My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The core of Ed Swartley’s message in When Did I Become the Oldest Person in the Room? is that writing is hard and not for the faint of heart. But if you really want to be a writer, then you need to practice your craft, read voraciously, and “love the chase for the perfect word.” Perhaps you’ll achieve immortality while you’re at it. Swartley says, “If you don’t love to write, give it up. It’s much too hard, much too taxing, the rewards much too elusive and fleeting.”
The book came about when Swartley discovered he wasn’t the youngest person in the room anymore and that he had valuable writing and life advice to share. The Oldest Person in the Room is geared mainly towards the aspiring writer, although more experienced writers may still benefit from his encouragment and wisdom.
This guide is hybrid of a practical English grammar guide with vignettes of Swartley’s life and philosophy. He references speeches, especially the speeches of Ronald Reagon, penned by Peggy Noonan, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and the Bible. You can tell that Swartley has fun writing about sentence length, slang, common word choice errors, adverbs (Living with Lee), puns, and idioms. He also includes a chapter on formatting, type-faces, white space that every writer should know. Keep this guide in a safe place when you feel overwhelmed by writers’ block. Open it up to let Swartley’s tough teacher talk entice you to “Just Do It!”
He mentions several times throughout the guide that writing is a solitary art and that one needs to take “I Breaks” to stay focused and fresh. He also mentions “Eye Breaks,” to help your posture and remind you of your daily water consumption.
I would have preferred to have encountered more of his practical writing advice (The Lessons) closer to the beginning of the book, with some of his examples of good writing in the middle or towards the end. I found myself nodding my head at many of his tips, especially his 10-point diagnostic check used at the revision stage, but I had seen all of these tips before. But even if his tips aren’t new, the way he approached them was. He delivered his message about clarity and eloquence thorugh historical anecdotes and personal charm. This guide is good refresher for veteran writers, but beginning writers will be the ones who will most benefit from his tips.
Ed Swartley is a veteran of 12 years in daily newspaper journalism and 20 years as a marketing executive in education, banking and printing. The former Business Editor of the Colorado Springs Sun, he currently is Editor of the monthly Rocky Mountain Direct Marketing Association DirectLine. He provides professional services as an editor and writing consultant at www.fixadocument.com