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The Writer's Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose

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Do your sentences sag? Could your paragraphs use a pick-me-up? If so, The Writer’s Diet is for you! It’s a short, sharp introduction to great writing that will help you energize your prose and boost your verbal fitness. Helen Sword dispenses with excessive explanations and overwrought analysis. Instead, she offers an easy-to-follow set of writing principles: use active ver Do your sentences sag? Could your paragraphs use a pick-me-up? If so, The Writer’s Diet is for you! It’s a short, sharp introduction to great writing that will help you energize your prose and boost your verbal fitness. Helen Sword dispenses with excessive explanations and overwrought analysis. Instead, she offers an easy-to-follow set of writing principles: use active verbs whenever possible; favor concrete language over vague abstractions; avoid long strings of prepositional phrases; employ adjectives and adverbs only when they contribute something new to the meaning of a sentence; and reduce your dependence on four pernicious “waste words”: it, this, that, and there. Sword then shows the rules in action through examples from William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King Jr., John McPhee, A. S. Byatt, Richard Dawkins, Alison Gopnik, and many more. A writing fitness test encourages you to assess your own writing and get immediate advice on addressing problem areas. While The Writer’s Diet is as sleek and concise as the writing ideals contained within, this slim volume packs a powerful punch. With Sword’s coaching writers of all levels can strengthen and tone their sentences with the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse. As with any fitness routine, adhering to the rules requires energy and vigilance. The results, however, will speak for themselves.


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Do your sentences sag? Could your paragraphs use a pick-me-up? If so, The Writer’s Diet is for you! It’s a short, sharp introduction to great writing that will help you energize your prose and boost your verbal fitness. Helen Sword dispenses with excessive explanations and overwrought analysis. Instead, she offers an easy-to-follow set of writing principles: use active ver Do your sentences sag? Could your paragraphs use a pick-me-up? If so, The Writer’s Diet is for you! It’s a short, sharp introduction to great writing that will help you energize your prose and boost your verbal fitness. Helen Sword dispenses with excessive explanations and overwrought analysis. Instead, she offers an easy-to-follow set of writing principles: use active verbs whenever possible; favor concrete language over vague abstractions; avoid long strings of prepositional phrases; employ adjectives and adverbs only when they contribute something new to the meaning of a sentence; and reduce your dependence on four pernicious “waste words”: it, this, that, and there. Sword then shows the rules in action through examples from William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King Jr., John McPhee, A. S. Byatt, Richard Dawkins, Alison Gopnik, and many more. A writing fitness test encourages you to assess your own writing and get immediate advice on addressing problem areas. While The Writer’s Diet is as sleek and concise as the writing ideals contained within, this slim volume packs a powerful punch. With Sword’s coaching writers of all levels can strengthen and tone their sentences with the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse. As with any fitness routine, adhering to the rules requires energy and vigilance. The results, however, will speak for themselves.

30 review for The Writer's Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose

  1. 5 out of 5

    Simone

    To begin with, let me point out how criminally expensive this book is. I bought it from the publisher's website for $31 NZD and the book is the tiniest thing I have ever read. (Before you hate on me for my own stupidity I needed to buy the book for my Web Writing course) Now let the review proceed: The Writer's Diet attempts to "trim down" your own writing by giving you guidelines on how to make your text more readable. So you would assume it makes it's points clearly and uses relevant examples to To begin with, let me point out how criminally expensive this book is. I bought it from the publisher's website for $31 NZD and the book is the tiniest thing I have ever read. (Before you hate on me for my own stupidity I needed to buy the book for my Web Writing course) Now let the review proceed: The Writer's Diet attempts to "trim down" your own writing by giving you guidelines on how to make your text more readable. So you would assume it makes it's points clearly and uses relevant examples to keep you on the right path? It doesn't. Instead it uses poems and Shakespearean texts as examples. And that's fine if you're into that kind of stuff; but for us average Joe Bloggs we don't know what the heck Shakespeare was on about and assume he was probably on drugs during writing periods. So, that being said, I was still in the dark as to what writing is good and what's bad. If you nearly failed English (like me) this book is not for you. Nouns, adjectives, adverbs, hedgehogs... It's all incredibly overwhelming. The Writer's Diet preaches to the choir and closes the door to heathens.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jing Ling Tan

    A succinct book with simple but essential tips on writing. 5 sacred rules: 1. Use active verbs whenever possible 2. Favour concrete language over vague abstractions 3. Avoid long strings of prepositional phrases 4. Employ adjectives and adverbs only when they contribute something new to the meaning of a sentence 5. Reduce your dependence on four pernicious 'waste words': it, this, that and there A succinct book with simple but essential tips on writing. 5 sacred rules: 1. Use active verbs whenever possible 2. Favour concrete language over vague abstractions 3. Avoid long strings of prepositional phrases 4. Employ adjectives and adverbs only when they contribute something new to the meaning of a sentence 5. Reduce your dependence on four pernicious 'waste words': it, this, that and there

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tara Brabazon

    Oh no. I thought this short book would be terrific. This book is wasting a great metaphor. Fit writing is a great phrase, with metaphors of exercise, dieting and training all finding a place. But this is too basic and chaotic in its argument. Page upon page I pondered the point of the prose. A fine writer who drained the power of a great idea.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Fady

    The book started with a great promise; a concise writing guide. The basic argument is nothing new, which is how to write plain English. When I compared the quality of "Writer's Diet" to the classic manual "Elements of Style", I found Mrs Sword did not add much. Many other excellent guides in the market can offer a succinct direction, without using the "diet" analogy. The book itself is not very readable from my point of view. It is vague and lacks cohesion. The book started with a great promise; a concise writing guide. The basic argument is nothing new, which is how to write plain English. When I compared the quality of "Writer's Diet" to the classic manual "Elements of Style", I found Mrs Sword did not add much. Many other excellent guides in the market can offer a succinct direction, without using the "diet" analogy. The book itself is not very readable from my point of view. It is vague and lacks cohesion.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    At 77 pages, The Writer's Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose is the size of an ambitious pamphlet. Like its predecessor, The Elements of Style, it packs direct, sage advice between its modest covers. One of the best themes that returns throughout the book is that The Writer's Diet is not a "plug-and-chug" system: it cannot evaluate the merits of an argument or diagnose the effectiveness of an author's style, but can only point out where unnecessary words remain or where poor structural choices hamstring At 77 pages, The Writer's Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose is the size of an ambitious pamphlet. Like its predecessor, The Elements of Style, it packs direct, sage advice between its modest covers. One of the best themes that returns throughout the book is that The Writer's Diet is not a "plug-and-chug" system: it cannot evaluate the merits of an argument or diagnose the effectiveness of an author's style, but can only point out where unnecessary words remain or where poor structural choices hamstring a sentence's ideas. The virtue of The Writer's Diet is that it offers its readers a stark look at the ideas about writing that they take for granted.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hamish Seamus

    Short, to the point. Good book. The core idea seems to be: keep writing simple. It can be simpler than you realize. Stick to SVO structure as much as possible, using lemmas where you can. Spice up your writing with variety, rather than complexity. Create vivid mental animations via concrete nouns and specific, active verbs. Prepositions are garbage. Ad-words (adjectives and adverbs) are mostly garbage. But worst of all are demonstratives and pronouns, which invite ambiguity, fuzzy thinking, and g Short, to the point. Good book. The core idea seems to be: keep writing simple. It can be simpler than you realize. Stick to SVO structure as much as possible, using lemmas where you can. Spice up your writing with variety, rather than complexity. Create vivid mental animations via concrete nouns and specific, active verbs. Prepositions are garbage. Ad-words (adjectives and adverbs) are mostly garbage. But worst of all are demonstratives and pronouns, which invite ambiguity, fuzzy thinking, and grammatical complexity. Avoid like the plague. Similarly, starting sentences with "there is" often leads to sweeping generalizations. Similarly, avoid. Expanding on the animation idea, I suspect a good mental framework is this: you are animating a scene in your reader's brain. Each sentence should encode the transition to the next key frame. For example, "left hand moves from here to there", "door opens".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    The The writers diet is about: choosing active verbs, avoiding nomilzations, adverbs, and filler words. Use preposition that convey motion and use them with care. Keep the verb close the subject. Great excersize: Abstract to concrete then back again – take abstract word and make it concrete. Take concrete word and make it abstract. Avoid so called action verbs that are bland – have, make do and use. Ion, ism, ty, ment, ness, ance,ence. Use preposi The The writers diet is about: choosing active verbs, avoiding nomilzations, adverbs, and filler words. Use preposition that convey motion and use them with care. Keep the verb close the subject. Great excersize: Abstract to concrete then back again – take abstract word and make it concrete. Take concrete word and make it abstract. Avoid so called action verbs that are bland – have, make do and use. Ion, ism, ty, ment, ness, ance,ence. Use preposition with pep – motion not static. That, there, this, it = Avoid as filler. Only used when it's clear what it is. Avoid more than 2 preposition in a sentence. In one hundred word – less then three to be verbs, less than four nominalizations, less than 14 prepostions. Less than three waste words, less then 6 ad-words that’s the formula

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vance

    Good, but fairly basic information that may be of less use to writers who are accomplished self-editors. Sword has a very useful online tool that will analyze a 100-1000 word snippet of prose for four excesses common among writers who do not have significant editing training and experience. And even those with significant editing skills can have occasional lapses. The tool can be found here: http://www.writersdiet.com/test.php The Writer's Diet book expands on the reasons why and how these excesse Good, but fairly basic information that may be of less use to writers who are accomplished self-editors. Sword has a very useful online tool that will analyze a 100-1000 word snippet of prose for four excesses common among writers who do not have significant editing training and experience. And even those with significant editing skills can have occasional lapses. The tool can be found here: http://www.writersdiet.com/test.php The Writer's Diet book expands on the reasons why and how these excesses negatively affect the quality and effectiveness of your writing, as well as best practices in regard to them. It provides good information, and is a great resource for quickly improving the quality of your prose.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Debora

    The book is well written and I'm guess it can be useful for many to improve their writing style. It was suggested to me when I was looking for help on improving my PhD thesis, but the help I needed was not for stylistic, but organizational and content improvement - so I didn't find it as useful personally. I do like that the book has many clear good and bad examples for the writing aspects it focuses on, and it does nicely draw a parallel between writing and a diet. Pleasant and useful read. The The book is well written and I'm guess it can be useful for many to improve their writing style. It was suggested to me when I was looking for help on improving my PhD thesis, but the help I needed was not for stylistic, but organizational and content improvement - so I didn't find it as useful personally. I do like that the book has many clear good and bad examples for the writing aspects it focuses on, and it does nicely draw a parallel between writing and a diet. Pleasant and useful read. The book is not long, but coupled with the online test and time spent on thoroughly going through the exercises, it has a greater value.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin van Hoffen

    Nothing in this was particularly groundbreaking to me (actually, I'd never really thought about preposition choice before so I'll give Sword that one) but it was really interesting getting it all in one concise book with only five brief chapters. As someone who reads a lot of academic writings, I found it nice to think that maybe one day they will be easier/more interesting to read. If only they would follow these guidelines! P.S I'd hate to put this review through her online Writer's Diet test b Nothing in this was particularly groundbreaking to me (actually, I'd never really thought about preposition choice before so I'll give Sword that one) but it was really interesting getting it all in one concise book with only five brief chapters. As someone who reads a lot of academic writings, I found it nice to think that maybe one day they will be easier/more interesting to read. If only they would follow these guidelines! P.S I'd hate to put this review through her online Writer's Diet test because it would probably get a pretty low score!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    I think this book has some truly helpful writing tips, but is let down by the fatphobic framework. The act of writing isn't something that needs to add more shame to people about their bodies. I'm also a bit skeptical in how useful these tips are in academic writing - true, there is a lot of florid and impenetrable academic prose, but sometimes you do need "academic ad-words" because they are specific concepts, more complex than the root noun or verb. I think this book has some truly helpful writing tips, but is let down by the fatphobic framework. The act of writing isn't something that needs to add more shame to people about their bodies. I'm also a bit skeptical in how useful these tips are in academic writing - true, there is a lot of florid and impenetrable academic prose, but sometimes you do need "academic ad-words" because they are specific concepts, more complex than the root noun or verb.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Brown

    While I personally find Hemingway-esque minimalism in writing to be overrated, I think Sword makes very good points about balance. It's not about constructing minimalistic sentences, it's about choosing high value words. Good advice! It also has a helpful online test for your writing to see how to stack up. I had Fit & Trim! Woo! While I personally find Hemingway-esque minimalism in writing to be overrated, I think Sword makes very good points about balance. It's not about constructing minimalistic sentences, it's about choosing high value words. Good advice! It also has a helpful online test for your writing to see how to stack up. I had Fit & Trim! Woo!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gabby Gilliam

    This book doesn't have much novel advice to offer. It's short and to the point. Would be most beneficial to someone who's never read a book about writing. The most helpful bit for me was the online writing test that accompanies this book. It was neat to see the weak points of my writing laid out so clearly. Will definitely be helpful when self-editing. This book doesn't have much novel advice to offer. It's short and to the point. Would be most beneficial to someone who's never read a book about writing. The most helpful bit for me was the online writing test that accompanies this book. It was neat to see the weak points of my writing laid out so clearly. Will definitely be helpful when self-editing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bruna

    It really is a "short, sharp introduction to great writing". Reminds me of the "For Dummies" books. Simple language and straight to the point. It is a great beginner's book for people who have an interest in writing. It really is a "short, sharp introduction to great writing". Reminds me of the "For Dummies" books. Simple language and straight to the point. It is a great beginner's book for people who have an interest in writing.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Connor

    Truly exceptional. You know a book like this is good when it makes you aware of your inadequacies in concrete, measurable ways. “The Writer’s Diet” is wonderfully concise, but it gives you diagnostic tools instead of stuffy opinions. All I know is I need to lose some weight.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    This book was a gift to me, and it is full of good tips about writing active and engaging prose. I enjoyed it. But some of these tips are pretty obvious and available on different websites/blogs about writing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Debra Laughlin

    Excellent resource to use to tighten the writing style. Short. Sweet. Useful..

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    A hands-on approach to decreasing the lard factor in your writing. Has worked wonders for me, and I anticipate returning to it again and again to rework the exercises.

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Traxler

    Great instruction on how to make your writing leaner and more direct.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Trina Pion

    The Writer's Diet helped me pinpoint and improve some problem areas within my writing in a clear and concise way. The Writer's Diet helped me pinpoint and improve some problem areas within my writing in a clear and concise way.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Manos Stamatakis

    An excellent brief and concise book on academic writing. A brilliant introduction to academic writing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Incredibly helpful little book that serves as a great refresher, a reminder to avoid lazy and opaque writing. Practical, brief and clear.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Preethika

    It is a good book to make your language jargon

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cenk Celik

    An excellent, must-read book that I strongly recommend for group leaders in the academy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Phuong Nguyen

    A great read! I found some helpful tips to improve my writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    An Te

    A brief but helpful guide to writing better, in any genre. It is likely also to change how you will think. I challenge her that 'that' ought to be used only once in a sentence. Haha. Recommended. A brief but helpful guide to writing better, in any genre. It is likely also to change how you will think. I challenge her that 'that' ought to be used only once in a sentence. Haha. Recommended.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This book is going to save my life.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Shelton

    Eat it. Swallow it. Absorb it. I wish I could tattoo it on my brain.

  29. 4 out of 5

    sara

    The "diet" metaphor sucks ass, but the advice does its job. The "diet" metaphor sucks ass, but the advice does its job.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This is a short book (under 80 pages) but its conciseness is part of its value. Too many books on writing well are far too long and far too detailed. Sword makes the point that writing can be 'fat' by using certain often unnecessary words (waste words, overabundance of prepositions, unnecessary adjectives and adverbs) and then adds that some writers ignore all these 'rules' at times and write masterpieces (Shakespeare and Jane Austin, just to name two). Unlike many books on writing well, Sword d This is a short book (under 80 pages) but its conciseness is part of its value. Too many books on writing well are far too long and far too detailed. Sword makes the point that writing can be 'fat' by using certain often unnecessary words (waste words, overabundance of prepositions, unnecessary adjectives and adverbs) and then adds that some writers ignore all these 'rules' at times and write masterpieces (Shakespeare and Jane Austin, just to name two). Unlike many books on writing well, Sword doesn't insist that there are unbreakable rules. But she does offer some very down-to-earth suggestions for improving your writing. Even as a writer of many years standing, I found these suggestions worth considering (or re-considering in some cases). Part of her focus is on academic writing, an area where some of the most obscure and overblown writing appears, writing that's all too often unintelligible. Steven Pinker, in A Sense of Style attacks the same overweight area, but in a book that's much longer than this. Even if you do the exercises, you'll get through this book quickly. I believe, however, that if you're willing to listen to what Sword says, you'll improve your writing considerably.

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