Day 152-- on why I need to memorize the Elements of Style

My slightly-worn copy of the Elements of Style sits next to me. It's not worn enough, I fear. The Elements of Style was a writing style book created by Cornell professor William Strunk Jr.; he used the book for his classes, and it gained a fair reputation among the students that had him. One was E.B. White, editor of the New Yorker and author to several childrens' classics (notably Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little). White revised and added considerably to the Strunk's tiny manual; the result a writing guide that's not only educational and well-regarded, but also a fun read.

I had Strunk & White (a jargonish shorthand for the book) with me in college. I wish I had used it more. I think I drifted through it a few times, never giving it enough thought. I knew it was a valuable tool, but scoffed at actually relying on it! I even remember when--in a Cabinet issue listing the staff's favorite books--Evie listed Strunk & White as a pick. She had the right idea.

This book is invaluable. I've always struggled with grammar, so it never hurts to skim the pages covering grammatical rules. But the real value is in Strunk & White's take on stylistic guidelines. I've been slowly poking my way through the book over the past month (it's a tiny book), absorbing rules, chastising myself. A good summation of this part is "omit needless words." I use many needless words. I realize that all most writers have unique aspects in their craft, and Will and E.B. adhere to the "if it works, it works" maxim. But, after thinking about my writing over the years, I can't say it's always worked for me. I need to edit. I need to hone, whittle, sharpen. Reading over some of the mess I've made in the past, I realize that I really have no clue what I'm saying. This is because of frequent, rambling sentences that need more TLC. And I ain't talking 'bout the R&B band.

I'm really trying to be God-honoring with my writing; I know that doesn't mean I have to joylessly pound out AP-style sentences, but that also doesn't mean I should be carelessly tossing words out.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 2/04/2007 08:23:00 PM,


At 10:33 AM, Blogger Stacey said...

Hey Jason!

Saw this and thought of you.

You might have to sign in to the NYTimes site to see it, but it's free.

Hope you and the coffeeshop are doing well. Take care!

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Stacey said...

Not sure if the whole link came through on the first try, so I'll try splitting it up into two lines...

Anyways, enjoy!


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