Writing Tools, Not Rules, for Better Writing

“Tools not rules” are what’s needed to teach good writ­ing, says The Poynter Insti­tute’s vice pres­id­ent Roy Peter Clark in Writ­ing Tools – his acclaimed book com­pil­ing fifty of his favour­ites.

To accom­pany this book, Clark released his fifty writ­ing tools to improve your writ­ing on his blog, and here are some of my favour­ites:

  • Get the name of the dog and the brand of the beer. Dig for the con­crete and spe­cif­ic, details that appeal to the senses and help read­ers see the story.
  • Pay atten­tion to names. Inter­est­ing names attract the writer — and the read­er.
  • Know when to back off and when to show off. When the top­ic is most ser­i­ous, under­state; when least ser­i­ous, exag­ger­ate.
  • Learn the dif­fer­ence between reports and stor­ies. Use one to render inform­a­tion, the oth­er to render exper­i­ence.
  • Take interest in all crafts that sup­port your work. To do your best, help oth­ers do their best.

That last one, espe­cially.

For those want­ing a more aes­thet­ic­ally pleas­ing present­a­tion, the fifty writ­ing tools ‘cheat sheet’ (pdf) is what you’ll want. Where­as those want­ing some­thing a bit more sens­ory will take great pleas­ure in the fifty writ­ing tools pod­cast series (that unfor­tu­nately only made it to tool num­ber 32).