Book Review: Microstyle

Book Review: Microstyle
July 29, 2013 Beth Nyland

Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little

by Christopher Johnson | My GoodReads rating: 5 of 5 stars

Microstyle: The Art of Writing LittleI spent many weeks reading this book. Not because it was difficult, boring, or laborious. Quite the opposite. I chose to read a few chapters at a time, then let Christopher Johnson’s ideas and observations sink in and influence my work. Microstyle taught me a great deal, reminded me of truths I have forgotten, and reinforced my own approach to writing with brevity and creative expression.

I guess what I’m saying is that Christopher Johnson made me feel smart. What’s not to love?

So now “Microstyle” joins the handful of other writing books I keep at arm’s reach from my desk. On its pages I’ve highlighted big and small ideas that I know will continue to inform and inspire me as a writer and teacher of other writers. For instance:

  • “… many people think about language only when they’re worried about getting it wrong.” (p 10)
  • “… people could genuinely love language more if they shifted their focus from judgment and insecurity to curiosity and appreciation.” (p 12)
  • “When I’m reading and writing, I’m hyperaware of the words and phrases I encounter and use — not in an ‘is it correct?’ way, but in a ‘how does it work?’ way.” (p 31) NOTE: This is so consistent with my own approach that when I read this sentence, I decided I’d like to take Mr. Johnson to dinner sometime.
  • “Telling a story, even just communicating a message, always involves deciding what to leave out.” (p 83)
  • “A good metaphor leads people to make the inferences you want them to make.” (p 99)
  • “When you want to give your message music, start where the poets do: with rhythm.” (p 132)
  • “When people relax and get playful with language, they dip their toes into poetry without even knowing it.” (p 134)

And my favorite of all, from the first paragraph of his Epilogue (p 223): “Microstyle is the basis for everyday verbal creativity, the poetics of the vernacular.”

I love that phrase: “the poetics of the vernacular.”

I may add a new line to my business card: Poet of the Vernacular. Imagine!


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