John Clayton:

Improving Your Writing

On this site:


Montana's Enduring Frontier

Cowboy Girl






Red Lodge

Small Town Bound

Other Books

About John

Author John Clayton has helped many writers improve their writing through formal college classes, seminars, coaching, and a series of articles for Harvard Business School publishing. This page discusses some of John's more significant experiences in helping people -- both business people and literary people -- take full advantage of their writing skills.

In writing workshops, John likes to focus on audience and structure. John helps a variety of writers think about their goals and the techniques that can accomplish those goals. Topics that John can cover include:

  • How to structure a narrative

  • Identifying your audience and its needs

  • The anecdotal essay: a dozen stories in 700 words

  • Why your rough draft should be rougher -- and how to make it so

  • The hidden cost of your computer's spellchecker

  • How to actually make money by writing


As Visiting Writer in Residence at Montana State University-Billings in 2016, John co-taught an advanced workshop in narrative nonfiction titled "Finding and Telling the Story." He posted a reading list here, complete with links to some of his favorite works.  


As an adjunct professor at Rocky Mountain College from 1995-2003, John taught a senior-level writing class that became one of the English department's most popular courses. Based on a syllabus he developed, the course combined technologically sophisticated lectures, exercises, and personal feedback to strengthen on-the-job writing skills for students in a variety of disciplines, including business, computers, engineering, and the sciences. 

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Reprints of John's articles on effective business communication from the Harvard Management Communication Letter are available from the Harvard Business School Press. They include: 

* The Ten Most Common Mistakes of Non-Professional Communicators

* Eight Differences between Writing for School and Work

* The Most Common Mistakes of First-time Presenters (as featured in the Houston Chronicle)

* When Can I Use Clip Art?

* Writing in Scenarios

* The Overrated Topic Sentence

* First, Kill the Editor

* Verbify Your Writing

* When to Ignore your Audience

* Genres: Not Just for Supermarket Fiction Shelves

* How to Lie with Formatting

* When Jargon Is Your Friend

* First, DON'T Write an Outline

* How to Write Correctly Without Knowing the Rules

* How to Make a Picture Worth a Thousand Words

* Five Quick Ways to Trim Your Writing

* How to Write an Executive Summary. This one was reprinted -- with free access -- here.

* Teach an Engineer to Write

Some of the books John recommends for improving your writing: 

* Techniques for Technical Communicators, edited by Barnum and Carliner, is the very old but comprehensive textbook from John's tech-writing days.

* Visual Language, by Robert Horn, looked at combining text and graphics, and was a source for "When Can I Use Clip Art?" It pre-dates (but in a sense predicts) emoticons.

* Writing for Story, by Jon Franklin, and Follow the Story, by James B. Stewart, help journalists and essayists apply narrative structure to works of nonfiction. Classics.


--- Revised: 8/2016


Copyright 2000-2016 John Clayton info [at]