Not The Bookish Type Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-07-06 23:00:00 No comments

It's weird. I went looking for books in my personal library that are about the craft of writing, and realized I could barely find any. Strunk & White's The Elements Of Style, and Lawrence Block's book on storytelling, and that's about it. I know I still have my copy of Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers lurking around somewhere, but I can't find it. (Maybe it fell down behind something else. This happens constantly when you have books stacked two and three deep in a shelf.)

A lot of advice-type books on writing exist mostly to be outgrown, like training wheels. You pick them up, you learn what you can from them, and then by degrees you ditch them and go do your own thing. You learn the rules so you can in time learn how to break the rules.

Most of the basic advice for writing isn't something you need tons and tons of literature to sort out anyway. Sure, some of it is stuff that isn't terribly obvious. I love Block's meditation on the word get as an example of how we can unconsciously allow our language to become lazy and inexpressive, something every writer has to fight in their work. But the sooner such advice is assimilated and transcended, the better.

The vast majority of the books in my collection aren't about writing. There's a half shelf or so of literary criticism, but it's maverick stuff, like Dale Peck's Hatchet Jobs or Brian Aldiss's great book of SF history, Trillion Year Spree. The rest of it, when it touches on the arts, it does so from all directions: Our Band Could Be Your Life (see my last post); Ze-ami's treatises on Nō drama; John Cage's Silence; Jonas Mekas's Movie Journal.

At some point I had a veritable multi-yard-shelf of writing and literature, but I shed many of those books right before I moved to the house I'm living in now. Some of that was because I felt I'd mined out those texts; after all, some books you can really only use once. But it was also because I felt like the lessons that were most learning weren't going to come from reading about people analyzing other books, with a few rare and notable exceptions. The best lessons now seemed to come most from other kinds of artists, and people talking about other kinds of art forms. Those kinds of discussions got me more excited, provoked me to think more deeply about what I was doing, than yet another discussion of, I dunno, whether or not stuff like SF & comics are "really" literature, or what the literary merits of same were or are.

I'm not saying other people who mine those veins are wasting their time; more power to 'em. They're not me, and there's a good chance they'll find something I wasn't able to. It's more that the things I'm seeking by way of what I'm trying to create don't seem like they're going to have that process illuminated all the more readily by way of those kinds of analyses. Books like that tend to be written more for scholars of a given discipline than practitioners of it anyway, and I think that's actually a sign of how bad the state of scholarship is in a given discipline that only the scholars of it can or should care about it.

Anyway, my point isn't even really to dump on those books. It's more to say that I'm in a place where books that are self-consciously about writing seem to do very little for me, that I think getting past needing such books is a goal any writer needs to strive for consciously, and that once that happens they need to find something from outside of their discipline to infuse into their work and drive it forward. That's all.

Tags: art criticism scholarship writers writing