Years ago I ambled from my backyard to a neighbor's and told him I admired the trellis he was building. He wheeled toward me and said, "You work much with teak?"

I erupted into laughter, but stopped short and said: "No offense, Jack. I was laughing at myself, because I don't work with anything."

Except words.

I have no handyman heritage in my family.

Yet I've been working with and loving words ever since my mother taught me to read when I was 4; she had me sound out the letters on the label of a bottle of ketchup.

I'm addicted to crossword puzzles, the TV show "Wheel of Fortune" and compelling phrases wherever they appear.

For many years, at bedtime, I would read aloud the poem "God's Grandeur," by Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Jesuit priest in the second half of the 19th century. It starts:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil


Hopkins honored the mantra of his contemporary, the writer Joseph Conrad.

"My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see," he said. "That — and no more — and it is everything."

See the shining foil; see the oozing oil.

My mantra: "Make what you write say what you mean."

To meet that standard, we focus on precision.

The following imprecise sentence recently appeared in a national newspaper: "That [principle] ought to go in journalism as much, if not more, than in any other profession."

If we eliminate the words between the commas, we get, "That [principle] ought to go in journalism as much than in any other profession."

Clumsy and unclear.

The writer made a leap too far.

The line should read: "That [principle] ought to go in journalism as much as, if not more than, in any other profession."

Good writing requires work.

Hard writing makes easy reading.

Gary Gilson is a Twin Cities writing coach and Emmy Award winner. He also teaches journalism at Colorado College. Gilson can be reached through his website