I have some favourite quotes to share with you this week.

They are about writing so, if you don't regard writing as up there with global warming, world peace and fruit bottling, I advise you to read no further.

One of the quotes is quite long so I'm especially glad to include it because I get paid by the word.

Let's start with one from William Zinsser: "If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart".


Mr Zinsser, as you can see, has chosen to present his suggestion in the form of a construction metaphor.

Where his suggestion falls down (ha ha) is that it uses the grammatical terms "verbs" and "syntax", which a lot of people will see as belonging to a foreign language. (Okay, I used "metaphor" but only once and I think I got away with it.)

More useful and, I feel, more evocative, is this gem from Clive James.

Without using a single grammatical term, he encapsulates the whole world of reworking and crafting writing.

"All I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light." Verbal perfection.

But, so far, we have concentrated mainly on words and phrases.

Let's expand to the nature of our sentences.

Here I hand over to Gary Provost (and this is where this column really becomes a good little earner).

"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

"Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.

"I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals - sounds that say listen to this, it is important."

Turning your phrases until they catch the light and creating sentences that burn with energy could have you well on the road to achieving writing success, success which could be summed up best by a quote from Stephen Fry.

There I was reading one of his books last week when I came upon these few lines which describe the whole new world of language opened up to him when he first heard The Importance of Being Earnest.

These lines caused me to do a double take. I slipped a bookmark into the page because I knew I would be back.

"I had had simply no idea that language could do this.

"That it could dance and trip and tickle, cavort, swirl, beguile and seduce, that its rhythms, subclauses, repetitions, clausulae and colours could excite quite as much as music."

Please forgive his use of "subclauses" and "clausulae" which, I feel, do not detract from the power of these lines.

Yes, I too had to Google clausulae and what came up first was of no help: "Big Save Furniture offers you . . ." I pounced on the x.

What that left me was only slightly more helpful. Clausula (pl clausulae): rhythmic close or terminal cadence especially in ancient and medieval Latin prose.

But it still remains a favourite.

Footnote to editor: I am willing to accept non-payment for the 209 words I have quoted but, in defence, they were essential to my overall purpose.

* Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.