“Write As If Your Sentences Will Be Orphaned”

Verlyn Klinkenborg reminds writers of an elementary but often neglected rule – to say what you mean:

For the writer — the maker of sentences — there’s a contradiction here. You really are present, as present as it’s possible to be in ink or pixels, in the sentences you make, no matter how plain they are. (Writers who feel they lack a certain style tend to forget this and burden the prose with markings of their own identity.) Yet it’s necessary to write as if your sentences will be orphaned, because they will be. When called to the stand in the court of meaning, your sentences will get no coaching from you. They’ll say exactly what their words say, and if that makes you look ridiculous or confused, guess what?

Sentences are always literal, no matter how much some writers abhor the idea of being literal. In fact, nothing good can begin to happen in a writer’s education until that sinks in. Your opinion of what your sentence means is always overruled by what your sentence literally says. A good reader may be good at following the leaps and bounds of your thinking but is also, always, reading literally, alive to the misdirection of ambiguous sentences.

Previous advice from Klinkenborg here.