Quotes on conversational writing

What writers and others say

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.”
— Truman Capote, author and gadabout who wrote In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“The voice of most news stories is neutral and authoritative. Editorials are often written in institutional voices. Columnists, critics and sports writers often develop distinctive voices that readers seek out over their breakfast cereal and interact with in an imagined form of conversation.”
— Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, The Poynter Institute

“The language of journalism is not like speech, but it is closer to speech than most other forms of writing.”
— Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, The Poynter Institute

“The voices in American journalism for too long have been too monotone and monochromatic.”
— Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, The Poynter Institute

“The only authors whom I acknowledge as American are the journalists. They are indeed not great writers, but they speak the language of their countrymen and make themselves heard by them.”
— Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America

“She used slang, contractions, hype, insult, syncopated compound adjectives — anything for greater speed. The point was not to write like a lowbrow; the point was to write as an intellectual without closing the top button of your prose and thereby choking a strong, easy breath.”
— David Denby on Pauline Kael, in The New Yorker

“The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.”
— Robert Frost, poet

“Good nonfiction writing demands an investment of the author in each page, a sense of a teller behind the story. This is part of what makes it so hard — putting the products of your authentic self out there for all the world to read — but also part of what ultimately makes it worth doing.”
— David A. Fryxell, former editor of Writer’s Digest

“Anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead ought to tell a child to go to bed.”
— Robert C. Gallagher, author of The Express

“Good writing is good conversation, only more so.”
― Ernest Hemingway, American author and journalist famous for his economical, understated style

“A writer’s voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer’s voice line the stroke of an artist’s brush — is the thumbprint of her whole person — her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.”
— Patricia Lee Gauch, author of children’s literature

“The ear, not the eye, is the final editor.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in Writing to Deadline

“Effective writing has the illusion of speech without its bad habits. The reader hears a writer speaking to a reader. The writing should flow with grace, pace and clarity — not the way we speak but, better than that, the way we should speak.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in Writing to Deadline

“I don’t know the rules of grammar… If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”
— David Ogilvy, “the father of advertising”

“To thine own self be true.”
— Polonius in “Hamlet”

“Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.”
— William Shakespeare, English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language

“I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.”
— George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics

“A voice that emits self can be a great gift to readers.”
— Norman Sims, in Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century

“Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation.”
— Laurence Sterne, novelist and Anglican clergyman

“When I started reading my stories aloud for a living and I’d hear myself, I would think, ‘Good heavens, that needs to be pointed up,’ or ‘That should be out.’ Now, as I go to colleges to do readings, I have revised a lot of my early stories so that they read more succinctly. I wish I had learned early on what a good test reading aloud was.”
¬— Eudora Welty, American author

“Good writers are visible just behind their words.”
¬— William Zinsser, author, On Writing Well

“What I’m always looking for as an editor is a sentence that says something like ‘I’ll never forget the day when I …’ I think, ‘Aha! A person!'”
¬— William Zinsser, author, On Writing Well

“Getting writers to use ‘I’ is seldom easy. They think they must earn the right to reveal their emotions or their thoughts. Or that it’s egotistical. Or that it’s undignified — a fear that afflicts the academic world. Hence the professorial use of ‘one’ (‘One finds oneself not wholly in accord with Dr. Maltby’s view of the human condition’), or of the impersonal ‘it is’ (‘It is to be hoped that Professor Felt’s monograph will find the wider audience it most assuredly deserves’). I don’t want to meet ‘one’ — he’s a boring guy. I want a professor with a passion for his subject to tell me why it fascinates him.”
¬— William Zinsser, author, On Writing Well

“We have become a society fearful of revealing who we are. The institutions that seek our support by sending us their brochures sound remarkably alike, though surely all of them — hospitals, schools, libraries, museums, zoos — were founded and are still sustained by men and women with different dreams and visions. Where are these people? It’s hard to glimpse them among all the impersonal passive sentences that say ‘initiatives were undertaken’ and ‘priorities have been identified.'”
¬— William Zinsser, author, On Writing Well
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