Writers sometimes write a little differently after their reputations are made. Some become mandarins in their old age—wise, all too wise. Some let the belt out a few notches and settle into verbosity. A few, at the height of their fame, struggle to reinvent themselves or to refine their craft. These are the writers who win our admiration and our love.
Irving found his style very quickly. His earliest work displays the tense lucidity that marked his prose for the rest of his life. His voice on the page was so confident that you might have thought it came easily, but he said it didn’t: he once said that he put almost everything he wrote through nine or ten drafts. In an essay on Orwell he wrote that the “discipline of the plain style—and that fierce control of self that forms its foundation—comes hard.”...
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