"Word Menu" by Stephen Glazier is my go-to book for
everything I write. Really. As its subtitle aptly states it's an
all-in-one dictionary, thesaurus, and almanac. You can buy "Word
Menu" computer software as well, but I enjoy the 767-page tome.
"Facts in a Flash" by Ellen Metter -- the subtitle says,
"Time-saving short cuts to find the information you need." From
government research to statistical data to conducting searches on
the web, this book is a valuable resource for students as well as
"On Writing" by Stephen King. Even if you despise his work, I
suspect you'll enjoy his memoir on writing (hey, he hasn't sold
millions of books for nothing). It's a quick read with solid advice
on writing and rewriting (not to mention his incredible account of
his near-fatal accident a few years ago).
"The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
(yeah, the guy who wrote "Charlotte's Web"). This oldie-but-goodie
is relevant today because the tenets of good writing never become
outdated. Read it in an hour, refer to it for life.
Plug Alert: Check out my article on landscape design in the Home
& Garden supplement in the regional sections of "The Boston
Globe" on April 25th. Or click here for more articles on my
Do you fall in love with the words you put down on paper
and can't stand to hit "cut" or "delete" when you should?
You're not alone. But that doesn't make it okay. Stepping back
and looking at your writing in an objective manner (otherwise
known as self-editing) is one of the most important things you
can learn as a writer. Here are five ways to keep your
Narcissus in check.
#1 Create the "Perfect Prose" Tickler
||Did you coin a new term, write a witty phrase, or
eloquently state how to spread cow manure in a garden (even
though your article is about taking care of houseplants)?
Can't stand the thought of cutting this
Pulitzer-prize-worthy-prose (even though it's unnecessary to
the work)? Copy your "perfect" prose to a new page. Save this
file in a tickler folder in "My Documents." Then go back and
DELETE this passage from your piece. Remember, the only person
who knows what was "lost" is you -- your readers have no idea,
so they can't miss it. Make sure you give the file a name that
makes sense to your memory. That'll help the next time you're
doing a piece on a particular subject. You can poke through
your folder for the right words.
#2 Surround Yourself with 2-3 Good
||Preferably not your mother, spouse, or best friend.
They love you too much to be impartial, right? If you're doing
business writing, find a colleague you can trust. If you're in
a management position, consider using one of your employees
(this will help empower the person while making her a better
writer). You don't need to follow all the advice, but if the
"editors" are in agreement, you should listen to them and
consider "letting go."
If you're writing fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction,
join a good writer's group (check your local bookstore,
library, or go online). If you're writing ad copy, get to know
other copywriters and graphic designers (designers often have
a good ear and eye for copy -- even if they can't write it,
they understand the conventions). If you're writing feature
articles, check in with your editor on a regular basis (maybe
every quarter) and go over ways to improve your work. It's a
humbling experience, but we narcissists need humbling.
#3 Walk Away for 24 Hours (or
||The best way to put a little distance between you and
your writing is by, well, putting a little distance between
you and your writing. A fresh eye brings a fresh perspective.
You'll notice that the perfect graph doesn't seem so perfect
in the morning.
#4 Post It|
||If you really want a humbling experience (or you have a
question that you need answered at, say, three o'clock in the
morning), consider posting your work (or the part in question)
in a writer's forum such as Craig's List (www.craigslist.org).
Anonymity allows for brutal honesty (sometimes too brutal, so
make sure your skin is thick enough to handle lashings).
#5 Get Over It|
||Purists may want to flog me, but it is just writing.
Yes, it's (often) art. But an artistic license doesn't give
you the right to lose all objectivity. Showing restraint is
the true sign of a mature, gifted writer (in this writer's
mind anyway). 'Nuff said.