A lot of us learn to write at school or university – with a succession of very long sentences, passive phrasing and painfully contorted word order. We might go on to write a bit at work; someone might even give us a few pointers. Maybe our sentences will get shorter. Maybe our phrasing will even get more direct. (Whenever I coach someone who’s writing with direct verbs rather than indirect ones, I practically embrace them on the spot. Why say ‘it is thought that’ when you could say ‘I think’ or ‘I don’t think’?)
But what we pick up last, if at all, is varied sentence length.
Writing is like music – we say it in our heads as we read it. A dull, steady rhythm feels reliable but… sorry, I just dropped off for a second there. A short sentence wakes us up! Long ones – well written – take us on an uplifting crescendo.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes the difference between ploddy writing and joyful, uplifting writing that’s a pleasure to read – a lot of the time it’s this.
Don’t just write words, write music.