Write It Real

A Practical Guide for the Prose Writer

by Dan Valenti (Author)
©2022 Textbook XX, 158 Pages


Write It Real reduces the writing process to its essential core, providing prose writers with pragmatic guides directed solely to improving their words where it matters the most, on the page. This book covers every aspect governing the inside process of producing compelling prose. In doing so, it avoids the abstract and "philosophical" theories of so many writing guides, the nonsense that loses the reader in the layered, labyrinthine maze of grammar and technical excess. Valenti’s masterful book focuses instead on the time-tested, practical strategies that produce tangible—and sometimes instant—results.
Write It Real will help writers of all abilities, from developing to the selling pro, refine their work into sparkling clarity, and to do it with renewed confidence that comes from fully understanding how writing works from the inside of creativity out to the reader. This guidebook combines the best of a handbook and a "how to" with insights and strategies refined over decades of the author’s prolific career as a journalist, writer, teacher, and speaker.
A passionate take on and an illuminating look at a skill both mysterious and accessible, Write It Real’s 11 chapters take writers through the overlooked (because it’s obvious) and the obscure (because it’s overlooked). As a prose prescription, this "Rx" is nothing less than the 21st century’s answer to Strunk and White’s classic, The Elements of Style.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter One: Getting Ready to Write
  • Chapter Two: Own Your Words
  • Chapter Three: There Is No Such Thing as Writing
  • Chapter Four: Write for the Reader, Not Yourself
  • Chapter Five: First Draft, Rest, and Revision
  • Chapter Six: Writing’s Magic Pill: The Paragraph
  • Chapter Seven: Beginning-Middle-Ending
  • Chapter Eight: Transitions: Getting from “Here” to “There”
  • Chapter Nine: Grammar and Punctuation: Accidence and Analysis
  • Chapter Ten: Making Your Case: The Rhetorical Modes of Exposition
  • Chapter Eleven: The Last Word
  • Index

←x | xi→


There’s a scene in a 1966 movie starring Paul Newman and Richard Boone. The movie, Hombre, pits Newman in the title role, John Russell, with Boone as Grimes, the proverbial “bad guy.” In the scene, Russell voluntarily walks into a deadly trap to rescue and free a captive woman. Grimes and his henchmen have him in their sights.

Grimes, responding to Russell’s combination of courage and recklessness, addresses him: “They said you’ve got a lot of hard bark on you, walking down here like this. … Now what do you suppose hell is going to look like?”

Newman: “We all die. Just a question of when.”

Following the exchange, gunfire rains on the scene. Death and death.

I think of writing and writers when recalling the shootout. Writing is hard work. Many obstacles and setbacks litter the attempt to perfect the skill. To begin, persist, and improve, writers have to develop courage and not so much recklessness as a sense of plunging ahead in the dark. They need to develop that “hard bark.” Although it might sometimes feel like it, writing isn’t “hell,” and, literally, it won’t will kill you. Figuratively? That’s another matter.

I say these things not to discourage you but to level with you, a feature I maintain in this book. Write It Real could “sugarcoat” its guidelines and insights, which is what many instructors and guide books do. However, I have too much respect for writers of all abilities. As long as they remain serious about improving this vital ←xi | xii→skill, they have my pledge to keep it “real.” I’ll spill the secrets learned over a lifetime, the ones that actually work on the page.

Writers usually work alone. Their work faces criticism, constructive and otherwise. Rejection comes frequently. Get used to it. Your situation as a developing writer resembles that of an aspirant monk. In Buddhism, the prospective acolyte knocks on the monastery door. The roshi (master) answers holding a stick. Instead of greeting the applicant, the roshi strikes him and yells at the visitor to go away. If the applicant returns, it shows “true willingness” and the applicant receives welcome. The stick is the test of the applicant’s determination to persevere against all difficulty.

I wrote this book to share insights learned since my professional career with words began just before Memorial Day weekend 1975, when I joined the newsroom at the Syracuse Post-Standard, one of the New York State’s largest dailies. Since then, I have made my living with words — writing, teaching, and speaking them. Along the way, I’ve gained insights into this vexing, mysterious, complex, and profoundly simple skill. This book shares what I’ve learned in the hopes that it can profit writers at all levels of ability.

My time teaching in college classrooms, on the “other side of the desk,” gave me the chance over many years to figure out the best way to help developing writers. Thousands of students and millions of published words later, I have refined my understanding of how writing works. This book presents most of what I have learned and practiced over the decades.

Learning to write with polish and craft can be truly great with its satisfactions and rewards, be they psychic, monetary, or both. The monk aims for enlightenment. The writer aims for clarity. When he achieves enlightenment, the monk can’t put it into words. When a writer achieves the breakthrough, however, they can put it into words, which is the point in the first place.

Write It Real focuses on the practical aspects of this vital skill—and it is just that, a skill requiring constant practice. I’m not a linguist, an academic, or a communication theorist. While I am interested in the theoretical underpinnings of writing, I’m more focused on the actuality of the doing.

My book will help anyone serious about improving their ability to write effectively, be it for school, work, or any other situation that requires a message to be “put into words.” If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place. Write It Real isn’t grammar-heavy. It doesn’t waste time on too much theory. Contrarily, it shares pragmatic strategies, techniques, and tips designed to help your writing match your thinking so that your work represents you at your best and most articulate.

This isn’t a handbook, though it is a book you will want to keep at hand. It can provide a “safety net” to have by your side whenever you write. Some of you might ←xii | xiii→be professional writers. Some perhaps about to enter a college composition class for the first time, nervous as all get-out. Maybe you need to write for work, or perhaps you write with aspirations that involve personal fulfillment. Fortunately, the elements of good writing reduce to a few classic principles common to all scribes. These elements form the basis of Write It Real.

I hope my book provides you with the tools to take your writing to a higher level. Remember, there’s no ceiling. You can take your writing to the stars—and keep going.

Best of luck.

—Dan Valenti
July 30, 2022

←xiv | xv→


This book began in 1973 when something astounding occurred.

I was in my junior year at Union College in Schenectady, NY, majoring in English. Having racked up departmental honors for my work, I toyed with becoming a writer. One day after class, Prof. Sam Ullman said, “You have the goods.” He encouraged me and told me I could turn my writing from “a procession into a profession.” I asked him what he meant. Prof. Ullman said my work could become a path on which I could journey ahead into the professional ranks. That floored me. Dan Valenti? Good enough to become “a Writer?”

The second piece fell into place during lit courses at the same school. It occurred to me how many writers had a journalism background: Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, Ambrose Bierce, George Orwell, H.L. Mencken, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Crane, and countless others. Then it hit me. Become a writer—I could think of nothing I wanted more.

A career path emerged. After receiving my BA in English at Union, the Newhouse School of Syracuse University, America’s finest journalism school, accepted me for its graduate program. I earned my MA in newspaper journalism six months after I began work as an actual news hawk at the city’s morning daily. The six-month intersection of academics and full-time newspapering made me the busiest man in the news business. I chose newspapers as a way to break into the writing business. There are other avenues: T.S. Eliot was a banker, and Wallace ←xv | xvi→Stevens, an insurance executive. Hart Crane and Kurt Vonnegut started writing advertising and marketing copy.

The point is that everyone begins some place, irrespective of their ambitions. After five years in daily newspapers, I realized I was ready. I took the leap, hung a shingle, became a writer, and haven’t looked back since.

My goal wasn’t to be a starving artist. I wanted to write for a living. I was also willing to dive in head first, remembering a piece of advice from Hart Crane that to become competent, a writer must become “drenched in words.” I drenched myself, hustling assignments and winning confidence of people to pay for my skills. Since then, I have been on an endless quest to improve. That doesn’t stop, and it won’t (at least it shouldn’t) for you.

Then along came the pandemic. Along with the rest of the world, I retreated into the Fortress of Solitude, only I was determined to put the downtime to good use. That’s when I began this book.

The words gushed in a torrent. The keyboard acted as if separate from my volition. As a writer, you’ve probably known the thrill of “being in the zone.” Well, I got in the zone. I realized this book had been percolating in me for decades. It only needed the outlet provided by time.


XX, 158
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (August)
the writing process noise prewriting first draft rest revision transitions grammar argumentation rhetorical modes exposition Write It Real A Practical Guide for the Prose Writer Dan Valenti
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XX, 158 pp.

Biographical notes

Dan Valenti (Author)

Dan Valenti is a "six-decade author," with published books beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through today. His books, columns, essays, articles, and poetry have won acclaim. Valenti holds a Master’s Degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.


Title: Write It Real