Books on Writing

Today I was included in a note that asked what books on writing seemed worth having, were effective, and if they had been used in classes. I wrote two paragraphs on style guides and creative writing prompt/advice texts, but I wanted to continue the discussion on writing guides here, with one poetry writing book in particular: Mary Kinzie's A Poet's Guide To Poetry.

I received Kinzie's guide around three or four years ago as a gift from my aunt. It is divided into several chapters discussing many aspects of poetry, like meter and rhyme, while giving numerous sample poems. Also, there is a chapter on poetry writing prompts in the back. The book attempts to cover all-things-poetry and really dig into what is happening not only within individual lines of a poem, but words.

What is interesting to me about this book though is that I've never been able to sustain momentum in reading it. At more than 500 pages, it doubles as a solid reference source and poetic dictionary, but as a book designed as what feels like a textbook, it does not do itself any favors by appealing to Sunday afternoon poetry investigation. So, with books like these, books that aren't meant to be light but are more seriously focused on writing, how should they be used? The answer lies in active reading.

Active reading is first evaluating a text (what is it?), discovering how the text is organized (chapters, sections, etc.), and deciding what your motives and goals for reading the book are and what areas of the book to read. This is something that I haven't been doing the past 3 years. Before, I would pick up the book, read the introduction, and start at page one: I wanted to learn everything the book had to offer. Reading this way, based on pencil scratches in the margins, has only taken me to page 140. It was like opening a high school textbook and reading front to back: it was boring, I wasn't engaged, and ultimately it was a waste of time.

Books on writing are designed to motivate you to write and, by writing, write better. If you have a thick, academic book on writing like A Poet's Guide To Poetry, the best way to approach books like this are to only read chapters that are relevant to you (if you are like me and must read cover to cover, this is hard, but will save you a lot of time and you will remember more of what you read) and don't bother with the rest. Seemingly obvious, abandoning the standard front to back method saves time. Who knew?

If anyone cares to recommend a book on writing, poetry or otherwise, that has been helpful, please do. Kinzie's book is a nice book to own but not the most fascinating–solid discussion, references and comment.

image source


Post a Comment