Monday, January 19, 2009

"If no one can teach me, then how can I learn to write?"

Many years ago, now, I was a would-be writer. I mean a serious writer—one who writes to be published. My initial urge was to be a poet and literary fiction writer—years spent writing and writing and submitting and submitting and being rejected and being rejected. I actually have published a smattering of short stories and several poems, and I have come to terms that being a poet is something someone is simply is, not something one decides to do (or decides to stop doing). Poems come to be nearly fully formed and I have no recourse except to type them into Word, tinker and tinker, and accept them as if they matter (regardless of any hope about publication).

While I have one complete novel in a file cabinet somewhere that never saw print, my life as a writer has turned fruitful as a writer of scholarly work, enough books and articles to keep me excited about my life as a writer. But in those dim days of the 1980s, when I was determined to be a novelist, I was faced with the necessity of having my career and such (I was a full-time English teacher at the high school level), leaving me unable (I believed) to dive fully into an MFA program or some such "traditional" route to being a published writer of serious fiction and poetry. Being a teacher, I decided to teach myself to write and teach my students to write.

The bibles for my venture were the fiction of John Gardner (my models) and the books Gardner wrote about the art of fiction and the art of being a writer. So I firmly believe that if you are a writer and you want to begin teaching yourself (regardless of the type of writer you want to be), you should consider these works by Gardner:

The Art of Fiction

On Becoming a Novelist

I never became a novelist (although I still toy with writing even more novels), but Gardner's insight on being a writer and his faith in the art of writing (a craft that can and should be honed) have served me well daily as I write and work as a scholar.

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