Thinking I would be all writerly, I read two books about writing before I took on this nutty experiment of writing my own craptastic book for a month. I laugh at some of my sentences where no one does anything but stand up, sit down or walk away. There are a lot of them. But I'll talk about that some other time. For now, I'll give my thoughts those books I read.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame took William Strunk, Jr's textbook, one he wrote for his classes at Cornell, and republished it with revisions. Strunk was not just White's professor but his mentor. White can't sing Strunk's praises high enough. And I can see why. The guy doesn't mess around. He says, "These are the rules. Follow them" like Moses from the mountain. The rules are numbered with examples. Most deal with usage and grammar. Strunk's favorite rule, according to White, is Rule 13: Omit Needless Words. He's fanatical about it and it comes through in every rule. The book tops out at 71 pages and that includes a chapter on style by White.
I loved this book, even though I suspect Strunk would make me cry if I took his class. I borrowed it from the library but I will be buying it (a newer version not the one printed in 1966, like this one). It has straight forward advice for every writer. I know I'm not perfect and need as much help as I can get. I do disagree with Rule #9 in White's chapter: Do not affect a breezy manner. This is the rock on which blogs are built. At least this one anyway. So sorry, can't do it.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Dillard takes White's Rule #18: Use figures of speech sparingly and punches it in the face. Then she kicks it in the crotch a few times. In the very first chapter she uses dozens of metaphors and similes to describe writing and White is right- it is exhausting for the reader. I needed a nap.
After that first chapter she stretches out her metaphors a bit with examples from her own life. Some I enjoyed, like the stunt pilot who made art in the sky with his plane, but most of the time I wondered what she was getting at. I take issue with the notion that a writer must suffer for art. An extreme example of this is Dillard's younger days when she stayed in an unheated cabin on an isolated island in the North Pacific. She nearly passes out on the shore after she forgets to eat because she is wriiiiiiiiiiiting! Pul-ease. Parents write in between making lunches or folks do it on the bus to work. If you want to write, just do it. Anywhere. Anytime. No need to isolate yourself from the rest of humanity. Single mom JK Rowling had to pay the bills; she didn't hide in a cave for a year to write Harry Potter.
Is it beautiful writing? Yes. Yes, it is. Is it useful? No. Come for the topic, stay for the metaphors. If you like metaphors that is- lots of metaphors. I've never read anything else by her so maybe she's not my style of writer.
I bought this one ages ago.
So while I highly recommend The Elements of Style, I'm not sure about The Writing Life. It was too out there for my tastes. And I'm not the only who thinks this way.
Do you have any favorite books on writing you would recommend?