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Book Review: Writing Tools - 50 Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Let me start with a disclaimer that the use of books like this one depends on the writer. Are you an amateur writer? Are you a student? Are you a professional writer with a few published titles under your name? Are you a wannabe journalist or a famous one?

Books with tips and tricks for writing aren't my favorites. Articles are my go-to sources always. In an attempt to try a new genre, I elected this book. The overall experience has been quite good. Some tips confirmed my perspective of viewing stories, while others taught me how to make my craft better.

One thing I enjoyed in the book was the examples provided. While the author leaned more towards journalistic examples as the book progressed, I could still relate to the tool.

Before finalizing the book, I did go through other reviews, and some of them mentioned how this book would benefits journalists more. Though I don't deny it, I will add that this book is a great help for short story writers as well. It's one of the reasons why I could relate to a lot of tools. Shorter word count, tight editing, even deadlines (for writing contests) are part of the short story writer's life, especially those who are working their way up into the publishing world. Some of the tools help in identifying words, phrases, and paragraphs we don't need in the story.

Yes, you see, he likes to call them tools instead of rules. It's got a simple reason. Not all tools are required for every story or project. We can pick and choose the ones we want. That said, some tools are primary concepts that every writer needs to be aware of. As we reach the end of the book, he talks about collecting ideas, planning the plot, rehearsing the writing in the mind, and following a systematic approach from formulating the ideas to drafting and editing.

My favorite of the tools is about watching adverbs. If you've read my book review in January, you'd know that these are my pet peeves. Seeing it mentioned as early as the 5th tool made me happy and relieved (so that I can tell others that I'm not torturing them).

Watch the adverbs, the tool says. Then comes another favorite tool at 10- cut big, then small. It talks about editing the story with ruthless precision. Editing has been my new found love for a while. Reading stories I've written long ago makes me cringe. I've been guilty of doing all those I dislike today. And, that made me understand why this book is so important and has as many fans. Imagine reading this book back then, I'd have learned sooner than I did on my own. There are advantages to personal experience, and I'm glad for it. But, you get my point.

However, there is also a downside to it. If the writer tries to use all tools (the author warns against it more than once), they could start loathing the craft and give up. It depends on the writer and how they approach the entire concept.

I'm tempted to mention a few tools so I'll list them below. See if you find any favorites among those. Or, maybe you have a contradictory opinion. It would be nice to discuss it. It's one of the points he mentions in the book. Tool 49 talks about accepting any kind of criticism and not debating with the critic. He advises conversing by explaining our viewpoint instead of defending it. Not easy, I know. But we can always try.

Tool 13: Play with words, even in serious stories.

Tool 22: Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction (learn when to show and when to tell).

Tool 30: To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers.

Tool 40: Draft a mission statement for the work. [it's something I can't do always but I do opt for it when the ideas are too conflicted in my mind].

Tool 44: (I love this!) Save string. (collect ideas for bigger projects from various sources). He advises on maintaining a physical box or an electronic one to collect news, information, opinions, etc. from the surroundings about the topic we want to write. Over time, this would help in directing and channeling our research.

Tool 48: Limit self-criticism. Write first. Edit as a critic.

Tool 52: Express the best thought in the shortest sentence.

Tool 55: Look for inciting incidents to kick start the story.

The author mentions how most of us writers would know these tools and would have already been using them. The intention is to sharpen the tools and give them the required authenticity. He does that.

If you're wondering about the 4 stars, there is no particular reason. I was feeling stingy with ratings when I wrote this.

To conclude, the book could be of help to a lot of writers and can also mess up some of them. The trick is to read this only if you are comfortable with taking writing tips from others (even if it's a famous person).

Four Stars


About the author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.

If you love poetry, you will enjoy this book:


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1 Comment

Stephanie Stott
Stephanie Stott
Mar 16, 2020

Thank you for reviewing one of the books I suggested! I'm glad it was of help to you. It's definitely a great tool for authors (upcoming or well-written).

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