Remember Strunk & White’s epic manual on good writing? I do, and time hasn’t rusted its guts, not even a little.
The other day I reached under the table and pulled out a book. I keep all my unread books under the table. There’s a bunch of them. “What do you do with a book once you finish it?” you may wonder. I either donate it to the library or pass it on. The only thing worse than a house full of books you’ve already read is a house full of dead bodies. They both get in the way and smell funny.
This time I pulled out Charles Bukowski’s “On Writing.” It was published in 2015, many years after his parts fell off, and it is a collection of his letters that have been edited so as to only contain his opinions about writers, poetry, and writing. I think that once you combine Strunk with Bukowski you wind up with a pretty good manual and one hell of a name.
Way back in 2017 I set off on an arduous ten-week journey to redesign this blog and make it prettier, to make it more appealing to more people, to put it in synch with the 21st Century, to give my fake news the flash and flair it deserved. After all, as one critic put it, “Your blog is just filled with words.”
At the time I replied, “Well, it is hosted at a place called WordPress.”
But as the criticism mounted and the urge to do something new and modern pressed down, hard, I gave way and did the Big Redesign. Several people emailed to say they liked it. Several more subscribed. But several other people said they didn’t like it. “Where are the words?” they asked. “We don’t give a rat’s ass about the photomag layout,” they said. “We don’t like the way it’s organized,” they said, among other diplomatic phrases.
Mostly, though, they wanted to know where all the words had gone, and why.
The new design really never had a chance. It was slower, clunkier, and required more IQ points to operate than I have to spare. It had various security wormholes that let ordinary folks wander into the nether regions of my dashboard and scrawl graffiti on the handles, knobs, levers, and dials of the blog itself. All of that freaked me out, naturally, but what really laid me low was the assassination of my carefully assembled writing rules according to Strunk & Bukowski.
In that writing manual, you are encouraged to say “fuck” if “fuck” happens to be the right word and to get straight to the point, but to do it with innovation and imagination and flair. Even if you fail, and even if your straight ends up being crazily crooked, like Bukowski’s, that’s okay. The point is to eschew the trite and the predictable and the saccharine.
So imagine my personal hell when, at the bottom of each post, there was a little “Yoast SEO” box that rendered a grade for each and every post. It didn’t say things like “Your post sucks!” which would have been reassuring, but rather it pointed out stylistic shortcomings and algorithmic solutions to my butchered paragraphs so that Google and Goggle and Boggle and Hornswoggle could index my ranting, slap it up high in the search rankings, and make me a billionaire or at least the premiere Internet destination for all the people doing searches for “crazy gay biker porn south bay nutjob pedalbeater wanker.”
Ye olde Yoast SEO had word limits per paragraph, limits for number of times you can use the passive voice, suggestions for how often to use the “key word” (something I never even had), and requirements that you use the key word in the title and in the subheadings. Subheadings? Who needs subheadings? Doesn’t the text flow well enough without a giant signpost saying “Hey, Dummy, New Idea Coming Up”?
In any case, I thanked my expert web dude for his hard work and begged him to give me back my old boring plain text. It’s uncool, it’s never going to make the big time, it’s a steaming pile of word manure on most days, but you know what? It’s my fuggin’ manure pile and it reads exactly the way I wrote it, without criticism, guidance, or ratings from some sorry ass algorithm search geek who couldn’t write a literate sentence if all he had to do was add the period.
In 1918 Strunk said, “Vigorous writing is concise.”
In 1966 Bukowski said, “Whatever I write, good or bad, must be me, today, what it is, what I am.”
I’m pretty sure I don’t need a fancy web site to do that.
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About Cycling in the South Bay: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.