Precision, Not Pretention

Mastering the art of writing requires becoming precise.

The best writers are deeply precise with their language usage. They don’t need many words to tell the truth; but the ones they choose are the right ones. If truth is the fine edge of a knife blade — sharp when it cuts you, and so narrow you might miss it — then the words to describe the truth must be precise enough to balance on that knife blade, to fit it. Good writers know how to find that balance.

Remember this. Tattoo it on yourself if you have to. Write it on a sticky note and put it above your desk. But remember — the point isn’t the impressiveness of the words you choose, but rather, the preciseness of them.

As one honing their writing craft, there’s a temptation to fall too far in love with the art of finding the most impressive word — or worse, words. Precise and impressive are not the same thing.

It”s easy to get lost in the folds of your own words, to spin webs with them (like a multi-legged spider) around the point.

Writing is a very singular craft, and a very personal one, and it’s easy to become arrogant when you feel as though you’re mastering it — but arrogance gets in the way of truth, and as Hemingway said, good writing requires truth.

Becoming good and becoming arrogant are two very different things, but they often stem from the same place — the pursuit of improvement. Mind the difference.

There’s a fine line between precision and pretention. It’s easy to choose a word that sounds impressive and think it’s good (pretention), but miss the truthful word (precision). Don’t fall so far in love with the sound of your own voice that you get lost in it — as Narcissus got lost in his reflection — and get in the way of your own mastery.

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