To Write Good Books, Skip the How-Tos

Richard Bausch: Put the manuals away, read the writers themselves


It’s exciting news that The Atlantic is again publishing fiction.  The May issue is out now, and it includes Fiction 2010, the annual fiction supplement to the magazine.

There are some wonderful writers included, and I plan on spending a good part of my weekend being both entertained and educated by them.

There’s one piece in particular I’d like to share with The Silent Writers: The essay titled, How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons by Richard Bausch.

Bausch’s love of his craft comes through so strongly and beautifully that it’s hard not to find inspiration in it.  The essay advocates something we’ve all heard many times before. Namely, in order to write well, one must read, read, read.  He’s not talking about how-to writers books that proclaim some kind of shortcut to a finished product, he’s talking about literature.

He goes beyond telling us that we must read by explaining why it matters.  To paraphrase, Bausch says:

Spend the time to absorb what is there in the vast riches of the world’s literature, and then craft one’s own voice out of the myriad of voices.

This incredible thought humbles me. That Boccaccio, Flaubert, Bronte, Hemingway, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, and, of course, Philip Roth (my personal favorite), are out there waiting to teach us, is a richness I’d never considered.  We can absorb and learn from them, and then with time, effort, patience, passion, and great great love, we can go on and our own voices.


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