Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This Conventional World of Unhip Undergraduates*

I've read books about writing for as long as I can remember. The act of writing fascinates me. A lot of people, however, consider books about writing useless schlock.

Have you read the Alexander Chee article about learning to write with Annie Dillard?

It's beautifully written and boasts all sorts of valuable thoughts on ego and writing. One of the most memorable lines came not from Dillard or Chee, but from Chee's father:

"Whatever it is you want to do, find the person who does it best, and then see if they will teach you."

In the old days, they called this an apprenticeship. I'm a writing apprentice, willing to unquestioningly wax on and wax off for the right person. That's what I'm doing when I read Speak for the 50th time, when I read On Writing and Stein on Writing and A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, the blog that recently mentioned that Donald Maass's book The Career Novelist is available for free download. (go 'nap it!)

As far as I know, Laurie Halse Anderson (aka, the person who does it best) isn't accepting any mentees, but if her book-eating daughter tweets that she LOVES a certain writing essay, I'm going to read it with an open notebook and poised pen. Does that make me a neophyte? Do I care? In the new age of life coaches, blogs, and tweets, I'm still an old-school apprentice learning my craft.

*I searched high and low on the Interwebs to find a poem I love called "I the Graduate" by Ted Joans because I think it complements this post. It's not widely booknapped, so it's probably not well-known. That's a shame, 'cause it rules. Read the whole thing on the ultimate booknapping site. Here's a taste:
I graduated
From my mom's womb
From childhood and family
From neighbors
From villages/towns/and cities
From religions/creeds/nationalities
And stagnant allegiances
And fad conformity
I graduated
From it all
Do you read writers writing about writing? Why or why not? If you do, how 'bout some recommendations?


  1. I haven't read much about writing. I read Stephen King's On Writing a few years ago. But I like reading fiction so much more than non-fiction I haven't picked up a writing book since. I really should read more!

  2. I have read countless books on writing. Maybe the newbie in me craves the understanding and concepts of the glorious craft. My favorites are Stein On Writing, Bird by Bird, anything Donald Maas, and James Scott Bell.

    Happy writing...

  3. I try to moderate my reading on writing, otherwise I get overwhelmed by all the instruction and forget to actually WRITE. But I have liked and found helpful Hooked by Les Edgarton. I also enjoyed Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and Amy Tan's memoir which includes a lot of material on her writing process. Both were valuable.

    All that being said, I really think that unless one takes a class in writing, or does an MFA, you need to take a moment and read books on writing. Not everyone understands intuitively how to structure plot and keep dialogue moving. Some of us (fine, me) have to learn it.

  4. I need more hours in the day!!! There is SO much on my list to read (and write.)

  5. Marie,
    Interesting. I JUST read Alexander Chee's essay about studying under Annie Dillard a few hours ago. Found a link on someone else's blog (ulp, sorry) before I read your post for the day. Isn't it amazing how lightning-fast knowledge spreads now?

    Bird by Bird, mentioned already by several others above, is the only book on writing I've ever read. I found it beautiful and inspiring. But I've been far more inspired by reading books by masters like Laurie Halse Anderson, Robert Cormier, Caroline B. Cooney, Scott Westerfeld and many many many others. As Richard Peck says, you should read 1000 books in your genre before you write one.

  6. Hi Marie!
    I popped over from Natalie's blog :)

    I love to read books about writing. "On Writing," by King was good. I really love Maass's books. I've read maybe 10 or so writing books and plan to read more. I figure the more I read about writers writing, the better I can become.

    Sometimes it's nice to have validation that what I'm doing is what I should be doing, and for some reason the writing books keep me feeling that. Not sure if that makes sense..LOL

    Nice post :)

  7. Bird by Bird must be the most recommended book I've never read. It's going on my Christmas list.

    I've always had issues with balance--when to stop reading about writing and write, when to stop reading period.

    Joanne, I make it a point to booknap quotes from essays, articles, and blogs i know the rest of you are probably reading. The Internet culture has too much "Read this! Read that!" and not enough "What were your thoughts on reading that? Let's discuss."