This book sets out to answer the question "How do we write?" Sharples starts by highlighting the gulf between routine writing tasks and the words of great writers who "transcend the everyday world and produce works of great insight, elegance and power". Sharples evaluates a range of research and models as he investigates how good writers write and how less good writers can improve.
The book is divided into twelve chapters in three parts. He starts with "writing in the head", in which he looks at the mental processes involved in becoming a writer and starting to write. He then moves on to "writing with the page", in which he considers the cycle of planning, composing and revising as presented in models like that proposed by Flower & Hayes (1980). He also looks at what it means to be a writer and the many different ways in which successful authors work. In the final part of the book, Sharples looks at "writing in the world", where he considers the relationship of writing to culture, groups of writers and technology.
This is not an easy book to read, in spite of its many interesting examples and fresh ideas. It has quite an academic tone, with many references and qualifications. The visual design is somewhat monotonous, failing to add hooks to keep the reader moving. Its main focus is on creative writing as the subtitle suggests. Most writers are interested in language and ways to write more easily and effectively: some of the ideas and techniques may be helpful and indeed some relate specifically to scientific or factual writing.
There is some overlap between this book and Kellogg's Psychology of Writing. Both analyse writers' personalities, strategies and environments, within an academic framework. They are of similar length, with good indexes and extensive lists of references. Psychology of Writing seems easier to read than How We Write but, given the similarities in content and approach, one wonders how much this was influenced by the visual design. The former is set in a conventional serif typeface, whereas the latter uses Rotis Sans Serif - this typeface looks very clean and modern at first glance but does not seem to carry the eye forward.