10.06.2005

Don't think of yourself as a writer...

not a wannabe, nor a yet to be, nor certainly a soon to be
unless you own a copy of the book
that contains this paragraph:


Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentence short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline but that every word should tell.





The Elements of Style
William Strunk and E. B. White

23 comments:

els said...

Phew, I'm safe.

I do love that paragraph.

E. Dashwood said...

Yet we do have this exchange from "Amadeus,"

Emperor: "Now and then it seemed to have . . . that's it . . . too many notes."

Mozart: "There are just as many notes, Majesty, as is required. No more. No less."

Emperor: "Don't be upset.Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. There are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."

Mozart: "Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?"

Elektra said...

I wouldn't mind sometimes if Mozart had cut a couple out.

~lannalee~ said...

Do we have to be able to find the book?

Richard Lewis said...

Somebody should have told James Joyce.

(I'm slogging through ULYSSES --you can google for an account of my experience).

I recall reading somewhere a respected author saying this famous paragraph has done more to hinder creative passionate writing than any other paragraph ever written.

Miss Snark said...

Faulkner do doubt.

Douglas Hoffman said...

I also own An American Rhetoric, which is a longer-winded version of Strunk & White. I keep it around as a talisman, but I use Strunk & White.

ValMarie said...

Doesn't having a "longer-winded" version of Elements of Style completely defeat the purpose of the posted paragraph or of Strunk & White's often repeated maxim, "omit needless words"?

Bernita said...

"every word should tell" depends on who's listening.

Christine said...

Sigh. I have Self-Editing; I promise to run out and buy Strunk and White. ::hangs head in shame:: Perhaps for Christmas this year I'll ask Santa to bring it to me :)

Rhonda Stapleton said...

I adore this book. I've had it for years - it's one of the most dependable editing books I own. I, too, always recommend it to writers.

Miss Snark said...

Christine, there's a new illustrated edition from The Penguin Press that just came out. Red hardcover, no dustjacket. The front flyleaf says "hello" the back "goodbye". Introduction by Roger Angell, EB White's stepson. It's a perfect little book.

kitty said...

My S&W is a dog-eared 1979 ($5.95) edition. I practically know that passage verbatim.

Do I consider myself a writer?
I lost my job two years ago (store closed) and decided to try writing again. I'll admit that I have not buckled down in all seriousness, so when people ask me, "What do you do?" I tend to stumble. Then someone told me to say emphatically, "I am a writer" and don't worry when they ask what I've written. Just say "I'm working on that part" and smile. She said until I begin to think of myself as a writer, I'll continue struggle to be one.

Mama Rose said...

I'm not going to tell you how long I've owned my Strunk & White. I have other, similar books, but Strunk & White's the one I go to first. It's the one I use. :)

Linda

carriekabak@yahoo.com said...

Ms Snark, may I plant this paragraph on my blog?

Jean said...

Got it. Had it for years.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I'm not a huge fan of Strunk & White.

I much prefer William Zinnser's book On Writing Well (I msy hsve his name and title wrong-sorry).

Peter L. Winkler said...

"omit needless words."

Good thing for his posthumous reputation that Lovecraft didn't comply.

Trix said...

Not that I'm trying to improve on Strunk and White, but I'd change the last word to "show."

brainlesionssuck said...

How about just writing? Then rewriting, revise, revise, and fertilize...uh, I mean, inject it with the strongest words possible. Patience and persistence are a nice compliment to Strunk and White???

Kathie at Housewifecafe.com

Michelle Rowen said...

I own it. Never read it, but I own it.

Kristin said...

Yep, I've got it right here on my desk, along with my trusty AP Style manual.

Ronni said...

Hi! New Snarkling here. Great book, great quote.

Another one comes from my 8th grade English teacher:

Good writing is clear, concise, and to the point.

I've never forgotten it.