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Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice from Aristotle to Zinsser

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From one of America's most influential teachers, a collection of the best writing advice distilled from fifty language books -- from Aristotle to Strunk and White. With so many excellent writing guides lining bookstore shelves, it can be hard to know where to look for the best advice. Should you go with Natalie Goldberg or Anne Lamott? Maybe William Zinsser or Stephen King From one of America's most influential teachers, a collection of the best writing advice distilled from fifty language books -- from Aristotle to Strunk and White. With so many excellent writing guides lining bookstore shelves, it can be hard to know where to look for the best advice. Should you go with Natalie Goldberg or Anne Lamott? Maybe William Zinsser or Stephen King would be more appropriate. Then again, what about the classics -- Strunk and White, or even Aristotle himself? Thankfully, your search is over. In Murder Your Darlings, Roy Peter Clark, who has been a beloved and revered writing teacher to children and Pulitzer Prize winners alike for more than thirty years, has compiled a remarkable collection of more than 100 of the best writing tips from fifty of the best writing books of all time. With a chapter devoted to each key strategy, Clark expands and contextualizes the original author's suggestions and offers anecdotes about how each one helped him or other writers sharpen their skills. An invaluable resource for writers of all kinds, Murder Your Darlings is an inspiring and edifying ode to the craft of writing.


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From one of America's most influential teachers, a collection of the best writing advice distilled from fifty language books -- from Aristotle to Strunk and White. With so many excellent writing guides lining bookstore shelves, it can be hard to know where to look for the best advice. Should you go with Natalie Goldberg or Anne Lamott? Maybe William Zinsser or Stephen King From one of America's most influential teachers, a collection of the best writing advice distilled from fifty language books -- from Aristotle to Strunk and White. With so many excellent writing guides lining bookstore shelves, it can be hard to know where to look for the best advice. Should you go with Natalie Goldberg or Anne Lamott? Maybe William Zinsser or Stephen King would be more appropriate. Then again, what about the classics -- Strunk and White, or even Aristotle himself? Thankfully, your search is over. In Murder Your Darlings, Roy Peter Clark, who has been a beloved and revered writing teacher to children and Pulitzer Prize winners alike for more than thirty years, has compiled a remarkable collection of more than 100 of the best writing tips from fifty of the best writing books of all time. With a chapter devoted to each key strategy, Clark expands and contextualizes the original author's suggestions and offers anecdotes about how each one helped him or other writers sharpen their skills. An invaluable resource for writers of all kinds, Murder Your Darlings is an inspiring and edifying ode to the craft of writing.

30 review for Murder Your Darlings: And Other Gentle Writing Advice from Aristotle to Zinsser

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heidi The Reader

    Murder Your Darlings is not just another book about writing. It shares the wisdom and creative insights of fifty or so authors, some famous, some not, and some who wrote their own books about the craft. In his own unique manner, Roy Peter Clark distills the main lessons from each writer and presents them in curated chapters. The chapters are organized into six parts: language and craft, voice and style, confidence and identity, storytelling and character, rhetoric and audience, mission and Murder Your Darlings is not just another book about writing. It shares the wisdom and creative insights of fifty or so authors, some famous, some not, and some who wrote their own books about the craft. In his own unique manner, Roy Peter Clark distills the main lessons from each writer and presents them in curated chapters. The chapters are organized into six parts: language and craft, voice and style, confidence and identity, storytelling and character, rhetoric and audience, mission and purpose. Aspiring or struggling writers can go directly to the issue she may be facing at the moment or read the whole thing to find tips and techniques that fit her emerging efforts best. Though this may be most useful to writers who have a particular problem in mind, I believe any writer who wants to elevate their work could find something illuminating in these pages. At the very least, Clark saves writers days of research time into locating appropriate writing resources. If you like the brief outline he gives of a writing guide, you could go invest the time to read the whole thing. Highly recommended for everyone who strings words together or dreams about doing so. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy of this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Stewart

    I DNF'd this book at about 25%. I wanted a book that compiled a lot of writing advice, most of what I already know, so this should have appealed to me. However, the majority of the book is just the author self-congratulating himself on knowing so many other authors, and it's so boring that I was nearly in tears. What a waste of publishing energy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Neil R. Coulter

    Somehow when I saw descriptions of Roy Peter Clarks new book, Murder Your Darlings, I had the wrong idea of what it is. I guess from the subtitleAnd Other Gentle Writing Advice, from Aristotle to ZinsserId assumed that this was an anthology of excerpts from popular writing books. Thats not the case. In the book, Clark spends each chapter looking at one or two writing books that have influenced his writing and teaching. There are, of course, selections from those books quoted throughout, but the Somehow when I saw descriptions of Roy Peter Clark’s new book, Murder Your Darlings, I had the wrong idea of what it is. I guess from the subtitle—“And Other Gentle Writing Advice, from Aristotle to Zinsser”—I’d assumed that this was an anthology of excerpts from popular writing books. That’s not the case. In the book, Clark spends each chapter looking at one or two writing books that have influenced his writing and teaching. There are, of course, selections from those books quoted throughout, but the main content of the book is Clark’s highlighting the main lessons that he has learned from those writers and their books. Like his friend William Zinsser, Clark has an easygoing, conversational writing style, which makes the book a quick and pleasant read (though, also like Zinsser, Clark’s informality at times becomes a bit tedious—but not too often). The writers he considers, chapter by chapter, include most of the ones you’d expect—Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell—but also writers and books I hadn’t heard of but immediately added to my to-read list. The guidance Clark gleans from each of these sources is wide-ranging, and though he structures Murder Your Darlings into six themed sections (Language and Craft, Voice and Style, Confidence and Identity, Storytelling and Character, Rhetoric and Audience, Mission and Purpose), it’s hard to see the chapters falling into neat categories like that (which is what you might guess, seeing that Clark was unable to settle on just one word for any of the six themes). This book would be great for undergrad, and probably for high school, writing courses. For me, it was a worthwhile burst of encouragement and learning, even though I’ve spent much time reading books about writing. That there’s nothing particularly “new” about the content only affirms that the age-old lessons about good writing don’t change very much.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I selected Murder Your Darlings to read mainly because I liked the title, and Roy Peter Clark would approve--one of the first things we learn as writers is that every choice we make is important, from the title, to the layout, to the way we use words. This book, organized as an overview of different books on writing, showcases hundreds of tips on writing book by dozens of writers. Writers and teachers of writing will recognize many of the names in this book, and I found myself wandering down I selected Murder Your Darlings to read mainly because I liked the title, and Roy Peter Clark would approve--one of the first things we learn as writers is that every choice we make is important, from the title, to the layout, to the way we use words. This book, organized as an overview of different books on writing, showcases hundreds of tips on writing book by dozens of writers. Writers and teachers of writing will recognize many of the names in this book, and I found myself wandering down memory lane to my first semester as a composition teacher when I was marinated daily in the wisdom of Don Murray and Peter Elbow. The layout of the book is pretty straightforward: each chapter features a different writing guide and begins with a toolbox, which is an overview of the top writing tip(s) of that guide. Then, a discussion follows where Clark discusses the highlights of the guide interspersed with anecdotes from his own writing life and interesting information about the author, and finally the chapter closes with three or four lessons that sum up the main takeaway of the chapter. This is a good reference book, especially for those who are newer to writing and want to know where they should start. However, I've been a writing teacher for over a decade, and I found myself jotting down lots of notes (I actually used one analogy on structure the next day in class; thanks John McPhee!) and putting several of these books on my Amazon wish list. It's not a book that you need to read all at once and in order, but it's a good book for anyone interested in writing to add to their shelf.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This book could have been a really good one.  In many ways, the approach of this book is a sound one, providing plenty of personal stories about writing and the author's own background while also pointing the reader to a great many guides for writing that span over the wide range of history and that demonstrate the wit and wisdom from a wide variety of writers who have sought to teach and guide others into writing better.  For the most part, I found this book to be enjoyable and instructive, This book could have been a really good one.  In many ways, the approach of this book is a sound one, providing plenty of personal stories about writing and the author's own background while also pointing the reader to a great many guides for writing that span over the wide range of history and that demonstrate the wit and wisdom from a wide variety of writers who have sought to teach and guide others into writing better.  For the most part, I found this book to be enjoyable and instructive, with only a few problems.  But as the book went on, I found the author's approach less and less enjoyable, especially as it became evident that the author was trying to carve out a space for the sort of behavior that biased contemporary journalists engage in but do not want to consider as illegitimate and blameworthy.  Ultimately, the fact that the author is a journalist and apparently a fairly ordinary one as far as it goes nowadays means that as this book went on and the author felt it desirable to defend his profession and that is something that I wasn't willing to go along with, which decreased my enjoyment of the book towards the end considerably. This book is a bit more than 300 pages and is divided into six parts and 32 chapters, some of which deal with more than one writing guide.  The author begins with five essays on language and craft (I) that discuss getting rid of precious words (1), cutting clutter (2), learning to live inside words (3), shaping a sentence for effect (4), and working from a plan (5).  The author then looks at matters of voice and style (II), including the tensions inherent within style (6), varying sentence length (7), using visual markings to spark creativity (8), tuning one's voice to the digital age (9), and adjusting one's sound (10).  Then comes some essays on confidence and identity (III) that focus on the steps of the writing process (11), persistence (12), free writing (13), identifying as a writer (14), and developing the habit of writing (15).  Six essays deal with storytelling and character (IV), including understanding the value of storytelling (16), preferring the complex character (17), writing for sequence then theme (18), distilling a story simply (19), adding dimension to characters (20), and reporting for story (21).  After that the author praises attention to rhetoric and audience (V) with essays on anticipating readers' needs (22), embracing the power of rhetoric (23), influencing the emotional response of the audience (24), signing a social contract with the reader (25), and writing a bit above the level of the reader (26).  Finally, the author discusses mission and purpose (VI), with essays on strategies for reporting reliably (27), writing to grow one's soul (28), writing to delight and instruct (29), seeking to become the eyes and ears of the audience (30), choosing advocacy over propaganda, as if they were different (31), and being a writer and more (32).  The book then ends with the usual afterword, acknowledgements, an appendix on books by the author, bibliography, and index. In the end, this is a book whose reception depends on one's view of contemporary journalism.  The author makes it explicitly clear that he believes there is a legitimate place in journalism for positive propaganda that he labels as advocacy even as he demonizes official propaganda that he labels as illegitimate.  Yet the advocacy of contemporary journalism, which the author probably engages in himself given some of the comments in this book, is clearly just as wicked as the propaganda he condemns for belonging to fascistic regimes.  The author's framing leads one to believe in a certain double standard that makes this book impossible to wholeheartedly enjoy or recommend.  It would have been far better had the author not been a part of the corrupt contemporary journalistic establishment, but knowing his obvious filters and biases and worldview errors does explain so much of what is wrong with a lot of contemporary writing.  The author wants to condemn people like John McPhee for his privilege but doesn't see how privileged he is as a writer himself, and this lack of self-awareness pervades the book as a whole, to the detriment of my appreciation of the author's supposed wisdom.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Here are a couple of things that stood out to me: (1) Chapter 7: Vary sentence length "This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short Here are a couple of things that stood out to me: (1) Chapter 7: Vary sentence length "This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals-sounds that say listen to this, it is important. So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader's ear. Don't just write words. Write music." What a beautiful passage! I love the self-referentiality. (2) Chapter 11: Learn the steps of the writing process "Before you master the requirements of your particular genre, understand the steps of the writing process all writers all writers must climb: finding story ideas, gathering the material you need, discovering a focus, selecting your best stuff, envisioning a structure, building a draft, revising all parts of the process over time. For each step, you can find strategies that will help you solve problems and make meaning." What a nice overview of the writing process for any project, fiction or non-fiction, for a general audience or an internal company memo. The steps are the same. In general, it's a motley bag of writing tips without any overall theme. Nothing really too shocking, if you read these kind of books, you've probably heard of most of these before. But you might see a couple of things you haven't seen before, and some of them are pretty amusing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    Writing can be tough. When you hit a block, it can even make you feel downright murderous. I know - I've been the mayor of Writer's Block Town for the last several months - I had completely stalled out on the academic paper I have devoted the last 8 months or so of my life to. I ended up using some of the advice I found in Murder Your Darlings to help me through the final phases of editing. I'm actually done now. I just have to smack down my fear of rejection for long enough to submit it. I wish Writing can be tough. When you hit a block, it can even make you feel downright murderous. I know - I've been the mayor of Writer's Block Town for the last several months - I had completely stalled out on the academic paper I have devoted the last 8 months or so of my life to. I ended up using some of the advice I found in Murder Your Darlings to help me through the final phases of editing. I'm actually done now. I just have to smack down my fear of rejection for long enough to submit it. I wish this book helped with that as well (I kid, but also, that would have been stellar). I like that each chapter is devoted to one (or sometimes two) books on writing, and that Clark distilled them each down to only their most important points. For someone like me, who hardcore sucks at writing succinctly (whaaaa? I know...), I really jammed on the first chapter which covers On the Art of Writing by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Quiller-Couch also originated the phrase which gave this book its name - "murder your darlings," referring to distilling your work down to only what is needed. I found it to be the most useful bit of the book - but I think there is definitely something here for everyone. All of the books on writing you have ever likely considered reading are touched on here - and probably even a few you're unfamiliar with. He even covers Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This alone will likely appeal to a lot of people. Although - unpopular opinion time - I don't like the way King writes, I don't deny that he's clearly doing something right. You don't get a bazillion mega-fans or book deals or movie adaptations if you're bad at what you do, right? I liked this book a lot. And like I mentioned, I've already gotten some good use out of it. I'll probably buy it to add to my collection of 'I have a bad case of imposter syndrome and need these to help me feel like I know what the hell I'm doing' books.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Howarth

    Roy Peter Clark is, arguably, one of the best writers on the craft that is publishing today, so to hear his insights on what makes a good 'book on writing' is a great look behind the veil at the artform and practice of storytelling. Personally, I would have liked to spend more time with each book and have LESS of a selection, and because I have read his other work, I didn't feel like anything new was necessarily brought to the table. Having said that, I still highly enjoyed spending time with my Roy Peter Clark is, arguably, one of the best writers on the craft that is publishing today, so to hear his insights on what makes a good 'book on writing' is a great look behind the veil at the artform and practice of storytelling. Personally, I would have liked to spend more time with each book and have LESS of a selection, and because I have read his other work, I didn't feel like anything new was necessarily brought to the table. Having said that, I still highly enjoyed spending time with my favorite writing teacher again, and there were still plenty notes for me to write down.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A good look at books about writing I regard this book as a sampler of writing books. Roy Peter Clark takes these writing books and adds his own take on them. It is a great way to be introduced to a variety of writers and how they work. Given Clarks credentials and expertise, I have no doubt that these are indeed good books for writers or want-to-be writers to read. I appreciated how Clark incorporated his own experiences into the book and how he showed his good sense of humor. Disclosure: I A good look at books about writing I regard this book as a sampler of writing books. Roy Peter Clark takes these writing books and adds his own take on them. It is a great way to be introduced to a variety of writers and how they work. Given Clark’s credentials and expertise, I have no doubt that these are indeed good books for writers or want-to-be writers to read. I appreciated how Clark incorporated his own experiences into the book and how he showed his good sense of humor. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    La Femme Librarian

    Although this book started off a bit slow for my taste, it's actually a great resource for an aspiring writer. Not only does the author boil down some of the best writing advice in the business, he also contextualizes that advice with easy to understand examples. I highly recommend this book as a resource for aspiring writers, especially if a writer wants to really zero in on the most important things to consider in constructing a story. An inspiring first resource for those thinking about Although this book started off a bit slow for my taste, it's actually a great resource for an aspiring writer. Not only does the author boil down some of the best writing advice in the business, he also contextualizes that advice with easy to understand examples. I highly recommend this book as a resource for aspiring writers, especially if a writer wants to really zero in on the most important things to consider in constructing a story. An inspiring first resource for those thinking about writing a book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book is split into six parts and each part has several chapters. Each chapter has a lesson to help writers. The chapter on making a writing habit, which I am planning on implementing in my day. I highly recommend this book to new writers that are looking for some help.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Gaddy

    It's hard not to compare all the books Clark writes to Writing Tools, which is the best book on writing ever, in my humble opinion. Murder Your Darlings doesn't reach that level, but it's incredibly useful. It's perfect for someone who's already read Writing Tools and is interested in more books of the same caliber. Who better than Clark to send you down the right path?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Carberry

    O usually enjoy reading books about writing but this book looks at books about writing. It was uninformative and I didn't see the need to cover this topic. Still, it may have worked if it was at all engaging, but it didn't work for me. The information and tone work Roberto make it uninteresting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Holly Allen

    A wonderful guide with insightful tips, particularly on novel writing and memoirs. It references MANY other guides so its a good starter guide if you want references to other work you might want in the future. A wonderful guide with insightful tips, particularly on novel writing and memoirs. It references MANY other guides so it’s a good starter guide if you want references to other work you might want in the future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dayna

    Aside from the chapter on Hayakawa, the book wasn't as enjoyable or insightful as I had hoped. I received an ARC from a Goodreads giveaway.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Kent

    Some excellent insights. Worth a read for all writers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    This book just was not for me. I did not love it at all, and DNF it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roxy

    This is a collection of short essays from several books on writing. This is NOT a brand new manual on writing, FYI.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn McBride

    Review to follow

  20. 4 out of 5

    A.J. Bauers

    Great compilation of writing advice from old and modern writers.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Yahu

    Finishes listening this audiobook and went ahead and ordered the hardcover of it.. that is how much I loved it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sofia

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sabine

  25. 5 out of 5

    Doha

  26. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Jane

  27. 5 out of 5

    AJ Hadigan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicoleta Coşoreanu

  29. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Abby Derkson

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