Meet essayist E. White—and consider the advice he has to offer on writing and the writing process. Andy, as he was known to friends and family, spent the last 50 years of his life in an old white farmhouse overlooking the sea in North Brooklin, Maine. That's where he wrote most of his best-known essays, three children's books, and a best-selling style guide. A generation has grown up since E. White died in that farmhouse in , and yet his sly, self-deprecating voice speaks more forcefully than ever.
In recent years, Stuart Little has been turned into a franchise by Sony Pictures, and in a second film adaptation of Charlotte's Web was released. More significantly, White's novel about "some pig" and a spider who was "a true friend and a good writer" has sold more than 50 million copies over the past half-century.
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Yet unlike the authors of most children's books, E. White is not a writer to be discarded once we slip out of childhood. The best of his casually eloquent essays—which first appeared in Harper's , The New Yorker , and The Atlantic in the s, '40s, and '50s—have been reprinted in Essays of E. White Harper Perennial, In "Death of a Pig," for instance, we can enjoy the adult version of the tale that was eventually shaped into Charlotte's Web. For readers with ambitions to improve their own writing, White provided The Elements of Style Penguin, —a lively revision of the modest guide first composed in by Cornell University professor William Strunk, Jr.
It appears in our short list of essential Reference Works for Writers. In he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. What do you do when you're 17 years old, baffled by life, and certain only of your dream to become a professional writer? If you had been "Miss R" 35 years ago, you would have composed a letter to your favorite author, seeking his advice.
And 35 years ago, you would have received this reply from E.
Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White
Whether you're a young writer like "Miss R" or an older one, White's counsel still holds. Advance confidently, and good luck.
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In an interview for The Paris Review in , White was asked to express his "views about the writer's commitment to politics, international affairs. In an essay titled "Calculating Machine," White wrote disparagingly about the "Reading-Ease Calculator," a device that presumed to measure the "readability" of an individual's writing style. He prefaced those hints with this warning:. You'll notice that while advocating a plain and simple style, White conveyed his thoughts through artful metaphors.
Despite the prescriptive tone of The Elements of Style , White's own applications of grammar and syntax were primarily intuitive, as he once explained in The New Yorker :. In a book review titled "Writers at Work," White described his own writing habits—or rather, his habit of putting off writing. Share Flipboard Email. Richard Nordquist is a freelance writer and former professor of English and Rhetoric who wrote college-level Grammar and Composition textbooks.
Updated February 24, Dear Miss R: At seventeen, the future is apt to seem formidable, even depressing. You should see the pages of my journal circa You asked me about writing—how I did it. There is no trick to it.
If you like to write and want to write, you write, no matter where you are or what else you are doing or whether anyone pays any heed. I must have written half a million words mostly in my journal before I had anything published, save for a couple of short items in St.
If you want to write about feelings, about the end of summer, about growing, write about it. A great deal of writing is not "plotted"—most of my essays have no plot structure, they are a ramble in the woods, or a ramble in the basement of my mind.
You ask, "Who cares? You say, "It's been written before. I went to college but not direct from high school; there was an interval of six or eight months. Sometimes it works out well to take a short vacation from the academic world—I have a grandson who took a year off and got a job in Aspen, Colorado. After a year of skiing and working, he is now settled into Colby College as a freshman. But I can't advise you, or won't advise you, on any such decision. If you have a counselor at school, I'd seek the counselor's advice.
Acquisition goes on night and day—smoothly, subtly, imperceptibly. I have no sharp taste for acquiring things, but it is not necessary to desire things in order to acquire them. Goods and chattels seek a man out; they find him even though his guard is up. Books and oddities arrive in the mail.go site
What E.B. White Has to Say About Writing
Veterans send ballpoint pens. Banks send memo books. Someone dies, and a little trickle of indestructible keepsakes appears, to swell the flood. This steady influx is not counterbalanced by any comparable outgo. Under ordinary circumstances, the only stuff that leaves a home is paper trash and garbage; everything else stays on and digs in.
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Each of us has a costume. My wife steps into a cotton dress while I shift into midnight-blue tropical pants and bowling shoes. Then we buckle down again to the unending task. All sorts of special problems arise during the days of disposal.
Anyone who is willing to put his mind to it can get rid of a chair, say, but what about a trophy? Trophies are like leeches. Some busybody might find it. People differ in their approach to trophies, of course. In watching Edward R. By deft work with a screwdriver, I finally succeeded in prying the nameplate off; I pocketed this, and carried the mutilated remains to the corner, where the wire basket waited. The work exhausted me more than did the labor for which the award was presented.
Another day, I found myself on a sofa between the chip of wood gnawed by the beaver and an honorary hood I had once worn in an academic procession. What I really needed at the moment was the beaver himself, to eat the hood. I shall never wear the hood again, but I have too weak a character to throw it away, and I do not doubt that it will tag along with me to the end of my days, not keeping me either warm or happy but occupying a bit of my attic space.
Right in the middle of the dispersal, while the mournful rooms were still loaded with loot, I had a wonderful idea: we would shut the apartment, leave everything to soak for a while, and go to the Fryeburg Fair, in Maine, where we could sit under a tent at a cattle auction and watch somebody else trying to dispose of something.
A fair, of course, is a dangerous spot if a man is hoping to avoid acquisition, and the truth is I came close to acquiring a very pretty whiteface heifer, safe in calf—which would have proved easily as burdensome as a chip of wood gnawed by a beaver. The day we spent at the Fryeburg Fair was the day the first little moon was launched by the new race of moon-makers. Had I known in advance that a satellite was about to be added to my world, in this age of additives, I might have stayed in New York and sulked instead of going to the Fair, but in my innocence I was able to enjoy a day watching the orbiting of trotting horses—an ancient terrestrial phenomenon that has given pleasure to unnumbered thousands.
The day had begun under the gray blanket of a fall overcast, but the sky soon cleared.