Monday, April 19, 2010

Ignore the Writing Manuals

We often advise our students to read some writing manuals (ok, at least I do). In the Fiction 2010 Supplement to the May 2010 Atlantic, there is a humorous essay by Richard Bausch, “How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons,” that parodies such manuals. Although the focus is on fiction manuals, there are some good points made by Bausch, such as follows:

“With a frequency that is dismaying, I run into people who are widely versed in the manuals, and quasi-literate in all other ways. They have no sense of the love of the art they wish to practice, because they have very seldom or never been in the thrall of a work of fiction as practiced by the great artists in their own literary heritage, or even the good craftsmen in the genres. They may have had some exposure to the great writers, or some anthology-exposure to a fraction of someone, little pieces of the treasure that is there. Or their reading is so deficient that in fact the only books they’ve read that might be called fiction are the few best sellers that achieve some literary merit or cachet. Which is to say that these people, many of them college students, want to be considered serious writers; they seek literary excellence; but they have come to believe that they can accomplish this by means of the convenient shortcut. And the industry that produces the how-to manuals plays to them, makes money from their hope of finding a way to be a writer, rather than doing the work, rather than actually spending the time to absorb what is there in the vast riches of the world’s literature, and then crafting one’s own voice out of the myriad of voices.

My advice? Put the manuals and the how-to books away. Read the writers themselves, whose work and example are all you really need if you want to write.”

You can read the full essay at

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