Today’s book review, on William Shakespeare’s birthday, is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey.
Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (and everything you build from them.
You may write blog posts, e-books, e-mails, executive summaries, e-zine articles, hospital-hallway signs, presentations, proposals, lab reports, letters to the editor, love letters, lunch-bag notes, movie reviews, news stories, novels, online help, plays, poems, proposals, recipes, reference manuals, scholarly critiques, speeches, term papers, tweets, user-interface text, video scripts, web pages, or white papers.
You may write for a million readers or for one. You may use a pen, a typewriter, a wiki, or an XML authoring tool. You may be a grammar snob, or you may think that “grammar snobs are great big meanies.” You may write because something within you says you can’t not write – or because your boss says you can’t not write. No matter what you write, or how or why, you and every other writer have two things in common: you use words, and you want someone to want to read them.
How do you get people to want to read your words? Know your subject. Know your audience. And write powerfully. This book can help you write powerfully.
‘Word Up!’ is available from http://www.amazon.com/Write-Powerful-Sentences-Paragraphs-Everything-ebook/dp/B00CYSB2IK and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Write-Powerful-Sentences-Paragraphs-Everything-ebook/dp/B00CYSB2IK.
Review (of the Kindle version)
Unusually (in my experience anyway), we’re asked if we like the book to tweet and post our feedback. This is a little off-putting as I don’t know whether I like it or not yet. I can understand it being near the front because readers, once they’ve read the book, might close it before they get to a near-the-back ‘Like it?’ page (where I have this in my eBooks) and Marcia may never know, although by the time they’ve got to the end, they may have forgotten she’s asked the question.
I’m not normally a fan of ‘acclaim’ appearing at the beginning of a book before and Marcia’s has loads (21, including one that just says, “Witty”), so I have high expectations.
The Contents page is packed (and mainly split into three parts; I = Up with Words, II = Up with Sentences and Paragraphs, III = Up with Writing)
I found the Foreword a little sickly (praising), written by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler which then takes us into the Preface we’re introduced, by Marcia, to her English teacher, Mrs White, who I grew to like in just a couple of paragraphs. Marcia then talks about U.S. English education more generally.
The Acknowledgements lists some of the people who have influenced Marcia’s life and it is a long list (26 paragraphs). Again, I felt this would have been far better placed at the back as we already have a very simple dedication (For Brian and Elizabeth) at the front.
The book starts 12% of the way through with the Introduction – how the book came about and what it plans to achieve which finished with ‘Up with (Thoughtful) Prescriptiveism, which discusses how language has changed and still is changing.
Part 1 (Up with Words) encourages us to dispose of – where we can – weak versions of the verb ‘to be’ and has some very useful editing tips with ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples, e.g. instead of ‘It is important to tighten your sentences’, a stronger version is ‘Tighten your sentences’.
Next we have ‘Talk – I Mean Obfuscate – Your Way to the Top’, aimed at business professionals, followed by ‘The Only Thing That These Signs Have in Common’ which looks at uses of the word ‘only’.
Moving on to pronouns in ‘Her and I: How to Banish Painful Personal-Pronoun Pairings’, this section covers the regularly misused ‘I’ vs ‘me’.
‘To Each Their Own’ picks up on something prevalent in social media; where the gender of a user is unknown, the system uses ‘they’ or ‘their’ and Marcia provides some alternative suggestions.
‘Whom Ya Gonna Call?’ covers who vs whom and this is another grey area in literature.
Hyphens are discussed next, and hyphens vs dashes are something I’m often highlighting to my editing clients so it’s useful to have another writer’s opinion on it.
After a short dissection of the word ‘different’, we return to the topic of editing, looking at adverbs, empty intensifiers (very, such, so), negative words (not, no) and so on. This section, and the book itself, has some great examples and it shows the quality of the writing. My favourite of this ‘The Pen is Mightier Than the Shovel’ is the ‘period of time’ paragraph.
Part II concentrated on sentences and paragraphs, the essence of any storytelling, but broken down to include aspects such as metaphors – which Marcia rightly points outs are easy to write badly and so gives us some examples of some great ones, commas and other punctuation, sentence and paragraph lengths (always recommended to vary them to quicken / slow pace), and brevity for modern reading. I was then treated to some rhyming poetry for making the words come alive (they certainly did). This finished Part II and lead on to ‘Up with Writing’ which starts off by looking at revising the writing you’ve done, and then the aspect of writing that most writers dread: marketing, and then knowing your audience. We write to be read… don’t we?
Each chapter starts with a quotation and ‘Decisions, Decisions’ leads with, “To choose wrongly is to leave the hearer or reader with a fuzzy or mistaken impression. To choose well is to give both illumination and delight.” S.I. Hayakawa. This section is about the choices we make as a writer, what to include and what to leave out. As we all know, writing the first draft is the easy bit; it’s when we come to edit that the work really starts. One of my Monday writers spends a day on a paragraph. Is her writing better for it? Probably. I should say “undoubtedly” but she admits that she’ll remove a word or sentence, only to add it back in the next day. Equally, my clichéd heart sinks when I hear of writers who have deleted an entire section because it was “rubbish” only to later wish they hadn’t. This is what computers are for; you can, and should, have different versions – I start at 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 etc then 2.0 for a new sweep of the entire manuscript. That way, if I lose one of my ‘darlings’, they still have a chance of being resurrected. They usually aren’t, but they’re still there to be used for something else.
After an afterword is an appendix which discusses indexes, then an early version of the book cover (which is brilliant – oh, to be able to draw like that) and a very cute photo of Marcia in front of a pile of books. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until after I’d started at a creative writing class nine years ago so am always envious of those with an early interest. Finally is an incredibly useful Glossary which could actually be read first, then the book read and then the glossary read again. In fact, I’d recommend doing that then the book wouldn’t have felt so daunting (to me anyway). Ditto the Topics Index; it would show how thorough this book is and how it should be devoured at a sensible pace, not in the few hours straight in my case. Next is the Names Index of all the people mentioned in the book, and there are a lot (16 pages) of those followed by the final section, Titles Index, almost equally extensive. It must have taken Marcia such a long time (and perspiration) to compile this book so I don’t feel that my whizz through it has done it justice but it’ll stay on my Kindle and I’m sure, will be dipped into from time to time – the joy of technology.
Despite being a creative writing tutor, grammar is not a strong area of mine and it takes books like this to remind me the technicalities. While it could be daunting, it really isn’t. Marcia is friendly, gentle and very thorough. She clearly is a very clever and well-educated woman. I like to think I am too but at times it was rather beyond me in terminology. I felt it is a book aimed at professional writers (in business or otherwise) who already have a keen grasp of the English language. Like James Patterson’s chapters, I liked the short sections as they meant the book could cover so many different aspects. The section-beginning quotes and ending numbered footnotes made it feel, for me, too much like a business book but it did have plenty of information that, even if I knew already, served as handy reminders. Forrest Gump’s mother once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates” and this is how ‘Word Up!’ feels; there are some I’d pass (coffee and orange usually) but others I relish (caramel, cherry). Once I got through the ‘packaging’ and into the contents itself, I enjoyed it, although I only read it the once (in three sittings) for this review. This book, I feel, is more suited to a more thorough exploration with time spent dwelling on each chapter before moving on to the next.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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