How to Write Like a Writer: A Sharp and Subversive Guide to Ignoring Inhibitions, Inviting Inspiration, and Finding Your True Voice
“a writing guide that digs below thesis, punctuation, paragraphs, and sentence structure to offer a philosophical view of the art of written communication.”
Writing can be a particularly daunting exercise for most people, whether you are a student, aspiring novelist, or just someone trying to organize your thoughts in a document. There are a trove of books offering guidance, many of them focused on the same mechanics and formulas most people learned in school or college, and many others focused on business writing or completing the great American novel.
Retired Professor Thomas Foster takes a completely different approach in this book, leading readers on a discovery that while writing can be a challenge, it can also be a rewarding expression of a writer’s personality and intellect. He takes a more personal, almost philosophical approach beginning with the most fundamental questions that many writing books simply skip over—Why are you writing? Who is your intended audience? What is the desired outcome you want from someone reading your written work? By beginning with the most basic question of who your reader is, he then builds on some forgotten aspects of writing that most “manuals” neglect as they try to quickly move the reader to forming the ever-important thesis.
While Mr. Foster does not spend a lot of time on split infinitives or discuss dangling participles, he still offers solid advice on the process of writing and covers two absolutely critical topics— finding your voice and editing. Although these topics may not seem to have much in common, they are critical for someone trying to identify, nurture, and ultimately embrace their unique style of writing. As he elaborates, many writers adopt a universal formal or perhaps informal style of writing that does not always suit every occasion and can come across as stilted. He notes you must become comfortable with your writing persona, as he calls is, and offers excellent recommendations for beginning writers to hone this persona to suit their personality.
While he doesn’t offer a writing cookbook or checklist, any book on writing usually offers tips and pointers and Mr. Foster does not disappoint. However, his checklist is for the writer as opposed to the writing, and his insights into what he calls the Seven Deadly Sins of writing are spot on. Any writer who hasn’t encountered worry, self-doubt, overconfidence, muddiness, vagueness, poor structure, or dishonesty is a fortunate writer indeed. He steps through each of these challenges, especially worry and self-doubt, two of the harshest nemesis to new writers with very practical tips and techniques to get you over that all important first draft.
This first draft receives a great deal of attention, as it should, according to Mr. Foster. It is the constant trial of any writer to have a good beginning, a solid and well composed middle, and the often neglected critical ending. The key takeaway of the entire book is that any first draft is a good first draft, no matter which of the seven deadly writing sins the author is facing. As he notes, you can’t edit and ultimately improve and complete what you don’t have, so just getting to a first draft is the crucial milestone as there is now something to work.
One of his specific recommendations writers should definitely take to heart is to always read your first draft aloud, even if you’re alone. The human ear can pick up on strange phrasing or illogical writing much better than just reading along with your eyes, and this is extremely helpful in the early phases of editing when working on grammar, phrasing, and the general flow of the writing. And of course, as he notes, editing is a process, not an event, so it may take several days, at least in his recommendation, to fully de-structure, refresh, tighten, and most importantly, end a good piece of writing.
There are many other ideas and concepts he discusses, steering the reader through the infuriating, but finally rewarding process of writing something that someone not only wants to read, but moves them in a way desired by the writer. While it’s not a manual or even a style guide, it is a writing guide that digs below thesis, punctuation, paragraphs, and sentence structure to offer a philosophical view of the art of written communication.