“The ‘Moby-Dick’ of how-to-write books” (continued)

Bill’s illustrative quotes from writers like Joan Didion, Donald Barthelme, William Shakespeare, Edgar Alan Poe, Winston Churchill, the philosopher Karl Popper, Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon), the “prominent Tunisian writer” Hélé Béji, and of course the three classic writing coaches whom Bill often outdoes, George Orwell, William Zinsser, and Strunk and White. (Bill did not teach me to write sentences as long as that last one. Moreover, he warns that just telling a poor writer to read outstanding ones is like telling “people who want to housebreak a dog to watch circus lions leaping.”)

Write to the Point: And Feel Better About Your Writing is an expansion and rewrite of a book Bill first wrote in 1984 and revised in 1991. It stems from his 30 years of teaching writing to undergraduates at the University of Texas at Austin, but the ills he understandingly cites and shows how to avoid are flaws that all of us are heir to. This third edition, published as an Amazon Kindle for a princely $2.99 (click here), adds material about the Internet and the Web, and steers you through flippant, obscene, and “Mediterranean” diction. Throughout, its tone is encouraging and friendly. Above all, Bill demonstrates, “it’s content and straightforwardness that matter.”


Is It All Right to End a Sentence with a Preposition?

Yes. And to start one with an and. Or an or.


Maybe it’s difficult to finish what you’re writing because you no longer believe what you’re saying.


Proofreading– No escape: you have to do it.


Be strong, defiant, forbearing. Have a point to make and write to it. Heed the advice of both T. S. Eliot, a central writer of my youth, and Stephen King, a central writer of my children’s: Say what you want to say. And dare to say it as plainly as you can. Whether or not you write well, write bravely.


Some Faults Matter More Than Others

For several years in the 2000s I was a volunteer subeditor at Chile’s now-defunct English-language daily, The Santiago Times. The paper, a shoestring operation, didn’t appear on paper, only online. Its managing editor made a pittance; the rest of us writers and editors made nothing. The paper’s reporters were college students and recent grads from English-speaking countries, Scandinavia, and Germany, working for the experience. I was a fuddy-duddy retiree who envied their youth and bright futures.

But I found them making three grammar errors that, as I told them, might jeopardize their future at any English-language periodical that paid them for their labor. While I have your freshest attention in our new chapter, Reader, I want to spell out these errors, simple to complicated.

  1. It’s is the contraction of it is (“It’s a most unusual day”). It’s is also the contraction of it has (“So long, it’s been good to know you”).
  2. Its is the possessive of it (“Every dog has its day”). In another fifty years it may be that it’s will be used—as it now is often misused—to denote possession. But we’re not there yet.

Learn numbers 1 and 2 above.

Really learn them.

And if someone teases you by asking what its’ means, say, “You’re teasing me. That word doesn’t exist.” Because it doesn’t.

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