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222 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Demystifying the act of writing.", January 4, 2007
This review is from: Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (Hardcover)
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.
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