Learning to Write

I have approximately 75 books on writing, on topics ranging from instruction to inspiration. How to write query letters, how to format a manuscript, how to do interviews, travel writing, screenwriting, romance writing, memoir writing, novel writing, science fiction writing, how to get organized, how to make time, how to make $25,000 to $50,000 or more a year as a freelance writer, how to get an agent, how to get published, how writers write, what writers think, and of course, basic how to writes–the list goes on and on. And that’s not counting my subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and my yearly purchase of Writer’s Market.

You’d think I’d be a successful writer just from looking at my library. How could I read all these books and not be?

The truth is, I haven’t read all these books. I probably haven’t even read half of them, not all the way through anyway.

But I keep on buying them–and checking them out of the library–as if somehow, just possessing them will turn me into the writer I long to be. And I keep on getting nowhere.

I’m not saying that reading all these books would automatically make me successful. (Read: published.) But they could help to fill the void in my writing life, the one where I don’t have a writing teacher or writer’s group to give me feedback and encouragement. I haven’t taken a writing course since I was in college three years ago and then I only took two of them (both in creative nonfiction). In fact, those are the only writing courses I’ve ever taken.

It’s hard to find writing courses outside of a college setting. Sometimes the local adult education program has some kind of writing course, but I’m not really interested in taking courses taught by writers who are only slightly more successful than I have been. I want a real challenge, like I had in college.

Then again, I’m leery of taking courses at all, or of attending writer’s groups. I don’t think my ego can take it. Of the two courses I have taken, one was a positive experience and the other was negative. I left with more doubts about myself as a writer than I started with. I was sure that I didn’t measure up to many of the others in my class. I couldn’t seem to write what I wanted to write or say things the way I thought I wanted to say them. I did learn some things, but looking back, I feel like I need to unlearn some of them. There was this tendency on the part of the teacher to say that creative nonfiction had to look exactly like “this.” Maybe it wasn’t so much that she was wrong as that I don’t do well with rules. They fill my head when I start to write something and I freeze. I’ve been freezing ever since I graduated.

So I’ve decided to take a different tack: I’m going to start reading all these books on writing and try to get what I need from them. If I run across one that isn’t helpful, I’ll lay it aside. If I find one that seems to resonate with me, then I’ll milk it for all it’s worth.

I’m going to start with Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach. It’s a new book (2008) that I just checked out of the library. It’s subtitled: “How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays and Life into Literature.” Sounds right up my alley. I’ve only read the introduction, but so far so good. The author is writing to people just like me, writers who can’t seem to write and don’t know why. He insists that it is necessary to turn back the clock and become a beginner again, a learner. Somehow I think he’s right.

I’m going to give it a try and report on my progress (or lack thereof) in this blog.