Kurt Vonnegut was a 20th century American author, best known for Slaughterhouse-Five. Although Vonnegut passed away in 2007, one of his former writing students, Suzanne McConnell, published in 2019 Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style, a collection of Vonnegut’s writing advice.
You will find the ground work for a chapter or two of Pity the Reader in Vonnegut’s "How to Write with Style", an installment in the series "Power of the Printed Word", sponsored by the International Paper Company and published in the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication in 1981 (DOI, PDF).
Vonnegut gives eight suggestions to examine and improve your writing style and says doing so is "a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing".
1. Find a subject you care about
Truly caring about the subject is the best part of your writing style.
2. Do not ramble
Don’t go into every little detail.
3. Keep it simple
Simple sentences work best.
4. Have the guts to cut
Even well written sentences should be cut if they do not contribute to the topic.
5. Sound like yourself
Write like yourself, not, as Vonnegut says, like "cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago".
6. Say what you mean to say
Your writing should be understood due to its clarity, not misunderstood due to its complexity.
7. Pity the readers
Write something useful that teaches your readers something.
8. For really detailed advice
Vonnegut recommends The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
One thought on “Pity the Reader”
Mother Night is usually not high on the Vonnegut list for most people, but it’s my favorite. I highly recommend to give it a read if you haven’t already!
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