No writer worth his sodium chloride would claim great writers are born great writers. For one, the wording is redundant and we writers are cautioned against stuff like that. For another, even the music prodigy has to practice her scales. In addition to reading in a general way (or as Faulkner advised: “Read, read, read. Read everything.”) so too the writer needs to read books about the craft. Just as the physics major doesn’t opt out of his math classes, neither should the aspiring novelist disregard instructional books on the mechanics of composition or what constitutes an engaging story.
The frame through which I viewed the world changed too, with time. Greater than scene, I came to see, is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame.
Lamott is also an amusing, quirky writer, and offers lots of personal anecdotes about her own journey in the writing field. She does place a higher value on fiction that concerns itself with truth over transience, meaning she seems to care little about producing publishable fiction for the sole purpose of financial success. This might explain why she stresses the joys of the writing process over the goal of publication. Some would insist this is elitist, to dismiss popular fiction while singing the praises of mining for that inner truth. Maybe.
Lastly, Stein says what I’ve felt for many years about what constitutes good writing. It was refreshing to find him articulate it so well:
When a writer…understands the electricity of fresh simile and metaphor, his choice of words empowers our feelings, his language compels our attention… When Shakespeare speaks, when
orates, we are moved not by information but by the excellence of their diction. …The best of good writing will entice us into subjects and knowledge we would have declared were of no interest to us until we were seduced by the language they were dressed in. Lincoln
Other books on writing I do and don’t recommend …
The Golden Book On Writing, David Lambuth. Very helpful.
In Short, Louis I. Middleman. Pretty good.
The Elements Of Style, William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White. Definitely for anyone interested in writing well, covers some common abuses of terms, tenses, and diction.
Short Story Writing, Wilson R. Thornley. Helpful for understanding the basics to a solid short story.
Secrets Of Successful Writing, Dewitt H. Scott. Not too helpful.
Someday You'll Write, Elizabeth Yates. You could skip this and not suffer.
How To Write Short Stories That Sell, by Louise Boggess. Slightly helpful but poorly done.
How to be Successfully Published in Magazines, Linda Konner. Useful and practical. Includes interviews with both editors and freelancers. An eye-opener.