My 2020 Plan has included reading all those helpful books I have acquired but never actually read. I bought a brand new A4 notebook, to put all my notes into, with the idea that this notebook would contain the sum total of all my research on the art of writing. And so that the books could stop cluttering up my home – their presence reminds me every time I look at them that I have failed to read them.
It’s going well. I am steadily making my way through the books and so far I have found them all to be useful. Though some I makes more notes for than others.
But The Elements of Style.
It’s the smallest, shortest little book. But almost every word it contains is useful. I probably made the most notes from that little book than from any of the long ones. My favourite rule? “Make every word tell.” See what I mean about taking so many notes? There’s nothing I can cut out there, no way to rephrase it to reduce it to a mere note. I’ve almost rewritten the book in it’s entirety into my notebook.
Written by William Strunk Jr in 1918, and expanded by E B White in 1959, it contains the rules of English grammar and notes on how to write in about 85 pages. Each rule is presented clearly, with several examples. It is such a popular book that it is regularly updated, to reflect the changing times while maintaining its core objectives. We no longer say poetess for female poet, for example, so the book no longer recommends it. Some of the examples do still sound old-fashioned, despite the updates, but I like that. It adds to the charm of the book.
The main aim of The Elements of Style is to enable clarity and accuracy in writing. Writing with a clear understanding of the rules means your readers have to do less mental gymnastics to get at your meaning. Means they will stay hooked on what you write. Means you will have a satisfied reader.
These days, everywhere I look I can see broken rules. On blogs, news sites, magazines, emails… everywhere. It can be hard to keep the rules straight in such an environment. This little book is a handy, unobtrusive guide to keeping you on the clearer path. If you’re a writer who says “Rules? Rules are for the unimaginative, the restricted!”, I still suggest reading it, or any good grammar guide. You have to know what the rules are before you go breaking them.
I have been writing all my life. I consider myself knowledgable on grammar, commonly confused words, punctuation and so on. But with so much packed into The Elements of Style, there is something for everyone to learn. Plus, it’s always good to have a refresher on the rules you do know – or think you know. And, as no-one knows what they do not know, I urge anyone who wants to write to read this little book, and find out what it is you do not know.