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Good Reads on Writing: Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction
Serious about developing your writing skills? In the Good Reads on Writing series, we’ll suggest some books and articles in which writers give insider tips, complain about their writing problems, and tell stories about how they got from idea or assignment to published work.
If you’re in a certain mood, you might find the title Good Prose (find it at the Austin Public Library) to be a reminder that most of the writing we do is not going to be great, and that even our best efforts might result in something that’s merely good enough. But it’s also a reminder that writing that good-enough stuff is hard work, real work. Authors Tracy Kidder, a writer, and Richard Todd, his editor for many years at the Atlantic, make no secrets of the many drafts tossed in the wastebasket during the process of crafting articles and books. Over the four decades that Todd and Kidder worked together, they’ve come up with lots of golden advice. Here are a few nuggets from the book:
- There are two kinds of rewriting: tinkering with words and sentences, and actually writing the thing again.
- Write a first draft as quickly as possible. Then you won’t feel so bad about yourself when you have to scrap the whole thing.
- Be wary of using voices that try to nuzzle up too close to the reader.
- Sometimes you must sacrifice beloved parts for the survival of the whole.
- Don’t mess with chronology unless you have an extremely good reason to do so.
- “Something is always wrong with a draft.”
- “All prose responds to work.”
The book itself exemplifies clarity we should all strive for in writing. It’s a product of editorial synthesis, the result of collaboration between a writer and an editor who are equally relentless. Few writers have this relationship, but if you happen into one, by all means, don’t let it go.