I mentioned yesterday that I dreamed of writing when I was young. I haven’t entirely given up that dream. Look, I’m writing right now, writing for this blog. I’m also a published author (ooh, doesn’t that sound good). I’ve written academic essays that are in books, I’ve edited two books of academic essays, and I’ve edited a collection of 19th-century women’s writings on Genesis. In that collection I co-wrote the introductory and biographical bits that surround the 19th-century excerpts. Writing is not some distant dream, I just need to do more of it.
Back in the day when I was an undergraduate in engineering I acquired a little book by Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing. I like this book a lot, and have read it a lot. I read it before I began keeping track of books I’ve read, so I’m not sure how many times I’ve read the whole thing through. I like the book because it is a collection of lists. As you may have noticed, I like lists. There are 11 (XI) chapters in this book and each chapter is a list. Chapter I: Nine Ways to Improve Your Writing When You’re Not Writing. Lists! How exciting.
I also like this book because the writing is very clear. Provost gives examples of what he means and the examples make sense. I have to give an excerpt to show you what I mean. This may be my favourite bit of this book. In chapter 10 (X) Provost lists Twelve Ways to Avoid Making Your Reader Hate You (hint: I wish my students would read this chapter). Number 2 on his list is Avoid Clichés. This is how he expands this advice:
“Clichés are a dime a dozen. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They’ve been used once too often. They’ve outlived their usefulness. Their familiarity breeds contempt. They make the writer look as dumb as a doornail, and they cause the reader to sleep like a log. So be sly as a fox. Avoid clichés like the plague. If you start to use one, drop it like a hot potato. Instead, be as smart as a whip. Write something that is fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack. Better safe than sorry.”
Oh the wonderful awesomeness of that paragraph. I’m afraid that Provost’s little writing guide might be out of print. If you find it in a used bookshop, snap it up.