Ask the Editor™
Volume 8, Issue 3

In this issue:

You've Got to Read This Writing Book

Recently I recommended a book to a good friend, Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. "Funny you should mention that title," she said. "Right now I'm reading a book, You've Got to Read This Book, in which people tell the story of a book that changed their life. One of the chapters is on that book."

That got me to thinking about books that have had the biggest influence on my life, including books on writing.

Below I list some of the writing books that have helped me. I also identify key resources that every writer should have. And in the Ask the Editor section, I turned the tables and asked a few of my readers to recommend a few writing books.

What is the one writing book that has influenced me the most, you ask? Oddly, it's a book I wouldn't recommend, unless you are having trouble sleeping at night.

Not that A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers is a bad book. Just a bit academic.

I read it before teaching college freshmen composition for the first time. It summarizes current theory and research on teaching composition.

At the time, it revolutionized my understanding of writing - that writing involves multiple processes of prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofing.

These concepts are part of the writing curriculum in schools today, but weren't when I was a kid. When I was in grade school, the approach was much more rigid, focusing on correctness and the final writing product. Remember submitting a formal outline or getting a paper back marked up in red ink?

In thumbing through a few of my son's composition books, I can see that the emphasis has shifted to the writing process. They offer tools and strategies to help students gather and organize information, draft, revise, and proofread - like I do in this column.

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“A book ought to be an ice pick to break up the frozen sea within us.” Franz Kafka

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Ten Recommended Books on Writing

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. Do yourself a favor and go to and read the first chapter. No, really. Do it now. (It's three pages.) You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll buy the book.

Writing Well, by Donald Hall and Sven Birkerts. Did they get the inspiration for their title from Zinsser or vice versa. Regardless, like Zinsser, Hall and Birkerts believe good writing should connect human beings to one another by being alive and engaging.

Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams, and Revising Business Prose, by Richard A. Lanham. Both books stress the importance of revision in the writing process.

Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy. A classic.

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo, Writing Without Teachers, by Peter Elbow, and One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, by Gail Sher. Any one of these books could be retitled, Zen and the Art of Writing. All four describe how to get out of your own way and avoid writer's block by separating the writing and editing processes.

Effective E-Mail Made E-Z, published by UpWrite Press. Okay, shameless plug for a book I had the pleasure of contributing to. But UpWrite Press also publishes a number of outstanding process-oriented books on writing, including Write for Business and Writers Inc. (for students).

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“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end.” William Styron

Writer's Bookshelf: Essential References

The Chicago Manual of Style

The Associated Press Stylebook

Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

The New Fowler's Modern English Usage

The Gregg Reference Manual

Some of you may be surprised that Strunk and White's, Elements of Style, doesn't appear in either of my lists. Considering the original was written in 1919, I'm surprised at how popular this book still is. Although there is useful advice in here, much of the information is outdated and obsolete in light of contemporary composition research. There are much better books out there.

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“Never read any book that is not a year old.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ask the Editor™ Question

In this issue I turned the tables and asked a few readers what writing books they would recommend. Here's what they recommended in no particular order:

Creative Interviewing: The Writer's Guide to Gathering Information by Asking Questions, by Ken Metzler

The Art of Plain Talk, by Rudolph Flesch

The Complete Plain Words, by Sir Ernest Gowers

The Reader Over Your Shoulder, Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

Writing With Precision, Jefferson Bates

The Technique of Clear Writing, by Robert Gunning

Clear Writing, by Marilyn Gilbert

Watch Your Language and The Careful Writer, by Theodore Bernstein

The Business Writer's Handbook, by Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu

“The Editor”

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