As we move through these difficult days, the immortal words of Thomas
Paine may help:
“These are the times that try men’s souls.
“The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis,
shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands it
now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this
consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more
glorious the triumph.
“What we obtain too cheap; we esteem too lightly; it is
dearness only that gives everything its value.
“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather
strength from distress and grow brave by reflection.
“‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he
whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves
his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”
What bold, inspiring words! Who can deny their impact in igniting the hearts and souls of many of the people who read them — or how they helped turn flagging resolve into flaming revolution? To me, they seem especially timely right now.
And what fabulous, simple yet stately, writing!
In The Elements of Style, E.B. White gives a great example of the importance of rhythm when he quotes Thomas Paine’s most famous sentence. It’s composed of eight words, each just one syllable long. You’re probably hearing them in your head right now: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” White rewrites it four ways: 1) Times like these try men’s souls; 2) How trying it is to live in these times!; 3) These are trying times for men’s souls; and 4) Soulwise, these are trying times. Not one of these four also-rans holds a candle to the original, does it? Our pal Paine knew all about writing dangerously!
“Let’s gather strength from distress.” Let’s help and inspire each other as we all write on.
Excellent lesson here for folks who do not believe in revision. The most important characteristic of good writing is clarity. Look at any first-draft sentence. Could it be clearer by moving words around–or by cutting out words that hide your point? I am a good writer. I am convinced that my first draft may contain a solid gold idea or even phrase, but only my eighth or ninth draft will be as clear as possible, allowing my thought to shine through. Try it.
Wow! Thank you for giving us this mini master-class in revision. You are so
crystal clear and on target! Surely a subject for a future KWD post!