Like mastering any craft, learning how to be an effective writer involves a lot of practice, making a lot of mistakes, and a lot of hard graft. Of course, the materials available for budding writers are readily available, from expensive MAs through to tutor-led courses, both personal and group-based, self-study courses, online courses, online forums, online lectures, local and online writer’s groups, many professional and many more woefully amateur competitions, a buzzing calendar of book festivals, tonnes of magazines, websites, and libraries of books on every subject to study, copy, mimic and read, including shelf after shelf of educational and didactic tomes specifically targeting the journeyman writer.
With such a wealth of learning material, one of the biggest challenges facing a writer is deciding where to focus their energy, but one book well worth consideration is Dr Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, which is a distillation of fifty techniques, patterns and behaviors that Clark garnered over his 40-year writing and teaching career.
Split into four sections, each containing a number of chapters that focus on a single sentence theme, each chapter is loaded with anecdotes, examples and exercises, and while the book can easily be studied linearly like an exercise book, the rich and clear focus of each chapter also makes it an excellent reference book to dip into when looking for stylistic inspiration.
The first two sections focus on common writing techniques every discerning writer should consider continually, with the first section, Nuts and Bolts, covering fundamental techniques such as word ordering and the use of long sentences, and the second section, Special Effects, covering more specialized techniques, such as climbing the ladder of abstraction. The third section, Blueprints, deals with structure, and includes writing thematically, using dialogue and characterization, and the final section, Habits, delves into useful behaviors for writers to develop.
Although no book would ever dream of replacing the writer’s most valuable resource, their imagination, any writer wanting a book to thumb through, scribble in, read, read again, memorize, curse at, praise, and give pride of place to on their writing desk, then the contemporary writer should look no further than Dr Clark’s delightful book of magic.