I have always been a big fan of great writers, as I was raised in a household of voracious readers. My father is a photojournalist and my mother has always loved to read. My older sister is an editor, and although my brother ended up being a scientist, he toyed with the idea of being an English major while an undergraduate student.
My fondest memories of summer vacation are my family members lined up on lounge chairs by a lake or ocean, book in hand, drinking a cup of coffee and being thoroughly engrossed in a good book. Occasionally one of us would be so overtaken by a beautiful passage that we would have to break the silence and read aloud.
As I made my way through the business world, I realized that good writing was a key skill for just about anyone. The more you can share ideas, generate excitement, educate, train and inspire with your words, the more successful you tend to be. With the recent popularity of blogging, this has become even more important.
So if you are like me and write for part of your living, constantly strive to do it better (grammar is the bane of my existance – I am sure you see my errors on the blog) and want to read some great writing on writing, here are my suggestions:
Guy Kawasaki wrote about If You Want to Write A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. It is an uplifting, witty, helpful and supportive book for writers. Written in 1938, it is still relevant today.
My Dad first told me about Bird by Bird Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. She is a hilarious writer who provides great insight into the process of writing, evidenced by some of her chapter titles: “Shitty First Drafts,” “Perfectionism,” “How Do You Know When You Are Done?,” and “Jealousy.”
My Dad also tipped me off to Eats Shoots & Leaves The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. I can’t believe that my family is the only one who enjoys passages such as this one:
“The consequences of mispunctuation (and re-punctuation) have appealed to both great and little minds, and in the age of the fancy-that email a popular example is the comparison of two sentences:
A woman, without her man, is nothing
A woman: without her, man is nothing”
And if it has been awhile since you picked up your college version of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, you may be interested in the new, illustrated version. This is the slim, classic text for cleaning up your meandering writing to make it crisp, clear and compelling.
(Matthew’s Question) What are the most common mistakes?
‘They’re/their/there’ is a constant source of confusion, as well as ‘where/were’ and ‘you’re/your’. Similarly I see a lot of mix-ups of ‘pair/pear’, ‘discreet/discrete’ and ‘loath/loathe’ (which I loathe). No one seems to know where to put apostrophes anymore.
Also, a new one I’m seeing everywhere – full stops seem to be escaping from self-contained parentheses at an alarming rate. If parentheses appear at the end of a sentence then the full stop goes outside (like this). (But if the whole sentence is contained in brackets, the full stop stays in.) However, people seem to think the full stops deserve their freedom. I shall be campaigning to keep them imprisoned. (emphasis added by Pam – I LOVE this metaphor)
A reader alerted me to this great post on Common Errors in Technical Writing. If you have been around for awhile, you have probably fallen victim to evil and convoluted technical writing, especially if it accompanies software you must install or furniture you must assemble in 30 minutes or less.
I hope these resources get you started reading about good writing … the first step to writing well!
And if you have more good resources, let me know and I will update this post.