Why Do I Write?

The simple truth is,
I just like the sound of bone on brick and
the feel of brain matter against barriers satisfies me.

***

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Written in response to Ink in Third’s Three Line Thursday Prompt: Blocked

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Willa Cather on Telling The Truth

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the American writer Willa Cather.

Willa Sibert Cather, born December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers! , The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, a novel set during World War I.

willa-catherCather grew up in Virginia and Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English.

As a student at the University of Nebraska in the early 1890s, Cather sometimes used the masculine nickname “William” and wore masculine clothing. A photograph in the University of Nebraska archives depicts Cather dressed like a young man and with “her hair shingled, at a time when females wore their hair fashionably long.”

After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school English teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter, at the age of 33, moving to New York City for the remainder of her life, though she also traveled widely and spent considerable time at her summer residence in New Brunswick, Canada.

Throughout Cather’s adult life, her most significant friendships were with women. These included her college friend Louise Pound; the Pittsburgh socialite Isabelle McClung, with whom Cather traveled to Europe and at whose Toronto home she stayed for prolonged visits; the opera singer Olive Fremstad; the pianist Yaltah Menuhin;  and most notably, the editor Edith Lewis, with whom Cather lived the last 39 years of her life.

Cather’s sexual identity remains a point of contention among scholars. While many argue for Cather as a lesbian and interpret her work through a lens of queer theory, a highly vocal contingent of Cather scholars adamantly oppose such considerations. For example, scholar Janet Sharistanian has written, “Cather did not label herself a lesbian nor would she wish us to do so, and we do not know whether her relationships with women were sexual. In any case, it is anachronistic to assume that if Cather’s historical context had been different, she would have chosen to write overtly about homoerotic love.”

She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author’s total accomplishments. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 24, 1947, at the age of 73 in New York City.

A resolutely private person, Cather had destroyed many old drafts, personal papers, and letters. Her will restricted the ability of scholars to quote from the personal papers that remain. However, in April 2013, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather—a collection of 566 letters Cather wrote to friends, family, and literary acquaintances such as Thornton Wilder and F. Scott Fitzgerald—was published, two years following the death of Cather’s nephew and second literary executor, Charles Cather. Willa Cather’s correspondence revealed complexity of her character and inner world. The letters do not disclose any intimate details about Cather’s personal life, but they do “make clear that [her] primary emotional attachments were to women.”

“The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.”

— Willa Cather

Being truthful is not the same thing as being honest. Being open is not the same as not telling a lie. One is to answer when asked. The other is to pour your soul out thoroughly and unprompted. One is hard to do, the other feels almost impossible.

Telling the truth is complicated, tiring, and terrifying and writers and artist do it every day.

Telling the truth means making yourself vulnerable to judgment and rejection but since no man or woman is an island telling the truth can mean exposing not just yourself, not even just your family and friends, but your hometown, your gender, your race, and even your age group. It means that what you say means something and you have to carry the full responsibility and ownership of what you reveal.

Being truthful is painful. I’ve read over and over that the best way to be a writer is to just write but what do I do on the days when I am too afraid and too hurt to welcome more eyes and acknowledgment? What about the days when I am already exhausted and have nothing left to help carry the weight of revelation? What about the days when I cannot look myself in the eye let alone allow strangers to see such deep parts of me? What about the days when the truth is too disturbing and scary to examine? How do I do on those days?

The ones who say “just write” I wonder if they understand how much the tears sting and how the real the old memories feel when they pour put of you.

There are so many times I sit down to write my truth, and I find I have built so many defenses against what I carry deep down that I see no truth worth telling. I am nothing, I feel nothing, and nothing has ever hurt or helped me.

Society tells me to be happy and grateful and ordinary and getting past that to all the ugly things we would rather look away from is like pulling teeth or climbing mountains. Telling the truth starts with a search, and the mazes of this world are complex on purpose. The truth is hard to find and what you find may be nothing but illusions. More lies. Tell those too until you learn, I suppose.

I wouldn’t go as far as Cather in calling anyone stupid, but I would say they are a whole lot of ignorant, uninspired, and non-introspective ones out there. I would say I am among them, and so are many other artist and writers aspiring to do better too. The truth never comes easy, and the need to hide and run for cover never leaves us. Writers tell other writers what writing ought to feel like, forgetting what is hard for them will be hard for others too.

It’s rare to find people who open so easily and unapologetically, but we cannot deny that the ones who do are the best among us. Most people live lives so closed up and cut of that such vulnerability is beyond comprehension. I have met husbands and wives, sisters, and best friends who reveal less to one another than a writer does to the world.

Being truthful is hard. There have been many times I have written something that left me in tears and utterly exposed. When I read back over pieces like that, I get embarrassed and afraid. They are just too truthful, too raw. I edit and chop away at the feeling until I am once again cloaked and covered. I know that in doing so I have turned my work into lies but being so open is something you have to build up the courage to do.

And that is what all this practice is for, I suppose. Not just to write better but to write a little more truthfully every time. To write what we are again and again. To write what has been forgotten and what is wished to stay that way. To write about right and wrong and reality, about broken dreams and broken hearts and about the way the world doesn’t care or owe us a damn thing, it is exhausting! And it is the most fulfilling thing we can do.

Write often. Open yourself often. Feel pain, feel joy, feel fear, hope and anger, as often as you can and write, write, write, but never deny to yourself or anyone else that it is the hardest thing to do. Never minimize the worth and the work of what you and other writers do every single day.

***

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

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Anxiety into Art

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for feeling tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Mondays are do-overs, each one is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

This Monday is a hard one, I won’t lie. I spent a portion of the weekend in the doctor’s office afraid and in pain. I am okay now, mostly. My symptoms are still here, but I got the reassurance I was seeking. I will be fine for now. I came away with information and medication and a whole lot to think about. I’m feeling just a little better today, but I am on edge, wondering when it will get bad again.

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity”

― T.S. Eliot

My anxiety, as a result of all these health issues, has been uncontrollable. I worry about my body. I worry about medication. I worry about what I am eating. Food has become my enemy, and every meal is stressful. I worry about how I am impacting others and what people think of me. I worry about work and how I can cope away from home.

Breathing isn’t working. I am losing sleep, and I feel myself becoming isolated. In just a few weeks I have stopped writing almost entirely because I am either too tired or worrying so much I can’t focus. I miss writing, even just for myself. I want to do something I love again.

So why can’t I use this pain and anxiety for writing, for art? I can’t breathe or meditate my way out, maybe I need the opposite. Maybe I need something that requires more effort. Maybe I need to pull my pain out by hand. Maybe I need to dig deep in the dark and work for my relief.

Maybe I need to fight for it.

I don’t know exactly what form this writing will take or where it will go, but I think it’s just what I need. It feels right to hurt through writing and sharing rather than all alone and in my own head.

This week, if you’ve been feeling anxious, afraid, angry, or alone, pull that pain out and make something of it. Push, push, push yourself to move forward until you feel better or you collapse in exhaustion. Then get back up when you can and make something more. Write, paint, and sing all about what hurt and don’t worry about what people will think or what it all means. Just express yourself.

Take what you hate about yourself, what you work so hard to control, and let if fuel your creativity. If nothing else it will at least be a change of pace and offer some distraction.

You might even be able to work magic, do the impossible, and turn hurt into hope and joy.

***

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Jorge Luis Borges on What Writers Become

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.

jorgeluisborgesenpalermofotoferdinandoscianna198403Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo was born into an educated middle-class family on 24 August 1899. They were in comfortable circumstances but not wealthy enough to live in downtown Buenos Aires, so the family resided in Palermo, then a poorer suburb. Borges’s mother, Leonor Acevedo Suárez, came from a traditional Uruguayan family of criollo (Spanish) origin. Her family had been much involved in the European settling of South America and the Argentine War of Independence, and she spoke often of their heroic actions.

In 1914, his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school and traveled to Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in Surrealist literary journals. He also worked as a librarian and public lecturer. Borges was fluent in several languages. He was a target of political persecution during the Peron regime and supported the military juntas that overthrew it.

Borges was a key figure in Spanish-language literature. His best-known books, Ficciones (Fictions) and El Aleph (The Aleph), published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes, including dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, philosophy, and religion.

His works have contributed to philosophical literature and the fantasy genre. Critic Ángel Flores, the first to use the term magical realism to define a genre that reacted against the dominant realism and naturalism of the 19th century, considers the beginning of the movement to be the release of Borges’ A Universal History of Infamy (Historia universal de la infamia). However, some critics would consider Borges to be a predecessor and not actually a magical realist. His late poems dialogue with such cultural figures as Spinoza, Camões, and Virgil.

In 1914 Borges’ family moved to Switzerland, where he studied at the Collège de Genève. The family traveled widely in Europe, including stays in Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals. He also worked as a librarian and public lecturer. In 1955 he was appointed the director of the National Public Library and professor of English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. He became completely blind by the age of 55; as he never learned braille, he became unable to read. Scholars have suggested that his progressive blindness helped him to create innovative literary symbols through imagination.

In 1961 he came to international attention when he received the first Formentor Prize (Prix International), which he shared with Samuel Beckett. In 1971 he won the Jerusalem Prize. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and in Europe. Borges himself was fluent in several languages. He dedicated his final work, The Conspirators, to the city of Geneva, Switzerland.

His international reputation was consolidated in the 1960s, aided by his works being available in English, by the Latin American Boom and by the success of García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Writer and essayist J. M. Coetzee said of him: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists.”

Due to a hereditary condition, Borges became blind in his late fifties. In 1955, he was appointed the director of the National Public Library (Biblioteca Nacional) and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. In 1961, he came to international attention when he received the first International Publishers’ Prize Prix Formentor. His work was translated and published widely in the United States and in Europe. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986.

J. M. Coetzee said of Borges: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish-American novelists.”

“When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.”

— Jorge Luis Borges

Yesterday I wrote a list of ten bookish resolutions for the new year. One of them was to read more books. Another was to read books written by the acclaimed author Jorge Luis Borges.

I first encountered Borges years ago when I came across his short story Borges and I. To me it was a little masterpiece, perfectly written. I planned to read more of his work but then I got very busy trying to be a grown up and making all the grown up mistakes I needed to make, and I forgot all about reading books, and about Borges and his little masterpiece.

I’ve been reading again for some time now. I have gotten back that old obsession for language and stories that draw me in and change me a little with every page. I have come back to books a bit more mature and ready to get more from them than just entertainment.

I want to study how they are written. I want to learn all the ways there are to say things, and I hear Borges said things in very interesting ways.

I went back and read Borges and I last night and I think I understand better what he is saying or at least I know better what it means to me. Borges is a writer, a public figure, a persona, and a mask presented to the world. “I” is the inner self, the secret self the one who lives and dies while the persona endures in books and the minds of others.

Borges and his “I” are very similar. I think everything that Borges is must have begun in the “I” but now has become distorted and at times unrecognizable. I think as time goes on the “I” gives more to Borges and Borges distorts it all the more and eventually there will be no “I” left. The inner Borges will die because we all die one day and Borges the writer, the persona, and the memory will live on.

The whole thing is very powerful, and if you want to be a writer, artist, entertainer, etc. It is all something to consider, but the last line is what hits me the hardest. The last line — “I do not know which of us has written this page.” — is where the problem really lies.

Who is the real you? The one on paper or the one who lives inside? How much of what you write is the truth? Can you tell the difference? Does it matter to you?

All writers have a habit of exaggeration and distortion. We leave out what we feel needs leaving out, and we highlight all the action. The lows get lower, and the highs get higher. The colors become brighter and the smells more intense. We take the chaos of life and give it order and meaning. We write what we feel and forget the rest and the reader creates a version of us in their minds. This other self is who becomes what we are to the world, and slowly we fade away and the other lives on forever.

I thought that writing about myself meant being my true self, but now I think that one human can never fully and accurately explain who they are or what kind of life they have lived. We can only give approximations and caricatures.

I had thought I could obtain a sort of immortality through words, but I think that isn’t true either, not exactly. The Lisa that lives on, if one does at all, won’t really be me. I am giving birth to a new Lisa, one who is much more interesting and colorful than I. The new Lisa is something I had hoped I could be. The new Lisa is the one I dream was born the night that I was. I give her whatever I can, and she uses all that I am for selfish gains. I don’t mind. I love her all the same.

Lisa and I, which one of us has written this?

***

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Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia

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Natalie Goldberg on Being A Warrior While Writing

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the popular American writer and speaker, Natalie Goldberg.

natalie_goldbergNatalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers’s The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John’s University.

From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers’s The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John’s University.

Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery on Canyon Road in Sante Fe.

A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website: nataliegoldberg.com

Her 1986 book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within has sold over a million copies and is considered an influential work on the craft of writing. Her 2013 book, The True Secret of Writing, is a follow-up to that work.

In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan’s childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website tangledupinbob.com.

Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.

“You must be a great warrior when you contact first thoughts and write from them”

— Natalie Goldberg

I wrote a piece for Femsplain a while ago and now that it has finally gone live this week. When I wrote the piece, I was very unsure of it. It wasn’t supposed to turn out so emotional, so raw, so personal but I wrote a little differently than I normally do. I wrote and wrote of hours, not editing, not worrying, not thinking about grammar, spelling, or structure. I just wrote and so much came out of me that I hadn’t thought about in so long I ended up having to cut the piece nearly in half to meet the word count restriction.

I think I have a bit of talent, or at least a great passion that could lead to talent, but I am new to letting go so completely. I wouldn’t say this is my very best work, but it felt the best to write.

Typically when I write the free writer in me and the editor and critic in me fill the same space all at once. I am usually writing against the clock—I am a chronic procrastinator—and I try my best to kill two birds with one stone. I write the piece freely, without worrying about grammar or spelling, but I try to keep a final structure or goal in mind. I try to stay inside the lines, but I try to choose colors that are interesting but realistic.

I tried something new with this piece, and with a few more I hope to submit to Femsplain, to other publications, and for myself and my readers here. I am writing with only feeling. I am letting myself be wordy, chaotic, emotional, and without structure or an end game in mind. I write everything I feel on the subject, for days, and by the end, I have a pile of feeling and history that is all me.

Then, each sentence and paragraph become little puzzle pieces I move here and there where I think they fit best, then I trim the fat. I look for repetition that serves no purpose and work to curb my habit of over-explaining and meandering away from the topic.

I do everything I can to preserve some of those first feelings I faced when I began. I try to keep the force of the piece. I want to feel hurt or happy by the end. I want to feel what it is I am trying to get the reader to feel. I let myself feel afraid and a little embarrassed by my openness. I let myself cry a little, get angry a little, and I keep writing still. I do it by thinking of those feeling as a sign that I might be writing something worth reading.

 

When I first face those feelings, they are too big and scary to share with the world. Some of the things I think and feel are disturbing and very hard to describe. I think I might drive people away. People might laugh at me. I may hurt someone. I might, in fact, be insane. I write through all of that too.

Goldberg says that there is nothing wrong with at least putting it all down on paper quickly and passionately at first. At the start you are just you, later you can decide what parts to share or keep to yourself. Just get it all out and look at the whole before you do.

You can clean it up. You can find a way to say what you are trying to say in a better way.

But for now, fill the space you have with what is deep, and meaningful, and entirely you.

***

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Featured image via Wikipedia

Biographical information via Goodreads

Check out: Natalie Goldberg on Writing What Disturbs You

Monday Motivation // Act Like the Person You Want to Be

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. From now on Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. All the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore. This is our second chance, and this time, we might just get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves.

For me, this Monday is turning out to be a sweet relief from the stress and sickness I experienced all of last week. Already I feel better, my workload is lightened, I have energy, and I am focused. Today, I think, will be a good writing day. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for it either. I am over 4,000 short of my NaNoWriMo word goals and still figuring out where my plot is going and who the hell these characters actually are.

“Tell yourself first of all what kind of person you want to be, and then act accordingly in all that you do. For in almost every other pursuit we see this to be the course that is followed.”

— Epictetus, Discourses

For a long time I have day-dreamed about being the kind of person who wakes up early in the morning, drinks a ton of coffee, and writes anywhere from 500 to 2,500 words in my sophisticated home office until noon. I would then eat a healthy lunch and spend the early

I would then eat a healthy lunch and spend the early afternoon hours doodling, listening to podcasts, blogging, tweeting, and reading. The dog and I would walk around the neighborhood before dinner and my girlfriend, and I would spend the rest of the night on the couch in front of the TV. I’ll wrap up with some desert and journal writing.

This is my ideal day and I’d very much like to live it every day. It will be a long time before I can do it—if I ever can—but I live it as closely as I can in the hopes that not only does practice make perfect but that the steps I take trying to live that way now will get me closer to my perfect vision later.

I wake up early and even though I have to go to my day job rather than my sophisticated home office, I still pretend. I am lucky enough to work at a job when I am often getting paid when there is no particular task for me to be doing. Plus, the hours I do have are split-shift, so I regularly have large blocks of time to write when my mind is at its most creative and productive.

I write, I drink coffee, I eat lunch, I go for walks, and I blog and tweet, all in as close a proximity to the time I wish I could be doing them from home.

I am lucky that my life allows me to spend a great deal of time pretending I am already the writer I hope to be one day.

In addition, I talk about writing and the kind of life I’d like to live as often as I can. I tell others what I am doing and why. I encourage them to get in touch with their creative sides and to daydream and pretend they are living their perfect lives already too. I do this because I see other creatives do it. They did it for me. They say the secret to being the person you want to be is to accept that you are that person now and to live accordingly. What better way to accept a truth than to spread that truth around?

I try to be a writer, a real writer, in all that I think and do. I want to be a good person, a successful person, a fulfilled and proud one too. I strive to think of myself as already being that person and day by day, minute by minute, the more I do it, the more I change, and I can see now that one day soon I won’t have to pretend so much anymore.

This week I encourage you to the same. Do it for you, but do it for me too. The more I see it, the more I believe it, and I need a dose of faith to keep it going.

***

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E.B. White and Writing Among the Moving Stars

Writing is and always has been my passion, in all forms, whether blogging, poetry, or, my newest endeavor, novel-writing. Like any art, it takes practice and a dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you.

In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the American writer, E.B. White.

988142From Wikipedia: “White was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the youngest child of Samuel Tilly White, the president of a piano firm, and Jessie Hart White, the daughter of Scottish-American painter William Hart.

White served in the army before going to college. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921.

White worked for the United Press (currently the United Press International) and the American Legion News Service in 1921 and 1922. Then he became a cub reporter for The Seattle Times in 1922 and 1923. Once, when White was stuck on writing a story, a Times editor said, ‘Just say the words.’ He then worked for two years with the Frank Seaman advertising agency as a production assistant and copywriter before returning to New York City in 1924.

Not long after The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White submitted manuscripts to it. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to magazine editor and founder Harold Ross that White be taken on as staff. However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office and further weeks to convince him to agree to work on the premises. Eventually, he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.

A few years later in 1929, White and Angell were married. They had a son, Joel White, a naval architect and boat builder, who owned Brooklyn Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine. Katharine’s son from her first marriage, Roger Angell, has spent decades as a fiction editor for The New Yorker and is well-known as the magazine’s baseball writer.

In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English had been written and published in 1918 by William Strunk, Jr., one of White’s professors at Cornell. White’s rework of the book was extremely well received, and further editions of the work followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999.  The volume is a standard tool for students and writers and remains required reading in many composition classes.

His first children’s book, Stuart Little, was published in 1945, and Charlotte’s Web appeared in 1952. His third children’s novel, The Trumpet of the Swan, was published in 1970

White died on October 1, 1985, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, at his farm in North Brooklin, Maine. He is buried in the Brooklin Cemetery beside his wife Katharine, who died in 1977.”

“Writers will often find themselves steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.”

― E.B. White, The Elements of Style

It’s been about a week since I first started reading The Elements of Style, the famous “little book” originally written by William Strunk Jr. and brilliantly edited and expanded decades later by his student E.B. White. The Elements of Style, I have heard, is the place to starting you are serious about writing.

This isn’t a book about outlining, or plot, or character development, or world building, it’s about the words, just the words. Which ones to use, how to put them in order, what words not to us and why. This book is about the basics, it’s about what comes before your ideas and your

I do not agree with every rule, but the book gets me thinking about what my rules are and about what is the best way to say what it is I am trying to say. I’ll write a proper review of the book when I finish it. For now, I just want to say that, interestingly, instead of inspiring me to buckle down and work on my wordiness, or my tendency to write in the passive voice this book is just showing me see what rules I don’t want to follow.

Am I defiant for defiant’s sake? Am I only being lazy? Am I allowing my ego to get in the way of improvement? Strunk would think so and no doubt he would beat me over the head with the rules until I complied, but White might have understood.

I can’t get past my own certainty that not only is there no singular “best way to write” but that no single person can tell another person how to write. Especially not from the distant past.

Writing is about expressing what is inside ourselves, and some of us are not trying to express something so forceful or sure. Sometimes your writing requires being unsure, passive, and maybe a little timid. Sometimes you need more words because wordiness says something in itself.

I am weary of any rules or ways of doing things that have existed longer than I have. I just can’t believe that anything that was useful or right at one time can be right and useful for all time. Words pop in and out of existence every day and each word’s meaning morphs from one mind to another. The ways we communicate change with every new messaging app, blogging platform, and emoji pack release. Why shouldn’t the rules for communicating effectively change too?

Maybe beyond making your sentences comprehensible there is no blueprint for how to write well and no way to predict what might work and what might not.

Maybe, like in any art or creative expression, it is good to know what other people think is good and right, and how they do things. How else will you know what is possible? But maybe it’s okay if I casually disregard those rules and guidelines even if the only reason I have to do so is that I simply don’t like them or see the point. It’s my writing; I’ll do it however I want to dammit!

I don’t want to sound like a child who refuses to listen to reason, I am considering Strunk and White’s advice very seriously, and I am learning, I just don’t care for the tone throughout the book that any writer who chooses to do things differently is bad or lazy. I get a little perturbed that writing seems to be the only creative endeavor where straying from the established rules and Way of Doing Things is condemned rather than studied or celebrated.

Instead of trying so hard to write the way other people say we should, we should be writing the way we want to and bending all our energy to getting better at that.

I mean, if we truly are out there navigating among the moving stars, one person’s path won’t work for everyone. Don’t think yourself a failure because you know that and choose to go your own way. Get to where you are going any way you can, and make sure to enjoy the ride.

P.S. This post is riddled with errors that both Strunk and White would cringe at. Despite my assertions, I am ashamed. 

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