Swift is the only stylist. The excellence of any other writer is in some peculiar charm or some private strength of which the wielding is enviable but secret by nature of its being so private, original or unusual. Swift's excellence is a talent for clarity simplicity and power. His inimitable peculairities are in choice of subject, or tone, but his writing is the bed-rock from which every writer must start. It is the norm of the language, and you can't go wrong to imitate it; it is the restrained side of every private peculiarity. Copying other writers leads people into all manner of blunders in taste, because they mimic those mannerisms for which they have no innate propensity themselves. Copying Swift's peculiarities can only refine the fundamental qualities of literature, clarity, precision, conciseness and power, of which everyone contains the original capacity. [...]
Most important is to be able to ener a word like a continent. Meditate on the individual words, then you'll use them by an act of imagination, and with effective power, not merely flip them out of a jargon memory in a conventionalised encompassing of a flavoured thought. Then, as often as you can, just write. Swift's one of those writers I wish I had by heart - next to Shakespeare and Chaucer and before all others. Get a paragraph you like learn it and often repeat it, and you'd be amazed how you can energise whatever you write just by conscious reference of tone or use to that one charge. Forget subtlety, and the ephemeral fringe of sensation, or organised thought and co-ordinated important use of words will forget you.
To my sister on her beginning her literary career.
Ted Hughes to Olwyn Hughes, 1952
Letters of Ted Hughes
Selected and edited by Christopher Reid