Sunday, June 05, 2011

How to write

Found this little gem in a New Yorker piece about the value of a college education. It comes from Professor X, the author of “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower”, which is about the difficulties of trying to get non-academic students to perform traditional academic tasks such as writing essays.
“I have come to think that the two most crucial ingredients in the mysterious mix that makes a good writer may be (1) having read enough throughout a lifetime to have internalized the rhythms of the written word, and (2) refining the ability to mimic those rhythms.”
Seems as good a working definition as I've ever heard.


  1. Not unlike playing an instrument – it really helps to love and know music to get the most out of it.

  2. And film making too. Only after having been at it for 20 years, do I value the notion of mimicking. Other writers and directors have developed techniques to evoke every possible emotion in an audience, using all the grammar there is available. I've found that things really start to work when I refine what I want to say. I think originality might come from the order in which the smallest events are presented.

  3. PS - just clicked through your New Yorker link. Just browsing the site made me feel so much smarter and more urbane! It even smelt of paper. Wonderful.

  4. @ Andrew,

    And the other way around, I believe.

    It helps to know and love music in different ways if you can play an instrument, and learn the songs you like.

    Not better, juts differently, such as realising how complicated or clever a certain chord sequence or guitar solo is, for example.

  5. Sound advice David, but you would be surprised (or, not perhaps) how many young writers say they won't read the work of others because they 'don't want to be influenced' by them.

  6. Or, to summarise "Read and practice. A lot."