Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Richard Bausch: The case against writing manuals.

Reading through my Facebook News Feed this morning, I came upon an entry from Bud Webster, who wrote: "This is one of the single ballsiest, most dead-on and cogent articles on writing (and how NOT to do it) that I've ever read." Bud linked to an article in today's The Atlantic, by Richard Bausch, entitled "How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons," and subtitled: "The case against writing manuals." Bud added this additional comment about Richard Bausch: "Amongst other things, he is the author of The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories, and [currently serves as] The Moss Chair of Excellence in the Writing Program at the University of Memphis. Trust me, this guy has chops like nobody else has chops, and knows whereof he speaks."

With an intro like that, I not only had to read the article, I also assumed it would be a great link to tweet and to include in my monthly Links & Things post. But, until I read the article, I couldn't fully appreciate what the author had to say about writing; this is an article that every novice writer, and even newly published writers, should read. I'm going to quote one paragraph from the lengthy article, but you won't understand the significance of this particular quote unless you read the entire piece.

"Finally, a word about this kind of instruction: it is always less effective than actually reading the books of the writers who precede you, and who are contemporary with you. There are too many 'how-to' books on the market, and too many would-be writers are reading these books in the mistaken idea that this will teach them to write. I never read such a book in my life, and I never will. What I know about writing I know from having read the work of the great writers. If you really want to learn how to write, do that. Read Shakespeare, and all the others whose work has withstood time and circumstance and changing fashions and the assaults of the ignorant and the bigoted; read those writers and don’t spend a lot of time analyzing them. Digest them, swallow them all, one after another, and try to sound like them for a time. Learn to be as faithful to the art and craft as they all were, and follow their example. That is, wide reading and hard work. One doesn’t write out of some intellectual plan or strategy; one writes from a kind of beautiful necessity born of the reading of thousands of good stories poems plays… One is deeply involved in literature, and thinks more of writing than of being a writer. It is not a stance."

— Richard Bausch

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