Jeff Glor talks to Ben Yagoda about, "How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Ben Yagoda: The short answer is: 20 years in the classroom. When I started teaching writing and journalism at the University of Delaware, I was struck that the universe of writing mistakes students made was pretty small. There were -- and continue to be -- about 50 basic problems that account for maybe 90 percent of the marks and comments I make on their assignments. And I see a lot of the same things when I read blogs and even newspapers and magazines. I thought it would be useful to put together a short book explaining what the "fabulous 50" are, and some ways to recognize and avoid them. And that led to How to Now Write Bad.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
BY: The passion and sometimes vehemence people bring to issues of writing, language, and especially grammar. As I was writing the book, I would occasionally write short posts on my blog (www.benyagoda.com) about the issues I was dealing with. And every time I did, there would be many impassioned comments. Who would have thought people cared so much about the Oxford comma, or the difference between that and which?
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
BY: The honest answer is, a lawyer. I think that profession would feed into my ingrained need to be pedantic and split hairs. But boy, what I wouldn't give to have the passion and dedication necessary to be a jazz guitarist!
JG: What else are you reading right now?
BY: I am about four New Yorkers behind on my Kindle Fire. I just finished an awesome book called "Far From the Tree," by Andrew Solomon -- an extremely in-depth look at the American family today. And I'm in the middle of two more excellent non-fiction books: "The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov," by Andrea Pitzer, and "The House That George Built," by Wilfred Sheed.
JG: What's next for you?
BY: My next book project relates to the Sheed book (and, I guess, my secret wish to be a jazz sideman). Its tentative title is "The B Side: The Fall of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song, 1950-1965." It's kind of a mystery story that will try to answer the question: what happened to the great American tradition of popular songwriting -- the tradition of Gershwin Porter, and Kern -- after 1950? The traditional answer is that rock and roll took over, but that's too simple. It's been a fascinating project, and I hope to finish within a year or so.
For more on "How to Not Write Bad," visit the Penguin Group website.