A writer’s tool kit should include a good
dictionary, a thesaurus, a style manual, and a copy of Stephen
Wilbers excellent book, Keys to Great Writing.
Wilbers credentials are impressive. He is a former Fulbright scholar, syndicated columnist, adjunct professor and writing consultant, author of a few books on writing. In 1995, he won the Outstanding Faculty Award at Hamline University’s graduate studies program. Since 1991, he has written a weekly column on effective writing, which appears in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and other newspapers.
What are the keys to great writing? Wilbers informs us his students always want to know how to make their writing vivid and memorable. How can they set themselves apart from other writers? How can they convey their personalities, points of views and values? How do they learn to write with a distinct style?
These are the principle themes of Wilbers’ book that walks us through in a such a manner that readers have the impression that they are attending a comprehensive writer’s workshop.
The first part deals with five keys of how to write: economy of expression, precision, action, music and personality. The second part deals with five elements of composition that have more to do with the “what” of writing rather than the “how.” These are broken down into purpose, point of view, organization, support and coherence.
Although some of the material may be familiar from our school days, it is the author’s easy- to-understand approach that keeps the reader wanting to turn the pages and learn more.
For example, learning the rules of English grammar was not exactly an exciting subject matter during our pre-college days.
Did we ever relate grammar to music? Wilbers points out “the written word is only a representation of our spoken, natural language, which is based not on the letters of the alphabet but on sound expression, and the “sounding” of words that we do in our heads as we write and read is a poor substitute for actually speaking and hearing them.”
When we speak we can sound happy, angry, worried or upset. If we learn how to use grammar and punctuation effectively, we can make our writing pleasing to the ear and convincing.
Novice as well as experienced writers will find this guide an excellent reference to be continuously consulted, particularly that the author has included in his appendix a step- by -step resumé of the keys.
As Wilbers mentions in his introduction, “Learn the five keys to great writing. Understand the five elements of composition. Practice the techniques relating to both. Do these things, and you’ll be on your way.”
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