The company we keep is crucial to who we are. When it comes to writing, there’s a community of writers that you needn’t know personally. You must simply observe what they do to make their writing so readable and effective. Some people actually teach themselves by resorting to good models. For example, Robert Louis Stevenson would take a passage from a writer of acknowledged standing, read it twice, and then turn it over and try to replicate what he’d just seen—word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark. He’d fail to come very close at first, and so he’d repeat the exercise. Over time, he got better and better. And he seems to have been motivated enough to have continued that exercise for many years.
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