“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.” – Stein on Writing, page 11
Sol Stein is one the greatest editor/author/publisher/teachers in America. His book, Stein on Writing, approaches the art and craft of writing in a way that every writer, fiction or nonfiction, novice or pro, can make good use of. I’ve referred back to the book many times, and each time my understanding deepens. While the individual lessons are innumerable, the larger message I received is something Mr. Stein said he has carried with him his entire life after learning it as a young college student: the necessity for clarity and precision. It is his “most prized editing tool.” There is no place for sentimentality and melodrama in Sol Stein’s world. Edit for clarity and precision and the melodrama and sentimentality fall away like useless trimmings.
“Can a novelist or story writer work on the reader’s emotions consciously while writing a first draft? Not easily, except through long practice and prowess. But the less experienced writer can plan the reader’s adventure before he writes each scene, and in revising that scene after a respite away from it, with the steel gaze of an editor he can see how the reader’s experience might be improved.” – Stein on Wrting, page 10
Mr. Stein addresses the idea that writers, more so than any other artists, expect instant mastery. Musicians, painters, dancers – they understand the necessity of years of intense, daily practice in order to achieve a level of mastery sufficient for an audience. Why do writers not expect to trudge through half a dozen manuscripts before the isolated writing muscles begin to connect, turning the awkward movements and false starts of the novice into the finely honed body of work produced by the professional? Rejection should be the expectation, and it should not lead to the shame so many writers feel.
Stein’s advice goes well beyond theory and opinion. There are chapters that deal with topics such as dialogue, point of view, suspense, tension, characterization, etc. In Chapter 12, he touches on one of my favorites: Show Instead of Tell. He claims that writers ‘reporting’ stories rather than ‘showing’ them is one of the main reasons novels are rejected. As the editor of some of this country’s most noted authors, his book is an incredible resource for writers hoping to break into publication.