Battlepanda: Strunk Struk


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Strunk Struk

This takedown of Strunk and White is pretty awesome. I've owned the book, but it's one of those assigned books I bought and somehow never brought myself to crack open because nothing on it would be tested concretely in class. I think I do detect S&W's ideas in much of the writing advice offered to me though, and agree heartily with Haspel about the robotic hate campaign against the passive voice and the common misconception that: If you write in short sentences. It would be clearer. Compared to if you did not.

However, I can't help but feel that Haspel's own advice is rather useless and anodyne too, and he probably would have had a good time viciously taking this folling paragraph down if he had not written it himself:
I know only two infallible rules for writing well. First, read good writing: take it apart to see how it works, where it succeeds and fails, and then imitate it as best you can. Who would produce must first consume. (Faulkner recommends reading bad writing as well, but I have tried reading Faulkner, and it did me no good.) Second, write exactly what you think. Certain authors, like CĂ©line and Henry Miller, have survived despite prose that lacks every virtue but this one. Most of us suppress our best material, in the interest of job security or domestic tranquility or not being forced to flee the country.
The first rule is like being told if you want to lose weight you must eat more healthily and exercies. True as far as it goes, but hardly revelatory. As for the second, what does it really mean? Write whatever comes into your head? That's obviously not useful advice, so what does Haspel mean?

Now, everyone who writes on a regular basis knows the danger of that internal voice that censors your writing constantly as you churn out your sentences, slowing your progress to a crawl and leaving your with pinched and unnatural prose that is not satisfying to read the same way a picture that is drawn in painstaking detail without looser preparatory strokes is unsatisfying to look at. It is a reason why a person who is knowledgeable about a subject and can talk about it at length often have trouble setting out the same knowledge in writing. Maybe Haspel means "forget Strunk, forget trying to sound smart, say what you have to say."