“Never wander into a paragraph,” she said, scolding me. “Give your thought some thought.”
It was 1972, and I was being taken to task by Olive Mills, our senior editor and my writing mentor. The same admonition would be repeated over and over again until I got it right. Paragraphing did not come naturally to me, so it took Olive’s blunt force trauma of criticism to move me in the right direction.
Those were the days of hot metal, of monotype and linotype, of quoins and chases, of ligatures and kerning, of typewriters and carbon paper, days when editors affixed their comments not with sticky notes, but with scrap paper and straight pins, little crucifixions for would-be writers.
Those days are long gone, as is Olive, but I always think of her when I happen upon a beautiful paragraph, whether it’s a single word, multiple sentences, or in the case of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, a single, beautifully crafted sentence that leaves me breathless and in awe:
“That night he dreamt of horses in a field on a high plain where the spring rains had brought up the grass and the wild flowers out of the ground and the flowers ran all blue and yellow far as the eye could see and in the dream he was among the horses running and in the dream he himself could run with the horses and they coursed the young mares and fillies over the plain where their rich bay and their rich chestnut colors shone in the sun and the young colts ran with their dams and trampled down the flowers in a haze of pollen that hung in the sun like powdered gold and they ran he and the horses out along the high mesas where the ground resounded under their running hooves and they flowed and changed and ran and their manes and tails blew off of them like spume and there was nothing else at all in that high world and they moved all of them in a resonance that was like a music among them and they were none of them afraid horse nor colt nor mare and they ran in that resonance which is the world itself and which cannot be spoken but only praised.”