6 Writing Books On My Big-Ass Desk


I just moved into a new apartment, and the previous tenant must hate moving as much as I do–because he left behind a 75′”x 37.5″ solid wood table. I guess it was intended to be a food-supporter, but it’s my desk now.

It’s such a huge desk! My sense of executivity is already severely overinflated.

Executivity is not a word, and in an effort to stop writing words that aren’t real or using tildes where I should use carets or letting sentences run on, I’ve placed a few stacks of books about writing on one of the desk’s sprawling corners. Here are a half-dozen that I pick up at least once a week when I catch myself staring out the window:

  • Getting Started As A Freelance Writer by Robert W. BlyBob Bly is a legend in the copywriting game, and he is very forthcoming with good advice about getting gigs, maximizing productivity, and overcoming doubts. His credibility is untouchable. Some of the parts about internet writing barely clear the generation gap (e.g. calling a website a “dot.com”), but that doesn’t make GSAFW any less of an essential text.

  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser – I’ve cited Zinsser on this blog more than once, and sure as Hellman’s will continue to. OWW is like the “Principles of Composition” section of The Elements of Style blown up into an entire book. What I like so much about it is that, whether teaching sportswriting or how to commune with your audience, he keeps coming back to crystal-clear descriptions of the turmoil in your head as you write and how to beat it. A bonus is the great 1970’s vibe of the whole thing–you can just hear his Smith-Corona clacking as your eyes scan the pages.

  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage – It’s not fjord, it’s fiord, OK? Deliciously, brutally British, only Fowler’s would tell you that a sjambok is “(In S. Africa) a rhinoceros-hide whip.” Imperialist bastards.  I’m being a little glib here, maybe even unfair, because it is also extremely practical and as definitive as definitive gets on any questions of usage.

  • The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates – Not a go-to for tips on killer sales copy or negotiating freelance rates like a salivating tiger, but probably even more valuable for anyone trying to see the big–big–picture of the writing life. Lines as willowy and sylphlike as their author trace the most essential truths about reading, developing a narrative and self-criticism. If only Mike Tyson wrote the foreword.

  • Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik – Crass as it may be to brand a book with a potshot at Strunk & White–who will never be effectively discredited–Arthur Plotnik has contributed something substantially helpful to the discussion. Absolutely loaded with content, Spunk & Bite breaks down what exactly makes a great, punchy sentence great and punchy, and does it in a way that makes the technique repeatable. That’s good teaching where I come from. And for an older dude, he’s impressively not hilarious when using modern slang and idioms.


2 Replies to “6 Writing Books On My Big-Ass Desk”

  1. Wa’gaan,James! This “older dude” be down wid knowin’ he “impressively not ridiculous” when he stylin’ his flow. Call me 2Pac Plotnik widda phat pocket, y’all. In truth, that’s going to be one of my all-time favorite compliments in my decrepitude. All best wishes, Art Plotnik, author, “Spunk & Bite,” etc.

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