Written by 7:39 am Art

#BTSpeakingOut – A reading list for writers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the creator(s) don’t represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

by Adrian Sobers

“Writing is a vocation, and there’s a body of skilled literature on the market—which is uneven in quality, similar to every other form of book. Read a whole lot of it anyway.” – (Douglas Wilson)

“The language of a nation, just like the land it lives by, needs constant cultivation and weeding. Degeneration can go far.” – (F. L. Lucas)

If we conform to take the recommendation of Wilson and Lucas, I might recommend a couple of titles (if I could possibly be so forward), that, if taken seriously, can’t only stop, but possibly reverse the degeneration of language (and by extension thought).

A reading list for writers should you will (from which readers may profit). For those who are on the lookout for grammatical rules, or a reference manual, look away now. These titles, just like the highest writing, focus more on soul than syntax.

John McPhee (Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process) talks about writing as selection and the “crude tool” he uses: “Once I am making notes, I throw in a complete lot of things indiscriminately, way more than I’ll ever use, besides I’m choosing.

“Later, within the writing itself, things get right down to the narrowed selections.” In the identical vein, the titles mentioned listed here are the results of what writing inevitably boils right down to: selection.

That’s for starters, but how will we know we’re done and might move from selection to submission. McPhee says, “What I do know is that I can’t do any higher; another person might do higher, but that’s all I can do; so I call it done.” It’s that easy really, and it’s the identical with this list.

I can guarantee you that another person could do it higher, recommend higher books, but that is all I can do, so I’ll do exactly that and call it done.

As in life, so it’s with writing, most of the time we’d like reminders not revelations. Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style is just that, an excellent reminder that “the start line for becoming an excellent author is to be an excellent reader.”

There isn’t a getting around this nonnegotiable. And we definitely cannot apply that godawful, muddleheaded slogan of convenience to it: true for you but you not true for me. Thoroughly then: You’ll be able to be an avid reader and never give two hoots about writing, but you can’t write anything of price without being an avid reader.

Sense of Style is particularly useful for many who have none or those that wish to improve their current style. It is particularly useful for “professionals who seek a cure for his or her academese, bureaucratese, corporatese, legalese, medicalese, or officialese.”

You realize the way it goes, the: leveraging, low-hanging-fruit, moving of goal posts, and lack of bandwidth. Because the Prime Minister would say: Cut. It. Out. For the love of God, country, and to curb common nonsense.

Staying with style, F. L. Lucas (Style: The art of writing well), makes a useful remark in regards to the audience, “In case your readers dislike you, they may dislike what you say. Indeed, such is human nature, unless they such as you they may mostly deny you even justice.” This remark pairs perfectly with advice from William Zinsser’s thirtieth anniversary edition of On Writing Well.

“But on the larger issue of whether the reader likes you, or likes what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, or agrees with it, or feels an affinity to your humorousness or your vision of life, don’t give him a moment’s worry.

You might be who you’re, he’s who he’s, and either you’ll get along otherwise you won’t.” For those who pick one title let it’s Zinsser. For those who pick two, pair Zinsser with Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing. 

Also consider: Charitable Writing where the authors remind us that “writing is inescapably certain up with spiritual formation”; Sam Leith (Write to the Point); Douglas Wilson (Wordsmithy); and Benjamin Dreyer (Dreyer’s English). Whether you read all (or none), remember what F. L. Lucas said of language: men not only underestimate its difficulty but its appalling power. Allow them to underestimate. Your job and privilege as a author is to maintain writing.

Adrian Sobers is a prolific letter author and commentator on social issues.


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