On Reading Books about Writing

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As we’ve all been told, perspective employers, customers, and friends skulk around our digital profiles to determine if we have pre-existing conditions like “bad spelling-itis” or “incorrect word usage addictions”. However, for me, life is too short to spend time thumbing through The Chicago Manual of Style to verify the proper placement of quotation marks. For publications on the golden rules of grammar and punctuation, I prefer brevity and entertainment.

AllrightKris SpisaKris Spisakk’s ebook Alright? Not All Right! is a quick reference on common mistakes we all make on our social media feeds while pinning, posting or tweeting about puppies and politicians. Want to avoid bad first impressions and improve your day-to-day written communication skills? Download Ms. Spisak’s 100 Writing Tips for the Curious and Confused.

Here are some other writing reference publications which meet my brevity and entertainment criteria.

For grammar and punctuation, try:

Harbrace College Handbook (7th edition) by John C. Hodges and Mary E. Whitten. The indexing format of this comprehensive guide enables me to find answers fast. This 7th edition was issued to me my freshman year at college. In 2013 the publisher celebrated the book’s 70th anniversary and published an 18th edition titled The Hodges Harbrace Handbook by Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Learning the correct way to use a semicolon is actually fun when reading Ms. Truss. Using jokes (a panda walks into a bar with a gun and orders a bamboo shoot) and real life bad examples, she shames us all into becoming better writers.

For the craft of writing, there are hundreds of books on the subject. Here are three classics I have enjoyed:

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. Only 105 pages long, I re-read this one each time I start a new writing project.

On Writing by Stephen King. Part memoir and part writing craft advice, this book reads, well, like a Stephen King novel. A page-turner until the end, the book is a must for the novice novelist.

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. According to the cover of my copy, more than a million readers think this book offers good advice on writing nonfiction. Tips from this book helped me with business and technical writing when I was a product development manager.

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