… it’s first necessary to be able to saw wood neatly and to drive nails. Later you can bevel the edges or add elegant finals, if that’s your taste. But you can never forget that you are practicing a craft that’s based on certain principles. If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart.
Writers who seek a distinctive “style,” as if it were something you could purchase on-line wind up sounding disingenuous. One author I follow expressed the paradox of writing well. A reader had commented to her, “I love your books. When I read them, it’s like I can hear you speak.”
“Yet,” the author reflected, “the process of paring down my writing to make is sound so natural is sometimes excruciating. Why can’t I just record my voice and have someone transcribe it? For some reason, this doesn’t work.”
Zinsser points to a fundamental rule of writing: be yourself. Yet, for a writer to be him/herself requires that s/he relax and have confidence. Simple words for a difficult task. As Zinsser writes –
Telling a writer to relax is like telling a man to relax while being examined for a hernia, and as for confidence, see how stiffly he sits, glaring at the screen that awaits his words. See how often he gets up to look for something to eat or drink. A writer will do anything to avoid the act of writing.
It takes great effort, and much practice, perhaps many false starts where you type word after word, sentence after sentence, even paragraph after paragraph, only to hit the “delete” button, but ultimately if you remain disciplined, like a seasoned athlete, you will enter a “zone” where you can write freely, where the words will from your mind to your fingers into the keyboard and onto the screen. Your writing will express not just what you want to say, but who you are. You will have discovered your style.