"How to Not Write Bad," by Ben Yagoda

Penguin Group, Maria Yagoda
How to Not Write Bad, Ben Yagoda
Penguin Group, Maria Yagoda

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.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.