Many books inspire me to be a better writer.
William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White's Elements of Style encourages brevity: remove unnecessary words and extraneous concepts. Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses teaches that complexity can thrive in story telling. Yet, it takes tremendous skill. Jeffrey Gittomer's Little Red Book of Selling shows that you can merge the simple and complex, then you make it practical. Finally, Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People proves that you can get it right the first time. Many books have tried to copy its success.
While I haven't read much advice on how to write, these books help me push the boundaries of my own writing. Here are a few things I've taken away from reading (and re-reading) them.
Great writing takes time. The shorter and better the writing, the more time it's likely to take. Woodrow Wilson said this about preparing speeches: "It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now." And Thomas Jefferson said something like, "I would have written a shorter letter, but did not have the time."
Writing requires organizing ideas, developing thought, and articulating things in a single voice. Writing, rewriting, revising, and cutting extraneous text takes a lot of work. So, the next time you read something that impresses you, imagine it took likely 10 - 20 times as long to write as to consume.
Great content is minimal and well organized. I can tell you about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 15 seconds:
1) You are the creator.
2) Begin with the end in mind (whatever you are creating).
3) First things first - prioritize.
4) Understand, then be understood.
5) Get to the win-win.
6) Create synergy that perpetuates the win-win.
7) Sharpen the whole process to get better.
The book came from a long-term study on success, and it may take someone 10 hours or so to read. However, this summary provides rich insight into being effective in life and work. Stephen Covey could have said more in the book, but he didn't need to.
Having something to say is critical to others listening. All the writers of the books above had something to say. Strunk and White wanted to make it clear that great writing is brief, concise, and to the point. Rushdie needed to show the influence of colonialism, Islam, and modern life on the Indian psyche. Gitomer wanted to provide a small, practical book to help people sell things, something a salesman could use as a reference, with ideas to test out in the field. And Covey set out to compile and organize the best advice on being effective.
Each author had messages, something to say. Many people don't have anything to say, because it takes time, a lot of thought, and organization. (See the Woodrow Wilson quote above.)
I read and reread these books, because to me they provide the best advice on writing: have something to say; take your time; and make it brief, concise, and readable.
Some books do this. Most don't. I like the ones that do!
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