“Why Write? Style (Part 6 of 7)”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those words got style, power, and lots of love. They are simple words, not overly intellectual, but they encapsulate our entire existential crisis: we are all trying to be while we be. Your voice, your words, give you the power and the curse to be. When you do not use your own authentic voice that reflects everything about you, you are not being you; your life is not even yours. How do you know what matters unless you have the courage of your own voice?

Silence is not style; silence is death.

Your words showcase who you are and what you believe. You are your words, everything you see in the mirror is based on words that you have created about yourself and words that have been created for you about you—without your permission! By writing you can find your own words, your own authentic style. There is no way to hide the words. You are what you speak to yourself. By writing you can transform how you think, and this will, in turn, change how you smile, how you tilt your hat, how you take your shot.

Your writing is art. You are an artist, and these spider symbols are your paints. Your pen or keyboard is the brush. It is you who creates the art of your heart on the page.

Contrary to intellectual belief, there is no one right way to write. Academic essay form, stanza form, MLA or APA style—all of it is someone else’s style. Essays are one dimensional. Sonnets are pretty, but can be confining. All of it is one dimensional if you stay strict to that style. In fact it is only when you create your own writing style that you are actually doing something right!

At this point I must discuss the idea of rules. Many of you have had your voice silenced by the rules. I refused the rules. I did not understand them, but I did not allow them to hold me back. By 1995 I knew I was a writer and that this was going to be my life. I did not know grammar. In 1998 I graduated from U.C. Berkeley as an English major with academic honors without knowing or understanding basic grammar. That did not matter. I wrote with my heart and soul. I kept sentences simple, but not simplistic.

The rules are just tools that you can use to play with these spider symbols. They can help you fine tune your style. So, just because I did not study grammar as an undergraduate does not mean I did not eventually feel its power. After Cal, I went back to City College to take a grammar class, and then for the next three years or so, I would study grammar on BART and practice grammar exercises in a booklet and online.

After twenty four years of teaching writing, I list for you some important things to know about writing for communication purposes: Clarity is most important. Usually clarity is not really about grammar. The clarity starts with you yourself. Are you clear to yourself? If you are not clear to yourself, it will be hard for you to be clear to others. The solution for this is not to read a book of grammar but to practice writing and reading over your own words. First and foremost get comfortable with your own voice and style. Then you can focus on grammar: the eight parts of speech: verb, noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection (note that the verb is usually the most important word in your sentence, as it reflects the action); the four types of sentences: declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory; the four types of sentence structures: simple, compound, complex, compound-complex; subject-verb agreement; dangling and misplaced modifiers; mixed constructions; parallelism; prepositional phrases; subordination. You will not learn these things unless you take initiative to practice consistently. Do grammar exercises online or with a booklet. Sometimes read to analyze the way the grammar was put together. Read over your own writing with a focus for how you constructed the grammar and how you can adjust the grammar. Play with the rules once you know them. Break the rules once you know them.

You can write
A poem
In the middle of your

Your lines
Do not have
To be
Full sentences

It is not essay writing
That has the
Smoothest style
It is poetry

Full fun 🙂

You must steal style by reading. I am not advocating plagiarism here. I steal ideas from authors all of the time. Note what I did right now, right here in front of you with the magic of Martin Luther King, Jr’s words. I do not think he would have objected to my thievery. Ideas are meant to be shared. I am a published author, and if I influence anyone to write something solid because of my words, the way I put them together, then that is the highest honor. I am worthy to be stolen from!

I mean, if they cannot steal from me, then who are they going to steal from?

These are my words. This is my voice. This is my style.

I refuse to be silent. I refuse to die before I die.

Ben Bac Sierra Speaking at Oakland City Church for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2020
Cholo Lowrider San Fran Frisco Style, Con Alex Nieto and his cousin at La Raza Parque, SFM
Pura Neta Book Cover, Style by Matteo Leon-Valencia

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