Will taught English at Cornell University for 46 years. Seeing the need to assist his students, Will economized his English textbook. Instead of listing all of the English language’s why’s, wherefores and rules, he created and self-published a little book of frequently misused rules of usage and principles of composition in 1919.
Will identified a problem and then designed a solution. He didn’t seek to change the world, only to make his immediate world a little more effective.
What change might you make in the environment to increase your effectiveness?
Will’s book, The Elements of Style, was so effective that publishers inevitably took notice. Harcourt published it in 1920. Later on, in 1935, along with editor Edward Tenney, Will revised and published it as The Elements of Practice and Composition.
Elwyn was a student of Will Strunk’s in 1919. Later as a columnist for The New Yorker, Elwyn wrote a feature story on Strunk. Noticing this story, the Macmillan and Company commissioned him to revise and update the text. It sold 2 million copies in 1959. In its 4th edition today, E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, recognized by Time as one of the 100 best and influential books in English, has sold over 10 million copies.
The Elements of Style is a must have for students, managers and business owners. If you’re a writer, a copy of this book should reside within arm’s length of your typewriter.
We identified what Will did to improve his student’s learning experience. Let’s take our spyglass out and explore Will’s world for more lessons.
Ensconced in the university ecosystem, Will sought and attained effectiveness. The world outside of Cornell however, drew Will in. Harcourt recognized his worth and amplified the book’s message.
Who is doing work in your world that is worthy of recognition? Forget New York Times’ publicity. Think: your industry, your professional association(s), your business support group.
30 plus years later Elwyn recalls the work and recognizes its value.
Do you have access to old books and magazines? What articles and information still have relevance today? Do you want to produce ideas and innovate? Overlay the scripts of yesteryear upon today’s challenges.
Look back into the advent of radio. Note the parallels to the Internet. What age-old lessons learned can we apply today?
The 4th edition of The Elements of Style was updated and includes references to late 20th century innovation like air conditioners and word processors.
Do you have access to older published material that beckons the call of of 21st century analogy and comparison?
In 2005 designer Maira Kalman published The Elements of Style Illustrated.
What in your world would benefit from illustration?
Did E.B. White benefit from Will Strunk’s class at Cornell and subsequently The Elements of Style?
Elwyn wrote for The New Yorker for approximately 60 years and was recognized as its most important contributor when the publication was recognized as America’s most important literary magazine. He also wrote Charlotte’s Web, one of the most popular children’s book in American literature.
Lessons learned from The Elements of Style propelled E.B.’s career. Parallels to Will and Elwyn’s efforts await us today. Read this timeless classic. Improve your writing and make your world more effective.