I read The Lively Art of Writing in preparation for a class I teach and liked it so much that I rewrote my syllabus around it. Its emphasis is on writing good essays, but the advice could apply to many kinds of writing. Although the book has not been updated since its 1969 publication (making some of the examples outdated), its information is still fresh and relevant. The Lively Art of Writing is a wonderful book for struggling writers. It clearly explains how to write a thesis, what makes a good thesis, how to write a paragraph, how to connect paragraphs and how to conclude well. Each chapter contains clear instructions as well as assignments for practicing each new writing skill.
Payne’s gentle witticisms reminded me of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. An example from page 104:
Sally saw the cat. It was a big cat. It was a black cat. It was a big, black cat.
You learned, obediently, what you had to learn: that sentences started with a capital letter and ended with a period, that Sally was a noun, saw was a verb, and big was an adjective. You probably learned, in addition, a few things that weren’t strictly a part of the lesson. You learned to hate Sally. You learned to hate Sally’s cat. And you learned to hate sentences. If sentences were this kind of stuff, who wanted them? You had the uneasy feeling that it was dangerous, even faintly immoral, to put a sentence in writing until you had starched and stiffened and sterilized it beyond any resemblance to natural speech.
While I’ll always be partial to the genius of Strunk and White, I thought that Payne did a more thorough job of explaining the mechanics of writing. This is a great book for those who would like to improve their writing.