word craft


Revealing how writers write

  • Nabokov's Favorite Word is MauveErnest Hem­ing­way has the lit­er­ary rep­u­ta­tion for pre­cise, unclut­tered writ­ing. Is it justified?
  • Elmore Leonard famous­ly object­ed to the use of excla­ma­tion points (!) to juice up the ener­gy of prose. Did he fol­low his own advice?
  • E.B. White urged read­ers to cur­tail using the word “not” to describe actions. Describe actions, he urged, in pos­i­tive terms.  It enhances char­ac­ter por­tray­al.  Did his own writ­ing do that?
  • Who among pop­u­lar writ­ers today uses the most cliché’s? The least?
  • Is there a best—typical—way to begin a book?
  • If you are a writer, is there one word of which you are so fond—or is it just a habit—that you use it exces­sive­ly, so that you there­by deplete your own writ­ing and the impact of that very word?

Ben Blatt, in his book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, answers these ques­tions and many more. He does so by using up-to-date mass data col­lec­tion and com­put­er scans, to reveal how writ­ers write. I found the book not only fas­ci­nat­ing, but—from a writ­ing point of view—very instructive.

He is not sug­gest­ing there is a math­e­mat­i­cal for­mu­la for good writ­ing, but that every writer has pat­terns, imbed­ded struc­tures, and word usage, which may help, or hurt one’s work.  The point is, a good writer needs to become con­scious of these elements.

As for those who teach writ­ing, this is a book that will help you define some key prob­lems about the skill—and difficulty—of writ­ing well.

Read­ers? You’ll be fas­ci­nat­ed what you have, or have not noticed.

Librar­i­ans, you will look at your shelves differently.

4 thoughts on “Revealing how writers write”

  1. I always enjoy your posts, Avi. I will def­i­nite­ly look up this book. One of my recur­ring themes, as a writer, is inclu­sion and I have a ten­den­cy to write with a British mind­set — spelling, words — prob­a­bly from being an Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture major. 🙂 Oh, and I like smi­ly faces.

  2. Inter­est­ing thoughts. When I first began writ­ing with Dr Mil­dred Laugh­lin I used the word “won­der­ful” over and over and nev­er noticed until she cir­cled and laughed at every overused descrip­tor. It was a “won­der­ful” way to point out my weak­ness. I still laugh when I see or hear that word.


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