Style is an increment in writing. When we speak of Fitzegerald’s style, we don’t mean his command of the relative pronoun, we mean the sound his words make on paper. All writers, by the way they use language, reveal something of their spirit, their habits, their capacities, and their biases. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation—it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.
— E. B. White, An Approach to Style in Strunk & White
White puts it so plainly, so delicately. Only skilled writers show their spirit, their capacities, their biases because their expressive medium is no longer cluttered by ungainly turns of phrase and forced plot devices. Don’t his words make you want to reach that increment in writing where you too have style? (Not to say that you don’t already.)
White also reaffirms that hiding behind words is not possible: the better you write, the more each word says about who you are.
Perhaps I will now commit sacrilege—if so, please avert your eyes and ears, and click away—by placing alongside one of the most timid and decorous writers, E. B. White, the complete opposite: one of the most brash and indecorous men, Charles Bukowski.
Bukowski is not kind, nor uplifting in the conventional sense; his poem Style is sarcastic, darkly humorous, and reflects the worst of human prejudice. His work (and style) is controversial. Does that make him any less influential or less worthy of being mentioned? (A rhetorical question, or feel free to discuss in the comments.)
I believe open-mindedness and sound choices (in writing, as in life) are fostered by an awareness of all the possibilities (in writing, as in life). In keeping with this belief, here’s Bukowski reading his poem. That said, I do not endorse, recommend, or suggest anyone pursue Bukowski’s kind of style. You have been explicitly warned.
- The Elements of Style, by William I. Strunk and E. B. White.
- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- My other posts on White’s work: Avian Black Humour, Rosebuds Bow Courteously, Writing: Quirks and Perks.
- Hot Water Music, Charles Bukowski. If you liked what you heard, this is said to be the best of Bukowski’s short story collections. He is a master of dialogue and humour. You’d think he’d exhaust the themes of drinking, women, gambling, and writing. He doesn’t! Highly enjoyable for the select reader.