Better Late Than Never
My English classes were taught by a stick thin lizard with the personality of a bucket. I knew very little but could tell so did he, and am still frustrated by such a wasted opportunity.
I consistently scored low in English language, baffled by the terms that were thrown about, the teacher uninterested in whether we understood or not. By the end of the year he was gone but the damage was done, our class registering the lowest English score in the history of the school.
One remedy was to go back and take evening classes, but after seven years at university I felt my time was done listening to other people. The chances of ever making a success at this are so minimal I decided to make sure that I, at least, was happy.
So when I sat down to write my first novel I didn’t even know how to punctuate speech, but I followed the principle that I would learn on the job. I’m a big fan of Stanley Kubrick who was vocal about studying an art form versus doing it.
My first two novels were big learning curves and I never seriously tried to get them published, their flaws were obvious. The third - well that’s a great story. Let’s just say I came very close to winning a major competition but a bear ate my laptop. Really.
Throughout all of this I knew my understanding of the basics of grammar were poor, but I never found a book that gave it to me straight. Grammar texts these days, I feel, are made longer than needed to ensure a high sales price. Do you really need 500 pages explaining how to write concisely? Nope.
This week I re-read, “On Writing” by Stephen King, which is one of the greatest books ever written. In that he repeatedly mentions the book, “The Elements Of Style” written by William Strunk in 1918.
Well I finally got around to reading it. It’s short, to the point, dense, amazing and FREE. I’ve learned so much from it that my work has been transformed.
Here’s an example:
“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.”
And then it explains how to write like that; I wish I’d found it twenty years ago.
Thanks Mr. Riley.