I was checking out some new blogs from the WordPress listings earlier, and found myself bemused by the number of people who make the mistakes I made early on.
One of my major issues was falling in love with what I was writing, or had written, to the point of failing to read carefully when editing. I go back now and read essays and other writing from my twenties, and think “Oh my GAWD!” How did I ever let myself get away with that?” The hubris of youth.
After some years, I fell into the trap of a piece never being good enough. Edit, edit, edit. Rethink structure. Tweak, tweak, tweak. Finally, I reached a point where I could edit while writing, polish with another reading a couple of days later, and then let it go. What a relief! I guess it just takes practice. Took years of practice for me.
Without question, however, my biggest vices, then and now, involve my ignoring the three rules of simplicity in writing: never use a big word when you can use a small one (overwriting), avoid using compound sentences when you can use two or more simple sentences, and never write a long paragraph when it can logically be broken up into shorter segments.
I’m never surprised to see young people in general breaking those rules. In fact, I’ve gotten emails with more than 200 words in one paragraph. That doesn’t concern me. They aren’t taught, and they don’t know. Well, it does concern me, but that’s a different issue. I am taken aback, however, by people who profess to be “writers” — whatever those are — but who fail to pay attention to details like those I’ve mentioned.
These are conventions that are in favor of the reader. They make our thoughts more accessible. Isn’t that what writing is about? As I heard once at a workshop, “Strunk and White are your friends. Memorize them, then we’ll talk.”
I wonder how many budding writers have even heard of the gentlemen?