220 of 227 people found the following review helpful
Roy Peter Clark invites aspiring writers "to imagine the act of writing less as a special talent and more as a purposeful craft." In his "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer," Clark urges the reader to "think of writing as carpentry, and consider this book your toolbox." The goal is to take away the fright and nausea that accompanies writer's block, and to make every writer more proficient at expressing himself.
Clark divides his book into four sections: "Nuts and Bolts," "Special Effects," "Blueprints," and "Useful Habits." Within these divisions, the author clearly and concisely presents his tools; he also includes excerpts from the works of outstanding writers to illustrate each point. For instance, Tool 22 is "Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction." The writer should know when to use concrete examples and when to reach for "higher meaning." Avoid the treacherous middle rungs of the ladder where "bureaucracy and technocracy lurk," and where euphemisms and meaningless phrases abound. Clark cites Updike and a baseball writer named Thomas Boswell to show the reader how it's done. Tool 38 exhorts us to "Prefer archetypes to stereotypes." We should beware of heavy-handed symbols and strive for subtlety. Although it is tempting to fall back on familiar phrases and well-worn ideas, a writer should aspire to cultivate his own distinctive voice. To get his message across, Clark cites a passage from James Joyce's tale "The Dead." Each tool is followed by a "workshop," with several practice exercises.
Some of the tools mentioned in this book are far from unique--most writing handbooks encourage us to make every word count and vary sentence length--but there are a few noteworthy tips that stand out. For example, Clark discusses how to "establish a pattern, then give it a twist," and how to "mix narrative modes" using the broken line technique. A clever writer knows when to move his lens back to broaden his perspective and when to zoom in for a close-up on his subject.
There is no shortage of excellent books on the art of writing. Along with "On Writing Well," by William Zinsser, and Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," I recommend "Spunk and Bite," by Arthur Plotnik, "How Not to Write," by Wiliam Safire, and "A Dash of Style," by Noah Lukeman. All of these guides, as well as Roy Peter Clark's "Writing Tools," take some of the mystery out of writing and make it a craft accessible to all.
111 of 113 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2007
Maybe the best way for me to describe Roy Clark's Writing Tools 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer is to use the following analogy: I can bake good brownies. Not the world's best brownies, but they get the job done - brownie-wise, that is. I'd like to make better brownies, but I'm not sure what I should do differently. Better cocoa? Smaller pan? More butter? I never know what to change, so I just keep making the same mediocre brownies. The same applies to my writing. I know it could be better - I just can't figure out how to change it.
Enter Mr. Clark's wise and wonderful book, Writing Tools 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, and suddenly I've got a myriad of new ideas! Clark gives struggling and aspiring writers a neatly organized "toolbox" full of models, practices, examples, and "what-not-to-dos." Conveniently arranged into four sections, each portion of the book addresses different spheres of writing. The first, "Nuts and Bolts" concentrates on the building blocks of writing - the words, sentences and paragraphs. I found there to be an arithmetic quality to this first section, almost as if Clark was imparting the equations and theorems of good writing.
Toolbox number two, "Special Effects," delves into the less concrete world of how we use language. He identifies it as "tools of economy, clarity, originality and persuasion." In this section he explores all of the tools, or devices a writer can use to help the writer shape his or her authentic voice.
"Blueprints," the title of the third toolbox discusses the structure of stories and reports. If a writer intends to take his readers on a path of discovery, enlightenment and wonder then the writer must be able to construct a trail that is enticing, engaging and well-lit. The tools of this third section discuss different kinds of narratives, foreshadowing and the dreaded "outline."
The final section, "Useful Habits" is generous and supportive therapy for the would-be writer. With sage and gentle advice, Clarke reassures us that we are not alone in our bad habits, urges us to learn from our critics and challenges us to "own the tools of our craft."
A special note: Don't miss either the afterword or the dedication. And if you don't know who Donald Murray was, find out. It can only help your writing.
93 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2006
I am both a newspaperman and and an author. I have followed Roy Peter Clark's teachings for many years, so when this book came along -- comprising many of Clark's extraordinary Poynter essays -- I snapped it up, and am glad I did.
Clark is a clear writer who doesn't clutter your thinking with 50-cent words and two-dollar concepts. He's plain-spoken and real, and his advice can be lifted off his page and immediately applied to yours. He gives you the tools.
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to tell a story better. Not just a newspaper article -- any kind of story. And not just young, wannabe writers-in-training. There's plenty in this book with which veteran storytellers can hone their skills.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2006
Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools is to authors and journalists what Home Depot is to construction workers. Clark gives writers a fully stocked shed of clear, concise tips, strategies and guidelines to instantly help improve anyone's writing.
The material contained in the 250-page book is timeless. It can be used in the moment to help refresh a current work. Or, it can be perused for concepts to try and exploit in future work, to give authors refreshing ideas on how to write more effectively.
The book is organized into four parts: Nuts and Bolts, Special Effects, Blueprints, and Useful Habits. Nuts and Bolts are low-level tools to improve word choice, sentence structure, paragraph layout and editing strategies. The part on Special Effects contains tips on how to use language for imaging, pacing and emphasis, to list a few of the tools.
Blueprints moves to higher ground detailing how to plan a work, how to write dialog, and how to generate suspense like Dan Brown. The final part, Useful Habits, gives some ideas for project motivation and execution, to help writers get their art from brain to paper.
Clark did not develop all of these tools, and he admits that right up front. He uses dozens of references to give readers a sense that some tools are weathered advice, like lectures offered by a sage. But what he does well is put a good spin on the lectures. Anecdotes are provided alongside examples of the tools, and a humor is injected to help keep the book entertaining.
The end of the book is reminiscent of a textbook, in a good way. It has a detailed index to help readers locate topics of interest, and it has a handy five-page summary of the different tools. It's too bad the summary didn't come as a pullout poster, because many writers would surely tack it on the wall above their monitors.
Armchair Interviews: Another good book to help writers be better writers.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2008
This book delivers. I've authored 4 books and learned much here that i wish i had known for the 4 of them! Great tips are spelled out simply and quickly (each chapter is a very quick read). The book is filled with examples both quoted and sometimes even placed (cleverly) within the text. Those times make the book fun to read--you can sense the authors wicked smile as he stuck those gems in.
So why 4 stars? A dozen or more of the 50 tools did not apply to my kind of writing. Despite the back cover and the introduction that claim the book is for any writer, it clearly has a heavy slant towards fiction writers and news reporters. Most the examples are theirs. Sadly, even in chapters where the point is universal, most of the examples are still theirs. There are many chapters (tools) that dont seem to apply to technical and other non-fiction situations: "Use dialogue as a form of action" and "write from different cinematic angles" and "pay attention to names" to name a few.
Any writer WILL gain a lot from this book, it's just that some will get much more out of it (and i guess i resented being "sold" that it applied to all writers equally when it really doesnt).
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2010
This book have given me a wealth of information. I will list some of the chapters and their contents in order for you to make a more informed decision about whether to buy this book.
*NUTS AND BOLTS:
1.Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
2.Order words for emphasis.
3.Activate you verbs.
5.Watch those adverbs.
6.Take it easy on the -ings.
7.Fear not the long sentence.
8.Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
9.Let punctuation control pace and space.
10.Cut big,then small.
11.Prefer the simple over the technical.
12.Give key words their space.
13.Play with words, even in serious stories.
14.Get the name of the dog.
15.Pay attention to names.
16.Seek original images.
17.Riff on the creative language of others.
18.Set the pace with sentence length.
19.Vary the lengths of sentences.
20.Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
21.Know when to back off and when to show off.
22.Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction.
23.Tune your voice.
OTHER NOT LISTED CHAPTERS:
This is a VERY useful book for writers and anyone else interested in writing for, let us say, pleasure.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2010
Some of the reviewers on Amazon claim they feel "talked down to" by Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. But I sure don't. In fact, the author uses examples from his own earlier writing to show how it could be improved by using the steps outlined in this book. That was a very refreshing approach, where how-to books are concerned.
I have an Ivy League Ph.D. and so often suffer under the delusion that I don't need anyone to tell me how to write effectively, thank you. But I decided to apply the steps here to one of my short stories from a couple of years ago. I began whittling away at it with this book at my side, and was astonished at how much tighter and clearer my prose became -- and therefore, more expressive.
The section on passive voice, for example, demonstrates well the author's philosophy. He doesn't argue, as so many authors of these how-to books do, that the passive voice means poor writing. Rather, he says you should use the passive voice where it makes sense, e.g., where something is happening to a character that the character has no control over, if you want to emphasize that lack of control. "He was beaten and tortured." Yes, you could write "They beat and tortured him," to make it an active sentence, but it also has a different tone. If the character doesn't know who's beating and torturing him, for example, the passive voice adds to the sense of mystery.
An excellent book of tools. Even if you decide not to apply them to your writing, this book will make you think about how your prose communicates.
My two favorite tools (see below): "Fear not the long sentence" and "Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction" -- worth the price of the book alone.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2010
Clark's is one of the easiest-to-read, most helpful instructive writing books I've read. He covers "nuts and bolts" as well as tools to improve the quality of writing and good writing habits to cultivate. He includes helpful excercises at the end of each chapter. With short, concise chapters and clear examples, he makes each concept easy to grasp and implement. Something you will refer back to over and over. Not an exhaustive reference, but a good basic guide, and great for people who have trouble wading through technical grammar references.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2010
This is a great writing resource that I will return to again and again. Each of the 50 tools is a concise lesson in writing and includes exercises at the end of each chapter. Do one a day and you've finished a writing course in less than two months. Do one a week and you've completed the course in a year. All are short enough to be read and savored in ten minutes, the perfect amount of time to squeeze in a writing lesson around a busy schedule. I would highly recommend this book to new and experienced writers alike.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2006
You may be writing a newspaper story or an essay for school. You may be writing on the job or drafting your first novel. You may be a student or a teacher, a poet, a playwright or a critic, a columnist or a blogger.
Whatever your writing task, you can become a more effective writer. You just need the right tools.
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer offers practical tools that dispel writing inhibitions and make the craft accessible to everyone. From nuts and bolts (Tool 3: Activate your verbs) to useful habits (Tool 43: Read for both form and content), the book equips its readers to be better students, workers, citizens, people.
Roy Peter Clark draws on years of personal experience to create these tools. He is the author or editor of fourteen books about writing and journalism.
He also looks to such classics as The Elements of Style and On Writing Well. He teaches from the wisdom of George Orwell, Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott.
Writing tools is divided into four sections dealing with grammar, clarity, organization and production. Each tool occupies only a few pages. They may be read one at a time or several at a time. The author recommends mastering one per week.
The writing is clear and easy to understand. The advice is impeccable. Every tool is a valuable addition to any writer's tool chest.
Writing Tools covers many facets of the craft in an accessible and well-organized manner. It offers advice on everything from the technical aspects of grammar to the writing life. It is one the best writing books available and deserves a spot on the shelf next to the masters.