Great book recommendation about writing

by phil on Tuesday Apr 28, 2009 10:15 AM

I've been kicking myself for not reading books about writing earlier. I've always ignored these books because they seemed to provide mechanical tips, such as how to write the "perfect sentence." I'm now finding that the good stuff about writing comes when authors talk about their creative process as a whole.

This particular passage from On Writing Well by William Zinsser struck me:

In the writing course called "People and Places" that I teach at the New School, in Manhattan, students often tell me they have an idea for an article that would be perfect for New York, or for Sports Illustrated, or for some other magazine. That's the last thing I want to hear. They can already picture their story in print: the headline, the layout, the photographs and, best of all, the byline. Now all they have to do is write it.

This fixation on the finished article causes writers a lot of trouble, deflecting them from all the earlier decisions that have to be made to determine its shape and voice and content. It's a very American kind of trouble. We are a culture that worships the winning result: the league championship, the high test score. Coaches are paid to win, teachers are valued for getting students into the best colleges. Less glamorous gains made along the way—learning, wisdom, growth, confidence, dealing with failure—aren't given the same respect because they can't be given a grade.

For writers the winning grade is the check. The question that professional authors get asked most often at writing conferences is "How can I sell my writing?" It's the only question I won't try to answer, partly because I'm not qualified—I have no idea what editors in today's market are looking for; I wish I did. But mainly it's because I have no interest in teaching writers how to sell. I want to teach them how to write. If the process is sound, the product will take care of itself, and sales are likely to follow. (p. 255-256)

For me, I very often get cluttered by the marketing side of writing. I get a book idea, see it clearly, and then get frustrated when I can't just sit down and spit it out.

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