Kipling on Writing

From The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling:

As usual in his more mature work, [Kipling] obsessively excised superfluous words – and quite often words that would have made the sense rather clearer. ‘Wordiness is effeminacy, and unforgivable,’ he told poor Edmund Gosse, who had sinned: unnecessary words were ‘the enemy of vigour’ and weakened the ‘instrument of language’. He had learned to prune them from writing telegrams at the Gazette and claimed his style was not indebted to anything or anybody but the telegraph system.

Wielding a camelhair brush dipped in Indian ink, he read his work and blacked out the superfluities. Before re-reading, he let it ‘drain’ and then blacked out some more – and still more. Craftsmanship, he called it, and he never regarded himself as anything other than a craftsman. But then all true artists were craftsmen, even Shakespeare, who was ‘first and foremost a good workman with his eye on his actors’. The Elizabethan bard was a craftsman and not an ‘irresponsible demigod’; his ‘soul-development’ was not important.

True artists were men who went soberly each morning to their desk, their easel or their keyboard. They did not see the world through an opium haze or the ‘green hour’ of absinthe and sugar and cracked ice.


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