Is the The Elements of Style the Only Book on Writing you Need?

This is possibly the most famous ‘book about writing’ there is; William Struck Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style.

I didn’t read this book at the start of my writing journey, although I’d heard of it before and knew it was supposed to be the book about writing. It’s one of a few books Stephen King thinks is worth reading (and if you haven’t read his book On Writing, I really recommend it). I couldn’t say why I neglected it, but I have always been cautious around ‘How to write’ books. Still this is the classic and so I have a copy now and this is my verdict.

It’s pocket-sized, designed to be easy to take. It is easy to read through in one sitting as it is short. The core of the book takes up only 85 pages in my version, set in a good-sized font. This should give you an indication of what is contained within; a perfect example of what it advocates. There are no wasted words, no pointless digressions, just a solid, well-described framework about how to write.

It’s split into five sections, starting with grammatical rules and composition, and finishing with more abstract notions of style. There are examples for each of the points discussed to help you understand them. I’ve never been able to get my head around the notion of some grammatical rules (although I hope I use them properly), so this was perfect for me.
When it delves further into composition and style, it describes ideas that are of benefit to any writer. And this book really is for all writers. It ca be applied to CVs, blog posts, news articles, emails; wherever finger is put to keyboard or pen to paper, this book has advice for all.

The Elements of Style is not definitive, but even the book itself that would be impossible;

The shape of our language is not rigid; in questions of usage we have no lawgiver whose word is final.

Even the rules that do exist can and should be broken if it improves the life of the sentence. In this post itself, I’m sure I’ve broken a few rules, but I’m confident that it reads well.

So is this the only book about writing you need? I would say there are a few others that you could get that are of definite use. But if you were only intending to get one book about writing, get this one.

Related reads

How to Write*
What’s Your Literary Caffeine

Want to know what I write? Find out more about my books

11 thoughts on “Is the The Elements of Style the Only Book on Writing you Need?

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  1. I’m something of an addict when it comes to books on writing. As a result I’ve purchased far more than I’ve read. But I believe the Elements of Style to be a must have for any writer. And if the terrible day ever came when I had to downsize my library, this is one book that would stay.

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  2. I’ve always been suspicious of “how to write” books too, especially the ones that take a formulaic approach to style, e.g. “There must be an action scene in the first 3 paragraphs.” But a book that lays out the fundamentals of grammar is useful. I guess it’s like the difference between how to put bricks toghether vs. the aesthetics of architecture.

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