And I’m not talking about improving in creativity, voice, structure, or persuasive effect . . . I’m talking about the nitty-gritty, the meat and potatoes of writing:
It’s amazing how many writers out there have excellent content, tone, voice, ideas, hooks, and stories but don’t have an excellent command of their language.
Here are five books that I recommend reading to strengthen your knowledge and know-how of the English language—and, therefore, make your writing more powerful.
This one’s on my list to read. If you’re looking for a guide on how to improve (and maybe even add an educated complexity to) your writing at sentence level, Brooks Landon is your man. This book (that is structured like a course) is not about pairing down sentences, but artfully crafting correct and beautiful text. It’s definitely not geared towards the copywriter, recipe blogger, or news writer, although I’m sure any interested writer could benefit.
I don’t know if I have ever read a more engaging (or delightfully written) book on grammar. Roy Peter Clark invites the reader to appreciate grammar as much as he does, while often switching between the hats of teacher, comedian, and (a little bit) poet. He inspires readers and writers to “live inside the language,” enjoying the rules of English in order to evoke power, inspire passion, and intelligently break the rules. Each chapter is an easily digestible lesson.
An oldie but a goodie—and for good reasons. Although some of the examples feel a bit stuffy or antiquated, and although many people might hate this one based on their introductory writing classes in college, part five of this guide tackles the subjects of sentences styles, emphasis, and rhythm in a really practical way. This read has made me a better editor.
So . . . yes. This is technically a textbook. However, if you are looking for a technical refresher that is as helpful as it is entertaining (the example sentences can be downright hilarious) and can assist you in being so incredibly knowledgeable about punctuation that you may just start using semicolons for fun because you are now an expert at using them, then this is the book for you. Again, it’s a textbook, but it’s a slim (and very helpful) one.
I know. This one may seem like a cop out to add to my listing—and maybe it is. All joking aside, pick your favorite dictionary, open it up for five minutes a day, and dive in. Writers (myself included) can often get stuck in a language-rut, using the same words and phrasing over and over when a stronger synonym may do. That being said, reading the dictionary doesn’t give you some strange license to start using $50 words when $25 words will do for your audience, but it can be an effective tool to broadening your vocabulary. Also, a not-so-interesting personal fact: I used to read the dictionary for fun as a kid. This explains a lot.
By all means, this is not a comprehensive list on the best books out there to improve your writing; it’s simply a small list of books I’ve found both practical and enjoyable.
What are your favorites? (I’m always looking to add some more to my ever-growing reading list.)