To start, let me say that reading Williams’s book did not fill me with nearly the same desire to stab myself in the eye as the Strunk and White book did.
I had a hard time doing the first assignment- about the Strunk and White- because reading the book made my head hurt; there were all these rules which most of us already know and adhere to without even thinking about it. Reading the majority of that book could be likened to reading a long and drawn out description about how a person should breathe. We just do it. We don’t need a lesson.
In the Strunk and White book there were rules I agreed with, rules I didn’t agree with-“form the possessive singular form of nouns by adding ‘s,”(1) and rules that quickly reshaped the way I write-“use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption.”(9) Still, the whole thing was pretty lame.
The Williams book was a completely different story. At the risk of sounding like the biggest dork who ever lived-which I am not, I have proof, my boyfriend in infinitely worse- the Williams book sort of rocked my world, or at least my writing world. As I read through it, I became horrified that I have turned in so many papers without EVER thinking about most of the things he discusses: balance and symmetry, thematic strings, and nominalizations?(153,82-3,31-2) How could I have received A’s on papers without thinking about these things? Have my teachers been taking pity on me this whole time; dismissing me as a hopeless case, not capable of writing anything clear, cohesive, emphatic, coherent or concise?
I guess it was this line of thinking that helped me realize the major difference between the Strunk and White, and the Williams book.
The Strunk and White gives us the easily accessible advice of how to make it through college papers-minus, of course, the things that I’m pretty sure are there just because they were what Strunk preferred and not because they were actual “rules”.
The Williams book has in it the building blocks of truly great writing. I was moved-or, as moved as one can be when reading a book like this- when Williams wrote “I can’t tell you how to be graceful and elegant the same way as I can tell you to be clear and direct. What I can do is describe a few of the devices that some graceful writers use.”(153)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that some of us are really super intelligent or creative and have lots of important or interesting things to say, and some of us know what dangling modifiers and nominalizations are. But neither is a great writer without at least some help of the other. To me, the Williams book is a way to help bridge the gap.