August 20


S.O.S. Writing — a new textbook for sentences

Dear readers and friends,

I’m excited to spread the word about a new textbook, Don Stewart’s S.O.S. Writing, designed to teach you how to write better sentences.

[Update 2020: The site is now renamed Writing Whatever.]

The book has a very cool pedigree. If you’ve read my series “Writing Better Sentences,” you’ll remember that several of my lessons discuss the teaching methods of Francis Christensen. Christensen focused his teaching on the sentence, and a particular kind of sentence–the cumulative sentence. By starting with a simple, direct statement, and then adding to it, developing the original idea with a series of modifying phrases, aspiring writers can compose the kind of elegant, detailed, and powerful sentences found in Faulkner, Welty, Hemingway, and a host of other famous authors.

Christensen’s own essays, however, can seem a little terse for the contemporary reader, and assume a considerable amount of pre-existing grammatical knowledge. Reading them isn’t the easiest thing.

To create S.O.S. Writing, Don Stewart bought the rights to the Christensen method and presented an updated version of that method in a reader-friendly, iPad/iPhone-enabled ibook, complete with audio guides to each chapter [update 2020: it is now a course].

It’s a great method and well worth looking into, both for your own writing and for your students. There’s also a teacher’s guide.

On the S.O.S. website, Don describes the textbook like this:

If you are a teacher, we will teach you how to teach writing.
If you are a student, you will learn what no teacher has been able to teach you—yet.

These are bold statements. But teaching and learning how to write well are certainly among life’s greatest challenges. So the S.O.S.Writing program uses the most logical approach. We look at how real writers write.

You will learn how the magicians of writing—writers like John Updike, E. B. White, J. K. Rowling, and Michael Crichton—do their tricks. Think back to your music lessons, where you learned a few measures of a Beethoven symphony, or a riff by Jimi Hendrix. By studying how the masters do it, a little piece at a time, you will learn how to do it too.

And best of all, these techniques apply to all kinds of writing, not just the school classroom. All writing must have Style, Organization, and Specifics. Together, these are the secret ingredients to achieving that elusive quality known as “flow.”

I hoping that Don will answer some of my questions by email, for a future post on this site, so if you’re curious about the method, stay tuned for more information.


cumulative sentence, Don Stewart, Francis Christensen, grammar, S.O.S. Writing, teaching methods, teaching sentences, textbook, writing method

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  • Hi Daniel, thanks for sharing this resource! Looking forward to finding out more.

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