Want to write? Read. So says Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Skube, in an editorial written for the L.A. Times.
Skube is somewhat critical of most creative writing programs, suggesting “The aim is not competency in the plain carpentry of prose but self-expression and creativity. It is the Little League of Art. Nothing wrong with self-expression. But it’s worth asking when self-expression devolves into self-spelunking and the preening narcissism evident everywhere on the Internet.”
Those of us who want to become great writers, Skube says, need to expose ourselves to “highly accomplished writing” and then emulate it. As example, he offers up one of the most elegant pieces of writing I’ve ever read — an elegy composed by E. B. White for his wife.
“Armed with a diagram and a clipboard, Katharine would get into a shabby old Brooks raincoat much too long for her, put on a little round wool hat, pull on a pair of overshoes, and proceed to the director’s chair — a folding canvas thing — that had been placed for her at the edge of the plot. There she would sit, hour after hour, in the wind and the weather, while Henry Allen produced dozens of brown paper packages of new bulbs and a basketful of old ones, ready for the intricate interment. As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance — the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.”
I wish I had a list of the books E. B. White read while learning to writing this well.