Monday, April 04, 2005

On Writing [Part One]

It is said that writers are born, not made. This is true, but only in the sense that writers, like the rest of humanity, experience birth. Other than this, the axiom can be disputed. The techniques of effective writing, including those of the creative realm, have a long history of use and trial and thus can be dissected and taught. Writing is less of an art today than it is a craft. There is a challenge, however, that will not wear out: what makes writing memorable is substance and the ability of the writer to convey what is in his or her mind with the least amount of resistance and self-consciousness. This is something that can be coached, but only at a very basic level, leaving the ultimate burden on the writer to really struggle with frightening honesty to achieve what may be called authentic and genuine. That is the daunting task not only of writing, but everything of a rich and truly fulfilling life, even in matters of spirituality. Scandalous self-awareness is what we want to achieve. It’s about unwrapping the mummy.

From time to time, I hope to offer some advice about writing, mainly through the recommendation of books that one should read. They will be books about writing per se and books that should acclimate us to the highest writing standards of our day because of their literary quality.

First is The Elements of Style or better known as Strunk and White. I’m sure most people have heard of this book and have read it. Mechanics of writing should not be an issue for those who wish to write meaningfully. But in case it is, please read this. Even seasoned writers keep this book nearby and read it once a year at least. The little book has timeless advice on such things as comma usage, active constructions, style considerations, and a potpourri of great counsel. It is told with a subtle sense of humor. It’s actually a fun read.

There are a few editions out there. Get either the third or fourth edition. The fourth edition has a short but nice foreword by Roger Angell, who is considered among the finest essayists alive today (as opposed to the dead ones). He writes frequently for The New Yorker. His essays on baseball, for example, are famous, attracting readers who even hate the sport. For a glimpse of his writing, you may read this essay of his. One more thing: Angell is the step-son of the late E. B. White, as in “Strunk and White.”


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