I began this blog to become a better writer. I thought that I deserved to write for fun instead of only for work. The blog would also give me the chance to tone and flex my writing skills and I would do so by reading books about writing along the way and of course, write about them.
I just reread the classic William Strunk and E.B. White book The Elements of Style. The book is wonderful. In so few words the authors capture so much. I believe the last time I read the book it was at least ten years ago. I remember my last experience reading the book being transcendent and it’s still true. Elements of Style is like fine wine; it gets better as I age.
After I read rule one – Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s – I was ecstatic. The conviction with which Strunk and White write is intoxicating.
One thing I made an effort to do when reading Elements of Style this time was to slow down and savor it. It was not in an attempt to commit the rules to memory, but to let each page soak in.
Meaningful is described as “a bankrupt adjective.” Prestigious is “often an adjective of last resort. It’s in the dictionary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.”
Passages like these remind me when my favorite food hits my tongue, but instead of my tongue it’s my brain. Even after reading the book a few days ago, I still feel euphoric.
There were some side effects. This week I worked on my own technical design for a client. I wrote a draft before reading Elements of Style. After reading the book, editing the draft was an absolute chore. In my head as I was writing, I imagined Strunk and White cracking a ruler on my knuckles. I’ve never been the victim of corporal punishment, but there is this fear in my head that the authors are standing over my shoulder shouting like the drill instructor all of rules I’m presently breaking.
In some ways it’s crippling. I spent a lot of time rewriting my technical design. Even as I write this post I have doubts about the very words I’m typing. In my head I cry out loud: “Is this a cromulent sentence? What about this one?” All the while I have this fear that Strunk and White are literally over my shoulder with a ruler in hand.
After rereading Elements of Style, writing now gives me agony and ecstasy. I feel every sentence must be perfect. When I start to think that I’m writing something imperfect, I tell myself “I am writing the best that I can right now.” I can nitpick infinitely, but I learned when to say when. After I write a sentence worthy of Strunk and White, I come out of my trance only to realize the authors aren’t behind me brandishing rulers. And that’s when the euphoria hits.