Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I'm Kicking the Habit

I cherish good writing. It's absolutely one of my favorite things in the world. Every time I read good, clean, limpid, effortless, honest prose a smile comes to my face. I can't help it.

We naturally imitate what we love, which means for me, in this case, that I spend a lot of time and effort trying to make my prose like that. Almost nothing to me is more satisfying than a paper that turns out well; but by the same token, nothing is more frustrating than when it doesn't.

In hopes of achieving the caliber of writing that I so admire, I've turned to style guides. I've read Strunk and White, of course, as well as Joseph Williams's Style. Plus there's a lot of rules and tips and tricks that I don't even remember where I've picked up, perhaps from classes or from the internet.

The point of all this help, as these style guides say themselves, is to shrink the gap between what we mean to say and what we actually say. As writers, we want the reader to access our mind, and we want the flow of ideas to be seamless. We want to feel at one with the written word.

But that's not how I feel at all. Instead, I'm completely paralyzed.

Every time I think up a sentence, I first have to run it by my filter. My filter is composed of all the rules and checks for good writing (sometimes conflicting) that I've built up over the years. Does it use the active voice? Does it have dangling antecedents, or floating "this"'s? Is it as simple as possible, but no simpler? All of these are good checks to keep in mind. But the more I think of these rules, the harder it is for me to think freely and naturally and uninhibited.

So you know, today's the day I kick my style addiction. No more worrying about parts of speech or sentence structure or clarity or grace. My only rule: say what you mean, and mean what you say. I think (I really hope) the rest will work out.


  1. It's not all or nothing. I always saw those style guides as guides for revision, not for writing. I think the authors of those guides would agree. Write what you mean at the time, and then revisit the paper with every tool you have.

    So what you should do is don't worry about style when you are writing. When you are rewriting, it should be part of your thought process.

  2. I know exactly what you mean about good style. Whenever I read a well constructed, thought provoking piece of writing, I want to just write like that, though this is hard when you suffer from an internal editor who has to approve the ideas you put down on the page.

    I still struggle in the same way you do to write, but what I've realized is that there is always room for drafts, so if you write and it sounds like sh***, that's fine. The important thing is that you explore your ideas and generate connections between them which you can use to continually improve your writing over the next couple of drafts.

  3. lo que tiene esto de escribir, es que ademas de querer trasmitir lo que uno realmente quiere y sabe que quiere decir, es que el lector desconoce esa intención; y el mismo muchas veces tiene sus propias ideas y creaciones... de todas maneras es cada vez más agradable leer tus escritos y esa pasión que sentis se refleja muy correctamente y con un estilo encantador!