As told in my Back to School post, my NonFiction Writing I class assigned Stanley Fish’s How-To book, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. We just wrapped up this short (only 160 pages) book, and, although my class had some complaints about simplicity, I really enjoyed it.
From the beginning, Fish describes the sentence as a medium (like paint to the artist) and how writers need to love the sentence before they can master the sentence. When he states, “I belong to the tribe of sentences watchers” I fell in love. I thought his honesty was relatable, and his task was courageous. As many writers like to believe they understand everything there is to writing, especially after practicing for years, no one does, and I think Fish acknowledges this very respectively. He doesn’t act as if he knows everything; instead, he opens up to forms upon forms upon styles that can be reviewed and studied, torn apart and understood.
I really liked this, BECAUSE of his simplicity. I think, at least for me, I often get caught up in the complexity of language (meaning I’ve surpassed the basics, but I sometimes lose myself on complicating things too much.) Like an abstract artist, I may lose concentration on the overall piece, and Fish really grips reality when he discusses the relationships from word to word, sentence to sentence.
“This is what language does: organize the world into manageable, and in some sense artificial, units that can then be inhabited and manipulated.”
I really encourage others (and myself) to often return to the basics, because that is our foundation, and we need a strong foundation if we’re going to keep building up. You cannot neglect the support when it begins to topple. In other words, you cannot forget your basic structures, even if you’re working within complex ones.
On top of that, if you’re looking for some quick writing tips, Fish discusses first and last sentences towards the back of the book, and I think his insights are very useful.
So..if you’re in the bookstore, and you’re looking for a quick read to help improve writing, take a step backwards and relearn where you came from in the first place.
It will surely strike up that passion of our original love for our medium: the sentence,
March 21: Publishing News: Synopsis & Cover Date Reveal