I’m sorry. I have neglected you. Over the past 2.whatever years on tumblr, I have ignored two of your most asked questions: Where can I find resources on climate change adaptation? and Where can I find resources to improve my writing?
I am blown away at how often I am asked these. And am equally blown away at how successful I have been at ignoring answering them both.
Since I believe in preservation of traditions, I will continue to ignore the first most asked question (because wow procrastination is fantastic). Instead, I’ll tackle the second most asked question:
Dear Michael, What are good resources to improve my writing?
The best way to learn how to write better is to write more. There is no substitute for practice. In fact, you’ll find that nugget of wisdom contained in every (good) book on writing. “Write more” is at the heart of every writing educator’s repertoire. If you want to learn to write, just start writing. Learn from failure. Ask all your friends for feedback ad nauseum. Thank them with sincerity. Avoid the trap of getting defensive upon receiving feedback (after all, you did ask for their edits).
But guidance is still valuable. So here is a selection of books and resources I use most often.
I have on my book shelf about three dozen books on how to write mo beddah. I won’t list them all, but here is a sampling of popular books by famous authors on how to write: E.M. Forster’s must have Aspects of the Novel; Geoff Nunberg’s unreadable Going Nucular; John Jerome’s amusing The Writing Trade; Patricia O’Conner’s visually painful (comic sans!?) but useful Woe Is I; Norman Mailer’s indisputable The Spooky Art; Anne Lamott’s student friendly Bird by Bird; the decent The Elements of Journalism; and of course Stephen King’s epic On Writing.
The above are books will, in the end, help you understand structure and context creation. They are good books to own, but take much dedication to actually read. It takes even more effort to incorporate their advice into your writings, so take ‘em with a heavy dose of salt and, I suppose, a libationational shot of bourbon.
There are more important books, in my opinion, that will tangibly help your writing. I have about 20 or so books on style, research, and reference guidance that I reach for often. Here’s a sampling of the most used: The Associate Press Stylebook (incidentally, my 2006 copy was donated to me by a journalist at the AP); the painful, hellish, and evil The Blue Book, A Uniform System of Citation; Black’s Law Dictionary; Chicago Manual of Style is my preferred guide for major report writing; MLA Handbook is often quite useful for citation style in a pinch; Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style has no equal.
I’m surprised by how often I flip through Eugene Volokh’s Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review; and Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Examples is a must if you read a lot of cases and need to learn to summarize quickly.
I also pick up more often than not, Legal Method and Writing; Writing Empirical Research Reports; and Persuasive Writing for Lawyers and the Legal Profession,
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s Making Your Case was an enjoyable surprise, and I am convinced Scalia did not write a single sentence in that book.
I found The Chicago Guide for Communicating Science and A Field Guide for Science Writers rather late in my career, and I regret it because these are excellent guides with solid examples by actual science writers in the field.
To round this list out, there are a ton of sources for writing online. Poynter is, hands down, one of the best resources on the planet; PBS’s Media Shift is fun; Jay Rosen’s PressThink is for serious writers; the WordCount blog is a good place to hang out (there are dozens of blogs like WordCount, so google around for your niche); and you may want to join the National Association of Science Writers. A google search for “Science Communication” returns nearly 1.5 million hits, so there’s that. Also, all the J-Schools have their own writerly blogs.
My all time favorite book on writing is not really a book at all. It’s a rare and odd monograph called “Lawyer as Artist: Using Significant Moments and Obtuse Objects to Enhance Advocacy.” It was written by James Parry Eyster for the Legal Writing Institute’s Legal Writing Journal and hard copies are about as rare as a rattlesnake in Canada (they exist, but good luck finding one). It’s available free at SSRN. It is not easy to read! But I refer to it often when I need to push the limits of my writing, or need inspiration and justification to take a risk.
Again, all of these things are utterly valueless unless and until you sit down and write.