on March 26, 2003
This book was my introduction into the world of good, gripping, and effective writing. I don't think I'll ever find a book more helpful than this. While other How-To-Write books pose good questions but provide very few answers, Provost gives you the lessons and advice that will make your writing sing. The fact that Provost knows what he is talking about is evident as soon as you read the first page. This is a How-To-Write book, and yet it's as hard to put down as a good fantasy novel. I've never read a book that has guided me so masterfully and that has enhanced my own writing so much. It's an invaluable guide to any writer. If you want to write well, buy this book.
on October 1, 2006
This is an excellent how-to book, well-worth having. However, do not buy it if you already have Provost's "Beyond Style." "Make Your Words Work" is nothing but a (barely) repackaged version of "Beyond Style," with hardly any useful new material. Shamefully, nothing in "Make Your Words Work" references or even hints at its parentage. This book should have been entitled "Beyond Style, Second Edition."
on January 31, 2001
The fact that this book is out of print is a true indicator of how corrupt and twisted the "how to write" publishing industry really is. Why? Because this is the only writing book you'll ever need. So if you had it, you wouldn't have to spend your money on books like "How to write a best-selling novel in 5 minutes" or "YOU can write a classic," or other such stupid "guides," which usually are written by authors who have nothing else to their credit. Why read a book that claims it will show you how to write a best-seller, when the author himself hasn't written a best-seller? Gary Provost doesn't claim that he'll help you write a best-seller, he merely claims that he will help make you a better writer. And if you read the book, follow his instructions, and practice, you will become one. Provost wasn't a best-seller himself, and most of his books are out of print, but that doesn't matter. What matters is, he knew what makes good writing, and what makes writing work. And more importantly, he knew how to TEACH these principles. Hopefully one day this will be back in print. Until then, scour the used bookstores until you find a copy. You will be very glad you did.
on April 8, 2003
If I am able to write, it is all because of "Make Your Words Work."
Provost sets the tone of this book from the very first page when he asks the question "Can writing be taught?" and answers with "No, throw this book away."
This book taught me real methods for writing and editing what I write.
Provost also includes many exercises that aren't boring, and actually quickly enforce the point he is making in the chapters.
I've owned this book since 1991 and it is a book that I continually reference. And it's not only a great book of information, but it is also a great read.
Be thankful that this book is still available and buy it as soon as possible.
on December 12, 2007
"Our English teachers were well-meaning, most of them, but they were hired to teach us good grammar, not good writing." - Gary Provost
Make Your Words Work is one of those books you're hesitant to pick up, thinking you're going to be bored with grammar, and instead find a delightful, informative read.
But don't take my word for it - listen to Provost himself: "Do you know what modal auxiliaries are? Can you explain the difference between determiners and adjectivals? I sure as heck can't, and I've sold sixteen books and a thousand short pieces."
Provost writes with a breezy, personal style, always clear and concise and often witty. It's as much about non-fiction as fiction, so you get a well-rounded set of tools you can adapt to any project you tackle. Provost also knows to avoid the tedium of long stretches of text, and so he breaks up each chapter into sections just a page or two long, with exercises, Coffee Breaks, and examples from TV and movies added in as well. It also doesn't hurt that the print is large and the layout easy to read, or that many of the chapters first appeared in Provost's articles for Writer's Digest.
Many books on writing just go on and on about vague topics like Theme, all airy philosophy, but Provost caters to none of that. He cuts the chatter and gives you what you need. It's the difference between a professor lecturing on the role of photography in the modern world and an actual photojournalist taking you out to a baseball game and saying, "This is how you set the shutter speed, and for sports you want it at 1/500th to freeze the action."
For an example of that, take Chapter Thirteen, on Tension. He starts with Find Tense Words (words of delay, danger, urgency, and fear, with examples of each), then teaches you how to Arrange Sentences with Tension in Mind - "That's a nice enough little paragraph. There's nothing terribly wrong with it, but there's no tension in it because it answers all your questions before you have a chance to ask them." Next he moves onto how to Milk the Tension (with exercises), and then brings up Tension in Non-Fiction, Surface Tension - "With description, remember that a tree is a lot more interesting if there might be an Indian hiding behind it," and finally tops it off with Pulling the Tension Cord.
And it's the same with each chapter, from Music to Pace to Voices to Viewpoint.
In the end, the book comes off like an informal, one-to-one talk with someone willing to share their many years of experience in the fields of both fiction and non-fiction. So grab some coffee and sit down with Gary - you'll enjoy the visit.
The book deserves this reprint, but that cover with the old computer paper with columns of numbers and some lunky gear lying on top makes no sense. In the earlier WD edition (which I posted the cover of) there's a sketch of three gears, interlocked, showing not only the nuts `n bolts subject matter, but how each piece connects with each other to get your writing going. Also, in the original there's no "Writing dreams do come true!" hype on the cover. Just plain ol' "Proven Techniques for Effective Writing," which is exactly what one needs.
on November 29, 2009
I'm on a writing study binge, and have been reading a fair bit of highly recommended books (John Gardner, Nancy Kress, Swain). I have to agree with the other reviewers- this is by far the best book I've read, and it is comprehensive enough to replace most other books.
There are lots of examples to illustrate points, and just enough discussion of points to make them clear before moving on.
The exercises are great as well- there are many, but they are short and focused to the point being discussed. Many you can do in your head if you wish.
It's the type of book where when finished you really feel and see the improvement in your writing.
And at 294 pages its longer then most other writing books, which seem to all fall between 140 and 190 pages.
on December 19, 2007
Most books about writing tell you to do this and that. But you really don't understand how. This book take you down to the ground with writing well in many aspects. Sometimes it is things you already know if you are a writer with some experience, but you feel proud to how found out that yourself because he writes so nice. But mostly you really understand how to make the manuscript better in a lot of aspects. I have now read the book and a lot of my writing friends here in Sweden are eager to borrow it from me before they buy their own copy.
on August 10, 2013
After reading this magnificent work (and I do mean magnificent), I realize that I can get rid of all my other writing advice books. This is by far the most effective, insightful, and entertaining book on writing that I've ever read. I can't believe it's out of print; it should be required reading at every university (high school students would benefit, too.) I have referred to it time and again over the years. In fact, I'm ordering a spare in case I lose my beloved copy. I've never done that for any other book.
on October 15, 2015
First bought this some 19 years ago at the age of 14, five years after I'd realized I wanted to be a writer. Perused a huge B&N store on 42nd Street in New York on one of my many hajj pilgrimages from the Caribbean to NYC to visit my mother. Just found that same copy in my home office while I was (you guessed it) working on a new story. And realized that "Make Your Words Work" is the oldest book I've ever owned: bought it new in 1996 and it's been with me through immigration to the US, two years in an American high school, undergraduate and graduate degrees down South, a few relationships, two careers and now a marriage and my first house. And why? Because Provost writes like he knows you, knows exactly what it is you wanted to know (even when you weren't aware you wanted to know it); because he explains everything in the simplest of ways; because, unlike so many other "how to write" books, he "eschews verbosity" and keeps it simple. Not because writing well is so simple, but because many of the reasons why we fail at writing can individually be easily solved. It's putting all those pieces together and consistently avoiding the traps of bad writing that's difficult. So, since my copy is dog-eared, stained and ratty (though still very serviceable), and since it's back in print and on Amazon, I bought a second copy. For, you know...the next 19 years.
on March 9, 2000
the late gary provost understood and could communicate the power of words better than any teacher i know of, and, believe me, i've sat at the feet of many. a sensational guide that actually WORKS, do anything you can to obtain a copy.