Stein On Writing - A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies


How much do I want to read more? 6/10

Probably not the book I would recommand for the aspiring writer.
It has some good stuff. But most of it is boring to read.
Read fast, pick and choose. It might be worth it.


Part I - The Essentials

Chapter 1 - The Writer’s Job May Be Different Than You Think

For thirty-six years I worked one-on-one with writers who had contract deadlines.
What I passed on was the craft other writers had developed to get their manuscripts in shape for publication.
I frequently heard that an editor’s job was to help the writer realize his intentions. That is true except for the fact that many writers have inappropriate intentions.
“I am expressing myself”; “I have something to say”; “I want to be loved by readers”; and “I need money.”

Wilder taught me that what a writer deals with is the unspoken, what people see or sense in silence. It is our job, in nonfiction as well as fiction, to juxtapose words that reveal what previously may have been blinked, and provide insights obscured by convention and shame.

sex has to be good for both partners. That is also the key to writing both fiction and nonfiction. It has to be a good experience for both partners, the writer and the reader, and it is a source of distress to me to observe how frequently writers ignore the pleasure of their partners.

Nonfiction conveys information.
Fiction evokes emotion.
Because the intended results are so different, the mind-sets required for writing fiction and nonfiction are different.
In fiction, when information obtrudes the experience, Raw information comes across as an interruption. The fiction writer must avoid anything that distracts from the experience even momentarily.

The novelist is like the conductor of an orchestra, his back to the audience, his face invisible, summoning the experience of music for the people he cannot see.

Today, the best of good journalists are arousing their readers’ curiosity in the first paragraph and seducing them into the rest of the story.

TRADITIONAL NONFICTION: New York City has more than 1,400 homeless people.
FICTION: His skin the color of rust, the man sits on his park bench next to his bag of belongings, staring at the brightly lit windows in the apartments across the street, at the strange race of people who still have hope.

The writer, of course, writes the book. The book then acts on the reader’s mind and emotions, unseen by the writer.
In fact when the writer finishes his work, he can vanish from the earth and his book will continue to affect the reader’s mind and emotions.

“Lincoln was highly intelligent. Almost everything he did was calculated for effect.” That statement is one no writer should ever forget. “Almost everything he did was calculated for effect.”

Knowing doesn’t mean you can ride a bicycle. What you need is practice. Once you master riding, what you have learned will stay with you for the rest of your life.
It is the same with writing.
I urge you to see the video of a remarkable film called My Left Foot. It won an Oscar for Daniel Day- Lewis, who played Christy. The film may cure you of fishing for an excuse for not writing.

I had a letter from a nonfiction writer who wanted desperately to write fiction but wondered if at sixty she was too old to begin.
I told her that Elia Kazan was fifty-seven when he started with fiction.
Plus I had published four active octogenarians in a single year.
If you’re a writer, you are never retired.
the very act of writing helps keep you alive.
Life is short, Chaucer is telling us, the craft takes long to learn, the work is hard, but ah, when it is right, the writer’s triumph soars.

Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating. I felt like I was strapped in the cockpit with the stars in my face and the expanding universe on my back. In my opinion, that’s the only way a writer should travel. When I finished “Tall Tales” I thought, This is a trophy brought back from the further realm, the kingdom of perpetual glistening night where we know ourselves absolutely. This one goes on the wall.
As you perfect your craft through practice, remember the joy of finally getting on a bicycle and riding to your destination without giving a second thought to the technique that now comes naturally. Experience the pleasure of getting the right word, the right phrase, the right sentence, the right paragraph, and finally the ecstasy of creating a keeper for your wall.