It’s a bit intimidating to write about E. B. White; he’s one of the reasons I write photo tips. In fact, E. B. White is one of the reasons many real writers are writers. His simple, heartfelt style was the result of constant and pain-staking self-editing—all in the interest of clarity and brevity. He used lots of short words.
He was a fixture at The New Yorker for decades but is probably most famous for two books—the classic children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web—a book about a life-saving spider that can spell— and The Elements of Style, the book many people consider to be the definitive list of how-to-be-a-better-writer tips. (It’s often distributed to journalism and English majors on the first day of any introduction to writing course. It was recently a best-selling audio book read out loud by Frank McCourt. Amazing.)
How’s “Be Obscure Clearly” for a writing tip? Tip writers of all genres have been trying to top it for decades and can’t—and likely never will. And what makes it so stunningly elegant is that you can apply it to any art, any creative endeavor, any love letter. Make sure you communicate, he says, but leave some mystery. Don’t overstate your intentions. Respect the reader. Respect the viewer of your photographs. They are smarter than you think. Assume they’re smarter than you; many of them, in fact, are.
The photograph you see here was taken by Jill Krementz. It’s certainly among the more famous photographs of a writer writing ever taken. I’ve seen pictures of other well-known writers sitting at a desk with this picture hanging above it. It’s E. B. White’s famous one room office/cabin in Maine. For almost a half a century, writers of all skill levels—the geniuses and hacks alike— have attempted to drive by just just to get a glimpse of this hallowed, wooden shack. White, himself, frowned upon such pilgrimages and did his best to make unannounced visitors feel unwelcome— he could be a bit of a grouch—only adding to the legend that will inspire writers for as long as writers—or photographers—aspire to be obscure clearly.
Elwyn Brooks White (1899–1985) was an American essayist and writer.