Five very different books give you an inside look at some rules and tips on how to write effectively, plus the pleasures of a well-crafted sentence.
It seems almost old fashioned in 2021 to suggest books that can help you become a better writer and editor. With platforms like Grammarly, Hemingway App and ProWriting Aid bringing writing and editing tools to your documents with a few clicks, why use a book?
There are several reasons writing and editing book guides are worth your time. If you’re a writing nerd, you’re probably a bit of a book nerd and just enjoy the experience of a physical book – browsing a bookshelf before buying it, then holding it and marking sections as you read through it. Using books on writing also allows you to learn more about some of the rules that guide good writing and editing and to carefully go through examples and comparisons line by line.
It’s also useful to learn better writing habits and editing rules yourself because it can help you writer better in a first draft and make editing faster if you can edit your work yourself without necessarily needing to pass it through an online platform. While writing assistance tools like Grammarly have their place, I’d like to hope that there will always be a place for a physical book on writing itself.
Five books to help you become a better writer.
Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans
I read this book over the recent summer holidays and it inspired this blog post. Written by Harold Evans, former editor of The Times and long-time copy editor in print and online in the UK and US. Evans brings to our attention many linguistic and grammar crimes appearing in newspapers, magazines as well as bureaucratic, legal and government publications to demonstrate clear, concise writing that gets the meaning across to the reader simply and effectively. The examples do run a bit long but are easily scanned. The 10 writing tips are worth the price of the book itself.
The Elements of Style by Strunk & White
I read this book while writing my honours thesis at university and again when I was a sub-editor on magazines. It’s a reference guide on grammar and style, with plenty of helpful tips and rules to avoid common mistakes. It will certainly help make your writing clearer and more grammatically correct using helpful examples to avoid common grammatical clangers and mix-ups.
Style: Towards Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams
This is another book that I read while writing my thesis at university. I have always been a bit obsessed with books on writing and learning about and improving my writing in many styles from academic to journalistic. It covers key themes and elements of good writing – clarity, cohesion, emphasis, coherence, concision and elegance. It’s much like a writing course in a book which can be taken from start to finish or consulted on a relevant section.
How To Write A Sentence by Stanley Fish
The basis of any good writing in a good sentence. If you can construct good sentences you’re well on your way to writing well and being a good writer. New York Times columnists Stanley Fish appreciates a good sentence the way some appreciate good art or good wine. In this concise book he examines the elements of many fine sentences so as readers and writers we can enjoy and learn the art of creating one ourselves.
How To Write: The Essential Guide for Authors by Harry Bingham
This book goes well beyond just putting words and sentences together. It is a comprehensive guide that is geared toward fiction writing. I’m including it in this round-up because so many journalists, writers and editors also want to write fiction. Many have long-held wish to get a book published and I suggest this detailed book to help on that journey. It covers just about everything, from planning to writing and the key elements of story, dialogue and plot and is a helpful tool for anyone who wants to try their hand at fiction writing and hopefully realise their dream.
And finally here’s The Guardian’s take on the 100 best non-fiction books of all time, which includes Strunk & White’s book.
If you’re writing long-form articles, academic essays or fiction, you may find my post on Scrivener useful.