January 05, 2022

Several Short Sentences About Writing (Verlyn Klinkenborg): A Review by Brenda Leyland

TITLE: Several Short Sentences About Writing
AUTHOR: Verlyn Klinkenborg
PUBLISHER: First Vintage Books Edition
PAPERBACK: 288 pages; $22.72 CAN on Amazon.ca
KINDLE: $14.99 CAN on Amazon.ca
AUDIO: $5.95 CAN on Amazon.ca

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"Here, in short is what I want to tell you.
"Know what each sentence says,
What it doesn’t say,
And what it implies.
Of these, the hardest is knowing what each sentence
actually says.”

If you are looking for a textbook about language and writing, this book isn't it. But if you want something out of the ordinary that provides great advice and is easy to take hold of, this could be the book for you.

I had fun delving into it. I loved the surprise of the author's writing style and found his instruction worthy of attention. The author takes classic writing advice and turns that wisdom on its head by boldly telling the reader what he sees is wrong with it, startling the reader to reconsider what she's learned in the past and think about what he offers. He credits that much of what he learned about writing came through trial and error, his lifetime of reading and love of literature, and from his years of writing and teaching writing.

Klinkenborg brings everything back to basics. Of all the skills and tools writers use to write well with, it comes down to mastering the sentence—the chief building block of any article, blog post, or book. In the book, he shares his knowledge in clear, simple sentences. And the sentences follow one after the other as if in a list, rather than in the usual paragraph format (see the sample below). There are examples and little exercises to play with. There are no chapters or headings of any kind, and yet he makes it flow.

Although published a decade ago, the book is still popular with both new and long-time writers. You don't have to read it front to back. Open it anywhere, as I did, and before long, you'll find a useful gem to take away.

To give you a sample, below is an excerpt of what Klinkenborg wrote about the idea of flow. It was the first thing I read and it so resonated with me that I immediately shared the lines with my writing buddy, who responded she had to have this book. You know how so many writers believe they need to ‘be in the flow’ to write and tend to worry when things do not flow? Well, Klinkenborg thinks that is stuff and nonsense. Read for yourself:
"Your job as a writer is making sentences.
Your other jobs include fixing sentences, killing sentences, and arranging sentences.
If this is the case—making, fixing, killing, arranging—
how can your writing possibly flow?
It can't.

Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer . . .

So why not give up the idea of "flow" and accept the
basic truth about writing?
It's hard work, and it's been hard work for everyone all along . . .

But if you accept that writing is hard work,
And that's what it feels like while you're writing,
Then everything is just as it should be.
Your labor isn't a sign of defeat.
It's a sign of engagement.
The difference is all in your mind, but what a difference."

Does that make you want to read more? If so, whether you are new to the writing scene, whether you're an established author, or somewhere in between, if you are desirous of adding something fresh to your writer's toolkit, I recommend this great little book: Several short sentences about writing.

Verlyn Klinkenborg is a non-fiction author and a former member of the editorial board of The New York Times, where he published a regular column on rural life. He is the author of six books, including The Last Fine Time, winner of the American Book Award and The Rural Life, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He currently teaches creative writing at Yale University and lives on a small farm in Upstate New York.

To learn more about the author's life and his work, there's an interesting podcast A Master Class on Becoming A Better Writer of his interview last October with Daniel Scrivner, host of the free weekly podcast Outliers. Discussion on the idea of flow begins at about 57:27.

Inspired by the beauty of God's world around her, Brenda Leyland writes from her home in northerly Alberta, Canada. You can find more on her blog It's A Beautiful Life and her Facebook page.


  1. Well, there you go. We're moving in a few months and I've been packing up a LOT of books. I've been saying to myself, the last thing I need is another book. But after reading this review I immediately ordered it (and a couple more while I was there). Oh dear.

    Thank you, Brenda, for this very enticing review. The first surprise was that Verlyn was the name of a man and not a woman. Then it was his sentences and yours that drew me in. Looking forward to reading it!

    1. Well, as the saying goes, one can never have too many books. The To Be Read pile should always stay topped up! Like you, I was surprised Verlyn was also a male name. Thanks for your enthusiastic response!

  2. Dear Brenda, thank you for this excellent book review. Reading your words here alone can help dispel discouragement some writers may be facing. Writing is work. We needn't be discouraged when it is.

    Love these words of wisdom you quoted: "Your labor isn't a sign of defeat.
    It's a sign of engagement."


    Blessings for 2022 ~ Wendy Mac

    1. Thank you, Wendy! I loved that line you mentioned - I found it so freeing. I was also stopped in my tracks with his earlier line: "Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer." Here's to a wonderful new year of writing.

    2. I too was stopped in my tracks by that line. My internal self said"Hey, wait a minute ... " :)

  3. Thanks for introducing us to this book, Brenda. I was also struck by “Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer.”
    In my work with other writers I encourage them to develop disciplines like having a specific time to write and writing daily. May we be good stewards (my word for this year) in our writing!

    1. Thanks Ruth. To be good stewards - a great word for the new year.

  4. This looks like a good book to top up my reading for this winter! So often I've read that we need to make every word count, and paying attention to our sentences will do that. Thanks, Brenda, for this recommendation. I just now put it on hold from my public library.

    1. Thanks, Sandi. I've certainly been enjoying it, so I hope you find it worth your while.

  5. Very interesting indeed... he almost writes in free verse poetry style... Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'd be interested to see if he uses this style in his other books.

  6. Sounds like another book to add to my "want" stack. Thank you, Brenda, for pointing the way.

    1. Haha, Lorrie, glad to point the way to adding to your 'want' reading stack.

  7. Thanks for sharing this, Brenda. Definitely sounds like a worthwhile read!

    1. If you chase it down, Susan, I hope it adds inspiration to your writing journey in 2022.

  8. Introductions to something or someone new are a gift. Thank you Brenda for this gift.

    1. You are most welcome! I'm delighted to share a book I have found inspiring and helpful.

  9. This book sounds intriguing and unique. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.


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