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Book Review: Unless It Moves the Human Heart

In Marketing Communications, Writing on June 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Chances are, you are not packing up (or downloading) a bunch of books on writing to take on vacation this summer. You may not even put such books on your “must read” list. But if you are serious about improving your writing skills, Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, by Roger Rosenblatt, is worthy of a place on your bookshelf.

Unless It Moves the Human Heart details one semester of the author’s Writing Everything class at Stony Brook University. While Rosenblatt shares many thoughts on how to write well, the heart of this book is his case for the necessity of writing, which he refers to as “…the cure for the disease of living.” This is not a dry book about grammar. Instead, it is a reminder of why we all should write well.

Here are just a few of the author’s thoughts on writing that are worth sharing:

  • Eliminate throat-clearing. Rosenblatt uses the wonderful phrase, “throat-clearing,” to describe when writers have difficulty beginning a piece and thus add extraneous words and thoughts. He suggests plunging in without hesitation. How? Understand what your piece is about. My suggestion is to form one clear sentence summarizing what you want to say before you start writing.
  • Write every day. I often hear the question, “What’s the best way to improve my writing?” The answer is simple — write. Rosenblatt goes so far as to say, “You ought to write every day if you can, even if it’s a single sentence.”
  • Find the starting point. Whether you are writing an email, a report or a novel, you must decide the best place to start. For example, you may choose to write in chronological order, by topic or by offering up your solution first. Rosenblatt suggests that you choose “…the place where you think the story will unfold most completely and with the greatest impact.”
  • Make every word count. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using the same words over and over again when we write but the richness of the English language allows us to be very precise in our choice of words. Rosenblatt explains, “Every word is an idea. It triggers images in your reader’s mind.”
  • Write as if your reader needs you. This is a wonderful reminder of the power of words, even in this age of tweets and texts. Whatever your reason for writing, write as if your readers need to hear your message. Rosenblatt concludes, “You must write as if your reader needed you desperately, because he does.”
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