Four books to become a better writer
Writing gets easier once you learn where you go wrong
Hello there! Welcome to my eclectic newsletter. My name is Ev, and I blog about technology and product, with a dash of strategy and a pinch of trends.
Many of you asked whether I could recommend any resources on writing. Indeed, I can. Before that, a bit of background.
I think through writing. Always a bookworm, I tried writing my first piece of fiction when I could still count my age with single digits. Later — as a teenager — I was hoping to study literature, but ended up attending an engineering school. Yet, my passion for the craft of writing never faded.
Eventually, I found myself producing heaps English text: research papers, a doctorate thesis, blog articles, product documentation. The more ink I spilled, the more I became aware of the lexical and grammatical idiosyncrasies that speckled my work, which is a fancy way of saying that my writing sucked. Sadly, I didn’t know how to improve it.
One day, I stumbled on a book that taught me how to think about the narrative structure of a sentence, and how to find language constructs that made the text easier or harder to comprehend. Several other books in similar vein followed.
In this post, I’m listing all of those books and rank them by how much they helped me to improve. If you’re a beginner, and you only write non-fiction, these four books have everything you need to get from 0 to 80.
#1 The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer
While there’s not much neuroscience in this book, Jane Yellowlees Douglas’s work is packed with careful analysis of good and bad writing patterns — mostly bad. In this way, the book teaches you to recognize writing pitfalls that permeate modern communication. Eventually, you will start seeing those patterns in your own writing. That alone will help you get better.
#2 On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
William Zinsser’s work is a classic. Zinsser was a lifelong student of the narrative craft, taught writing at Yale, and published over a dozen books on various aspects of writing. He’s thesis was that “writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.”
Not only On Writing Well teaches how to write — it teaches you how to cut. It also equips you with a bunch of principles and fundamental techniques that The Reader’s Brain doesn’t cover.
Read this book if you’re already applying techniques from The Reader’s Bran, want to level up, to learn how to think about your writing process.
#3 Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing
A little dry, a little academic, but packed with solid advice nonetheless. Trimble’s work reinforces the lessons from The Reader’s Bran and On Writing Well, even though it does so rather formally. Despite being on the heavier side, this book can be a worthy addition to your writing curriculum.
Bonus: #4 The Elements of F*cking Style: A Helpful Parody
Heard of Strunk’s Elements of Style? Same thing, but reimagined for the spiffy 21st century writer. :)
Illustration by Icons 8 from Ouch!