Can you write like Charles Darwin?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about the writing of Charles Darwin…

It’s been decades since I even peeked at The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (pictured above). Nevertheless, I remember having read at least part of the book many years ago and being impressed with its clarity. And, of course, I know Darwin to have been a towering intellect.

Interestingly, however, he didn’t see himself that way. “I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit,” he wrote of himself. And he continued, “my power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited; and therefore I could never have succeeded with metaphysics or mathematics.”

Even more interesting, however, is how Darwin evaluated his own writing prowess. Here is how he saw it:

There seems to be a sort of fatality in my mind leading me to put at first my statement or proposition in a wrong or awkward form. Formerly I used to think about my sentences before writing them down; but for several years I have found that it saves time to scribble in a vile hand whole pages as quickly as I possibly can, contracting half the words; and then correct deliberately. Sentences thus scribbled down are often better ones than I could have written deliberately.

Do you see that? Charles Darwin was happy to write a crappy first draft! My thanks to reader Mary Anne Revolinksi who sent me the link to the blog post containing these fascinating insights from Darwin.