Monday, March 22, 2010

For Writing Style, Read Strunk and White

Ready to be a serious writer?  Then it's time to master your style - and I don't just mean your style, the one you will use to distinguish yourself from other writers.  I mean the style that reveals your professional mastery of the writing craft.  The style that publishers will read and judge from the first page of your manuscript.  It's time to break out Style 101 with Strunk and White.

Yes, this is your grandfather's book on writing style.  And there's a reason for that.  As Charles Osgood writes in the afterword, "The Elements of Style is still a little book, small enough and important enough to carry in your pocket, as I carry mine.  It has helped me to write better."

The Elements of Style is such an important book because it covers the very basics of writing well.  As writers, many of us learn these essential elements piecemeal - we hear disparate opinions on the serial comma, or we're told to avoid run-on sentences.  But we're never told why to keep that serial comma, or how to avoid run-on sentences.  And this is where The Elements of Style becomes a critical tool for every writer.  In this book, you have quick lessons on the most common questions of grammar and syntax - and these lessons are short enough to double as a quick reference.
Now there are some writers who may be tempted to say "but I've mastered everything in this little book - why do I need to keep reading it?"

Honestly, I don't know that it's possible to master every element.  Over the years, I've found that as my writing improves, so to does my understanding of this book.  The key pieces of wisdom ("Avoid needless words," for example, or "Make sure the reader knows who is speaking") will continue to stand the test of time.  And they are given as rules because so many writers continue to break them.  Sometimes it's ignorance, and just as often it's carelessness.  (Like my having to delete "just" three times in a single paragraph today - that, to me, says I've been getting a bit lazy).

So buy this book.  Keep it close.  Refer to it often for reference and reminders.

Now, because this book is so well-known and recommended, it also comes in a 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition.  You can buy this version if you want.  However, this is simply a remastered copy of the Fourth Edition I've listed above.  But I do strongly recommend owning at least one of these.  Preferably a copy that will leave you feeling safe enough to dog-ear a few pages and make notes in the margins.

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