Gettysburg Address: A Model for Good Writing

Writers, take heed: The Gettysburg Address . . . “provides a model and a mirror for writing and speechmaking today.”

Gettysburg Address, Hay copy

Gettysburg Address, Hay copy (Wikipedia)

So says Ronald C. White, a biographer of President Abraham Lincoln, in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, marking the 150th anniversary of the speech.

White notes that the address, delivered on Nov. 19, 1863, following the deadly U.S. Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is revered not only for its brevity but its clarity.

He further says, “[Lincoln] understood there is no such thing as good writing; there is only good rewriting.” (emphasis added)

(No, A. Lincoln didn’t hastily scribble his speech on the back of an envelope any more than G. Washington chopped down a cherry tree or threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River.)

White points out that Lincoln “chose his words carefully. In his 272 words, 204 were sturdy, one-syllable words, the kind he so appreciated in the Bible and in Shakespeare.”

He concludes with this recommendation: “As you read the Gettysburg Address today, read it slowly, for he spoke it slowly. Take time to appreciate the power of words. Words fiercely mattered to Abraham Lincoln. They ought to matter to us.” (emphasis added)

As an editor, I recommend to writers that they follow White’s advice:

  • Take time to appreciate the power of words.
  • There is no such thing as good writing; there is only good rewriting.

Ronald C. White Jr., a fellow at the Huntington Library and a visiting professor of history at UCLA, is the author of A. Lincoln: A Biography.

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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One Response to Gettysburg Address: A Model for Good Writing

  1. Pingback: I Know Nothing About Writing | Polishing Your Prose

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