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Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes…

Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing

by Patricia T. O'Conner

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I enjoyed this book. It was informative and witty, with plenty of examples. It covers pretty much everything needed to write something well, whether it be fiction, an advert, email, or academic paper. I was reminded of my archaeology professor thumping something I had written on his desk saying, "Always keep your subject with your verb!" This is not a scary book, if you don't do the things in it already, you will have plenty of light bulb moments. And if you already do them, you will feel smug knowing you know them. My experience was a mixture. I would recommend this to anyone who writes more than a shopping list. ( )
  KatiaMDavis | Dec 19, 2017 |
A great book for beginner writers needing to get down the basics. O’Conner talks the writer through the preparatory stages of the process, the fundamentals needed for basic communication, and offers tips and trick’s to make the process easier. I always need a refresher in grammar when I start a new writing project. This book is humorous, fun and educational even for more experienced writers. ( )
  LynneMF | Aug 20, 2017 |
Yes, yes they did.
1 vote ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
An excellent guide on writing from a very witty writer. The advice she provides is common sense: use small words, choose strong verbs, vary your sentence length, know your audience, and so on. She also acknowledges when some of her tips might not be as helpful: for example, if you're writing a boring scientific paper, the expected style is long sentences, indirect prose, and five-dollar words. The following anecdote brings that point home:

My husband once helped a French scientist translate a research paper into English. It emerged so clear, simple, and direct that no scientific journal wanted it. The paper had to be rewritten in formal academese -- dense, impersonal, and indirect -- before it could be published.

The book is packed with examples from famous writers to support her arguments. In the chapter on comedy, she talks about magnifying a single flaw and mining it for comedy gold. The example she chooses is Mark Twain's skewering of James Fenimore Cooper's literary tricks, particularly his use of the broken twig. (I would point out that in Last of the Mohicans, Duncan doesn't get himself, David and the two girls captured by stepping on a dry twig -- he decides to shoot at Magua (their deceitful guide). Now THAT was a stupid thing to do.)

Word nerds of all sorts will love this book as well for its wonderful puns that the author herself enjoys a good deal, particularly the Tom Swifties, which are a remark by the fictional Tom Swift, followed by the punchline: an adverb.

"That's the last time I'll put my arm in a lion's mouth," said Tom offhandedly.

Other excellent chapters include the one on logic, "Critique of Poor Reason", one on numbers and percentages, and one on how to avoid writing wimpy sentences. The chapter on revision was especially pertinent to my line of work, where I have to revise my own writing.

All in all, this is a great book. With Words Fail Me by your side, your words will not fail you. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Mar 12, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156010879, Paperback)

Patricia T. O'Conner's Words Fail Me is written in the same lighthearted tone as her snappy grammar guide, Woe Is I. This time out, O'Conner tackles the writer's art. "Good writing," she says, "is writing that works." This book is the perfect text for the novice writer who tends to gravitate toward comedic instructors. "Crummy spelling," says O'Conner, "is more noticeable than crummy anything else." Organizing your material "may be a pain in the butt, but it's thankless, too!" "Write as though you were addressing someone whose opinion you value, even if the reader is ... a stingy insurance company that won't pay for your tummy tuck." O'Conner's material isn't new--like many such books, Words Fail Me advocates the use of small words, fresh verbs, and only well-chosen modifiers--but rarely is a primer so amusing. And the clever titles strewn throughout--"Taking Leave of Your Tenses," "The It Parade"--provide added pleasure, particularly for anyone who knows how hard it can be to put a headline on a piece of writing. --Jane Steinberg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:32 -0400)

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Armed with our laptops and our PCs, we're the writing-est generation ever, cranking out e-mail, Web pages, and blogs, not to mention office memos, faxes, reports, newsletters, school papers, even memoirs and novels. But many of us were never taught how to write a sentence that makes sense, how to make sure our words do justice to our ideas. The result? Never have so many written so much so badly. O'Conner comes to the rescue with a practical and witty guide to the elements of good writing--From publisher description.… (more)

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