When Good People Write Bad Sentences



uush .. I take a deep breath and prepare for the perilous task of blogging about a book that is all about writing well.

I know my writing can be lazy and prone to opacity (to all except me of course), but I do enjoy reading about writing.

However, too many books attempt to just lay down the law - albeit with a garnish of humorous anecdotes - and any 'learning' is short-lived.

Robert W. Harris' When Good People Write Bad Sentences doesn't make this mistake. He knows the problem is not that we don't know the rules. The root cause of our troubles is more fundamental.

(also available from the Singapore National Library)

Bad writing is an addiction; an -ism that is given to misdirect your pen. We are gripped by malescribism.

And just like any other condition, a cure is possible given the right intervention. Which is what this book provides (as you can probably guess, planting tongue firmly in cheek is the first prerequisite to recovery).

In 12 easy steps, we learn to overcome our denial, pride, and insecurity, then find the courage to begin the journey to enlightenment:
  • Accept the fact that bad writing happens.

  • Admit you've willingly made writing mistakes .

  • Believe that Standard English can heal you.

  • Stop writing weak sentences.

  • Stop writing formal sentences.

  • Stop writing overweight sentences.

  • Stop writing unclear sentences.

  • Stop writing careless sentences.

  • Stop writing unpersuasive sentences.

  • Stop writing incongruous sentences.

  • Stop writing unstructured sentences.

  • Stop writing unsightly sentences.


If I can only recommend one book on the craft of writing, this is it. Wherever you use English - school reports, blogs, business proposals, or novels - this book can help you do so more effectively, more efficiently and more enjoyably.

The Recovering Malescribe's Bill of Rights

  • I have the right to embrace Standard English.

  • I have the right to respect my inner child-writer.

  • I have the right to improve my writing skills without aiming for perfection.

  • I have the right to create sentences without being motivated by bad emotions.

  • I have the right to spell better than those around me.

  • I have the right to be grammatically correct.

  • I have the right to punctuate correctly without apology.

  • I have the right to edit my work.

  • I have the right to cooperate with my readers.

  • I have the right to give myself permission to be a healthy writer.