Three books you should read if you want to write

I’m not a junkie for this kind of thing but occasionally one comes across something remarkable. I would recommend:

Style: Towards Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams. I first read this a decade ago and I’ll admit I haven’t felt the need to return recently. But it was a real eye-opener. Rather than offering rules such as “don’t write in the passive voice”, Williams lifts the lid on the English language, showing how readers understand sentences and paragraphs. This makes it far easier to write clearly – and understand why the passive voice is sometimes exactly what is needed. There are some magical moments, when Williams subtly violates his own rules to show how that produces prose that seems clear but is strangely incomprehensible – paragraphs and sentences that the mind simply slides away from. A remarkable book.

The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William Blundell is a spiky, world-weary and wise guide to long-form journalism. It’s packed with examples of the most superb writing, which Blundell takes apart to show exactly why they work. It’s the most directly relevant to the kind of writing to which I aspire so unlike the Williams book, this is one I keep re-reading. I’m reading it now, in fact.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is a different creature entirely, a book about the creative process by a noted choreographer. Occasionally I find it irritating but there are also many gems. The book is all about the value of hard work and the conflict between inspiration and organisation. Here is Merlin Mann on Twyla’s advice.

But if you let any of these books distract you from the business of ACTUALLY WRITING, you’re an idiot. Speaking of which, time for me to get back to Chapter Four.  See you tomorrow for my usual Saturday columns.

(Also see: five tips for writing non-fiction.)

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.