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You can do the best research and be making the strongest intellectual argument, but if readers don't get past the third paragraph you've wasted your energy and valuable ink.
The problem is once you've written the opening paragraph and worked out how the rest of the story will go in your head, there's nothing in it for you. I write in longhand using disposable fountain pens on the right-hand side of the notebook for the first draft, then I rewrite some of the sentences and paragraphs on the left-hand side.
And I love the twist. I love to fool you once, I love to fool you twice, and on the very last page, quite often - very last paragraph sometimes - I like to just play with your perception one more time in a way that makes everything that came before just a little bit different.
If you want to lose 40 pounds, you order salad instead of fries. If you want to be a better friend, you take the phone call instead of screening it. If you want to write a novel, you sit down and write a single paragraph. It's scary to make major changes, but we usually have enough courage to take the next right step.
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
William Strunk, Jr.
It has always been my practice to cast a long paragraph in a single mould, to try it by my ear, to deposit it in my memory, but to suspend the action of the pen till I had given the last polish to my work.
I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.
V. S. Naipaul
There are days when I'll write for 15 minutes and have to give up and move around, and I'll write another paragraph and give up again. On other days I get intensely - focused on the process, sit down at 8 A.M. and won't get up until 8 P.M.
I have such bad memories, sitting in the back of a classroom, being told, you know, everybody is going to read a paragraph, and skipping ahead to my paragraph and being mortified and trying to read it enough times so that I wouldn't stutter and stammer, getting called on, even in high school.
And that's one thing that helps me is I learn it blandly, vanilla, then I don't try to act it too soon because you start to act it, and you kind of go away from what the next sentence is, what the next paragraph is. So get it down so it kind of can - it's in there so you can then, as I call it, dance on top of it.
When people start writing there is this idea that you have to get everything right first time, every sentence has to be perfect, every paragraph has to be perfect, every chapter has to be perfect, but what you're doing is not any kind of public show, until you're ready for it.
Today I must write a paragraph or a page better than I did yesterday.
Having imagination it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that if you were unimaginative would take you only a minute.
Franklin Pierce Adams
A review was published in Nature, very scathing, essentially calling me incompetent, though they didn't use that word. I am putting a reply on my Web site in a few days, where I go through their arguments, paragraph by paragraph.
When I write for 'n+1,' I begin by doing a lot of reading, to try to convince myself I'm not stupid. Then I scribble down a paragraph here, a paragraph there, when a notion strikes. Then I see if I can arrange those notions in a way that yields an argument.
I imagine an America that can actually change. That we become a nation that prospers again but without pillaging the resources of nations that make their people hate us. That we become a nation that, as the constitution says in its preamble, its very first paragraph, 'promotes the general welfare' of its people.
I find that it takes a lot of years of living, and many more of reckoning, to come up with one worthwhile paragraph. And when a deadline looms, prayer doesn't hurt, either.
Carmen Agra Deedy
I usually do at least a dozen drafts and progressively make more-conscious decisions. Because I've always believed stories are closer to poems than novels, I spend a lot of time on the story's larger rhythms, such as sentence and paragraph length, placement of flashbacks and dialogue.
I think that if you have a knack for storytelling, and you work really hard at it, you'll have a chance to tap into something deep. But the fact remains that good sentences are hard won. Any writer worth a lick knows constructing a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter is hard work.
Look at almost any passage, and you'll find that a paragraph has five or six metaphors in it. It's not that the speaker is trying to be poetic, it's just that that's the way language works.
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
William Strunk, Jr.
For me, a paragraph in a novel is a bit like a line in a poem. It has its own shape, its own music, its own integrity.
I write the paragraph, then I'm crossing out, changing words, trying to improve it. When it seems more or less OK, then I type it up because sometimes it's almost illegible, and if I wait, I might not be able to read it the next day.
I like to try to do a little work before I do anything in the morning, even if it's a paragraph.
My sentences tend to be very short and rather spare. I'm more your paragraph kind of gal.
John F. Kennedy
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