Writing Tools

For years I’ve tried to make the ending of whatever piece I’m writing have a little thump right at the end, a bit of drama to make the machine stop. I can’t remember where or who I stole this technique from but at some point I noticed that the best writing always ends in crescendo, rewarding the reader for getting to the final word. Through experimenting I eventually figured out that the best way to force that orchestral ending is to write the ending as you normally would and then mercilessly cut chunks out of it and rearrange the pieces, hoping to find the best ending that’s hidden in there, hoping to find that satisfying thump.

In Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark outlines techniques to improve your writing like that above but organizes them, puts them in stark relief, and makes them memorable. It’s certainly one of the best books about writing that I’ve picked up.

On ending things with a thump, Clark writes:

Don’t bury your ending. Put your hand over the last paragraph. Ask yourself, “What would happen if this ended here?” Move it up another paragraph and ask the same question until you find the natural stopping place.

It’s advice like this I wish I had found in university because it’s actionable stuff, unlike the kind of writing advice you hear like “never place your writing desk in front of a window” which I remember from Stephen King. (I like my window! Leave it alone!)

There’s a lot of handy writing tips besides that in Writing Tools, including “write what you fear” which is also something I’ve tried to follow for years without putting a name to it. But a lot of Roy’s tools in this book are novel to me, for example this snippet that I want to tack up on my office wall:

At the St. Petersburg Times, editors and writing coaches warn reporters not to return to the office without “the name of the dog.” That reporting task does not require the writer to use the detail in the story, but it reminds the reporter to keep her eyes and ears opened.

And, of course:

Some adjectives—ashen, blond, and winged—help us see. But adjectives such as enthusiastic are abstract nouns in disguise.

(Thanks for recommending this lovely book, Robin.)