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Advice To Writers: The Best Books On Writing Books (Writer Wednesday)

Posted: 09/01/10 09:27 AM ET

The sixteenth-century French writer Michel de Montaigne, inventor of the modern essay, once remarked that "there are more books upon books than upon all other subjects." It's still true, judging from the hundreds of titles published every year on the art of writing. Most can be divided into two categories: "inside-out" -- spiritual, philosophical, emotional, psychological, or "outside-in" -- grammar, punctuation, style, technique. The best of them instruct, inspire, and encourage. (Writers need lots of encouragement.) Fortunately, writing is one skill you actually learn from books. Here are some of my favorites:

The author of two dozen books, including "The Portable Curmudgeon" and "The Big Book Of Irony," Jon Winkour also runs a website: Advice To Writers and you can follow him on Twitter.

"The Elements Of Style, Fourth Edition" - William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
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The granddaddy of writing guides and still the single most useful writing tool I know of, with usage and composition rules, commonly misused words and expressions, a brief but powerful “Approach to Style” section, plus plenty of right/wrong examples, all in service of the book’s manifesto:

“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Though “the little book” has been assailed as arbitrary and old-fashioned, advice like that will never go out of style.
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