I invite you to give a silent moment of thanks to Evelyn Berezin. You know that time you needed to move a paragraph, or cut a sentence? Correct 500 instances of mispelled? Yeah, you give Ms. Berezin a big mental high-five. Then you can give thanks to Steve Jobs, Andy Hertzfield and the rest of the Macintosh team for popularizing the GUI so you can do that with a mouse and keyboard.
This might seem tech heavy, but come on––how many articles on wikipedia have you read to brush up on a topic? How many YouTube videos to learn some detail on an exotic location? More indirectly, but perhaps more importantly, the internet has opened us to a world of debate, information, and alternate points of view that were categorically impossible a few short years ago. For me, the ability to pick the brain of someone on another continent with a set of life experience has had a profound impact on anything I’ve written.
In the 1800’s, adventure stories by British writers didn’t go to great pains to criticize imperialism. I’ve been reading about Robert Louis Stevenson, his wife Fanny, and their children. They sailed the south Pacific––becoming friends with royalty, befriending the Samoan people, and finally settling there. This resulted in atypical works like the Ebb Tide showing colonialism behavior in a distinctly dim light.
The dangers they faced were considerable, and it’s rather wild to think that today, we could follow in his footsteps with magical ease. Travel to other communities is trivial compared to what it once was, and we can experience other cultures first hand. I’m hardly a globetrotter (yet!), but I’ve been fortunate to visit other places, and I know those experiences have worked themselves into even single sentences that deliver greater accuracy and color.
At its best, writing for others brings them to new worlds, ideas, and ways of thinking. Today, our exposure to one another is making authors ever more aware of clichés and sensitive to representation.
EB Strunk and White, Elements of Style
Yep, it’s more of a guide than any set of genuine grammatical rules, and it’s a shame some have treated it as the bible. But for me, reading the Elements of Style drew back the veil to show the powerful gears driving language; the critical thinking you can apply in structuring your words. If you don’t care for that booklet, I’m sure someone else represents the same thing––the beauty in brevity, focus, and contrast.
Hey, that’s an easy one, right? It’s Thanksgiving, we are all super happy for the family that we have, whatever form that takes. Nod your head, check ‘er off the list, and move along.
However, for the person who acts on their passion, there is always more at play than the all encompassing gratitude we feel for loved ones. I suspect that almost anyone who is forging ahead with their writing career, there are are a few key figures who have been instrumental to it.
I suspect it’s a personality trait to read books the same way a bonfire might, but my mother stoked the flames to create an all consuming wildfire. Some of my earliest memories are her reading to me; not childrens books although there certainly was that, but books on life arguably intended for a much older audience. As I grew older this turned not into simple encouragement but active curation––she would find the very best authors in their fields, whether that be history, mystery, or any other topic, and acquire them for us to read. She solicited feedback on our views and reviews constantly, fostering critical thinking in my brother and I without us ever suspecting what was afoot. When the writing projects first appeared, they were as natural to engage in as reading itself was––presented with paint, what child doesn’t want to dabble?
My grandmother, on the other hand, loved to read us the classic adventure stories, pausing to give us a history lesson from her considerable breadth of knowledge in the process. What was happening to the author when he wrote this? What was the political climate in Rrance actually like when the three musketeers were having their swashbuckles? That was as interesting as the story itself.
As a result, I came to believe in the equation that reading=writing=humanity, and that hasn’t changed.
To some, it may have been another family member. To others, it might have been a teacher. Still others might be driving by the derision of a misguided soul in their lives. But none of us have arrived at where we are at now as a singularity, and for that I am so grateful.