On peasants, omissions, and Jell-O

Signature-reads.com recently posted an article on “The 27 Best Books on Writing.” I was surprised to find how many of them I own, and I couldn’t help reflecting on the books on writing that have influenced me the most. Among them:

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle. This book deserves its own blog post, and one day it will get it, but for now I’ll just say that I was intrigued to learn that she compared her writing to the way French peasants cook: “There are several pots on the back of the stove, and as I go by during the day’s work, I drop a carrot in one, an onion in another, a chunk of meat in another. When it comes time to prepare the meal, I take the pot which is most nearly full and bring it to the front of the stove. So it is with writing.”

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. Last year I met with a new friend at a local coffee shop, and one of the first things she asked me was, “So how many copies of The Elements of Style do you own?” Only two, I told her, and I was impressed she knew about this book, which I became acquainted with in college. My journalism professor often quoted the line “Omit needless words,” and it’s one of the all-time best quotes on writing. (“Omit needless words” is good advice for life as well. I regret some of the words I did say more than the words I didn’t say, but then I have a gift for sticking my foot in my mouth.)

Creative Writing for People Who Can’t Not Write by Kathryn Lindskoog. This book didn’t make the Signature list, but it makes mine for this line that always makes me smile: “If our water supply were as muddy as much of our pretentious prose, all flavors of Jell-O would look brown.” As someone who values good, clear writing, I adore that “Jell-O” bit.

And if you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear about the books on writing that have most influenced you!

4 thoughts on “On peasants, omissions, and Jell-O

  1. I like that quote, “Omit needless words”. in my job, I do a good bit of writing and some editing, and I try to do this, though I didn’t know the quote. I did keep my college English grammer book, though!

    • Thanks, Stephanie! “The Artist’s Way” was a big influencer for me too, and though I’ve got “Writing Down the Bones” on my shelf, I haven’t read it yet, but clearly I need to. Now you’ve got me curious about checking out Women Writing for a Change!

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