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On Teaching and Writing Fiction

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Wallace Stegner founded the acclaimed Stanford Writing Program-a program whose alumni include such literary luminaries as Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, and Raymond Carver. Here Lynn Stegner brings together eight of Stegner's previously uncollected essays-including four never-before-published pieces -on writing fiction and teaching creative writing. In this unique collection he addresses every aspect of fiction writing-from the writer's vision to his or her audience, from the use of symbolism to swear words, from the mystery of the creative process to the recognizable truth it seeks finally to reveal. His insights will benefit anyone interested in writing fiction or exploring ideas about fiction's role in the broader culture.

144 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Wallace Stegner

182 books1,589 followers
Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist. Some call him "The Dean of Western Writers." He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 46 reviews
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
March 24, 2015
I have on my desk at work, an anthology opened up to Maupassant's "The Necklace," because students often choose this story for their narrative responses; it's not difficult to see why: it's a simple plot with complex meaning, and a story immaculately presented. Imagine my surprise to learn that as a writing exercise, Maupassant, who was Flaubert's student, was usually sent by his teacher to "report in a single phrase or a single word the content of an action." You don't get any more concrete than that.

Wallace Stegner, one of the first group of Americans to receive a graduate degree in creative writing from the notable Iowa Writer's Workshop, uses this example to show that creative writing is not based on ideas; the creative writer is "compulsively concrete," and,
the moment anyone tries to make poems or stories of ideas alone he is at the edge of absurdity; he can only harangue, never interest and persuade, because ideas in their conceptual state are simply not dramatic.

Wallace Stegner "with less than a handful of others, invented creative writing as a field of study within the Academy, and from the 1940s on, similar, frequently imitative, sprang up all over the country. Stegner taught first at Utah, then at Wisconsin, Harvard, and Stanford, where in 1945 he founded and directed the Stanford Writing Program until his early retirement in 1971." According to Stegner, writing instruction began with Dean Le Baron Russell Briggs of Harvard, who produced many writers from his classes - Robert Beechley being one of them. Charles Townsend Copeland followed Briggs and there were movements like Bread Loaf, started by Robert Frost and others. There was the Iowa Workshop in 1930 (where Stegner was one of the first graduates) founded when Norman Foerster established the "School of Letters."

I'm trained to teach creative writing at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but due to the intricacies of academia, I find myself teaching Freshman Composition, while those with degrees in Rhetoric, teach Creative Writing. If it sounds confusing, this is because the world of academia sometimes is this way. If you're familiar with the scope of grammatical and textual analysis in composition (not to mention the rules of scholastic writing, MLA guidelines, for example) as opposed to the delicacy attached to words and form in creative writing, not to mention the special attention paid to style, syntax, content, and voice, you know just how different these subjects are. "Creative writing begins in the senses." Composition begins on the paper, or in the conscious mind.
A mannered style is more often than not a sign that a writer hasn't much to say.

And this is not a bad thing, for composition at least, because the writer of composition has books, research, an outlined response, and designed topics from which to choose what she will say. Creative writers, however, are a different breed and cannot be forced into this "mannered style" of academia. While quietly pondering this for weeks, I came across Steve's excellent review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) on Stegner's Crossing to Safety and it reminded me that if I needed to turn to the written word for inspiration, why not turn to the man who helped set a standard for creative writing in America, the same one who said that the "Socratic burden" of teaching writing is "more an attitude than a technique?"
Creative writing, whether it takes the form of poem, short story, novel, play, personal essay, or even biography or history, is sure to involve some search for meaning, some element of wonder or discovery, a degree of personal involvement in the result…

When Stegner founded the writing program at Stanford, it was because he suddenly found himself with students out of the armed services with "many more things to write, and with a sense of urgency." He wanted to do something to encourage those "gifted people." So he tried to get "fellowship money, to buy some time" for those writers. As a result, the Stegner Fellowship has produced so many authors of some of our favorite books: Ernest Gaines, Edward Abbey, Tillie Olsen, NoViolet Bulawayo, Tracy White, Harriet Doerr, Wendell Berry, Raymond Carver, Anthony Marra, Jesmyn Ward, Scott Momaday, and more.

This book has an educational, yet conversational tone, akin to a writing workshop. I picked it up and it captured my attention, for obvious reasons, and held it; I'll give five stars to any book that manages to do this. There is a chapter on an in-depth and enthralling interview, and a chapter which includes one of his short stories (as it is a transcription of one his readings). Lovers of fiction will enjoy reading this, as it is directed not only to teachers, but to writers and readers of fiction. The book could possibly "ruffle feathers," as it mentions "serious fiction" and "serious artist" versus the artist who sees artistry as "the hallmark of that peculiarly repulsive sin of arrogance by which some practitioners of the arts retaliate for public neglect or compensate for personal inadequacy." Uh-huh, he went there.

Favorite chapters:

"Fiction: A Lens on Life"
"Creative Writing"
"To A Young Writer"
"On the Teaching of Creative Writing"
One looks for evidence that eyes and ears are acute and active, and that there is some capacity to find words for conveying what the senses perceive and what sense perceptions do to the mind that perceives them.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 22 books87.7k followers
March 2, 2015
After having taught fiction writing for a fair long stretch, and taking a break from teaching this winter, I'm interested to hear what the dean of writing in the West, author of Big Rock Candy Mountain and All the Little Live Things (not his most famous books but my favorites), founder of the writing program at Stanford, teacher of so many of my favorite writers including Robert Stone, Ken Kesey, Thomas McGuane, Pam Houston, Larry McMurtry, Raymond Carver--and some surprises too--Tillie Olson! Scott Turow. Harriet Doerr. Ernest Gaines--has to say about the art form. These are essays and interviews gathered from a variety of sources, published in 2002, by Stegner's daughter Lynn, ten years after his death.

You've never written so long that you're uninterested in picking up a few more nodes of inspiration.
It's interesting how many people in reviewing this book commented on its elitism. Why? Because it sees that talent is important, that some gift is necessary for creative writing. And that's just the truth, though it is the secret terror of every emerging writer. One has no idea if one simply has ambition, or whether there is actually talent. Nothing's as terrifying as the suspicion one has only the former--it's like wondering if you're one of the Elect in Calvinist Theology:

"Writing is not a function of intelligence or application. It is a function of gift--that which is given and not acquired. All any teacher can work with what is given."

But he goes on to say: "But I do believe that everyone born should have a chance to become the best his is capable of and that many have developed or obscured gifts that, like spores, ail grow if they are given water."

In the interview 'On Teaching Creative Writing' Stegner clarifies, from the teacher's point of view, how he would identify an individual with potential as a creative writer-- this in terms of him choosing from among the applicants to the Stegner fellowship at Stanford, a major graduate prize:

"One looks for signs of gift: obviously perceptiveness, alertness to the observed world, (italics mine) a feel for language. It is not easy, and different kinds of writers display very different stigmata of gift. If you looked only at the feel for language, you would never predict that Theodore Dreiser, say, would become an important writer. The fact is, Dreiser had everything a novelist needs except the feel for language. He became an important novelist without having the ability to write an English sentence.'

"Ultimately, what one looks for is sensibility--which need not be as effete as it sounds--and sensibility is essentially senses. One looks for evidence that eyes and ears are acute and active, and that there is some capacity to find words for conveying what the senses perceive and what sense perceptions do to the mind that perceives them. What one looks for in language is not mechanical perfection of syntax. What one looks for is accuracy, rightness, vividness. And behind that, of course, some notion, however rudimentary, of the seriousness of good writing, some sense that literature should enhance life."

So some, looking for help in their work, will hear this and have no idea what he's even talking about, will think you either have it or you don't. While others will start to have a better idea of why certain writing works and other, very similar writing, fails. About the senses, in particular, I could not agree more.

He believes that teaching of creative writing to very young people should be done with great care, not to build up egos too big too fast, so that they cannot stay in touch with the outside world and grow organically. "Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from thinking they are writers." I could only imagine what he would think of our "everyone is fabulous!" times, where there's the team that won and the team that played really well. But it can be done. YOung people don't really want shovelfuls of praise, they want engagement.

Then there's the question of experience. Does it mean, as my peers in the '70s thought, you have to go out and experience Life, man… Like On the Road, man… I've sometimes thought, when looking at a room full of grad students who are reading young adult novels and heaps of fantasy and have come straight from their BA's never having waited tables or worked on a shop floor or bagged groceries--gee, go out an encounter the world!

Stegner said this, "If you have to urge a writing student to 'gain experience with life,' he is probably never going to be a writer. Henry James has some useful advice in this regard. He urges young writers to be people 'upon whom nothing is lost.' The people who are really going to be writers don't need urging to pay attention to their lives and experience. Experience strikes them."

THere are opinions I disagree with--note-taking, for one "if you have to make notes on how a thing has struck you, it probably hasn't struck you"--some people have vivid perceptions but poor memories; if you train them to stop and make a note, they can capture that perception which will often be forgotten in half an hour, and develop it more fully, challenge themselves to describe it to a blind companion.

But this active intelligence thinking about the process of being a fiction writer, and of teaching creative writing--he might have ideas one disagrees with, but it's a wonderful conversation to be in.
It's great to read about qualities of soul in a writing book. Like Henri's The Art Spirit, he actually talks about it--"Largeness is a lifelong matter--sometimes a conscious goal, sometimes not. You enlarge yourself because that is the kind of individual you are. You grow because you are not content not to. You are like a beaver that chews constantly because if it doesn't, its teeth grow long and lock. You grow because you're a grower; you're large because you cannot stand to be small.

"If you're a grower and a writer as well, your writing should get better and larger and wiser. But how you teach that, the Lord knows. I guess you can suggest the ideal of it, the notion that it is a good thing to be large and magnanimous and wise,that it is a better aim in life than pleasure or money or fame. By comparison it seems to me, pleasure and money, and probably fame as well, are contemptible goals. I would go so far as to say that to a class. But not all of the class would believe me."


I learn that he didn't believe in assigning a certain syllabus to his whole class, but allowed questions to come up in the workshopping of manuscripts, and assign based on the individual student. "Assigning him set readings would be like sending a young Dali or Braque or Monet to copy the Mona Lisa or Blue Boy. "

It was fascinating learning how he put the Stanford MFA program together, the Stegner Fellowship… and the history of MFA writing programs…

There were a couple of clunkers here--I found discussion of audience a real snooze but maybe somebody would enjoy that… There is an entire short story here and a brief exploration of why he did what he did, the latter being extremely interesting and really stands alone without the story!

And a wonderful, wonderful essay "To a Young Writer" that deals with expectation and the heartbreak when the writing is sublime and yet the audience is very small, as it will be for the sublime.

I give it a four stars for its slightness but it's still a must read for writing teachers and students as well as writers who've bypassed that whole process.
Profile Image for J.
374 reviews43 followers
July 13, 2013
Wallace Stegner was a writer who hailed from the Western United States. He wrote novels, short stories and I came to know about him while watching Ken Burns' TV Series, "The National Parks" which aired on PBS earlier this year. Further research revealed Dr. Stegner was a prolific writer and he wrote passionately about environmental preservation. Educated in the Western US - from his Baccalaureate degree (University of Utah), to his Masters and PhD Degrees from Iowa where he also studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop - he went on to teach at the University of Wisconsin, Harvard and Stanford Universities. His students included many famous American writers such as Edward Abbey, Thomas McGuane, Robert Stone, Ken Kesey, Gordon Lish, Ernest Gaines, and Larry McMurtry.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't offer so much background on Stegner but I believe knowing Wallace Stegner's background is important in setting the context for someone who had so much influence - not only on the environment but on contemporary American writing. I picked up several of his books and started "Crossing to Safety," "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, "Angle of Repose," - which garnered him a Pulitzer Prize, "The Spectator Bird," - for which he won a National Book Award, "Big Rock Candy Mountain," "Joe Hill," and "On teaching and Writing Fiction."

Stegner's style is easy, and unpretentious. Moreover, "On Teaching and Writing Fiction" is one of the few books I will re-read in the future. While it is short, it is filled with useful pointers and advice for anyone who loves writing.

At points throughout the book, I found myself lamenting the fact that he had passed away and that I would never get to meet him. And yet, his words still live on so, not all is lost for me. I suppose that elusive quality of immortality is something I enjoy so much about writing.

There are so many quotable thoughts Stegner offers in this book that I was tempted to write in the margins. I thought better about the sacrilege and instead began to hand copy the salient points. That proved to be comical because I was actually copying whole paragraphs and even sentences so, I finally began marking pages with post-it notes. That's when I decided maybe I ought to just resign myself to re-reading the book again - for me, that is a rarity. Wallace Stegner is just that good.

Of the many quotes I enjoyed, I managed to distill this gem from the bunch;

"...The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It is not a story in the modern vein. I choose it not because it reveals the world to our suddenly unsealed eyes, or because it demonstrates anything about the changing form of the short story, or because I think it is the best thing I ever wrote, but because it is simple and undevious and unambiguous. I know what experience it comes from, I know what's in it, I know why I wrote it, I know what I got out of writing it. As well as any story I might have picked, it can be used to substantiate my faith that fictionizing is an essential function of the mind and emotions - that reality is not fully reality until it has been fictionized."

I am half way through, "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian," and a quarter through "Crossing to Safety." Both are very different and yet, there is a thread of continuity through them both that is unmistakably Wallace Stegner. My life is richer for having met him - if only through the written word.

Profile Image for Greg Brozeit.
461 reviews102 followers
February 20, 2017
I refuse to believe that fate is a thing. But how and why, when I had entered this year with heaping mounds of pessimism, was I unsuspectingly led to start my reading year with this inspiring, obscure, short, dense collection of essays? I may have to start questioning my materialist, humanist self.

With the exception of a section of questions Stegner answers, this book could just as easily have been titled On Reading and Experiencing Fiction. The first two selections, “Fiction: A Lens on Life” and “Creative Writing” might well be required reading for anyone who is on Goodreads. For those of us who love the written word, Stegner provides simple philosophical guides to help us better judge and appreciate our reading choices. First, it’s about people. “If fiction isn’t people it is nothing, and so any fiction writer is obligated to be to some degree a lover of his fellowmen, though he may, like the Mormon preacher, love some of them a damn sight better than others.” It’s also about ideas, which “ought to haunt a piece of fiction as a ghost flits past an attic window after dark.” Fiction can focus much more effectively, quickly and deeply than other types of writing; “One Macbeth on stage is worth a thousand essays on ambition.”

Stegner’s flowing, approachable style includes a message to an aspiring young, gifted writer who, if she is fortunate, may find only a small audience and the chance of “reaching them all is about like the possibility of your tracking down all the surviving elk in North America.” He also considers profanity, which has its time and place, but too much might obscure its power and intent. “Some acts, like some words, were never meant to be casual. That is why houses contain bedrooms and bathrooms.” The closing essay is a wonderful reflection on one of his own short stories that was inspired by his childhood. Stegner seems to be the kind of teacher any of us would have loved to have had. This is a must read for readers.
Profile Image for Scott Bielinski.
171 reviews12 followers
December 26, 2022
“The fiction writer is an incorrigible lover of concrete things. He has to build fiction out of such materials as the hard knotting of anger in the solar plexus, the hollowness of a night street, the sound of poplar leaves” (5).

Advice to writers: “Learn to see straight; practice, with endless patience, ‘stating purely’ what you find to say; and see it and state it with the aim of communicating not only its meaning but its quintessential emotion, the thing that made it important to you in the first place” (16).

When asked about gaining experience in life and writing: “You don't go out and ‘commit experience’ for the sake of writing about it later . . . The way to gain experience is to live, but that does not mean one must go slumming for the exotic or outrageous or adventurous or sordid or, even, unusual. Any experience, looked at steadily, is likely to be strange enough for fiction or poetry” (40-41).

When asked about the teacher’s role in their students’ writing process: “Negative capability, a phrase that Keats used, is what is needed here: sympathy, empathy, a capacity to enter into another mind without dominating it. Strong-minded teachers with narrow views of their function are more likely to give a student attitudes he must live down, than help in assuming his own full stature” (52).

In an exceptionally kind letter to a young writer, he comforts: “How often the writing of young writers is a way of asserting a personality that isn’t yet there, that is only being ravenously hunted for. None of that in yours. In yours, sanity and light and compassion, not self-love and self-pity. You know who you are, and you are good. Never doubt it -- though you could not be blamed if you wistfully wondered” (71).

To the same young writer: “In your novel, anguish and resignation are almost in balance. Your people live on the page and in the memory, because they have been loved and therefore have been richly imagined” (77).
Profile Image for Graeme Roberts.
505 reviews37 followers
October 13, 2016
This book is beautiful and true. It is classic prose, as defined in Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose. I learned so much from On Teaching and Writing Fiction, though I do not love the concrete as a fiction writer must. I just wanted to learn about the mind and motivation of telling stories. I will give it to any young person who wants to write fiction, as both guide and warning. Mr. Stegner used his own story, "Goin' to Town" as a profoundly touching and effective example.

I suppose that I must defend to the death the right of any reader to give this book less than four stars, and it doesn't seem right to condemn such people to hell, but I do hope that wherever they end up the only reading matter is automotive service manuals.
Profile Image for Janelle Bailey.
551 reviews8 followers
March 10, 2020
17: On Teaching and Writing Fiction by Wallace Stegner.

This one jumped out at me from the table at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans; this is a cozy and charming bookstore opened in the late 1980s in a residence in Pirate Alley where William Faulkner had taken a room with artist William Spratling in 1924, after wearing out his welcome with Sherwood Anderson and while writing his first book.

I visited that bookstore this past Sunday, and I wanted to purchase there something that would leave a lasting impression and allow me to remember, for a long time, where, exactly, I had purchased it. Admiring Stegner as I do--for his many novels that I've enjoyed reading, for his connections to Wisconsin, for his Stanford writing program having "produced" the likes of Wendell Berry and others I admire--this seemed like the very best thing to do, then, for a number of reasons.

On Teaching and Writing Fiction is a tremendous collection of Stegner's dense writing advice and direction, truly lectures he could have given and letters he wrote...all addressing the reader as writer or, perhaps even myself as wannabe writer. He shares his thoughts on other writing schools, including his own background in learning and practicing as well as collecting and sifting his assessments of the writing of a number of other great writers and sharing aspects of their processes and/or ideas about their own writing that they had previously shared. I marked up this book like crazy for all of its contained wisdom shared. I really felt, while reading this, that Stegner was talking directly to me and telling me that I could do it--whether that "it" is to become a better teacher of writing or a writer for real.

He shares much in ideas about that originally came from Joseph Conrad and Robert Frost, Anton Chekhov and Ernest Hemingway and Henry James. He made sense of their writing, which I have read, in brand new ways. And it was so compelling to hear his assessments of what they had done, see how completely that matched my recollection of their works, but to here have the writing of them shared in such clear and definitive ways that I had never previously considered. It was an expansive and affirming experience.

And given that he praises writers for first being good readers, I felt even more satisfied.

Any writer or teacher of writing or reader-dreaming-of-writing will feel like they got to spend a few hours with a true master and a willing sharer of all he knows. It was like having a great guest lecturer on craft. If I had a classroom, I'd be immediately infusing some of these new ideas.
Profile Image for Anne Green.
424 reviews7 followers
January 16, 2019
One of the best books I've read on the subject. It's only short but is filled to the brim with peerless gems of wisdom about a subject of which Stegner is one of the great masters. It's a short book, only 120 odd pages and a collection of essays, articles, interviews etc. collected over a period of time. It doesn't address, except obliquely, the how to of fiction, but concentrates more on what might be called the philosophy of creative writing, and especially the teaching of it.

Some random pearls of wisdom (among a multitude) are:

“Writing is not a function of intelligence or application. It is a function of gift – that which is given and not acquired. All any teacher can do is work with what is given.”

“The most inclusive vision is not necessarily his aim; it is the clearest vision he is after.”

"If fiction isn’t people it is nothing and so any fiction writer is obligated to be to some degree a lover of his fellowmen”

"A serious fiction writer is a vendor of the sensuous particulars of life, a perceiver and handler of things. His most valuable tools are his senses and his memory; what happens in his mind is primarily pictures.”

"Ideas … are not the best subject matter for fiction. They ought to be implicit in the selection and arrangement of the people and places and actions. They ought to haunt a piece of fiction as a ghost flits past an attic window after dark.”

"A novel is written to produce in its reader the pleasure of an aesthetic experience, to offer him an imaginative recreation or reflection or imitation of action, thought, and feeling. It attempts to uncover form and meaning in the welter of love, hate, violence, tedium, habit, and brute fact that we flounder through from day to day.”

Profile Image for Mohammad حکمت.
Author 8 books21 followers
December 1, 2022
Words of wisdom from a man who devoted his life to perfecting his craft and to teaching it. The clarity of mind that is achieved only after a lifelong journey of carefully and meticulously distilling ideas and thoughts into words is evident in this short yet informative collection of essays. Having read this collection right after "remembering laughter", Stegner's first novel, I couldn't help but notice how much Stegner's craft had improved. It felt as if he truly took in every advice he was offering in this book to young writers. The short story "Goin' to Town", included as part of an essay late in the book, is emblematic of everything he is advocating: the importance of the lived experience, the playfulness of the language, the deep observation of an otherwise mundane event and the impact of choosing the right point of view. While the book is ruminations of a great writer on the process of creative writing, which may appear as useful only for aspiring writers, it provides pointers and a mental framework for the generic reader to approach fiction with a new sense of understanding of the creative process behind it and the decisions a good writer has to make.
Profile Image for B..
1,900 reviews11 followers
November 22, 2020
This book was on a list of books to select as a potential textbook for one of my classes this semester. Rather than picking one at random, I started at the beginning of the list and am working my way down. Overall, considering that I'm not teaching fiction, the last two thirds of the book weren't particularly helpful, though it does highlight things that professors should not do, so I may keep this one tucked away as a source to cite. That being said, however, the first third of the book was actually about writing fiction and I found Stegner's views on writing both in alignment with my own and full of new insights that I had not yet thought about or of within the context of writing fiction. It's a very well informed book.
Profile Image for Meagan Church.
Author 2 books106 followers
July 24, 2020
A short collection of essays and interviews that Stegner gave on writing, this book does inspire, but knowing that this was never written by Stegner to be a "how-to" book on writing helps put the reader's expectations into perspective.
Profile Image for Dan.
15 reviews
December 13, 2017
Awesome book on craft. One of my go-to resources. Stegner’s prose is some of the best literary fiction in existence, so it stand to reason a book on craft from him would be a standout.
Profile Image for Max.
131 reviews
March 11, 2019
This wasn't a manual for writing. It was a meditation on what it means to write/teach fiction.
Profile Image for Tyler.
641 reviews11 followers
December 1, 2012
Right off the bat Mr. Stegner makes a distinction between what he calls "serious fiction" vs "escapist fiction." I'm honestly tired of the constant bickering between the literature professor type readers and writers who have to bring their ego to everything they read. My opinion is and shall remain that if YOU like the book, then the book is good for YOU. No one else's opinion matters. (Possible exceptions to this standard being books that promote morally shady things such as glorifying violence against women or something).

Anyway, I read a collection of Wallace Stegner short stories for my Western American Literature class and I am currently reading Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. I enjoyed his short stories and I have a particular interest in his works and career because he took a very similar career path to and seems to share many common interests with me. I decided to read this book because I read a lot of books about people who have things to say about writing, and like Stephen King's On Writing this book got bumped pretty high up the list since his writing actually proves what he knows what he is talking about. Despite our clearly different definitions of quality in fiction, I did find a few of his insights valuable.

1) He talks a lot about the distinct boundary between the creator and the audience when writing fiction. I think the onset of social media has weakened that boundary, but the points that Stegner makes about how this can affect our writing were interesting and valuable.

2)His various opinions on how creative writing can/should be taught made a lot of sense to me. I took a creative writing class a couple semesters ago and the class was run a lot like Mr. Stegner suggests in this book and I found it was a positive environment for me to improve my writing. Some of Mr. Stegner's suggestions could have made it even better.

There were others, but those are the two that stand out the most to me. As much as I respect the craft and quality of Mr. Stegner's fiction, it seems to me that we write for very different reasons, and that that will largely invalidate some of his opinions about the mental/emotional/psychological needs relating to writing etc.

A decent book, gives a number of quality writing tips, especially near the end of the book. Just very little I haven't heard before and it took a lot of words to get to the nuggets I found valuable.

Profile Image for Mary.
833 reviews45 followers
April 13, 2015
Not only comes down on the "yes" side of "can writing be taught?" but explains how and why it matters.

Stegner, Wallace. On the teaching of creative writing: Responses to a series of questions. Ed. Edward Connery Lathem. Hanover, NH: UP New England, 1988. Print.

"Nobody can tech the geography of the undiscovered. All he can do is encourage the will to explore, plus impress upon the inexperienced a few of the dos and don'ts of voyaging" (10). The teacher's "job is to manage the environment" (11).

Students need "to be taken seriously. they need to be assured that their urge to write is legitimate. And, eve when they must be discouraged from wasting their lives in a hopeless effort, they must not be dismissed flippantly" (25)

"It is fatal (though by no means unheard of) for a teacher to impress his own craft, as well as his own conceptions, upon his students" (34).

"I do subscribe to the notion that in order to write a great poem one should be, in some sense or other, a great poet. That suggests that any writer had better be concerned with the development of his personality and his character" (37).

"everybody will benefit from a good, deep, well-worn and familiar rut" (41).

Once committed to the parental role a teacher can be swamped... [students] collective need can swallow his whole life" (43).

"English department have, with some grumbling, made room for writers, feeling (sometimes with justification) that these people can sling words but are lacking in both learning and culture. The writers, on the other hand, often take the view that English teachers are disappointed writers, that they teach because they can't do , and that envy and jealousy are behind their resistance to the full academic acceptance of writers" (52).

Composition is "absolutely essential ... and it is never done well enough. It has its basis in grammar and (67) syntax, which are simply the logic of the language" (68).

Emphasizes the Socratic by name a couple of times and "the end is not the production of clones of any approved style or writer" and "writing is a social act, an act of communication both intellectual and emotional" (71).
Profile Image for DeMisty Bellinger.
Author 7 books42 followers
April 16, 2012
Even though Stegner sometimes comes off as pompous, this is a helpful book in some aspects. The best and most helpful part of the book is from an interview that Dartmouth College did with Stegner. In it, he explores if one can teach creative writing and how does one go about doing so, bravely saying (or not so bravely—he is retired here) that not everyone is capable of learning how to write.

The other interesting chapter was, “To a Young Writer,” an intimate and honest response to an inquiring writer, asking all the questions many beginning writer asks (about agents, on what to publish, etc.). Stegner gives his inquirer more; I can see assigning this brief chapter to a beginning fiction writing class to address assumptions and questions many students have at that level.

My rating is low because a lot of the book is either common sense or for the very beginning writer. So for me, the rating is lower than usual, but the book is not necessarily bad, if that makes sense.
Profile Image for Rick.
778 reviews2 followers
March 23, 2008
This is a very fine collection of essays and interviews on the craft of writing fiction by one of the 20th century’s masters—a master writer and a master teacher. Stegner is wise, compassionate, and rigorous in his thinking and with his advice. The book, published after his death, was edited and introduced by his talented daughter-in-law Lynn Stegner. Any would be writer or teacher would do well to not just read but also heed what Stegner (whose writing students included Ken Kesey, Tillie Olson, Thomas McGuane, Robert Stone, Larry McMurtry, and many others) offers here. “Nobody,” he writes, “can teach the geography of the undiscovered.” Stegner, though, shares the wisdom of the successful voyager.
Profile Image for Caroline.
455 reviews
December 5, 2013
On imagination, Robert Frost, Henry James, and letters:

"Your book is dramatized belief; and because in everyday life we make few contacts as intimate as this with another temperament and another mind, these scenes have an effect of cool shock -first almost embarassment then acknowledgment. Yes, I want to say. Yes, this is how it should be. I like the sense of intimate knowing your novel gives me. After all, what are any of us after but the conviction of belonging? What does more to stay us and keep our backbones stiff while the world reels than the sense that we are linked with someone who listens and understands and so in some way completes us? I have said somewhere that the aesthetic experience is a conjugal act, like love. I profoundly believe it." (77)
Profile Image for Sherri.
289 reviews
January 16, 2017
Stegner is one of my favorite authors, so when I found out his daughter published a short book including an interview with him, several of his essays and a letter he wrote to an aspiring author, I was eager to read it. I enjoyed the book, but I don't think it is the best "how to" write fiction book out there. Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird are better for that. This is nice quick read if you want to get to know Stegner better and take a peek behind the curtain of his writing to have access to his thoughts and feelings on his fiction writing and life.
Profile Image for Kevin Findley.
Author 12 books9 followers
June 17, 2017
This small book is worth a class of two or creative writing in any college. Stegner is blunt in his opinions and has every right to be that way. Besides teaching writing for over thirty years, he also successfully supported himself as a published writer (that means he made good money at it) and won a Pulitzer for his fiction.

If you want to be a writer, or just want a peek behind the curtain of the process, pick up this book and prepare to enjoy yourself.

One last note, the page count here is actually 126, not 144.

Check it Out! Buy It! Read It!
Profile Image for M.E..
339 reviews11 followers
September 9, 2008
What I appreciate most about this book is Wallace Stegner's careful thought on fiction, it's value, and it's production. He takes the craft seriously without coming across as a literary snob. While this book isn't strong in the nuts and bolts of a "how to" manual, it is very strong in theory and advice. The book feels like the wise council of a mentor, which Stegner was for so many young writers while he taught creative writing at the university level.
Profile Image for Chelsey.
Author 10 books187 followers
April 9, 2008
Lovely little book. Stegner is full of great wisdom and insight. Many of these "essays" come from interviews or lectures, I think, and the style has an engaging conversational tone, marked by Stegner's typical simplicity and elegance. I starred and underlined like mad. Some of the essays overlap a bit in content, but it's never a bother and often useful to read the reiteration.
Profile Image for Nathan.
Author 21 books19 followers
December 5, 2011
Maybe better than Atwood's and King's works on writing, this short volume is beautiful, inspiring, challenging and brilliant. If you write or if you teach writing, this should be on your reading list.
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