This man knew something about rhythm.

The worst writing advice of the day comes from the documentation for a very useful writing tool called Zettlr. In explaining how Markdown deals with linebreaks, the manual tells us:

“Markdown will, by default, remove single line breaks and treat double linebreaks as paragraph breaks.… Some people make use of this behaviour for their own writing process: They write one sentence per line so that they have an easier time trimming all sentences to approximately the same length.”

Dr. Boli does not know where the idea that all your sentences should be approximately the same length came from, but it is a bad idea. It did not occur to him until today that anyone needed to be told it was a bad idea. The only reason for writing sentences that way would be to lull your readers to sleep so that you can slip some binding legal agreements past them that no one would accept in a waking state. By searching Google for “make all sentences approximately the same length,” we discover the consoling fact that not even teachers of creative writing consider that a good idea. Yes: we have found a piece of writing advice so bad that even creative-writing teachers repudiate it.

The mechanical technique our programmer mentions could, however, be very useful, but for the opposite reason. Write one sentence per line. Now look at your lines. If they are all roughly the same length, you have some rewriting to do.

In fact, if you use this technique, what you will have will be something that looks like a poem by Whitman. Walt Whitman was a master of rhythm. He toiled incessantly over his poems, publishing his “Song of Myself” in constantly evolving versions from 1855 to 1891. It took him 36 years even to come up with the title.

Now, look at “Song of Myself” and examine the line lengths. Then try to write like that. You can’t, but it helps to have a model that exceeds your grasp.