Autumn is a good time to put pen to paper, when one season restructures itself into another. Several respected writing guides have also emerged in altered forms this month. What both have in common is a recognized concept, outlined so clearly by Truman Capote in the quote above: Learn the rules before you break them.
The most well-known rules have been found in Strunk & White’s classic, The Elements of Style. The fourth edition came out in 1999. Maira Kalman also illustrated a lovely version.
Ursula K. Le Guin and Steven Pinker compose words at far ends of the spectrum in their individual work, but both do it extremely well. In their guides discussed here, they each refer to Strunk & White. Le Guin says it’s the grammar manual she uses, calling it “honest, clear, funny, and useful,” but notes “an opposition movement” has arisen due to Strunk & White’s “implacable” views. Pinker claims a sense of “unease” and “discomfort” with such “immortal” rules that won’t bend, while acknowledging that much of Strunk & White is “as timeless as it is charming.”
The new second edition of Le Guin’s Steering the Craft embodies Strunk & White’s well-known maxim of omitting needless words. She completes this voyage in approximately 150 pages, trimming at least thirty from the first edition while shrinking the page size as well. It’s lighter, too, by seven ounces, and also available for Kindles.