During more than 30 years writing for a living, I have sought help and consolation from the greats. From Strunk and White, from Fowler, from Moore, whose Oh, You English Words is a delight, from Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, from That Man Friday, Bill Caldwell, who was an impeccable writer, stylist, and inspiration, and author of the Record of Hackensack's Style Book, from anyone really whose fingers had wrung over a keyboard. None of these wise, and sometimes beloved, counselors ever suggested that the key to writing well was understanding sex. If Arnold Rabin, West Tisbury summer resident, playwright - TV producer, novelist, children's book writer, radio dramatist, and college writing professor - had put all this honest work aside and just gotten down to business earlier, he might have become the first person to turn to.
After all, none of the others includes Masters and Johnson in their bibliography or quotes frequently from the sex researchers. Rabin's The Sexual Guide to Written Intercourse, Fulfilling Grammar, and Seductive Usage. (Consortium Publishing, West Greenwich, Rhode Island. 2006, Paper) does so unabashedly.
The analogy upon which Mr. Rabin bases his comprehensive examination of the inspiration, the conception, the construction, and the bits and pieces of written communication is that, as we reach out in our loving relations to know another, to discover ourselves, and to have another know us, we do the same in our efforts at written communication.
"And just as we experience a surge of relief and release, indeed, a sense of completeness and well-being when we touch or when we hold someone we love," Mr. Rabin explains, "so this same visceral joy can be experienced when we know we have successfully shared a feeling or an idea, more completely realized to ourselves by the very act of communicating it. As an act of love defines and extends us, so this act of communication defines awarenesses for us."
For Mr. Rabin, this hypothesis is not a passing fancy. Each and every element of composition, from selecting a subject to considering the audience to the parts of the essay or story or poem to the rewriting and revision is tested against the lovemaking equivalent, and you will be surprised at how persuasive Mr. Rabin - an organized, stylish, and to-the-point writer himself - can be.
For instance, choosing a subject: "How close is the selection process of a subject to that of choosing a lover or a mate. How full of surprises, of the same tentativenesses, of the same exultancies!.... I remember a health education teacher telling us, a class of teen-age boys, 'Gentlemen, it's not easy to select a wife; you mustn't be misled by a sexy body; when you turn over, there's got to be really somebody there.' Indeed, the image is apropos when the allure of the subject turns out to be just glamour and not gold."
Making it happen: "If it were possible to 'will' great writing, we should be blessed with many more masterpieces ... so the writer must depend on the unconscious to do much of the work for him, to suggest, to make associations, to provide the gestalt of the work. The artist can save himself much anguish by realizing the limitations of his will. The brain is an uncooperative partner; it does not work on demand; like the penis it is activated by its own mechanisms, a factor of which Renoir was well aware when he is reputed to have announced to the world, 'I paint with my penis.'"
Or, parallel structure: "Watch out for the following king of confusion. 'She judged her men by their intelligence, their wit, their consideration, and how they made love.' By using the first three nouns in the sequence which describes the traits the lady uses to judge her men, the writer has conditioned the reader to expect a fourth noun to complete the sequence; instead, the writer throws the sequence off track by ending it with the clause, 'how they made love.' The pattern is broken, and the reader is disoriented."
Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, periods, question marks and commas, and every other tool in the writer's kit is carefully and liberally considered, so that while the aspiring author's goal may be a serious, long-term relationship between writer and reader, he finds that even the tiny bits that may lead to a successful first date are examined clearly and helpfully by the undistracted Mr. Rabin. After all, as he says, "For any sustained social or sexual relationship, the parties involved must agree on certain reasonable - although somewhat flexible - ground rules." The grammar of love, so to speak.
Could effective written communication be compared with other enterprises, say, cooking a meal for friends, or for acquaintances who one hopes will become friends; or yacht design; or landscape architecture; or even waging war successfully? I suppose it could, but Mr. Rabin has a solid conception here. He touches all the bases one might hope he would, and he does it with commitment, sensitivity, passion, intelligence, and a lover's undeviating devotion.