Book Review: ‘Word Up’ by Marcia Riefer Johnston

(Note: I received a free, pre-release digital copy of this book from the author.)


I’ll say upfront that this review is probably biased. That’s because I read Marcia Riefer Johnson’s ’Word Up!’ on a smartphone while zipping around on the trains of Tokyo. Part of an ongoing experiment into my preferred digital and analogue reading habits.

It must have been good because I consumed almost every page using a device that’s much easier and safer to hold on busy trains than a tablet. And now, a few weeks later, I’m typing up this post on that very same smartphone while flicking through the ebook on a laptop. (By the way, Marcia also covers the perils and pitfalls of writing for readers with small screens.)

That said, Marcia has written a very entertaining and educational resource for any of us who wince when reading their own work… but then want to know how to improve it.

In other words, as its byline reminds her readers, this book’s all about “How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything you build from Them).

The thing is, ‘Word Up!” has value to me as both an author of science fiction and as a b2b commercial writer. My blogging schedule decided where this review would be posted but I want to point out that the book’s relevance to fiction and to non-fiction is a credit to Marcia’s own skill as a writer.

’Word Up!’ isn’t a ‘style guide’ although discussion abounds, sometimes humorous (‘sorry’, but my style on this blog slips between US and UK English…), on how “skilled writers make writing work.”

Marcia outlines this requirement for competency in a writer as a “command of the language”; noting that, “there’s no app for that.” Of course, such a creative tableaux includes the bundled vocabulary of grammar – something Marcia addresses in a pragmatic way throughout the book . (Read the ‘Up with (Thoughtful) Prescriptivism’ section to get an idea of how she rolls.)

The book’s three-part structure consists of a series of short discourses about words, moves on to sentences and paragraphs, and concludes with advice on the business of writing. Meaning that these delightful essays can be read in any order (although I went through them sequentially.)

My favorite section was titled ‘Decisions, Decisions’, in which Marcia applies many of the book’s lessons to one of her writings. Behind-the-scenes peeks into the working mind of an experienced writer are invaluable and I’ve read this section twice and will no doubt refer to it again.

Will ‘Word Up!’ make better business writers out of marketers, executives and engineers? Perhaps – especially if they continue to critique their own work after the initial draft’s been soaking in the subconscious for a day or two. At the very least, readers will have a better idea of what to avoid and what to do about it.

For professional wordsmiths I think this book is an invaluable reminder of the magic and power that words, sentences and paragraphs can be imbued with. Reading ‘Word Up!’ will help you choose more of them with care. Highly recommended.

You can find book excerpts, exercises, glossary, a blog and much more at Marcia’s ‘Word Up!’ website: 

2013-05-25 Update:
I bought a paper version and look forward to comparing my reading experience with that of the tiny smartphone. First impressions?  Turning pages is more thrilling than the scrolling screen.

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About the Author
Author: Mark McClure - A freelance b2b case study and white paper writer to the computer networking industry. Based in Tokyo, Japan. About the 'Samurai Writer'.
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  1. […] you Build from Them)‘. You can read a short review posted on my commercial writing site here. I value Marcia’s book so much that I bought my own copy for future […]

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