Table of Contents
Questions That Every Writer Must Answer
—Where do good ideas come from?
—Should sentences and paragraphs be long or short?
—When should rules of grammar be obeyed, and when should they be stretched?
—Why does one piece of writing succeed, and another fail?
—How can you look at your own work and judge it fairly?
Whether you are a student writing a paper, a copywriter writing an ad, a business person writing a letter, a reporter writing a news story, an author writing a short story, novel, or nonfiction book, you will find all the ways to write it better in
GARY PROVOST is a teacher of writing, as well as the author of over 1,000 stories and articles and ten fiction and non-fiction books, including FATAL DOSAGE and THE FREELANCE WRITER’S HANDBOOK, available in a Mentor edition.
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Published by Mentor, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, October
Copyright © Gary Provost, 1972
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
The Library of Congress Cataloging Card Number: 85-61266
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
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eISBN : 978-1-440-67078-7
Some of the material in this book appeared in different form in
magazine. I want to thank Bill Brohaugh, Rose Adkins, and Tom Clark at
for their work on the original articles.
At New American Library I want to thank Channah Taub, Andrea Stein, and Helen Eisenbach, each of whom watched over the book at some point.
And special thanks to Claudia Reilly, who edited the book at New American Library, and to Jon Matson.
Also I want to gratefully acknowledge permission to reprint the following material:
by Ray Bradbury. Copyright © 1975, Ray Bradbury. Reprinted with the permission of Doubleday and Co.
Copyright © 1983.
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Copyright © 1926 Charles Scribner’s Sons; copyright renewed 1953 Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons.
The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway. Copyright ® 1926 Charles Scribner’s Sons; copyright renewed 1954 Ernest Hemingway. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Excerpt from the
by John Bierman. Copyright © 1983, John Bierman. Reprinted with the permission of John Bierman.
Excerpt from “Kelly’s Gift” by James Ricci,
Digest, June 1983.
No Time For Sergeants
by Mac Hyman. Copyright © 1954 by Mac Hyman. Reprinted with the permission of Random House, Inc.
The Stepford Wives by
Ira Levin. Copyright © 1972 by Ira Levin. Reprinted with the permission of Random House, Inc.
The Last Good Kiss
by James Crumley. Copyright © 1978 by James Crumley. Reprinted with the permission of Random House, Inc.
Excerpt from “How to Get More for Your Money” by Barbara Gilder Quint,
February 1981. Courtesy
copyright © 1981 by the Condé Nast Publications Inc.
by Gail Levine-Freidus. Copyright © 1983, Gail Levine-Freidus.
(Bradbury Press) by Gary Provost and Gail Provost, copyright © 1985, Gary Provost and Gail Provost.
by John Gardner. Copyright ® 1983 by the Estate of John Gardner. Reprinted with the permission of Harper & Row.
Everything You Want to Know About Your Husband’s Money and Need to Know Before the Divorce
by Shelley Aspaklania and Gerson Geltner. Copyright © 1980 by Shelley Aspaklania and Gerson Geltner. Reprinted with the permission of Harper & Row.
Excerpt from “Walking on Water,” by Frank Rose. Copyright © 1982, Frank Rose. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Excerpt from “The Height Report” by Ralph Keyes. Reprinted by The Sterling Lord Agency, Inc. First appeared in
Copyright © 1977 by Ralph Keyes
Excerpt from the
copyright © 1983. Reprinted with the permission of the
As a free-lance writer I live and die by the mailbox. During the past twenty years I have sent and received more than forty thousand pieces of mail that had some part of my heart attached to them. And during that time there haven’t been more than one or two mishaps concerning the handling of my mail. Though I have laughed at post-office jokes and have made a few myself, the fact is that the United States Postal Service has the highest success record of any business I have ever dealt with. For that reason this book is dedicated to the men and women of the post office at South Lancaster, Massachusetts 01561, and to postal workers everywhere.
This book will teach you how to write better ransom notes.
It will also teach you how to write better love letters, short stories, magazine articles, letters to the editor, business proposals, sermons, poems, novels, parole requests, church newsletters, songs, memos, essays, term papers, theses, graffiti, death threats, advertisements, and shopping lists.
If your writing does not improve after you read this book, you have not failed. I have. It is the writer’s job, not the reader’s, to see that writing accomplishes whatever goal the writer has set for it.
One bit of advice I will give you in this book is “Make yourself likable.” Readers who like you are more inclined to trust you, to laugh at your jokes, cry over your anguish, sign the petition, buy the product, put the check in the mail, or do whatever else it is you are trying to get them to do through your writing.
I want you to like me so that you will follow my advice—and recommend my book to your friends. And that’s important for you to know because it means I am on your side. I’m not here to tell you that you’re writing wrong. I’m here to show you how to write right.
Nine Ways to Improve Your Writing When You’re Not Writing