Learning the Art of Writing

What is good writing? How does a writer write with sincerity and style? These two questions captivate the attention of everyone who teaches and practices the art of writing. Good writing is clear, interesting, and truthful. A savvy definition by William Safire epitomizes these qualities: "Good writing is the transmission of original ideas."Creative persons in many fields -- artists, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and writers -- use a six-step creative process. Writers who grasp the process can write about any subject, and in every genre. Writers who use this method discover that "writer's block" melts like a cube of ice. The parts of this creative writing process are:1. Gather Original Ideas2. Play With These Ideas (Explore, deepen, invent, connect)3. Work With The Ideas (Choose a genre, choose a reader, make an outline)4. Incubate (Relax and let the unconscious mind work on the ideas)5. Write From the Heart (Write quickly, without stopping)6. Rest, then RewriteAbout one hundred years ago, literary theory favored a slow and crafted approach to writing, where stories and poems were composed ever-so-cautiously, like laying bricks. Hours and even days might be consumed in searching for the one and only perfect word.Oscar Wilde satirized this overemphasis on refinement, when he quipped: "I spent the whole morning putting in a comma -- and the whole afternoon taking it out again."Modern theory favors a much less restrained approach to writing. Writers today seek to tap the vast resources of the unconscious. "Write hot, rewrite cool," is the working motto.The attempt to get everything down, as quickly as possible, by writing without stopping, has been summarized neatly by Jaques Barzun: "the heat of writing. I call it heat not because one does or should write in a fever, but because the deliberate choice of words and links and transitions is easiest and best when it is made from a throng of ideas bubbling under the surface of consciousness. On this account, I strongly recommend writing ahead full tilt, not stopping to correct. Cross out no more than a few words that will permit you to go on when you foresee a blind alley. Leave some words in a blank, some sentences not complete. Keep going!"How can we learn to write well? Advice is plentiful; unfortunately no two writers will agree. Socrates and Democritus would often stand motionless, for days and days, thinking about the answer to one burning question. Schiller could not write without first smelling rotten apples; Hemingway wrote standing up; and Voltaire wrote lying down, using as a desk the naked back of his mistress. Though writers disagree on techniques or habits, a common thread of ideas may be easily discovered and used as a guideline to teach writing students (and teach ourselves) to write well. In addition to "Practice, practice, practice!" three suggestions are:1. Writers learn to write by reading great books.2. Writers write best about the subjects they care deeply about.3. Writers imagine one ideal reader when they write.This last idea has been suggested by many writers; maybe the first to offer this good advice was the philosopher Emerson, in an essay "Friendship": "Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection. The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to write a letter to a friend -- and, forthwith, troops of gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words."The Great Goal of every writer is to find her Voice. When a writer finds her Voice she writes naturally and freely, drawing energy and wisdom from the deepest and sincerest place within. Meaning melds with style the same way form fits function. The writer achieves mastery of her art and craft; the writing becomes a force of Nature, touching the reader with simplicity and power."Nature is perfect," wrote Leonardo da Vinci, "because in the works of Nature nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous." In great writing nothing is lacking, nothing is superfluous, and something mysterious moves us with a ray of wonder and delight.Sidebar OneNew Books About Writing and Getting Published Writers.net: every writer's essential guide to online resources and opportunities. By Gary Gach. Published by Prima, 1997. 373pp. Paperback, $22.00. Tremendous resources for writers lie waiting on the Internet, and this extensive sourcebook shows you how to get them all.The Writer's Home Companion: An Anthology of the World's Best Writing Advice, From Keats to Kunitz. Edited by Joan Bolker. Published by Henry Holt, 1997. 269pp. Paperback, $14.95. Despite Keats in the subtitle, this collection offers advice primarily from modern writers, on the topics of preparation, beginning, revision, poetry, voice, audience, and practice.A Writer's Companion. Edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Published by HarperPerennial, 1997. 993pp. Paperback, $22.00. This massive book is a one-volume encyclopedia that's fun to read, covering 66 topics in the sciences, the social sciences, contemporary culture, and the arts.Writing for Magazines: A Beginner's Guide. By Cheryl Sloan Wray. Published by NTC Publishing Group, 1997. 220pp. Paperback, $17.95. Well designed, well written, and packed with useful information and ideas.The Travel Writer's Handbook: How to write and sell your own travel experiences. By Louise Purwin Zobel. Published by Surrey Books, 1997. 322pp. Paperback, $15.95. A thorough and insightful guidebook for the traveling writer, as valuable as a Swiss Army knife and a comfortable pair of shoes.Be Your Own Literary Agent: The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Getting Published. By Martin P. Levin. Published by Ten Speed Press, 1996. 230pp. Paperback, $14.95. Encouraging, but not foolishly optimistic, Levin's book -- indispensable for prepublished writers -- offers an eight-step program for finding a publisher for your literary work.

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