A few weeks ago I guest blogged about “voice in writing” for Shimmer. That essay starts something like this:
He goes to the butcher and buys a few good cuts of beef. Back home, while these steaks drain on the cutting board, he makes his “sauce.” This sauce consists of Worcestershire sauce, malt vinegar, salt, pepper, brown sugar, ketchup, maybe barbecue sauce, whiskey (or whatever he finds in the cupboard), beer (maybe), wine (why not?), soy sauce, and season salt. He marinates the steaks in this sauce for an indeterminate period, then sears them briefly on a high-BTU gas grill.
If you’ve spent any quality time in the kitchen, then you see how absurd this “sauce” is . . .
and ends like this:
And your Voice emerges from the process of cooking up story after story after story in the same iron skillet, until that skillet is so seasoned that you don’t need oil to fry an egg, and any steak seared on it comes off tasting like it put you back $50 at a necktie establishment, even though you didn’t even bother to sprinkle salt on the pan prior to sizzling.
In the middle I specifically cite David Foster Wallace and Stephen King as examples of how a Voice–even a very ornate one–arises from a process of reduction. So, I was interested to come across this note DFW sent Harper’s magazine regarding this nifty lil piece he wrote about Kafka for that magazine in 1998. The note reads, in part:
I share this, because DFW was fundamentally wrong. I was a UofM comp lit student with a subscription to Harper’s when that essay was first published, not to mention an embarrassingly enthusiastic fan of DFW’s, and I remember reading that piece–feeling how breezy and conversational it was–and I’ve gotta say that this sense of the piece’s voice wouldn’t have been at all affected if DFW had elected to use Chicago Manual of Style-compliant punctuation after his abbreviated Latin introductory clauses, instead of being a royal prick.
The takeaway: Don’t do this; don’t squander even a few minutes from your limited store of earthly hours fussing over pinches of pepper on what is already a really damn good steak.