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).