It seems that successful (and otherwise sensible) writers often succumb to a terrible urge to write a book about how to write a book. If I were to become a famous writer (which is not unlikely in some parallel universe) I would break new ground by writing a book about how to write a book about writing books.
The serious question is: can a writer learn to write a book worth reading from reading books about writing books? I have to admit that I’ve read tons of books on writing. Most of them pretty good. And mostly by talented and successful writers. There are shelves of them in any good bookstore. Have they made me a better writer, enabled me to find my voice, write dialogue in character, plot and outline like a champ, etc. etc?
I’d like to think so -- but sometimes I also suspect that everything sold to writers is kind of parasitical. Writers feeding on aspiring writers. Selling books, workshops, classes, speaking engagements and so forth, which really produce very little good writing that wouldn’t have happened anyway.
I mean, what writer’s workshops did James Joyce and Marcel Proust attend? Hemingway, Jane Austin, Celine, Isaac Singer, Barbara Pym, Faulkner? What about the great stylists like Joseph Mitchell or John McPhee? Mark Twain, Herb Caen, or Mike Royko? Can you learn talent, an original voice and vision, the drive to write and rewrite and rewrite thousands of pages? I don’t know, so I guess I’ll just keep reading those books on how to write books, just in case.
Causes Michael Lipsey Supports
Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Nature Conservancy