Great Books for Writers

School does not necessarily prepare you to be a writer, so there is a market for books that promise to teach writers about the craft. In fact, there are way too many books, and I have the unpleasant belief that the more "how to write a novel" books you buy, the less likely you are to ever write one. (That's why I stopped buying them, though I am not yet any closer to that novel.) What follows is a list of books that are better than most. Most of these will teach you something. A handful might change the way you look at the world. In any case, here it is, my list of books for writers: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – I first stumbled upon Lamott's writing because of this book. When did I first read it? College or soon after. The when I read it is not memorable, but reading it was. The book sits on the shelf right next to Walking on Water, evidence of the high regard in which it is held. The book is writing advice couched in personal narrative, and it brought up a lot of the emotional stuff that gets in between a writer and the blank page. Walking on Water by Madeline L'Engle – I read this book back in college, and I need to read it again. Not a book about writing in particular, L'Engle (the author of A Wrinkle in Time, Two-Part Invention, and other classics) explores what it means to…

Crafting a Theological Sentence

I've edited many books about theology, biblical studies, and church history. Most of this work is for the academic market, but the publishers I work with also hope that these books find a more general readership. As a result, I read a lot of readable manuscripts on very interesting subjects. But it's not all easy to read and digest, and some very brilliant people could use some help. The Sense of Style by Steve Pinker is one place to start. The book looks closely at what makes for good communication, and goes a long way to dispelling the long-held myth (in academia, anyway) that using dense language and long words to "sound smart" is not the path to clear communication. Of more interest to the authors I work with would be The Work of Theology by Stanley Hauerwas, at least his chapter, "How to Write a Theological Sentence." The chapter addresses the concern echoed by Philip Zoutendam over at Eerdmans: "There seems a venerable tradition among this guild [of theologians], starting with the original capital-T Theologian himself, good old St. Paul, of saying the most important things in the most difficult language." Hauerwas gives some great advice to rookie and veterans alike: You can read an excerpt from the chapter on the EerdWord site.    

Writing Wrongs: A Guide to Crafting Respectable E-mail

Many people bemoan the cultural slackening that introduced Casual Fridays into the workplace, the devil-may-care dress code of the Internet start-up, and the banishment of the neck tie from all but the highest levels of business. The wisest among us balance the demands of a more relaxed attitude with the realization that what we choose to wear says a lot about us. In other words, we want our clothes to say something like, Hey, I am easy to get along with, but you still need to take me and my ideas seriously. This casualization has unfortunately spread from our wardrobes to our inboxes. Far too often we receive (or, egads, send) an e-mail that reads like this: when can we get together. theres alot we need to talk about. the new price quotes some billing issues and this months numbers. mondays are good but not after 2 call me. What’s wrong with that, you ask. Certainly the goals of communication have been met. The recipient can easily understand the message, and information has successfully been transmitted from one human being to another. Unfortunately, other information has also been transmitted. Namely, the author of this note is kind of an idiot.  What follows are some basic guidelines for making sure that your correspondence isn’t inadvertently outing you as a moron to your boss, colleagues, and/or employees. Parts of a Letter The main thing people seem to forget when writing e-mail is that e-mail, while it can be conversational, is not a…

More Big Words

pernicious – highly injurious or destructive abtruse – difficult to understand; hidden or concealed opprobrious – disgraceful (opprobrium is the disgrace attached to actions considered evil or wrong) putative – generally considered or reputed to be seminal – something that effects later developments caprice – a sudden, unpredictable action or notion assertoric – describes a statement of fact apodeictic – describes propositions that are demonstrable

Ten Great Gifts for Writers

I can be a bit of a shopper, at least in theory anyway. Maybe it would be more correct to say I am an avid browser. This most likely stems from my lifelong commitment to procrastination. Do I have some writing to do? Maybe I should double-check that thing online... Anyway, as many of you writers would know, there's a lot of productive procrastination to be had when you set out to find the "best" books on writing, or the "best" tools for writing your book, or even the "best" software for managing your time. A couple times a year I search for the "best tools (or gifts) for writers." Reams of webpages are dedicated to this subject, but very few of them are at all interesting. So this year I thought I would do the research and make a list of my own. #1 – Rory's Story Cubes There are all sorts of uses for these cubes. Least of which, they can be a pleasant diversion that might stimulate your favorite writer's creativity. #2 – The Storymatic Similar to the story cubes, the Storymatic is a collection of 540 cards. Many uses, including games where writers can show off the mad creative skills. #3 – Literati Challenge Another game! This one is meant more for groups. Players write stories with five words. Great fun for the more extroverted writer. #4 – Anton Chekhov Finger Puppet What's not to like about a Chekhov finger puppet. Get a handful of these,…