative Coherence Premises are the building blocks of an argument. In nonfiction writing, premises are the assumptions or points a writer makes. In fiction, they are the events that occur in a story. In both cases, premises lead to a final outcome, or conclusion.
An argument is the combination of a series of premises and the conclusion they entail. An argument is said to be valid if the truth of the premises implies the truth of the conclusion—that is, the conclusion is a logical result of the premises.
Unity Unified writing sticks to a central theme. Anything that deviates from the primary theme must be struck out.
To write without unity is to sail without direction. No matter how far you go, you will never reach your destination.
Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
For communication to be successful, what you say must refer to what you mean. If what you say is not what you mean, you have not communicated anything.