How To Write

Richard Rhodes How to Write is a very difficult book to categorize. Ostensibly a how to book by Pulitzer Prize winning author of the seminal work “Making of the the Atomic Bomb”, it brings in aspects of memoir detailing Rhodes development as a writer. This hybrid is both a strength and a weakness of the book, since autobiography is not a transferrable mechanism of training. Rhodes unique circumstances, can in many ways deter would be authors because it is true that circumstances and experience inspire the writer. For those whose lives are tragically ordinary, it is difficult to bring the veracity of life without relying on the hackneyed cliches of works of others.

So if experience is not transferrable is craft. This is where Rhodes book is more useful for the budding writer. Chapters on research, developing voice and structuring your writing are much more helpful. But the chapter that gives How to Write its strength is an excellent chapter on editing that goes through the process of editing on a short piece that Rhodes wrote by parenthetically interspersing the text with the decisions and questions that took place as he revised the piece. This example effectively illustrates the active process that good editing entails.

One major fault with this book is that it’s often too clever by half. Rhodes tries to coin the neologism verity to cover the writing more commonly known as non-fiction. His objections are valid, but it’s a needless distraction.  He also beleaguers the point that writing is hard, and the writing business is even harder. You can’t simultaneously romanticize writing and make it mundane without losing your point of view on the subject. 

How To Write is not as prescriptive as other comparable works, and is definitely of less value to a novice than an experienced writer. It’s best suited for those who admire Rhodes work and want to understand his writing process as one template out of many.

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