Stephen Wilbers: Forging Wordsmiths

It is written…but not always well

When Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D., speaks about writing, his audience can tell from the outset he is a man of his words. Wilbers teaches that powerful writers derive much of their moxie from a trenchant understanding of their given language. For Wilbers, that’s English. Yet even though his knowledge of English is steeped in tradition and history—with standards, models and rules galore, he might be the first to say that no one authority has the last word on words.

A renowned writing consultant, author and syndicated columnist, Wilbers just concluded a three-session summer workshop called “Techniques for Excellent Writing.” Sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators and held at the Golden Valley Golf and Country Club in Golden Valley, Minn., the workshop tackled a force of topics vital to successful business and professional writing. His presentation turned listeners into contributors through anecdotes, humor and an astute take on writing for effect in an information-drenched world.

Wilbers guided a gathering of key communicators from area colleges, municipalities and government agencies through a multi-course meal of obstacles that often stymie and baffle good writing—an elusive creature known for its clarity, concision and relevance. He emphasized the practical application of his lessons, driving home useful pointers on an open range of issues from developing an appropriate e-mail style to composing smart paragraphs to proofreading to overcoming writer’s block.

Stephen Wilbers’ Quote of the week

“Like an omelet, fiction depends on fresh ingredients.”
—Stephen Minot, Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama

Elements of style also stack up as essential godparents in the quest for good writing. “In forming an opinion of your style, your readers react to the person they perceive behind the words,” Wilbers explained, “—your character, personality, individuality, and sense of humor—as well as the words themselves.”

Wilbers showed that style travels in a gang of five:
  1. Economy of Language
  2. Precise Word Choice/Colorful Vocabulary/Figurative Language
  3. Specific, Concrete, Vivid Detail
  4. Pleasing Sound, Rhythm, and Variety
  5. Discernable Voice, Tone, or Point of View

Before you fly into your next page, take a minute and visit Dr. Wilbers’ website, Writing for Business and Pleasure. You’ll discover answers to a crowd of questions related to good writing. You can also read his Star Tribune column, “Effective Writing,” which appears on the first, third and fifth Mondays of each month.

Find the time to consider his weekly errors, tips, words and poems. Step up to his grammar, proofreading, punctuation and word choice challenges. On your next writing project, you might not make every word cover its eyes and count to 100, but you will become a better writer instantly—if not faster.

Books by Dr. Stephen Wilbers

  • Keys to Great Writing
    • Techniques for writing with style
  • Writing for Business
    • Collected columns, winner of a Minnesota Book Award
  • Writing by Wilbers
    • Collected columns, vol. 2, now available as an e-book