WRITE AWAY - EXCERPT - PREFACE
I find it both fascinating and disconcerting when I discover yet another person who believes that writing can't be taught. Frankly, I don't understand this point of view.
I've long believed that there are two distinct but equally important halves to the writing process: One of these is related to art; the other is related to craft. Obviously, art cannot be taught. No one can give another human being the soul of an artist, the sensibility of a writer, or the passion to put words on paper that is the gift and the curse of those who fashion poetry and prose. But it's ludicrous to suggest and short- sighted to believe that the fundamentals of fiction can't be taught.
To believe this is akin to believing that no artistic medium can be taught. And to believe
that is to believe that no artistic medium has tools and techniques, which the practitioner learns and then hones before she takes the leap from craft into art. Yet those who argue that writing can't be taught would probably be the first to agree that the basic principles of sculpture, oil painting, water color, musical composition, and so forth, ought to be dipped into before someone thinks herself a great master in any of those fields. Those very same people would also agree that everyone from Michelangelo to Johann Sebastian Bach probably had a bit of schooling in the field in which he excelled.
So, frankly, is the case for writing. Yet for some reason, this logic tends to be thrown out the window when it comes to the novel, to the poem, to the short story. It is indeed so much the case that I've discovered in my book-related travels over the past fifteen years entire countries where
people honestly believe that writing is a mysterious process that you either understand intuitively or do not.
We're lucky in the United States. Our tradition is that writers have, long passed their craft along to other writers. For this reason, the novel, the poem, and the short story remain vital parts of our expanding literary tradition. Writing is no dying art form in America because most published writers here accept the wisdom and the necessity of encouraging the
talent that follows in their footsteps. Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving,
Wallace Stegner, Michael Dorris. Ron Carlson, Thomas Kenneally, Oakley Hall ... these are just a few of the writers who are or have been teachers as well. Their presence in the classroom demystifies the process. They share what they know, and the craft is better and stronger for it.
Craft is the point. Not art, which, as I've said, cannot be taught. Nor passion, which cannot be taught. Nor discipline, which is essential but which, alas, also cannot be taught. Pure craft will, of course, not make someone Shakespeare. It won't make someone William Faulkner or Jane Austen. But it can and will serve as a guide, as the soil in which a budding writer can plant the seed of her idea in order to nurture it into a story.
That, then, is the purpose of this book. As a teacher of writing for a number of years, I believe in the mastery of craft. More than that, I believe that an understanding of craft is essential for most writers. A thorough knowledge of the tools of our trade is what gives us something to turn to when we run into difficulties. Without this knowledge, we are at the mercy of a Muse who may turn fickle at the very moment when we're desperately depending upon her fidelity. Craft won't solve every problem a writer runs into during the creation of a piece. But it will eliminate a score of difficulties that the unschooled writer faces without it.
Although parts of my take on craft will be identical to that of other writers, much of it will be different. This is because each of us puts her own spin on the basic knowledge we've gathered over the years. I can only tell you what .I believe; what I do, and what the result is. In short, r can only reveal my process to you and encourage you to develop your own.
But make no mistake about it. Developing a process means learning a craft because process itself
comes from craft
As for the art of writing ... that is a mystery.
The art of writing is all about the inspiration of the moment and the excitement of riding the wave of an idea.
The art of writing is what you get to do once to do become familiar with the craft.
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