On the shelf: ‘Words Fail Me’ by Patricia O’Connor

By Karen Thoms, Grand Rapids Public Library, Main 


I borrowed a library copy of Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Connor to fortify myself with the confidence I’ll need to write a book next year. I chose this book over others for its brief chapters, breezy, humorous style and perfect sprinkle of examples. Thirty chapters make for a perfect chapter a day reading plan, but I ran out of chapters in two weeks. Yes, a book on writing was that good!


The book is divided into three sections: ‘Pull Yourself Together’, ‘The Fundamental Things Apply’, and ‘Getting Better All the Time’. All three sections are necessary but can be read out of order.


I found ‘Pull Yourself Together’ the most inspiring because I was hoping to glean inspiration and courage to write again. Shortly into ‘The Fundamental Things Apply’ I knew I had to purchase the book because of the desire to highlight for future reference. I’m so glad I did because ‘Getting Better All the Time’ has great chapters on writer’s block and revisions. O’Connor’s pithy lines may give you just the push you need to begin or resume writing.


On having good organization:


“An idea in your head is merely an idle notion. But an idea written down, that’s the beginning of something … A writer with good material is one who never lets a useful nugget slip away … A tidbit doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be worth saving. It only has to be useful.”


On having verbs that zing:


“So when you go shopping for a verb, don’t be cheap. Splurge.” Instead of saying,  “experience that magic,” say “bask in that magic”.


On improving writing:


“You can’t maintain a clear point of view without a consistent tone.” “When you write indirectly — with passive verbs, pompous words, or corkscrew sentences — you turn away from the reader.”


While reading this book I learned and was reminded of rules, tips and pitfalls; yet I was curious to know if seasoned writers would similarly profit. A search of Amazon reviews confirmed they did. So in concert with their recommendations, Words Fail Me will be my go-to book.