The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
18 June 2008
A new classic for writers: Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
“Writing is a craft you can learn,” says writing teacher Roy Peter Clark, Ph.D. His book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer puts his assertion into practice, packing many (fifty, in fact) writing “tools” into 260 easy-to-read pages. Although he primarily teaches journalists, Clark intends his book to be useful for everyone, including bloggers and students writing college application essays.
And it is.
The book has four parts. “Nuts and Bolts” covers ten basics of good sentences. Tool 3, for example, is to use strong action verbs, and tool 5 is to limit adverbs. “Special Effects” talks about ways to strengthen your writing, such as being specific instead of general, avoiding clichés, and using sentence length for pacing. “Blueprints” deals with structure: organizing your writing, using foreshadowing and other techniques, and rewarding readers with what he calls “gold coins” to keep them reading. “Useful habits” reviews all the things you should already be doing (such as tool 48, “Limit self-criticism in early drafts”), but probably aren’t.
Each tool ends with a Workshop section that includes four or five exercises, and the fifty tools each receive a one-sentence summary at the end of the book.
Rather than prescribing rules, Clark shows you how to use them—or break them—for greatest effect. He livens up his text with examples from newspaper articles, novels, the works of Shakespeare, and even nursery rhymes.
Writing Tools has two great virtues. First, the discussion of each tool takes only a handful of pages. You don’t need to set aside a block of time to read the book; you can read it a few pages at a time while waiting to see the dentist or to have your groceries checked out.
Second, the discussions are simple enough for a beginner to follow yet contain enough meat to make them worthwhile for the pro. Thus, you can give it to a graduating high school student or a multipublished friend, and each would benefit.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer should be on every writer’s bookshelf—except when it's taken down once a year and reread.
The book is available at bookstores as well as online at both Amazon.com (hardcover, Kindle, and paperback) and Barnes & Noble (hardcover and paperback).