Reading and Writing: A Recommendation

Recently, I was asked the following:

I’d like to improve the quality of my writing and have been looking for a book to help with this. Not just with grammar and style (although I’m sure I could use it) but with general tips, exercises, examples, etc. Anything that could help me with getting my ideas out clearly and making writing more enjoyable.

As it happens, I have one book in particular to recommend. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott: Lamott is brilliant at reminding writers why they got into writing in the first place. She’s pretty light on the exercises, but she describes the methods she uses to keep herself going and they’re easy to adapt to a personal writing practice.

I have dozens of books on writing on my shelves, but I come back to Lamott regularly. If there’s a particular type of writing your looking at, there are a few niche books worth considering, but Lamott covers everything. I might also recommend picking up a couple of stylebooks — I tend to use AP throughout my work, unless a project specifically requires a different style. That even goes for fiction. I find that having a set approach to questions like whether to capitalize someone’s title makes the whole process go that much faster.

Beyond that, I think it’s critical to read regularly. Read every day if you can. See how other writers use language and craft their work. You don’t have to focus on your particular niche, either. If you write magazine articles, reading fiction can help you just as much as reading magazine articles similar to your work. Going further afield may even help more: reading somethig drastically different than your everyday material can get you out of a rut. The same goes for writing, of course: the only way to really get better at writing is to do an awful lot of it.


  1. Steve Davis   •  

    I highly recommend “On Writing” by Stephen King. A couple of key things he stresses,

    – Writers or wantabee writers should be reading all the time and not necessarily in the genre they are interested in. He says he has a book in his hand all the time and reads at every opportunity.

    – Writing should be done because you enjoy it. “Not to get laid or impress anyone or make money” but out of passion and love of the craft. If you do this no wrong can happen.

    – He also stresses never give up if you truly believe in and enjoy what you are doing. He notes that his first novel, Carrie, was rejected over 500 times before someone published it.

    The book inspired me.

  2. Pingback: Incurable Disease of Writing | Just Write Blog Carnival - August 15, 2008 Edition

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