Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.

John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction


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Monday, August 14, 2017

Fundamental Principles Of Writing by George G. Williams (1935)

Fundamental Principles Of Writing 
George G. Williams

First, a word of advice about the most fundamental principle of all. Students often enter writing courses with the illusion that they require nothing more than a driving urge and an undetermined amount of inspiration in order to create quite acceptable articles, stories, plays, and novels. It is true that both an urge and an inspiration are essential. But they are not enough. A person may have an urge to heal the sick, another to impart knowledge, or a third to defend the unfortunate, and all three may have a considerable amount of inspiration. But a physician who has not undergone a very thorough and painstaking training is a quack, a teacher who has never studied is a charlatan, and a lawyer who has never read law is a shyster. Likewise, a writer who has not thoroughly studied the art he professes to practice is on the way to ending as a mere hack. 

Most of the great writers of the past, you will say, never took a college course in advanced writing and didn't they do all right by themselves? To be sure. They never took a college course in advanced writing, but they learned independently all that such a course contains and more, too. All great writers have studied their art intensively, and have had a consuming interest, theoretical as well as practical, in it all their lives. Indeed, scores of them (from Sir Philip Sidney and Ben Jonson right down to Thomas Hardy, Henry James, John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, Ellen Glasgow, and T. S. Eliot) have written extensively on the techniques and principles of writing. A college course in advanced writing is only a short cut to what a writer must learn for himself in any event. It conveys in a few months what a self-educating writer must take years to learn. The present writer remembers making to Joyce Gary, the celebrated English novelist, one of those deprecating and insincere remarks that people do make about their own professions: "After all, one can't really teach people how to write." Mr. Gary pounced upon the remark immediately. "Oh, yes one can!" he exclaimed, and then proceeded to give the author a brief and persuasive lecture on the value of college courses in writing! 

But if a student is going to be taught how to write, he must be willing to learn how to write. He must resolve to learn techniques and principles just as a surgeon, no matter how gifted he may be, must learn to tie knots, or an English teacher must learn the difference between a verb and a noun, or a lawyer must learn the minutiae of legal forms and court procedure. 

The present writer once had a student who, after hearing lengthy and probably tiresome counsel about the details of sentence formation and compositional structure, asked a bit indulgently, like a person who has consented to be deceived by a ventriloquist: "But surely you don't expect us to go to all that trouble with our writing?" The answer is an emphatic Yes. There is no other way to be a good writer. Furthermore, as a matter of plain fact, it is in the practice of the actual art ( or, if one prefers, the craft ) of writing that the writer avoids succumbing eventually to the boredom of his work, and giving it up for the more interesting employment of selling hosiery. His enjoyment, like the enjoyment of a painter, a sculptor, a dancer, a singer, or an actor, derives chiefly from the processes of his art from the planning, the constructing, the joining, the polishing, the exercise of skill, the conquest of problems arising with every sentence, the dexterous juggling of all the elements that go to make good writing: words, sentences, sounds, associations, ideas, arrangements, spaces, divisions, continuity, suppressions, intensifications, and all the rest. Anyone who hopes or expects to write a great deal in his life must learn as much as he can about his art all its methods, devices, and even tricks and then try to apply it to every word, phrase, clause, and sentence that he writes. That is the only way in which he can endure to be a confirmed writer. When he has done this, writing will not be something to be avoided, but something eternally seductive and irresistible. 

Excrept from "Creative Writing For Advanced College Classes by George G. Williams."

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