5 Books that Helped Me Write Better (after I had written a few books)

I have written books, many of which contain prose of which I am ashamed. I remember writing my first book and thinking, “I have NO IDEA what I’m doing.” Around the age of 40, I began examining lots of things in my life, including my poor writing. Many people suggested that I could improve by reading good fiction. I got suggestions from colleagues about who to read for my various writing weaknesses (FYI: It helps to have English professors for colleagues.). I also began to read books on writing. Here are a few books I’ve found helpful. I’m sure there are other great books in this category, so please let me know in the comments what’s worked for you.

Yagoda’s book was my first exposure to the world of grammar/syntax non-fiction. The book is funny, hilarious even. He often deploys the idea he’s talking about in his writing without being obvious. In short, Yagoda woke me up to the parts of speech and why I needed to care about them.

I had wished for a book like Le Peau’s when I was writing my first book—when I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. Write Better is a nuts and bolts guide to writing a book, thinking about a title, platform, and the kind of person the writer needs to become. If you know someone writing their first book or thinking about it, this book could be a faithful guide. It’s written by a Christian specifically for Christian authors. (This was given to me in a “author welcome kit” from the publisher.)

Little books like this are like liquid gold for an author. While I was struggling to write my first “trade book” (i.e., a book that just about anyone could read), my editor broke the news to me: my stories sucked. She suggested I read Buster’s book to make my illustrative stories shorter, punchier, better than they were before. This was my introduction to non-fiction that targeted specific writing weaknesses.

Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence helps, even if nothing in it shatters your writing paradigms and practices. It’s practical. It gets sloppy writers (like me) thinking about how each part contributes to the whole.

How to Not Write Bad adds another witty entry from Yagoda to the list. He’s not trying to make you into a good writer. He wants you to stop making simple mistakes and avoid bad writing habits. This, in effect, will make your writing sufferable. Not an unworthy goal for most of us. Two basic tips:

1. Read more and diverse writing .

2. Read everything you write out loud. (If students just did #2, oh the frustrations they’d save us!)

drujohnson.com


Who’s kidding whom? I’m also trying to market a book here. I just want to get this book (pre-order here, out in April 2021) into the hands of those who need to read it. So if you know a philosophy, religion, theology, or biblical studies nerd (and this is for NERDS), chances are that they might be interested in it. It’s a saucy thesis that’s sure to get you or them thinking about the Bible as a philosophical tradition.

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