Whatever, Whatever, I Do What I Want

An interesting post popped up in my Reddit feed earlier this week. In brief, the author describes their liberating exhilaration upon discovering that they did not, in fact, need to approach their writing with a sense of style any longer. They gave up caring about trying to craft beautiful or elegant sentences and paragraphs and now settle for simply describing the action of the novel as concretely as possible, e.g. "Allison opened the front door. She tossed her keys into the bowl as she passed by."

This attitude is, in my opinion, simultaneously productive and counter-productive.

First, the good. To the extent that the author of this post overcame an obsession with stylistic minutiae while trying to construct a narrative, developing this attitude has been beneficial for them. If one takes a dedication to stylistic integrity too far, it is possible afflict oneself with writer's block. No sentence or paragraph will ever be perfect enough. Adopting an "I'll write this simply now and clean it up later" attitude in the moment can help a writer to move through a tough spot and focus on the larger goals of the piece they are working on.

However, it is possible to take this attitude too far. I would argue that the author of the Reddit post is edging toward the other dangerous extreme. At this other end, the writer decides that stylistic sophistication is an arbitrary social construction and decides to do away with concern for it completely. However, this will result in the simplistic, dead, lifeless prose. The conception of style is not arbitrary and exists for a very good reason. If stylistic sophistication were arbitrary, then we would see a lot more variance than we do amongst experts' general evaluations of what constitutes good style.

It is not good to obsess over the stylistic integrity of every sentence and every paragraph, either in the moment or even during the editorial process. Neither is it good for a writer to declare that they will not worry about style at all and spew forth onto the page words in whatever configuration they happen to emerge in.

Writers should be well enough read to be able to recognize various kinds of styles, and they should have an idea of what kind of style they are aiming to have, even if, during their first draft of a piece, they sometimes need to push through some parts in a "spewy" sort of way and clean it up later. But don't declare that a writer can simply stop caring about style, or that style is arbitrary or a form of social oppression. That's just juvenile.