A jam-packed book of advice for would-be writers.
Poynter Institute senior scholar Clark (The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing, 2017, etc.) has become something of a guru when it comes to how-to writing books. Written in his usual easygoing, conversational, and encouraging style, his latest is a compilation of writing advice from more than 50 of his favorite books about writing. Covering a wide range of topics, including language and craft, voice and style, storytelling and character, and rhetoric and audience, the author focuses on one or two writing lessons from each book. In each chapter, Clark also provides a pedagogical “Tool Box” of ideas and suggestions and “Lessons” for students to try out: “Read a lot and write a lot”; “Write Up to your readers, not Down.” The book’s title comes from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing (1916), in which the author suggested, “Draft, purge, murder. Before you murder that darling, you must create it.” Clark argues that William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style is the “great-granddaddy” of all books on writing. For “millions of reluctant writers,” it told them that the “writing craft is not an act of magic, but the applied use of both rules and tools.” Besides the old standards, there are some nice surprises—e.g., George Campbell’s The Philosophy of Rhetoric, a “must read” that “was published in a significant year: 1776.” Stephen King’s “odd bit of advice” in On Writing—to read “bad writing so you can learn what not to write”—is practical and wise. Clark deftly mixes writing advice with personal memoir and toots his own horn in an appendix that includes summaries of his own books, including Writing Tools—“more than 200,000 copies have been sold in several formats.”
A generous, witty, and exuberant teacher inspires writers to “know more and feel more.”