Friday, May 22, 2009

Learn to Write Proposals book review: Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing by Lindsay Camp

This is a fun and informative book, one that gives good, sensible advice from someone with years of experience yet dispensed in an informal way that makes some of the more humorous parts feel as they've been told to you by the office sage over a pint after work has finished on Friday afternoon.

I'm not trying to put it down in an intellectual sense; in fact I literally didn't put it down until I'd finished reading it. If you've read some of my other book reviews you'll realise that I like books that are accessible. Ones that give you quality information but not in a stuffy academic manner. When I write proposals I want my message to be easily understood, not overcomplicated. And that's how I like my books. I like this one.

Camp separates his book into three sections: Persuasive Principles; A Persuasive Writing A- Z; and Persuasive Words at Work.

The first section isn't a how-to, but it is a valuable explanation of what persuasive writing is and what it should do. Camp bases it around his guiding theory of the "Three Rs of Persuasive Writing":
Remember the Reader and the Result

It's good advice and Camp even explains his understanding of the readership of this book. Not one that you may have thought. He specifically says he doesn't expect his reader to be someone who is a persuasive writing professional - rather it is anyone who wants to communicate better through the written word. He also encourages you to never lose what you want the end result of your writing to be.

The A - Z section falls somewhere between a catalogue of tips relating to section one and a style guide. If you are like me, you'll find some of the embedded examples very funny. I loved this one:


Never use a word unless you're 100% certain of its meaning. We've all been tempted to do it - to make ourselves sounds more grandiloquent and meretricious.

But it nearly always turns out crapulously.

Camp doesn't mind saying it the way he calls it, which is usually very funny. He even manages a little dig at Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss - explaining that there's "no room for pedantry in relation to punctuation - or anything else". 

Personally, I don't mind this dig. Whereas I read this book in one go, I find Eats, Shoots and Leaves totally unreadable and completely self-defeating in any aims to improve the quality of writing and communication. How many of you bought that book and never finished it, never mind not learning anything from it?

Back to Can I Change Your Mind? The last section is a stroll through camps creative and writing process. He's not trying to give a magic formula, but rather a realistic insight in what it's like to work as a creative writer and how you might be able to use the information in your writing.

There's another theme throughout the book. One of the very things that make it readable, and that's rhythm. Camp explains and demonstrates with examples how words become more readable with good rhythm. He gives us a phrase:

Trousers for women
Trousers for men

and asks us to say them aloud, and then say them the other way round. Camp explains that the more satisfying way is as written because it ends on a stressed syllable. Try it. It works. Every time.

But the best example of the rhythm of writing, writing that's easy to read, that flows, that makes sense without overwhelming the reader is the book itself. It's clever, but not too clever for its own good and has a lot of tips that I believe will make an instant impact on anyone’s writing.

It's a good read...even if you don't write. All in all, a Learn to Write Proposals recommended read.

Buy it now from Amazon: Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing