Recommendation: Peter Roy Clark’s WRITING TOOLS

writingtoolsPeter Roy Clark’s book Writing Tools answers writing questions I never thought to ask. When should I list just one item versus two, three, or more? When is passive voice useful? What’s the most powerful placement in a sentence or paragraph for a given word?

Starting with the smallest details and expanding to ever broader ideas, Clark’s fifty writing tools struck me in the head like an unexpected apple from a very insightful tree. Opening with “Begin sentences with subjects and verbs” and wrapping up with “Own the tools of your craft,” Writing Tools offers unambiguous, concise, practical recommendations for all varieties of writing, starting each of of its fifty sections with an explanation of the point, then driving it home with illuminating examples.

Clark uses these tools as he explains them. For example, in summarizing “Tool 20: Choose the number of elements with the purpose in mind,” Clark says

  • Use one for power.
  • Use two for comparison, contrast.
  • Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness.
  • Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.

Along with pointing out ways to optimize writing, Clark trots out metaphors that show effective ways to accomplish key writing tasks, like keeping the reader happy (with gold coins left here and there in your piece) and explaining difficult concepts (by climbing up and down the Ladder of Abstraction).

Many of the good habits Clark describes can gradually develop without ever registering as specific techniques, as when an untrained but skilled singer uses vibrato and grace notes to add more feeling to a song. Certainly some of Clark’s points felt validating to me because I had already figured them out intuitively. Even then, though, Clark often sheds new light. Writing Tools adds, clarifies, and completes what we already understand about writing.

You may not agree with every one of Clark’s suggested techniques, and some of them may not be entirely applicable to your writing, but regardless of who you are or how long and well you’ve been writing, I’d be amazed if you didn’t come away from reading Writing Tools without at least a few insights that will be worth many times the price of the book.

Note: For a little more discussion of the “gold coins” tool, see my blog post.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of August 11, 2014

The most important thing we do for each other is provide honest, thoughtful responses for our friends and fellow writers. I’ve written an essay that offers six strategies for providing this feedback. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it and use these strategies next time you respond to someone’s work.

Here are the opportunities and announcements for this week. Continue reading

A Poem for Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell. Photo by Richard Brown.

Galway Kinnell. Photo by Richard Brown.

Galway Kinnell was honored today fat the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vermont for his accomplishments as a poet. Vermont Poet Gary Margolis wrote this as a tribute to Kinnell.

Coming to the Statehouse to Honor Galway Kinnell
by Gary Margolis

Under Washington, his portrait,
in this chamber, the well
of the House, we’ve come
to honor one of ours.

Word-neighbor. Poem-maker.
Among other things, champion
of using is three times rightly
and consecutively in a verse’s

line. Here, where our state’s once
chief executive welcomes us and asks
what our state would be, if
we, wall-to-wall, poets were voted in

to caste our votes. We’re sitting
at their desks with the aye and nay
switch close at hand. And listening
to his words read back to him.

By our country’s best representatives.
I mean his writing, singing heirs.
Who, as Frost said, say his poems
into our listening air. Our poet, sitting

among us, holding his hand to his ear,
speaker-like. Although you can be sure
he can read their lips, for a scent
of bear, love-moaning from a bedroom.

a field’s lipstick of blueberries.
As well as the pause between words.
Where he lives, too. Here in our fortunate
Vermont. We can fill a well with the songs

of Galway Kinnell. Who we can’t do without.
Who’s not here to sit for his portrait.
Who still speaks in and out.
Who rises to our long standing applause.

Learn more about Gary Margolis.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of August 4, 2014

We have a few milestones to mention. First, Mud Season Review closed the submission period for the first issue, which will launch on Saturday, September 20th at Hotel Vermont. More than 600 submissions (yes, 600) came through, so we’re bound to launch a terrific debut on 9/20. Second, we’ve closed submissions for the third Hotel Vermont book. Third, we’ve closed submissions for the reading at the Burlington Book Festival. We have, however, extended one deadline, and that’s part of this week’s opportunities and announcements for Vermont writers.  Continue reading

Flynn Center Seeks Bloggers!

flynncenterThe Flynn Center is once again offering bloggers the chance to write about shows for the Flynn Center Blog in exchange for a pair of tickets to select performances for the 2014/2015 season. It’s a wonderful opportunity to exercise your creative writing skills and see some cultural icons and, yes, superstars.

Here’s how it works: You pick one show and an alternate from the list below and send a note to our Flynn Center liaison, Pat Goudey O’Brien, using the form below. One blogger (and one guest) per show. If you’re assigned a show, you’ll be expected to write a blog post about it and send it to Pat no more than two weeks before the show. Do this, and tickets will be waiting for you at will call. Then, after the show, you’ll write a post-show blog entry within a day or two and send it to Pat. Pat will help you edit these if necessary. Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of July 28, 2014

Writing opportunities abound this week. That’s the good news. The bad news: some of these opportunities expire on August 1st. I hope you’ve got work ready to submit! But if not, that’s fine—one of the worst things a writer can do is submit work that’s not ready for prime time. Take your time—but work steadily!

Here are the opportunities and announcements for this week.  Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of July 21, 2014

Summer is at it’s peak and the BWW is cooking up some fun to take you through the rest of the season.

BWW now has T-Shirts!

Thanks to the artistic skills of BWW member Amanda Vella and the entrepreneurial Michael Freed-Thall you can order your very own, original design, BWW T-shirt for a mere $15. Men’s, children’s and women’s sizes are available in a wide range of colors. Order forms can be picked up at meetings, filled out and left in the internal mailbox in the BWW space. Checks should be made out to Burlington Writers Workshop. You will be notified when the shirts are in. Payment is due when you pick-up your shirt.

Here are the opportunities and announcements for this week. Continue reading

BWW Wins Vermont Community Foundation Grant for StoryhackVT Workshops


I’m happy to announce that the Burlington Writers Workshop has won a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation to assist with hosting a series of “digital storytelling” workshops with Nate Herzog of StoryhackVT.

This “Small and Inspiring Grant” of $2,143 will fund eight “digital storytelling” workshops with StoryhackVT at the BWW’s writing center off Pine Street in Burlington.

This grant will allow us to purchase, among other things, a digital projector, which will enable a group of would-be digital storytellers to learn how digital media can be manipulated to tell a story. It’s a critical piece of the puzzle, and we’ll have it thanks to the Vermont Community Foundation.

Our friend Nate Herzog of StoryhackVT has this to say:  “The Burlington Writers Workshop was one of the first teams to sign up for our first StoryHackVT event in 2013. Since that event they have shown a continual interest in digital storytelling. It’s exciting to see them invest in equipment and workshops that empower and inform their writing community. I am thrilled to work with the BWW to show writers how they can apply their skills in new media.”

The next StoryhackVT/Burlington Writers Workshop event takes place on Tuesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. so feel free to RSVP and join the digital storytelling fun!

Thanks to our fiscal agent, the League of Vermont Writers, for making us eligible for grants like this.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of July 7, 2014

The financial advisory committee met last week and, among other things, we’ve decided that Cathy Beaudoin will be our volunteer accountant. Cathy is an Assistant Professor at The University of Vermont School of Business. She’s taken the records I’ve been keeping and whipped them into professional shape. If you’d like to receive a copy of the balance sheet, please sign up for our email list.I’ll send it later this week.

Here are the opportunities and announcements for this week. Continue reading