O’Connor: “The Art of Making Sense”

I’ve been reading Words Fail Me by Patricia O’Connor, a title I picked up at my local library. O’Connor is a former editor of the New York Times Book Review. Her first writing guide was the highly popular Woe Is I.

O’Connor is good at giving writing advice, both practical and funny.  I want to share her opening to chapter 17, subtitled “The Art of Making Sense”:

Your first duty to the reader is to make sense. Everything else–eloquence, beautiful images, catchy phrases, melodic and rhythmic language–come later, if at all. I’m all for artistry, but it’s better to write something homely and clear than something lovely and unintelligible.

Can I get an amen?

Clarity is the first rule of writing. Unfortunately, too much writing fails the clarity test. O’Connor continues:

Of course, no one sets out to write nonsense. We do it because we’re careless with words. We know what we mean, naturally, but others can’t read our minds. Words are all a reader has.

Preach it, sister.


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