Yes, we tested another writing manual. Yes, PhD students are not the target audience of “265 Troubleshooting Strategies for Writers”, but hey, 265… We were curious. Read on to see how they worked.

I might have mentioned in previous posts that I am much better reading about writing than writing itself. A writing manual titled “265 Troubleshooting Strategies for Writers” caught my eyes recently. I have a soft spot number and strategies, they make you feel even processes as messy as thesis writing can be planned and structured, and your writing goals attained. Troubleshooting writing? Where do I sign up?

So what is it this book about?

It’s worth noting this is a book tailored for academics, but addresses non-fiction writing in general. Although we could argue that thesis is a special beast, this is a plus in my book – good writing is good writing, and it would be sad to limit your writing skills to such a particular genre. Statements on the cover promise you will be able to “tap into your creativity and brainstorm ideas” amend” and offer “tactics for dealing with wrong turns and overcoming writer’s block” (errrmmm, both ring a bell…).

Fine Close opens with a myth-busting which might be useful to those new to writing. Points about good writers do not necessarily writing fast or getting it right the first time are not exactly revolutionary, but it is worth reminding yourself that writing requires patience  to talk to other writers about their approaches. Throughout the other chapter, writing process is considered through four stages Fine Close calls prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. Each chapter includes strategies to fight some common struggles at a particular stage.

Thumbs up…

I have personally found the chapter on prewriting stage particularly useful. As writer (and a speaker) I get stuck more often than not, at the beginning of a section, in the middle… Sometimes I even struggle to finish a paragraph.  I had an important epiphany here – this happens because I don’t know where I am going. Yes, as simple as that.

Another positive point is that there are quite a few strategies that can help you do revision and editing (these make me despair!) in a new, refreshing way. I quite like trying to locate the main point in each paragraph – failing at some showed me I need to rewrite them.

…and thumbs down

Let’s start with the title. If you thought 265 strategies sounds like too many – you are right. Many of these are generic or so obvious that it seems they should not go towards the total (Use a computer to do research? Get rid of distractions?). You will also find that quite a few of them repeat through different stages, only slightly reworded.

In terms of writing style the manual is easy to follow, but it is hard to go through more than a chapter without getting bored. Very low dragon count.

Is it worth picking up?

On the whole, I am undecided, maybe leaning slightly towards ‘no’. This might be a great manual for beginners or those interested into mechanics of writing, but if you are on a thesis quest you will need to weed out a lot before you discover useful gems. Perhaps next editions will see a more realistic number in the title.

Pro tip: Pliers and screwdrivers aren’t that helpful* with theses. 😦

Have you come across this book? Which troubleshooting strategies work best for you? 🙂

Ana Kedveš  (@anakedves)

*Unless you’re setting up a new shelf to store all the books you’ve brought from the library and articles you’ve printed in attempt to avoid writing – they’re actually pretty great for that.