A Little Book Every Writer Should Own

I have hosted writer’s groups for more than 20 years and spoken with many, many people who wanted to be writers and I believe each and every one of us has the potential to be a great writer. I’ve seen it happen again and again and it never fails to inspire my sense of wonder.

People write great stuff when they are released from the forces that hold them back, and for every writer, those forces are different, but there are a lot of commonalities I have observed. The first, and the most formidable, is the inner critic.

The inner critic is important, but not at the creative stage. The inner critic is an adult. The creator is a child. It’s an unfair match. The inner critic has to be bound and gagged until a body of work has been created. That’s a very big until.

Another force that inhibits writing great stuff is the fear of mispellings or grammatical errors. When you think about it, that’s a pretty bogus concern. You can always find someone to take care of that kind of thing once you have a viable work in hand.

I once tutored college students writing for the first time, and one student I met was part of a marine rescue network up in Maine. At the age of 18, he had already saved two people’s lives and had made ten thousand dollars speculating on the stock market. But he couldn’t spell, and he never will be able to spell. I could tell because even if he spelled a word correctly at the beginning of a paragraph, he would misspell the same word later. They say you pick your problems.

My advice to him was to find an underemployed Ivy Leaguer for eight bucks an hour.

As far as grammar goes, do yourself a favor. Go to a used book store and ask for The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Strunk is the grammarian. White is the brilliant writer. Then read it.

It’s a very short book, but it will give you confidence and command of grammar. And then, don’t worry about it. Get down to the business of telling your story.