Writing is Different?

“It is a strange thing. A composer studies harmony and theory of musical forms; a painter doesn’t paint a picture without knowing something about colors and design; architecture requires basic schooling. Only when somebody makes a decision to start writing, he believes that he doesn’t need to learn anything and that anybody who has learned to put words on paper can be a writer.” — Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, as quoted in “The Tools of Screenwriting,” David Howard & Edward Mabley, St. Martin’s Griffin (1993)

Of course, since Turgenev, the world has been blessed by “art” without training in colors or design, and “music” without knowledge of meter and form. Nor is architecture immune from this sorry trend: Recently, a concave London building melted trim on cars parked across the street. (This is the second thermally problematic building by the same architect, who presumably went to school.)

So it would seem that writing is no different in today’s post-Modern world than art or music: all the Arts have been dumbed down in search of an ever-lower lowest common denominator.

The ability to tell a story is often learned by example, and in some people, seems innate. Certain individuals can create good prose easily and with style, as long as they don’t have to write it down. These people are rare.

Still, the notion of training writers to write is a good one, though it may never catch on. Should every writer have an MS in writing? Definitely not. That would be overkill. The craft itself is not that deep. There are a gajillion books out there on how to write various genres, including non-fiction. There are night school and community college courses in creative writing. There are workshops and on-line writing sites. No writer need be untrained.

Learning the craft does take time and effort. It also requires enough humility to admit you don’t know everything there is to know, and enough drive to do something about it.

Below is the first book I ever read on writing. The content is almost as fresh today as it was then, though the genre has moved on.

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