It is Christmas Eve morning, and although I am supposed to be on the road already, I didn’t want to leave home without telling you about this helpful book. It’s subtitled Field Notes on Nonfiction Writing, but fiction writers could benefit from it, too. The author, Francis Flaherty, has been an editor at The New York Times for almost two decades, and his insider’s tips read like a cheat-sheet for good writing.
For those who caught the reference to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: yes, it is intentional, and you will see the similarities and differences when you crack open this book: like Strunk & White (as many of us fondly refer to that slim manual, at least those of us who have read it 15 times or more), it contains invaluable nuggets about writing. But in this case the nuggets are not about style as much about the structure of stories and how to engage the reader with various approaches. Flaherty’s prose is clear and captivating, and as I’m currently attempting to navigate my way through a couple of particularly complex writing projects, I find his aphorisms both constructive and inspiring. Take this: “A subject is not a story; it is many possible stories. To write is to choose, which is to exclude.” Yes. Yesyesyes.
His insights are not just for writers, though. By revealing writers’ techniques, he sheds light on how to interpret what they’ve written. So, whether you’re a writer or a reader, I think you will want to pick this one up.