Time Passing and Dreyer’s English

I started this blog over six years ago to chronicle the experience of learning to write.  I knew it would be a journey, even though I believed myself to be a good writer already. (Ha!) I thought at the time it would be a process somewhat like getting a power boat up on a plane:  Plowing slowly through understanding structure and technique, reading the classics in my genre, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Finally rising to the plane, where my writing would zip along.

To some degree, that is the way it’s been, although the plowing process has been longer than I expected. And continues ad infinitum, I think.

Along the way, I joined critique groups that have helped me immensely, though I often feel that my critique earns me a red-lettered ‘stodgy’ across my forehead.  Yes, my formal training took place a long time ago. Yes, I use Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White. But calling out an incorrect lie/lay or take/bring sometimes gets flared nostrils and a roomful of sighs. And we’re not even talking about the singular use of ‘they’ or the vanishing comma.

Pertinent to grammar and style, I just ran into what I think may be this generation’s style guide:  Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer. It’s an erudite, clear guide to the way English should be written with an emphasis on clear communication, rather than hard and fast rules. Also, funny and fun to read. He begins by exhorting we writers to go a week without writing Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers like very, rather, really … you get the drift. We should all go many more weeks than one with very (oops) few of these.

Another thing I like about the book is Dreyer has been at this work for two decades. I think that gives him acute judgement about which changes in style are transient and which are here to stay. All in all, a fine book.  Who knows? I may be able to rub out that ‘stodgy’.

Play, Write, and Learn

“I’m going to go home and sell my guitar.”

This is the standard and appropriate form of reverence when a journeyman guitar player hears someone truly gifted. It is now common to believe that repetition (Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, for example) will bring greatness.  Maybe. But hard to believe when you hear a truly talented person play. 

I have played guitar for many years, probably put in nearly 10,000 hours. I am still a journeyman player – decent, good on my best days. But I’m not selling my guitar … it gives me joy to play.

And I’m not quitting writing, either.

I’ve just finished two books that are so well written that I cringe when I compare them to my writing. Golden State (Ben Winters) is a mystery novel set in a future California that looks a lot like current LA. The descriptive writing and development of the main character is so good that the holes in the plot don’t matter a bit. The Tsar of Love and Techno (Anthony Marra) is entirely different: a book-length series of short stories loosely but masterfully connected. The descriptions, aphorisms and observations are brilliant. The book is not something one reads all at once any more than one eats a whole box of chocolates in one sitting. The words are so carefully chosen that they must be appreciated at slow speed. 

Play, Yes, that’s it … admire and learn. And keep the guitar.