Demand writers often ask me to recommend books they can use to hone their composition skills. I invariably suggest these five, each of which I read annually:
The Elements of Style by William Strunk & Theodore White: Great writers often break the rules, but you can’t break ‘em until you know ‘em. This brief guide (you can read it in a single sitting) eloquently summarizes the basics.
Writing Down the Bones by Nathalie Goldberg: “Do not fear mistakes,” Miles Davis once famously said, “there are none.” Creativity demands audacity, and we can’t dare to be audacious if we permit the self-censor who squats on the shoulder of every writer to edit our words and correct our errors before those materialize on the page. Ms. Goldberg’s form of journaling grants us the freedom to fail as a means of expanding our creative boundaries. Nothing could be more liberating for any artist.
Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico: Dr. Rico’s exercises can magically transform a pen or keyboard into an excavator. Her book teaches us how to use clustering, improvisation, constellating and other devices to drill deep inside ourselves to uncover the distinctive voice that will make our work original and memorable.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark: For many writers, simply starting presents the most daunting challenge. Writing Tools provides nothing less than a blueprint for crafting anything literary, from a simple sentence to an epic novel.
Power Language: The Essential Guide to Better Writing and Stronger Speaking by Jeffrey McQuain: A skilled writer can push a noun against a verb to knock over an idea. In this book, Mr. McQuain illustrates how we can kill clichés, expunge excess verbiage and wield words as weapons that can inflame and inspire.
Those are my standbys, but it’s time to augment the collection. Which guidebooks to writing excellence reside in your bookshelves?