On Writing: Trust your fear

For most of the 1980s I was a poor graduate student, but thanks to two of my mentors I had the cultural life of a prince. Read more

On Writing: Thinking Toward the Reader

At lunch the other day, my good friend Bill Dillon and I were talking about our respective writing schedules. I don’t have one. But the conversation led me to consider a question I hadn’t thought of before. When do I do my writing? Read more

Writers' Weir: The Body in the Dunes

The blades of beach grass murmured like animated ideograms to tell us why, compass needles to tell us where, the hands of clocks to tell us when-things we could read if only we knew how. Read more

On Writing: On not being a writer

This past summer we lost the French poet and essayist, Yves Bonnefoy, some of whose lines have occasionally graced these columns. Read more

On Writing: Still harping, Part 2

I want to clear up some confusion about that poor misunderstood verb “to be.” Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” has some culpability in creating the confusion, so I intend to take the venerable authors to task over this, after which I will let the poor bastards rest in peace. Read more

On Writing: Still harping on Strunk & White

Quite a few readers, my wife included, were visibly shaken by my suggestion that we burn our copies of The Elements of Style, the famous “little book” originally written by William Strunk in 1918 for his students at Cornell and later edited and augmented for public consumption by Strunk’s most illustrious student, the essayist E.B. White. Read more

On Writing: Implausible Deniability

At the end of Shakespeare's Richard II, the new king, Henry IV, already faces rebellion hatched in the name of Richard, the legitimate king whom Henry deposed. Read more

On Writing: Clarity and Precision

In the kind of writing most of us do every day-the kind of writing I've mainly been concerned with in these columns-the only criteria that matter are clarity and precision. Read more

Free writing classes for state employees

Free writing classes for state employees "On Writing" columnist Jim Hale is offering a "Writing for the Workplace" workshop at the end of September, free of charge to Alaska state employees. Read more

On Writing: God bless you, Rocky Ragazzo

Rocky had one gold tooth and a glass eye, from losing both tooth and eye in a bar fight when he was younger. Sometimes he’d close his good eye and turn to you with that cold inanimate glass eye looking at you like the eye of death. And then he’d smile. Read more

My Turn: Sex and celestial mechanics

In a famous passage from his 1964 Lectures on Physics, Richard Feynman wrote: "What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?" Scott Bolton is a poet. Read more

On Writing: The sound of writing, Part 2

Once upon a time, many years ago in central Washington, I was contracted by a government agency to review and edit an environmental impact statement analyzing the significance of a certain action’s effects on a high-visibility endangered species. The first draft of the document was made available to reviewers, and after having time to thoroughly review the draft, the other reviewers and I met in Teleconferenceland to discuss it. Read more

On Writing: The Sound of Sense, Part I

Robert Frost once wrote that of modern poets he alone was trying to create poetry out of what he called "the sound of sense." Read more

My Turn: Women in the Catholic Church

My favorite photograph of Catholic monk Thomas Merton, taken by photographer Ralph Meatyard in 1967, shows Merton standing around in his ballcap and monk suit, sleeves rolled up, not a whiff of false piety about him. Read more

On Writing: The scattering afield - a personal essay

How can we know the dancer from the dance? -W.B. Yeats

Neil Young’s 1996 album Broken Arrow (with his garage band, Crazy Horse) ends with a live cover of Jimmy Reed’s 1959 rock classic, “Baby What You Want Me to Do.” Neil and the boys are playing a small club, some secret venue where they can let down their famous hair and rock out in a space where they can feel it.

On Writing: Burn your Strunk and White

We tend to do our writing in solitude, alone at our computers, and that makes it easy to forget that writing is a social skill, something we do for the benefit of others. Too often our discussions of good writing leave out this social dimension. Read more

On Writing: Idioms & Oddities, part two

Simply put, idioms are the way we say things, and there’s no rhyme or reason to them. Prepositions, for instance — those little words like in, on, by, with, for, etc. — they tend to be the most idiomatic parts of speech. Read more

On Writing: Idioms and Oddities, part 1

In the popular HBO series The Sopranos, we saw amid this crowd of lovable Mafia gangsters one character who was completely unsympathetic, Ralph Cifaretto. Ralph, played as exquisitely hateful by Joe Pantoliano, seemed like a gift from the show's writers. Read more

On Writing: Gods of Death

I'm on a mission. Years ago, I was discussing killer whales with a well-meaning environmentalist who suggested that the term "killer whale" was too pejorative. Read more

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