Grow as a Writer

By no means will I claim to be a fine writer, but I’m pleased with the progress I have made over the last few years. Below are some of the resources I have found especially helpful in honing the writer’s craft and simply encouraging me to write. You should know that all of these I read or listened to for free from my local library.

First, the Great Courses Building Great Sentences. This course may overwhelm you (I’ve had to listen to many of the lectures over…and over…again), yet it will delight anyone who writes or speaks. There are so many memorable sentences, such as the foundational statement by Gertrude Stein of a sentence: “Why should a sequence of words be anything but a pleasure?” You’ll listen to this course once, and then know how little you know about writing!

Second, Bernard Cornwell’s Writing Advice. Completely free, the great novelist Cornwell gives numerous good suggestions.

Kurt Vonnegut once gave a splendid piece of advice.  Every good story, he said, begins with a question.  Harry meets Anne and wants to marry her.  There’s the question already, will he succeed?  But Harry is already married to Katharine, so there is your plot.  Simple, isn’t it?  And if your opening question is right, then the pursuit of the answer will propel the reader through the book.  More important, it will propel the writer through the book.

Bernard Cornwell

Third, How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish. Short and sweet, this book gives joy as well as education. Fish gives many examples of great sentences and explains why they are great.

Fourth, Stephen King’s On Writing. No, I do not like horror books or movies. Yes, King’s book has some bad language that you will want to tune out. That aside, this is a wonderful course on writing well and being a writer, told in an auto-biographical style. I listened to this on my daily walks, and I couldn’t get enough. King shines at making you yearn to know what happens next.

Fifth, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier. An aspect of the greatness of the above works is that they point you to great authors and great works of literature. I think it was Stanley Fish’s book that pointed me to this book, and I’m so thankful. Note the sentences as you listen (or read), and consider how Ford is able to reveal more and more about the mystery while still hiding so much, drawing you forward to the end.

Sixth and finally (for now), when writing several articles this summer, I took note of some simple tips to make your writing more accessible, Write to Express, Not to Impress. It teaches things like “Replace adverbs with strong verbs” and avoid the passive voice.

I’m also reading Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte, and enjoying it. I just learned about wysiwyg clauses (what you see is what you get) from her (more here).

This will be a good start – I plan to put my children through this course in high-school. Of course, before you can write, you must learn to read; and a good starting place is How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler.

Marking a book is literally an experience of your differences or agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

Edgar Allen Poe

Update (1/13/23): There are a lot of helpful pointers here: The Anatomy of a Compelling Book Proposal, Write a Compelling Author Bio, and How to Hook Your Future Readers.