The Best How-To Books

Bethany Bouchard
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As a senior about to graduate, I've taken a variety of writing classes meant to teach technique, explore style preferences and broaden my creativity. Almost all of these classes have involved some sort of "How to Write" book.

A certain instructor last semester for one such writing class informed us that as writing majors we technically didn't really need to be attending college to learn how to write. He told us we were either going to be writers or we wouldn't, and it's not a matter of learning how to write so much as it is putting one's writing into practice and getting out there. So, here's the big question? Are "How to Write" books really a necessity? Does one need to pay someone to teach them how to become a writer?

In my experience, I find these "How to Write" books and the writing classes extremely helpful. The books my instructors chose to emphasize the classes' materials weren't your average hokey "first you do this, then do this" kind of guides. They mostly involved examining specimens of different authors' writing that were chosen on a basis of style, dialogue, or some other aspect that all creative writing involves, which would then be discussed in the text, followed by writing exercises for the student to put in to practice. In class we would talk about the material in the texts or workshop our own writing. Workshop in class is a great help to me as a writer because it gives me a chance to share my work with someone on the same learning level as myself, get feedback, and learn from what others are doing.

Do you need to go to school to learn how to write? Not necessarily, but the experience of being in a classroom setting with other writers definitely has helped me to feel more confident in what I am doing and has helped me to take what I learn and apply it outside of the classroom on my own.


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Hi, Bethany. I just finished a journal entry for my fiction writing class considering the same question you raised. It was prompted by the cover of one such how-to book. On the cover below the title it read (italicized) "How to make your good ideas great." As to imply whatever idea I had couldn't be good enough without the knowledge contained in this book. At some point, isn't it time to let yourself just write? Let the critic sit one out?
There is always room for improvement. I believe schooling and instructional books lay the foundations to help writers in numerous ways (I am here after all). What I wonder is do such things wound creativity by championing formulaic efforts.

You bring up a really good point. It's true that going to school for creative writing is a course of study that allows one to pursue their creative passions; however, it is a structured sort of creativity based on the texts chosen for the class and the syllabus laid out by the instructor.

This is a really interesting topic. I definitely think that taking classes sets the foundation, but classes can only help so much. Afterwards, it's up to us as writers to continue practicing. One thing that I like about taking classes with other writers is the opportunity for critiques.

Thanks, Kaitlin! And I couldn't agree more about what you say about the writing classes. It is important to continue practicing even after class is done. Critiques from classmates are really helpful in giving you a better idea on how to change something that might need to be revised.

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This page contains a single entry by Bethany Bouchard published on September 11, 2010 12:46 PM.

Why Not Publish? was the previous entry in this blog.

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