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Book Review: A Writer’s Coach: An Editor’s Guide to Words that Work by Jack Hart

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Every now and then you come across a book that is hard to review. Not because it’s a bad book but because it’s so overwhelmingly good. Simply put, some books demand you take them seriously and that you read them slowly and thoughtfully. That proved to be the case for me when I encountered Jack Hart’s A Writer’s Coach: An Editor's Guide to Words that Work. By the third paragraph he was singing my song:

    Great writing happens not through some dark art, but when method meets craft. The secret — if there is one — is to take one manageable step at a time. Superman may leap tall buildings in a single bound, but the best writers I know sit down at their keyboards and write one line. And then another. And another.

By the end of the introduction I had begun the lament that would continue through my entire reading: “Why oh why wasn’t a book like this available when I first began writing?”

Hart knows from experience exactly what it takes to write Pulitzer prize-winning stories. As the managing editor of The Oregonian and an invaluable writing coach, he has edited, cajoled, and advised many top reporters through their winning process. Before any fiction writer gets the idea that Hart’s book simply feeds reporters and other nonfiction aspirants, let me tell you that Hart’s method, his understanding of process, his complete command of writing cannot help but make anyone a better writer. Whether he’s talking about inspiration and the process of getting started or focusing minutely on the simplest of word choices, Hart has something important to offer.

Why was this a hard review to write? Because every page is seeded with a wealth of knowledge that writers at any stage would be well-advised to review. Fiction writers who are facing the overwhelming task of simply getting started will find Hart’s discussion of the writing process and the strategies he provides a great boon. The pages detailing Hart’s understanding of the Ladder of Abstraction are worth a regular review. Method, Process, Structure, Force, Brevity, Clarity, Rhythm, Humanity, Color, Voice, Mechanics, and yes, Mastery – such are the chapter headings that hold the promise of secrets to great writing. Although the book is clearly weighted toward nonfiction, each concept is considered as it applies to fiction. Good writing is good writing.

It would be silly for me to try and explain everything in Hart’s book when he does such a stellar job himself. If you are looking for a personal writing coach who will share the tricks of the trade and help you become a better writer, look no further than Jack Hart in A Writer’s Coach. As the author says, “Mastery is not some closely guarded mystery, but the step-by-step conquest of craft.”

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