Words around town

Our fair city is chock full of people who write well and are willing to teach you their trade.
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  April 30, 2010


GRUB STREET | 160 Boylston Street, Boston | 617.695.0075 | grubstreet.org

BOSTON CENTER FOR ADULT EDUCATION | 122 Arlington Street, Boston | 617.267.4430 | bcae.org

HARVARD EXTENSION SCHOOL | 51 Brattle Street, Cambridge | 617.495.4024 | extension.harvard.edu

“Every writer I know has trouble writing,” said Joseph Heller. Let that serve as comfort. The act of piling words one on top the next so they make sense, so that they best get across what they’re meant to express, proves a challenge even for the people for whom writing is their main endeavor.

Who hasn’t felt that specific blank-screen dread, the cruel tease of the cursor blink? Who hasn’t held pen poised to pad and not spilled any ink  or worse, spilled ink with all the wrong words, scribbling out sentences to leave black pits in the paper? Who hasn’t clenched their fists and clutched their skulls and wondered why won’t the words just come? And it’s not just novelists angsting over chapter 22. It’s not just poets struggling to find the right eight words to distill existence in 14 lines. An e-mail, an essay, a memo. A blog post, a tweet, a text. Getting the words right can be hard.

We tend to think great writers are born that way. That Herman Melville popped out of Mama Melville with lines like “But what puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of the picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted” already instilled within him somewhere, just waiting for the right time to emerge. Or Hemingway, seated in his first-grade class, musing on lean prose and the possibility of a Nick Adams. Alternately, great writing can seem a sort of magic  a lightening blast of inspiration, a flash of genius. Neither is all the way true.

The question then: is it possible to learn how to make it easier? Is it possible to learn how to do it better? The question is: can writing be taught?

The answer, it seems, is yes, but it’s got less to do with writing and more to do with work. Below, some discussion from some area teachers of writing  both of the creative bent and the more practical  about how it’s possible to become a better writer, whether your goal is Next Great American Novelist or simply to craft better e-mails to your bosses.

Sharpening your tools
Grub Street was founded 13 years ago by Eve Bridburg, who envisioned a place that “welcomed writers of all genres and ambitions, and which cultivated a rigorous but supportive atmosphere.” And so it has become. Grub Street, over the years, has grown and grown, from tiny digs outside Union Square, to its glorious spot overlooking the Common in downtown Boston. It offers multi-level classes in fiction, poetry, screenwriting, memoir, and nonfiction, as well as seminars on craft and the business aspects of a writing life. Class offerings this spring include Writing for Children and Young Adults, Jumpstart Your Writing, Travel Writing, and Writing Personal Essays for Op-Eds and Publication, among many other selections.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Herman Melville, Joan Didion, Joseph Heller,  More more >
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