A Writer Should Write Precisely as He Means To.

This wellish-known quote is attributed to N.H. Kleinbaum, in the estimable Dead Poets Society.

As estimable as its source may be, and as well-spake as the quote above is, I cannot agree.

Especially in creative writing, one must know the use both of extensive vocabulary and of simple word combinations.

Think of a death scene, following a character who’s just had his heart stabbed through:

“His eyes slid closed, and he let out a quiet sigh… He was exhausted.”

The End


“His eyes slid closed, and he let out a quiet sigh… He was so very tired.”

The End

They carry two quite different energies. For a final breath, I actually prefer the latter, but really, it’s a stylistic matter. It depends what you want. I personally favor understatement in the face of literary death.

Writing and speaking is an art, and simple words are tools at our disposal, just as are complex ones. To deny the poet language’s simplest constructs is to ignore a very–or a perfectly, or merely a–legitimate tool.

The wise writer, the true poet, will use what works best for sentence integrity and paragraph flow. Some may be inclined towards especially precise words, and may spend hours laboring to find the right gem for their fitting, while some prefer smaller words of simpler meaning, strung together into one great message–which, I might add, can take just as much time, effort, and expertise, and can yield results just as powerful. Many writers, myself included, sit somewhere in between these extremes, or waffle back and forth between them.

The most important part–the meat of the quote above, if one does not get hung up on exterminating their verys and sos, is that our work must be deliberate. A writer must become familiar with words, knowing the feel of the syllabic beat, the weight of a sentence’s meaning.

To steal a quote from one of my betters: “A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

We are wizards of the world of words. Do not write, “The trees were very sad,” because you didn’t think beyond it. Write it because it was precisely what you meant to.


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