“Style still matters,” Steven Pinker insists in the prologue to The Sense of Style.
He lists three reasons style matters:
- Style “ensures that writers will get their messages across.”
- Style “earns trust.”
- Style “adds beauty to the world.”
As we interact with people in person or through our published projects, I hope we agree with his premise that style matters.
Valuing style, we’ll compose with clarity and precision to convey our messages accurately to readers; we’ll earn their trust by committing to “consistency and accuracy” in content as well as proper punctuation and grammar; we’ll craft each project with hopes it will add beauty to the world.
It takes work. Commitment to craft. Creativity. Research. And joy.
Yes, we can master good writing over time not only with effort but with some fun along the way. In fact, I daresay that’s where much of our style gains traction—from a playful attitude flowing from fun and joy.
That’s not to say our writing won’t drive us to deep-dive into serious themes, explore rich, deep stories, or tackle controversial topics. It’s just that we don’t have to live in fear of making errors—we won’t need to feel inept and incoherent. With a bit of fun, we can try techniques, and if those don’t work the way we thought they would, we can try others.
We can test out humor or attempt a genre that’s new to us. We can learn to write with confidence and freedom.
Read to learn from strong texts that model outstanding style.
Cut every extraneous word to arrive at the leanest, sparest prose possible, then pack it full again, just to compare.
In time, you’ll land on a tone that feels right. You’ll know how to start a piece, and when to end. You’ll find a pace that neither rushes nor drags.
You’ll find your style and, in time, your voice.
To a literate reader, a crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures. (Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style)
As a writer as well as a reader, take pleasure in all of that and more. This is your world—one of taking in words and sending them out. As you read and write, you’ll find that style still matters. Ideas and stories still matter. Words still matter.
Your words matter.
Take pleasure in that. Take pride in that.
Take joy in that.
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Source: Pinker, Steven. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century! Penguin Books, 2014. Print. (9)
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