January 4, 2018

Writer about writing wants help writing his next book about writing


Roy Peter Clark. Not me.

Among the most common tropes among writers, or those hoping to be writers, is that writing is hard. I can’t really disagree, considering that I stared at a blank WordPress box for thirty minutes before even typing the kernel of the thought that would become this blog post.

No surprise, then, that there are numerous books about writing and how to get better at it. Or how to make writing easier. Or how writing will never be easy and any attempt at trying to write something worthwhile will strip the soul of all peace it once did or ever could possess.

Author Roy Peter Clark—no known relation to the author of this blog post—has contributed a few notable bestsellers to the “writing on writing” genre. His most popular, a small volume titled Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, is a perennial favorite. It’s a collection of fifty essays from a guy the marketing copy calls “America’s most influential writing teacher.” All told, this rounds out an impressive list of seventeen books Clark has written on the subject, his courses at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a mobile app pointedly named “Help! For Writers.”

For his next project, Clark—not the one writing this page (or maybe it is, a la Borges)—-wants to take his writing advice to the next level. In particular, to a populist level. Or maybe he’s just getting a bit crocked in the rocker and thinks crowdsourcing writing advice from wannabe writers is a fun way to interrogate the writing demons of the struggling, wobegone pedants out there. He’s posted a call on the school’s website for writers to send him their favorite books and advice on writing. Clark will then review said books and advice in his new book. He explains:

Here is where you come in. If you are reading this, you probably think of yourself as a critical reader and a purposeful writer. Chances are you have read a book or essay that has propelled you in your craft. For me, it was “Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell…

If you will be so kind, I am looking for the book that moved you into your craft as a writer in any genre. If you have written a book that you know has been helpful to other writers, please feel free to send me a copy. If you have been the reader of such a book, please email me:

  • Name of the work and the author.
  • The best lesson you’ve learned.
  • Why you would recommend it.

As I very well could be Mr. Peter Clark’s literary co-spirit, I’ve submitted a much-forgotten work from a much-beloved writer of novels and screenplays to the project. You, too, can send your thoughts to Clark (who, again, is not me) at [email protected].

Here’s mine:

Name of the work and the author: Graham GreeneWays of Escape

The best lesson you’ve learned: Living a full life can be a powerful tool for becoming a good writer. The book is mostly a memoir and discusses how aspects of Greene’s life led to his fiction. And, most importantly, describes how writing his stories became a form a therapy.

Why you would recommend it: It describes a writing process that seems as organic and natural as Greene’s prose. It makes writing seem spontaneous, not so structural and planned, showing how Greene’s books flowed from how his life was led. It gives me hope that a writer can be a person who writes before the sun comes up and spends the remainder exploring.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.