Field Notes of a Sentence Watcher

Richard Hughes Gibson in The Hedgehog Review:

The historian Joe Moran begins his 2018 style guide, First You Write a Sentence, by outlining a comic routine unfortunately familiar to many of us:

First I write a sentence. I get a tickle of an idea for how the words might come together, like an angler feeling a tug on the rod’s line. Then I sound out the sentence in my head. Then I tap it on my keyboard, trying to recall its shape. Then I look at it and say it aloud, to see if it sings. Then I tweak, rejig, shave off a syllable, swap a word for a phrase or phrase for a word. Then I sit it next to other sentences to see how it behaves in company. And then I delete it all and start again.

(This process has in fact already played out several times in the very piece that you are reading, albeit with one twist: rather than deleting the false starts, I have stowed them at the bottom of the page in hopes that they might be of use later on.) Moran goes on to point out that, aside from sleeping, writing sentences constitutes the biggest slice in the pie chart of his life. You can easily see why: On this account, “writing” a sentence is an evolutionary process in which generations of imperfectly adapted sentences arise, survive numerous trials, and settle into a potential habitat, only to die off again and again, sometimes dooming the entire ecosystem in the process, all in the service of formulating the fittest expression.

More here.