Thomas Russell Wingate
[Personal correspondence replying to an outstanding writer not sure of his worth.]
I am writing to caution you against writers’ organizations and conferences. These will only waste your time. What should you be doing with your time? Thinking and reading. Do those often enough, and the writing will take care of itself.
I hold several professional opinions you are not likely to meet elsewhere.
- There is no such thing as “creative writing.”
- There is such a thing as clear writing.
- Clear writing derives from clear thinking.
- Clear thinking can be learned* and taught.
- There is such a thing as “creative thinking.” This can be learned but cannot be taught.
- Clear thinking can be used to explain-and-reorder creative thinking.
- Clear writing can be used to communicate reordered creative thinking, one’s own or another’s.
- Clear writing is a joy to read.
*Formal logic and symbolic logic should be studied, perhaps at university level. If you do not have a taste for this, develop one anyway.
[Personal correspondence with Samir Nazim, a Canadian of Egyptian parentage who wrote to Anne Wingate: “Lately I have been feeling lost and in need of some sort of mentor or teacher. Just someone who could put me under their wing and guide me into the right path for the future.”]
OK, Samir, here is my long-delayed reply.
I detect that you have trouble informing me at length because you have trouble sizing yourself up. At 17, that’s pretty normal. Not especially useful, but normal.
After extensive rumination about your case, I have decided to make two recommendations.. Both will require time and concentration to implement.
First, keep a diary. You need not show it to anybody It doesn’t have to be in a bound format. The ruled paper they use in school will do.
Every day, write maybe 200 words. It does not matter if you contradict on Friday what you just got through writing on Wednesday. Write, write, write. Don’t worry about some teacher red-penciling it; only you will ever see it, and ten years from now, you can always burn it. But it will make you internally richer.
The other thing is harder and simpler at the same time. Spend money on a hardbound Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The more recent versions tend to be edited wrongly—yes, I mean dumbed down—so try to get an edition from the 1950s or 1960s. Haunt used book stores. Don’t be afraid to get more than one edition. There are paperback condensations which are cheap; they can be helpful, but they are too short. They are minnows, and you must make yourself into a whale.
When I was 14—I am now 65—my mother bought me a hardbound Bartlett’s. I adored it. I read it from cover to cover, marking in the margins. I became instantly erudite. My grades in school picked up, since I could always throw in a quotation on any subject at all. No matter that I couldn’t tell you who half the people I was quoting were: Bartlett’s distills the wisdom of the human race.
Bartlett’s is the gold standard of quotation books. Others fall far short.
I still possess that book. I still consult it. And I still browse through it to look at my markings.
An earlier-than-mine edition can be found at Bartleby.com. It is worse than the book because it alphabetizes the authors. Bartlett’s arranges its quoted authors by birthdates, with the Bible and Mother Goose at the end. Things English-speakers have taken to heart over the centuries are laid out so that you can sense how ideas and language develop.
Bartlett’s is not a self-help book. It is a reference book, and of course every library has one. My point is that you must have your own copy so that you can read it by flashlight when your parents think you are asleep.
Bartlett’s is the best mentor I know of. It helped me. It is probably one reason why my website has so many quotations on it.
(And I didn’t get those from Bartlett’s. I read a lot, and I write down striking passages from what I read.)
Do these things, and in two years everyone will be telling you that you have changed dramatically for the better.
Go forth and conquer!
>>> I keep updating my website. Steal all you want of it.