“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
—The Elements of Style
As a composition professor, I find that I am not just a teacher for college writing, but the breaker of bad habits. Somewhere in to world there are still English instructors teaching that the more wordy and complicated sentences are, the more literate. Because of this, intelligent, hardworking writers look crestfallen as I cross out words, phrases, sentences, and sometimes entire paragraphs.
We are all, I believe, guilty of overwriting, being in love with our words more than clarity, and peppering our writing with unnecessary phrases that serve to feed our ego rather than our story.
The Elements of Style is not universally loved in the writing world–I have met and worked with people who loathe it with the passion which I love it. For me, The Elements of Style gets to the point, gives simple rules that, while may not allow for technological advances, generally work in any writing situation. There is a reason it has been around in some form since 1918. I assign the text my creative writing class and the one I beg my students to keep. When people ask me how to become better writers my answer is simple (usually to their chagrin):
“Read everything you can get your hands on and become intimate with The Elements of Style.”
What about you, dear readers? What texts are essential to your writing life?