Brain Train: Studying for Success

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview

APPENDIX A SOME NOTES ON STYLE

When one finds a natural style, one is amazed and delighted; for where one expected to see an author, one discovers a man.

Blaise Pascal

Throughout this book, I've urged you to stay yourself as far as possible, in all things. And as Pascal suggests above, it will be a notable strength if you can extend this principle to the way you write.

Why one person should write well where another (of equal intelligence) writes badly is often exceptionally difficult to say; and I could not hope to cover all or even most of the reasons in these few pages. What I do want to do is suggest one reason, examine it briefly, and then move on to some specific tips or guidelines that will help you to write well-or at least prevent you from certain common kinds of bad writing.

A good style takes many years to acquire. And I'm becoming more and more convinced that one reason why is that it takes many of us several years to unlearn the dreadful stylistic habits we begin to form at the onset of adolescence-at the time, that is, when we lose (sometimes for ever) the natural unselfconsciousness of childhood.

Small children are of course limited writers; but their style is invariably appealing, often very funny, and usually clear and sharp. That judgement owes nothing to sentimentality. Children write in such a fresh way because language, like most other experience, is still fresh for them. They may not know many words; because of this, the words they do know have a huge charm-almost a touch of magic-and the pleasure they get in using them results in a direct and natural expression that is itself a pleasure to experience.

Once we get used to language, its charm can fade; and this decline often coincides with the time (adolescence) when we suddenly start to feel awkward and hesitant, when we are acutely aware of others' awareness of us, and determined above all things not to look foolish. It is at this stage that we start to develop 'protective layers' of personality, or what the German psychologist Wilhelm Reich beautifully defined as 'character armour'. And one of the most formidable pieces of this armour is our language and how we deploy it. Whereas the child is quite unthinking and natural in giving tongue, the adolescent is cautious, wary, and very self-conscious. Often silence is preferred; otherwise, something non-committal, deliberately vague or positively obstructive.

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