ON WRITING AS WELL AS POSSIBLE
We know that all our favorite writers have editors that help shape, hone, and refine their work. Without careful editing, no work of literature is complete. Even without your own personal editor, you can make your writing as clean, pared-down, and effective as possible but you’ll need a little help!
Advice from the Experts: Key Texts
“The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (1959) can usually be found on any writer’s bookshelf because it is essential reading. When used as a guide, this book helps writers (beginners and seasoned wordsmiths) with the “elementary rules of usage” (which entails comma placement, avoiding comma splices, the proper use of apostrophes, etc.). And this is just in the first chapter! “The Elements of Style” will also school you on the “Elementary principles of composition” (such as writing in one tense, omitting unnecessary words, using the “active voice,” etc.). Whole chapters on form, commonly misused phrases, and, finally, an approach to style are invaluable to anyone constructing a story, essay, or novel. Some gentle “reminders” include: “Write with nouns and verbs,” “Do not inject opinion,” “Revise and rewrite,” and “Do not explain too much.”
“The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists” by Arthur Plotnik (1982) describes the steps involved in writing a manuscript, including proofreading, formatting, style, and copyediting (to name a few). A good idea for any writer, when it comes to editing, is to get someone to read your work for you. Sometimes the most helpful thing when writing is to have another pair of eyes! “The Elements of Editing” also guides us on Content (which includes information, analysis and interpretation, balance and originality) and Readability. This is probably the most important thing for a commercial writer to understand: what makes the public want to read something and what holds their attention. There has to be “appeal,” “concreteness and clarity,” and “color and tone.”
- “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction” by William Zinsser (1976) covers Principles, Methods, Forms, and Attitudes. Zinsser’s book gives us guidance when it comes to writing about people, non-fiction as literature, humor and finding your voice.
“The Elements of Grammar” by Margaret Shertzer is another book that is indispensable because grammar is really important. A good writer also has to be a good technician or they won’t be taken seriously. Today we have word processors with spellcheck, etc. but it’s always a good idea to have a firm grasp on punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.
- The “Fundamentals of Poetry” by William Leahy will help any aspiring poet brush up on meter, stanzas, verse forms, etc. This is a must-read for anyone who seriously wants to write poetry. Before you write free verse, you should understand the basics. You must know the rules before you break them!
“Indeed, learning to write may be part of learning to read. For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.” –Eudora Welty
How does one write if they don’t read? Reading as much as possible not only gives us ideas but shows us how to accomplish certain things on the page, how to compose a sentence, how to craft dialogue, and how to write a chapter. Read your favorite writers and study what they do and how they do it. Find a paragraph in one of your favorite novels and type it up; the act of writing the same words, using the same punctuation will teach you how to achieve a particular effect.
William Faulkner said: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
Writing is a solitary profession and this isn’t for everyone. In order to write seriously, you must spend a lot of time alone, and you’ll soon find that you’ll write many drafts. What ends up getting published is usually just a fraction of the output. Many writers find that completing an outline before they begin is quite helpful. This way, everything is already carefully planned and plotted.
For more information on the helpful texts mentioned above, check out the links below:
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