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On the Joys of Horripilation



horripilate \haw-RIP-uh-leyt\, verb:

To produce a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc.; goose flesh.

A good example is the great but frequently wounded quote of Mark Twain's on writing, a quote that causes, when done right, my forearms to horripilate.
    -- Dick Cavett, Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets


Now, of course, I've got to go search out the Mark Twain quote. It's always something!

I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.
    -- Mark Twain, Letter to Fred J. Hall, 10 Aug 1892

We write frankly and fearlessly but then we "modify" before we print.
    -- Mark Twain,Life on the Mississippi

It is no use to keep private information which you can't show off.
    -- Mark Twain, "An Author's Soldiering," 1887

Experience of life (not of books) is the only capital usable in such a book as you have attempted; one can make no judicious use of this capital while it is new.
    -- Mark Twain, letter to Bruce Weston Munro, 21 Oct 1881 (Karanovich collection)


Huhhm. None of these seem to be strong enough to cause that reaction.

Mark Twain on Writing
Monday September 8, 2008

After touring St. Paul's Cathedral during a trip to London in 1872, Mark Twain jotted this fervent response in his notebook: "Expression--expression is the thing in art. I do not care what it expresses, and I cannot tell, generally, but expression is what I worship, it is what I glory in, with all my impetuous nature."

As his readers are well aware, Twain also gloried in expressing himself through language. And throughout his life, this master stylist had much to say about the art of writing.

On the Best Time to Start Writing
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
    -- Mark Twain, Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903

On Getting the Right Word in the Right Place
To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. . . Anybody can have ideas -- the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
    -- Mark Twain, Letter to Emeline Beach, February 1868

On Good Grammar
I like the exact word, and clarity of statement, and here and there a touch of good grammar for picturesqueness.
    -- Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1924

On the Rules of Grammar
I am almost sure by witness of my ear, but cannot be positive, for I know grammar by ear only, not by note, not by the rules. A generation ago I knew the rules--knew them by heart, word for word, though not their meanings--and I still know one of them: the one which says--but never mind, it will come back to me presently.
    -- Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1924

On Style and Matter
Great books are weighed and measured by their style and matter, and not the trimmings and shadings of their grammar.
    -- Mark Twain, Speech at the Annual Reunion of the Army and Navy Club of Connecticut, April 1887

On Writers Who Favor Foreign Phrases
They know a word here and there, of a foreign language, and these they are continually peppering into their literature, with a pretense of knowing that language--what excuse can they offer? The foreign words and phrases that they use have their exact equivalent in a nobler language--English; yet they think they "adorn their page" when they say Strasse for street, and Bahnhof for railway station, and so on--flaunting these fluttering rags of poverty in the reader's face and imagining he will be ass enough to take them for the sign of untold riches held in reserve.
    -- Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880

On Revising
You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.
    -- Mark Twain, Letter to Orion Clemens, March 1878

On Adjectives
As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.
    -- Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894

On Verbosity
I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."
    -- Mark Twain, Letter to D. W. Bowser, March 1880


Now, I can picture either one of the first two of Richard's choices as being the ones Cavett was referring to.
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