More on “Creative Writing”

Here is another tidbit about “The New Yorker” article by Professor Louis Menand that was the subject of a posting several days ago.

In a July 20 letter to the Editor of “The New Yorker, ” Allyson Stack, writing from Edinburgh, Scotland, suggested that Menand ought to have commented on the diminished roles of editors in the publishing industry.  Stack mentioned Maxwell Perkins,  an editor of the 1930s who edited Thomas Wolfe (“Look Homeward, Angel,”  etc.)  into great renown. No Maxwell Perkinses are to be found today.  Stack says, most importantly,

“Creative writing programs have stepped in to fill this void by teaching young writers, in effect, to be their own editors–an essential skill in the current publishing climate.  A good creative writing program will aim at making students better writers by requiring them to read intensively, exhaustively, and endlessly–and to read more than one another’s work.   Reading a novel with an eye toward writing one is a very different task from reading a novel with an eye toward writing a term paper on it, or reviewing it for a magazine, or giving a lecture on the text, and so on . . . .   The aim of these programs, then, should be not so much to produce novelists or poets as to produce more astute readers of novels and poetry–which is to say, better editors.”

I heartily concur.



3 Responses to “More on “Creative Writing””

  1. CICvet Says:


    A suggestion for an interesting (not original) test/game:
    Choose a familiar sentence (“I walked back to the hotel in the rain.”), and we’ll guess the author. Or better yet, create a sentence and give us a multiple guess as to who most likely wrote it. It’s cold outside. We need to think.

  2. Raymond Rundus Says:

    In an e-mail to CICvet, I proposed that the answer to his first sampling of a writer, would be Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms.” I also suggested a “homework” problem: Come up with five samples of writings (prose fiction is probably best to work from) of established, well-known authors and see who can identify the most (giving at least the author, if not the author and title).
    No takers?

  3. AMD Says:

    Not sure I agree with Ms. Stack. Whatever happened to “learning by doing”? This is definitely the way that I learn best, though that may not be the case for everyone. I can be shown something numerous times, but unless I jump in and try it myself, the lesson just doesn’t seem to stick.
    When I was in school, we had frequent writing assignments — whether a book report, or an essay, a research paper, or even an exam with questions that required actual answers (rather than multiple choice) — it was how I learned to express myself with the written word. Like anything else that gets better with practice, my writing assignments got better as I did more and more of them.
    Perhaps, which seems to be the case for Ms Stack, there are people who learn better by example, but I believe that writing is an acquired skill, which you learn by trial and error. I believe that reading can show you examples of how (good) writing can and should be done, but unless you can absorb it by osmosis, then I think time spent learning how to WRITE is worth the effort spent.

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