On Writing, Elements of Style, and Walden

I am currently away on an Internet Vacation. I’ll be back online on March 31. I have written one new post for each day of my Vacation so that folks don’t miss me too much while I am gone. But keep in mind, these posts have been scheduled ahead of time. Feel free to comment, as always, but note that since I am not checking email, I will likely not be replying to comments until I am back from my Vacation on March 31. With that said, enjoy!

I have recently finished (or am in the process of finishing) a reread of 3 books: On Writing by Stephen King, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White, and Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Actually, by the time you read this post, I’ll have likely completed my reread of all of them. I am writing this post on March 15, just a day-and-a-half before my 2-week Internet vacation begins, and the fact that I am rereading these three books is no coincidence, as you may have guessed.

On Writing by Stephen King

I finished my reread of Stephen King’s On Writing yesterday. I enjoyed it even more the second time around, probably because I listened to the audio book the second time and Stephen King reads his own work. I love the way King reads and in many ways listening to him felt as if he was talking directly to me and no one else. I always experience a sense of relief when I find that I do something similar to what a writer I admire does. In On Writing, King talks about how he generally writes two drafts, one “with the door closed” and the other “with the door open.” Put another way, in his first draft, he is telling himself the story; in his second draft he is telling the reader the story. I’ve evolved much the same approach to my writing. I often described my first drafts as analogous to sketches that an artist might make before layering on the paint. I think it works well for me. Learning to write this way was probably how I ever ended up finishing a story in the first place. If I hadn’t fallen into this method, I might have repeatedly revised and revised my first drafts to the point where I’d give up in frustration.

The Elements of Style

Reading On Writing reminded me it has been a long time since I reread The Elements of Style (something King says should be in every writer’s “toolbox.”) I’ll admit that, while I own a paper copy of The Elements of Style which is one of the few things that sits in my desk drawer, available for easy access, this time around, I bought the e-book edition. Reading through this book is a refreshing reminder of the things that I’m not always conscious about as a writer. It is also helpful for those places in English grammar where I often find myself pausing uncertain. This time around, I’ve jotted down (highlighted) a few of the “rule” numbers which I will likely tape to my Chromebook somewhere as a reminder of the rules for mistakes that I think I commonly make.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

In a “which of these things is not like the other”-game, Walden by Henry David Thoreau would probably be circled by most players as the odd man out. I read the book just a few years ago, and certain passages really resonated with me. I suppose that most people read this book much earlier in life than I did–in college probably–and each person who reads it probably thinks they are discovering home truths that no one else knows about. I know I felt that way upon my first read, and still feel that way my second time around. Age and a little wisdom tend to thin out the overall effect of what Thoreau writes about, I think. His frustration with labor, his “quiet desperation,” his desire to break away from it, all resonate, but I also take it with a healthy grain of salt. Of course, reading this book right before I take a 2-week vacation from the Internet is no coincidence. I see my separation from the Internet in much the same way Thoreau saw his isolation at Walden, as a way of getting all of the busy noise out of my head, and allows some time for clarity, consideration and thought. I suppose it is the best that I can manage.

They all do tie together, however. Walden for its idyllic isolation; On Writing as a reminder why I love the craft of writing; and The Elements of Style as a reminder to always try to improve. I plan on spending a lot of my reclaimed time away from the Internet writing and I can’t think of three better books to prepare me for this goal.


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