Latest posts by techwriter (see all)
- 101 Tips and Tutorials to Write Like a Pro - August 17, 2017
- How to Find a Technical Writing Job – Some Ideas and Resources - August 9, 2017
- BOOK REVIEW: “Design for How People Learn” by Julie Dirksen - July 10, 2017
One of the best ways to learn how to write well is to read a master and pay attention to the way he or she is doing it. I still read a lot of books with that kind of awareness since even after 20 years of writing for a living I’m still learning how to do it better. I’m still a student.
If, for example, you are trying to learn copy writing you’d be well advised to study someone like Bob Bly, Michael Masterson, or Joseph Sugarman.
If you like creative writing and fiction, there are numerous examples out there to study, learn and emulate.
One of such books I’ve been reading recently is “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” by the great John Steinbeck. This is not one of his really famous works like “Grapes of Wrath” or “Of Mice and Men” but it’s a lovely little work that displays a writer at the peak of his powers.
Here is Steinbeck’s attention to minute detail, which is at the core of all good writing, while describing a state trooper in Maine:
“I stopped my truck and approached a majestic state trooper. What a man he was, granite as any quarried about Portland, a perfect model for some future equestrian statue…
[Steinbecks tells him he is lost and asks for directions to Deer Isle.]
He looked at me closely, and when he was satisfied that I wasn’t joking he swung on his hips and pointed across a small stretch of open water, and he didn’t bother to speak.
“Is that it?”
He nodded from up to down and left his head down.”
An average writer would probably say “he nodded his head up and down” and leave it at that. But Steinbeck is no average scribe. When we read how the trooper’s head is left down we can almost see that “granite chin” pressed down on the sternum as a symbol of the quiet authority that troopers are famous for.
Every book is a chance to learn how it was put together. All you need to do is pay attention and take notes.
Have a good one!