Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Wisdom of Strunk and White

For my talk on craft last weekend for SCBWI, I set myself the task of rereading Strunk and White’s classic, The Elements of Style, which my editor of 29 years, Beverly Reingold, gave to me as a gift at the start of our relationship together, inscribed to me on July 1980. It struck me on this read-through how many of their confident pronouncements about writing apply to the living of our lives as well.

“Place yourself in the background” – good advice, that! “Write in a way that comes naturally” – what if we tried to LIVE in a way that comes naturally? “Do not explain too much” – an excellent suggestion to bear in mind when declining unwanted invitations and refusing burdensome obligations.

Above all, this time I was struck by Rule 14: “Use the active voice.” (Oops! That last sentence is written in the passive voice.) Too often lately I’ve been allowing myself to indulge in fantasies of all the things I would like to have happen to me: “If only one of my books would win a prize!” “If only This Particular Person would disappear!” Idle, passive wishing. What if I recast all of these passive yearnings into resolute statements in the active voice: “If only I would sit down every day this week and work for a solid hour on my new book!” Well, I can actually DO that! “If only I would take decisive steps to limit my contact with This Particular Person!” Well, I can actually do that, too.

Thank you, William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White.

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