23 April 2013

Kipling’s secret to good writing: "I Keep Six Honest Serving Men ..."

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

Rudyard Kipling 1902

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Rudyard Kipling
by John Collier 1891
British poet and novelist Joseph Rudyard Kipling became one of the most popular writers of his day.  To me, his greatest gift to me was to remind us, when we are writing, to remember his 'six honest serving men.'

Whether it is a novel or a short piece for the local paper, writers do well to answer what and why and when and how and where and who?

(See Changing minds for more)

The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote that Rudyard Kipling has:

“An immense gift for using words, an amazing curiosity and power of observation with his mind and with all his senses, the mask of the entertainer, and beyond that a queer gift of second sight, of transmitting messages from elsewhere, a gift so disconcerting when we are made aware of it that thenceforth we are never sure when it is not present.”


  1. Great piece Tony. Thanks for posting.

  2. Ah nice one Tony! I remember that from my childhood, this morning it is a new experience coming back to it as an adult.....I agree these are the bones of good writing, something I don't always remember myself:~)

  3. Six words to get me through life and keep my curiosity alive and my mind alert.


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