As a curriculum editor, author and blogger, I often get asked by friends and coworkers for books and resources that can help them improve their writing and editing skills. Here’s what I usually tell them:
Write better by writing.
The first thing you can do to better your writing skills would be to simply write – repeatedly. Write, edit and continue to do so even when you do not feel like it.
Write better by reading.
The second bit of advice I would give is to read well and read often. You will improve when you surround yourself with good books.
Write better by training.
There are dozens of practical books to help you improve your skills. I recommend the four below. Over the years, I’ve found I keep going back to them for assistance.
Words Fail Me:
What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing
Patricia T. O’Conner
This little book on writing never fails to reenergize my devotion to the craft. Since receiving it as a gift in 2001, I read it at least once a year.
Many books on writing can become tedious and even boring. Going through style suggestions and a list of grammar rules can overwhelm and discourage even the most passionate writer.
O’Conner’s winsome work gives both positive and negative examples of the discussion topics and brings joy to the process.
While Clark’s work is not as much fun as Words Fail Me, it still a great resource. This is the kind of book you will want to work through slowly, perhaps one chapter a day for a couple months. To fly through it misses the point. It’s designed to help you get better at the craft by improving one strategy at a time.
Writing Tools seeks to provide you with the tools you need, ranging from the simplest to the most complex, to help you become a better writer. Clark provides a workshop to help you incorporate the lessons taught in each chapter.
To put it simply, this is a book that ignites your love for words. Fish is good at drawing out the beauty of the written word, showing you what works and why.
In reviewing Fish’s book for TGC, English professor Louis Markos said Fish is someone who “really believes that all of us can learn to write good sentences.” Markos wrote,
“By eschewing both charts and technical language in favor of a strictly narrative approach, Fish opens up for the common reader the beauty and wonder of that tight little microcosm we call the sentence.”
Toward Clarity and Grace
Joseph M. Williams
While this book applies more to academic writing, I still find it helpful for anyone who wants to write better. Williams’ goal is to encourage writers to be more clear in their presentations of ideas. What writer doesn’t benefit from help in this area?
In a previous post, I drew out four lessons from Style:
“Williams wants to see academic writing that is clear and elegant, where the style serves to enhance the presentation instead of distract from it. ‘Whatever else a well-educated person can do,’ he writes, ‘that person should be able to write clearly and to understand what it means to do that.'”
Have you read any of these? How did they help you? Are there any other books or resources that you would recommend to someone wishing to improve their writing?