Writing is a Slippery Art: 5 Must-Have Writing Books

Writing is the Oliver Twist of social media (the forgotten orphan).

This quote from Cyril Connolly, a British literary critic and writer, could be the blogger manifesto (even though Connolly died in 1974):

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”

Ahem brother!

Heck, some days my audience is so small that I need a microscope to see them.  Although, to be fair HighTalk does have a loyal following and on occasion we have had more than a thousand people per day perusing our missives.

But I’m true to Connolly’s quote.  I (mostly) blog for myself.  I do it because I love to write.  I’ve wanted to be a writer since elementary school when I started my own comic book publishing company and sold subscriptions to my younger brother (my lone and loyal reader).  This passion for the written word brought me to my first career in journalism.

When I left reporting in 1999 – the itch to write never left.  That’s why I’ve been blogging now for more than four years.

Writing is often overlooked when we discuss social media.  But when “content creation” comes up – this generally means writing.  Even podcasts and video productions need good writing in the form of talking points and scripts.

Yet corporate writing continues to be horrible – as my former colleague, friend and writing coach Dave Yewman will attest.  As Dave so aptly describes the state of business writing today:

“The writing sucks. The speaking sucks. The e-mail sucks. It’s astounding how even sophisticated companies struggle to get to the point.”

Which is remarkable because we live in the age of the sentence. Twitter is limited to 140 characters.  Facebook status updates are 420 characters. If you can’t get the point – quickly and succinctly – you lose your audience.

As any headline writer at a newspaper will tell you: concise and compelling writing is difficult. As Poynter Online notes in a post called “Five Myths About Short Writing” writing short is more difficult than writing long – and can often take more time.  It’s an art form.  Great writers know how to write short and if you want to be a good writer – start thinking small ball.

Here are several books on writing that I recommend you have on your bookshelf:

  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg.  Goldberg’s lean and mean prose is pure inspiration.  Filled with quick writing exercises and chapters that are written for the soul of someone wanting to tap into excellent prose.  You’ll have no excuse for writer’s block if you have a copy of “Writing Down the Bones.”
  • Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.  This book is for fiction, but there are great ideas for non-fiction as well.  This book is filled with tips on how to eliminate bad writing from your prose.  It’s all about rearranging and editing to make your writing crisp and functional.  Helpful beyond belief.
  • Roget’s Super Thesaurus. Yes, I know there are many virtual thesauruses available online, on Word or through a smart phone application.  But I still enjoy paging through my giant Roget’s Super Thesaurus because it forces you to learn new words and think about more specific words in your writing.  Details and specificity make writing better.

How about you?  Any books or tools on writing that you’d like to recommend?

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4 Responses to “Writing is a Slippery Art: 5 Must-Have Writing Books”

  1. AP Style Guide… if you work in marketing communications, this should be your Bible.

  2. Great addition!

  3. absurdoldbird July 17, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    I have some suggestions, though I don’t know how applicable they would be to a business writer’s content.

    Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola is a good book. Two books that I love for writing, that help one find structure and also give inspiration, are actually for writing autobiography but could be applied to other genres, I’m sure. They are both by Tristine Rainer – Your Life As Story, and The New Diary

    You have an interesting blog, though my own blogging is more in the personal realm.


  4. Thanks for the suggestions and the kind words.

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