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The Skill of Writing

Posted December 19th, 2011 by

It is hard to be a writer. I know because I am one — and wow, does that feel good to say!

Beginning as children (well, most of us), writers are compelled to express themselves. The opinion driven angst of youth urges us (often in dreams) to get things off our chest. So we write in diaries, post our thoughts on Facebook, Tweet and text voluminously. In the old days, we filled yellow legal pads and diaries with long diatribes (at least I did).  I lost my writer’s “virginity” when my mother hunted and found my locked diary, read my private thoughts and loudly berated my insolence. After that, I evolved into craving a larger audience — one that might not be so judgemental.

In the long run, the ultimate goal of writers is that our prose will incite millions of thinkers to think and readers to read — not for the money (although that would be nice) but for the pleasure of striking the musical chord of popular resonance. We have at our disposal 26 letters and approximately one million words with which to do this — in a form that is grammatically superior. When all else fails, we thank God for spell check and writer’s license!

I started honing my writing skills early in life. In grammar school, Sister Mary Martin De Porres taught us to write in cursive; Sister Theodore taught us to diagram sentences with perfect precision. In high school, Sister Evangeline taught us the archaic roots of language with Latin. In a secular state college, rhetoric was my favorite class (lots of puns; no nuns). All along the way, when my work was offered to the scrutiny of peer review, I was both attracted and repelled when my innocuous poetry and amateur essays induced accolades from students and teachers alike. I eventually accepted that writing is something I was meant to do. I have been at it ever since — walking a long and arduous road toward continuously improving my skills with every tool I can find.

Enter Strunk and White.

In their 105 page book — Elements of Style —  the authors wax in prolific brevity (an oxymoron I know) through evenly divided sections. There are 11 “Elementary Rules of Usage,” 11 “Elementary Rules of Composition” and 11 “Matters of Form.” Borrowing from their wisdom, my motto is “Good writing is concise” (much to the chagrin of some editors who want more and more and then some.)

When Tom posted this rap on his Facebook page, I just couldn’t help myself. I had to pass it on. Hopefully, when Gather At the Table reaches book stores in Fall 2012, our readers will see that I learned my lessons well.

3 responses to “The Skill of Writing”

  1. I like this post! It makes me think about my own writing life. I've always known that I have wanted to write ever since I could and this post just made me think back to my childhood. Thanks for that.

  2. Esther Brown says:

    I love "good writing is concise." Up to now I have called it "quick in and out" when talking to my friends on death row in Alabama, very few with high school diplomas. We publish a newsletter four times a year, as we work for abolition of the death penalty. But that is another topic! I do look forward to your book and will enjoy its conciseness! 🙂

    Esther

  3. sillysili says:

    Been recommending The Elements of Style to my students since I started teaching. Unfortunately copies of TEoS are sold out here in my little town. Hehehe

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