Most, if not all, of the persnickety usage rules I discuss in this blog are explained at length in this book:
If you aspire to write and don’t have this book, you need to fix that pronto. Strunk was a professor at Cornell. White is E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and many articles for The New Yorker. It’s all of 85 pages long. I sit and re-read it about once a year; it takes about 90 minutes.
Their thesis is that striving to create a “style” is the wrong way to go about finding your unique voice. They’re right; I’ve tried it, and what comes out is a bad imitation of someone else’s style. (In my case, Hunter Thompson’s.)
Strunk and White argue convincingly that if you merely adhere strictly to the rules of grammar and usage, your own style will emerge. I have found them to be entirely correct. It’s why I’m such a stickler for using the language with precision.
So complete is their vision of what makes writing good is that I am convinced that good non-fiction book or magazine writing can be broken down into this simple equation:
Good information + Strunk + White = excellence.
We’ll get to the “good information” part another time. In the meantime, if this book isn’t on your shelf, please change that.