Off the back of Rafael’s post last week I thought I’d spare a moment for the native un-englished ICECReamers; myself included. What I mean by that is despite English being the first and only language I communicate in, I don’t really use it that well and I certainly don’t use it to write too well. This reality for me has compounded the admiration I have for people like Rafael who publish in a language that is not their native tongue.
I suppose I only have myself to blame for my lack of writing proficiency, having focused on football at school rather than learning how to write a proper sentence and paragraph. Recently, while trying to knock over a PhD, I have spent a bit of time trying to improve my writing. I found that I have had to go back to the basic basics. Learn about structure, grammar and get comfortable with writing from a plan. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) good information about basic writing skills is not that easy to find. Obviously, there are blogs/websites that have all sorts of different tips. Rarely though do these provide enough detail or focused information to get much practical use. Most left me asking more questions than providing any resolution. Then I found Roy, aka Roy Peter Clark (http://www.roypeterclark.com/). After listening to a series of his podcasts I sort of developed a man crush on this guy…Here are some reasons why (aside from just the sound of his voice) and a brief review of some of his resources.
While I was captivated by Clark’s voice on my IPod, he has some pretty good tips about writing as well. The podcast series is titled ‘50 essential strategies for every writer’. In the series (also a book) Clark delivers many tools that deal with grammar and structure but also provides useful strategies to help with the process of writing, like forming a writers group or using diagrams to map your writing process. The appeal for me was Clark’s use of clever anecdotes and exercises to help apply his strategies.
As Clark is the vice president of the Poynter Institute for journalism the emphasis is largely journalistic, however I found it easy to apply the tools and exercises to an academic style. One reason for this is that his concept is of tools, rather than rules. These tools aim to capture a reader’s attention and add impact to your message. While Clark admits that knowing the rules are important his revelation is that knowing when to break these rules is what works best.
My affinity with Clark’s tools led me to some of his other books and I discovered ‘Help for Writers – 210 solutions to the problems every writer faces’. In this book Clark argues that since writing is organised (or should be) around seven critical steps that are common to all styles, the few (main) problems writers encounter are general and lend themselves to reliable solutions. The topics covered in this book range from getting started and finding focus to building a draft, editing and staying on track to completion. It is not the sort of book you need to read from cover to cover but you could. Rather it’s set up as a sort of go-to book when things are tough. My favourite section so far is about ‘finding focus’ (often required) – for the beginning of your piece. One tip Clark presents is to start in the middle of the story. I applied this to my work by starting with methods/results just to get something down but also by starting my introductions with the important parts of my message, rather than beginning the paper with potentially redundant background information. ‘Help for Writers’ does have some repetition with the 50 writing tools but I still found many solutions useful. Clark’s practical advice is what sets this book aside from others I have encountered. Again, he uses anecdotes well to illustrate the important issues and keep you interested.
You might be surprised to hear that I’m not receiving royalties from Clark. Nor am I declaring that his material is a one-stop shop but I have certainly found it useful as well as engaging. I’d be really interested in hearing about any other resources people have found useful to get their writing up to scratch.
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