1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Kidder and Todd's Good Prose

By February 1, 2013

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This book is in part an account of lessons learned, learned by a writer and an editor working together over nearly forty years. Good Prose is addressed to readers and writers, to people who care about writing, about how it gets done, about how to do it better.
(Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. Random House, 2013)

If you've grown beyond usage manuals and would like to read a stylish guide to good writing, pick up or download a copy of Kidder and Todd's Good Prose.

This collaboration between a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and his longtime editor is at once a memoir, a conversation, and a master class. It's also the best book on creative nonfiction since William Zinsser's On Writing Well.

In the manner of ancient storytellers, the authors tend to condense their observations into maxims before moving on to fresh topics. Consider these randomly chosen examples.

  • To place yourself on the page is in part self-discovery, in part self-creation.

  • As a rule, the smaller the canvas, the more intrusive the first person is likely to be.

  • The honest nonfiction storyteller is a restrained illusionist.

  • [I]f you want to write more than one book in your lifetime, you have to write your first draft quickly.

  • It is possible to be a journalist without sounding like a newspaper.

  • Writing is revision. All prose responds to work.

  • Writers assert. Editors react.

  • Writers who need editors have to learn to listen, really listen, to advice that no one wants to hear.

  • The familiar rules about writing . . . are handy as correctives, but not very useful as instruction.

  • All good writing ultimately is a contest with the inexpressible.

You may be puzzled by these succinct lessons, or you may already be posting them around your workplace. In either case, I encourage you to read and enjoy Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction.

More Writers on Writing:

Image: Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House, 2013)


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