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This here by Paul Collins is fascinating for anyone involved in learning or teaching the craft of creative writing. The gist is that the cliches of how to write fiction (e.g., show don’t tell, write what you know) were invented in a book published in 1895, How to Write Fiction. It was written by an anonymous author who claimed to be a well known novelist. In fact the author was Sherwin Cody, a 26 years old whose only previous publication was a chapbook of poetry. (Proving once again that fiction writers learn everything they really need to know from the poets.) Since then, one hundred and fifteen years of “how to write fiction” books have mostly served to reiterate and refine the truths that Cody first pointed out.
I’m not a fan of how to write books. I do love Burning Down the House, by Charles Baxter. But Baxter’s book reads less like a straight how-to and more like a series of wandering meditations on neglected aspects of narrative and craft. In general, I find that I get more inspiration out of reading a good novel or collection of stories than from studying the strictures of a how-to book.
But maybe I’m wrong! Or maybe I just haven’t seen the right book. If there’s a how to write book that you love, let me know in the Comments section…