Thomas Sowell on Writing and Editing

To continue this informal series on what great writers have said about the writing and editing process, we will look at comments made on this subject by conservative economist Thomas Sowell:

To say that my relationship with editors has not always been a happy one would be to completely understate the situation. To me, the fact that I have never killed an editor is proof that the death penalty deters. However, since nowadays we are all supposed to confess to shameful episodes in our past, I must admit that I was once an editor…Too many academics write as if plain English is beneath their dignity and some seem to regard logic as an unconstitutional infringement of their freedom of speech…A typical work of this genre might read something like this:

As surely as the world is round (Columbus, 1492), and as surely as what goes up must come down (Newton, 1687), when Ronald Reagan was elected President (Cronkite, 1980) and then re-elected (Rather, 1984), it signaled a change in the political climate (Brinkley, 1980–88). Since then, we have seen exploitation (Marx, 1867) and sexism (Steinem, 1981) on the rise.”

Sowell also recalls that the academic writers he edited “seemed to have great difficulty accepting my novel and controversial literary doctrine that the whole purpose of writing is so that people can read the stuff later on and know what you are trying to say.”

Though often ignored (academics have to worry about getting tenure), that is a good point worth dwelling on.

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