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Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by…

Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life

by Douglas Wilson

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  DeniseDorminy | Dec 25, 2013 |
Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life

You might not agree with everything Doug Wilson has ever written, but no one would deny he is an exceptional writer. Coming from the school of Tolkein and Lewis, he wants to teach us to pick our words like a jeweller chooses his stones. This book is an easy read (I read it in a night) and gripping all the way through. But if you are like me, you might reach the end and feel a little hard done to…

Wilson takes the advice “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” quite literally. He really wants to hammer home seven points that make up his chapters:
1. KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THE WORLD: You can’t write about the world if you haven’t been in the world experiencing it.
2. READ: If we aren’t reading “the kind of stuff you wish you could write”, you are going to be powerless to write your own stuff.
3. READ MECHANICAL HELPS: By this he means read the "how to" books and books about words. Quotation books, dictionaries, books about dialogue, that kind of thing.
4. STRETCH BEFORE YOUR ROUTINES: Try different mediums of writing. Particularly he encourages us to try some poetry.
5. BE AT PEACE WITH BEING LOUSY FOR A WHILE: We need to get writing and keep writing until we are good at it.
6. LEARN OTHER LANGUAGES: Particularly languages that are “upstream”- that is earlier languages like Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon.
7. KEEP A COMMONPLACE BOOK: Use a moleskine to write down every delicious morsel of writing you find.

Each of these chapters are broken into seven more points and then is summarised. In each book Doug Wilson gave many books that you could read to take your understanding further.

There is much to love about this book:
1. It is engaging.
2. It is well written (how many writing books are actually well-written themselves?)
3. It isn’t simplistic.
4. It sees the value of word-choice and reading.
5. It pointed to many valuable books that could help improve your writing.
6. It reminds that to write like a great you have to be soaked in the writing of the greats.

I came away from this book feeling a little short-changed. Here’s why:
1. There wasn't actually much on writing. Hear me out! This was basically a glorified book list, something like the New Testament Commentary Survey for Writing Helps. I felt like I’d got some great starter advice but I needed to go further down the rabbit hole. That’s okay for a blog post, but I was kind of hoping that when I invested in a book I’d get more answers.
2. There was an over-emphasis on word choice. I (like most readers of Wilson’s book) want to write Christian non-fiction. I was hoping that this might help me. I wanted to know how Christian authors choose titles, divide into chapters, balance research and writing, keep the prose from being dry and dusty. Perhaps I should have gathered from the title Wordsmithy that this wasn’t the book I was looking for.
3. I felt the “learn other languages” was a bit of a waste of space and eventually decided to skip past it. I am going to read other languages but is it honestly true that you need to have a working knowledge of Anglo-Saxon to be a successful writer? I find that hard to believe.

I’ve read many books on writing from the secular market (though I am yet to find anything that helpfully deals with non-fiction. If you find any let me know!). I would say that the cream of the crop is “On Writing” by Stephen King.

This easily matches the best secular books for its readability and style. But as I have said before, I think it was light on the actual advice. If you are writing fiction, look up “On Writing”, it really is a helpful book. As I said above, for non-fiction, I’m still waiting.

However, I’d like to add that this a book that is really about reading. In light of this, it is almost an “How to Read” by Mortimer Adler in light form. If this book ignited you to read more, check Adler’s advice for a deeper understanding.

I feel like I’ve been hard on Doug Wilson. I loved his writing and so this makes me feel that I may have misjudged him. How can I say I loved his writing and then say I don’t think this is a good book on writing? Perhaps if I put into place what Wilson has suggested I will see that this is sage advice.

Or perhaps I did that common reader-sin of thinking I was reading a different book than I was. I hoped for something more and I didn’t get it.

I would definitely say read this book. But I wouldn’t say it’s a classic.

However, if after learning to read Anglo-Saxon my writing career takes off, I will write a profuse apology to Wilson straight away. ( )
  tim237 | Jan 3, 2013 |
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