From Wallace Stegner … on writing


“Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from
thinking they are writers.”

-Wallace Stegner

Every writer – young, beginning, established and accomplished – would be wise to read and reread Stegner’s On the Teaching of Creative Writing (1988), then read any of his own novels, short stories or non-fiction for an excellent crash-course education in “how to write creatively” from the master himself – the man who studied at the University of Iowa and founded the creative writing program at Stanford University, where he in turn taught many great authors.

My personal favourites of the many books Wallace Stegner wrote and published are Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety. I have reread both many times, but am never able to decide which I prefer – they are both that good! The other non-fiction book I have always enjoyed is Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier covering the short period the Stegner family spent living at Eastend, Saskatchewan. When I was a publishers’ sales rep, I made a detour during one of my road trips so I could visit the town and see his homestead, which has since been refurbished and is available as a retreat for authors. My friend, Betty Jane Hegerat (previously featured on Reading Recommendations), spent a very reflective and productive month living in the house for a month a number of years ago, and still speaks fondly of that time.

For more information on Wallace Stegner please visit this website. Click here for a bibliography.

17 responses

  1. I’ve made notes on this. Thanks Susan for telling us about him. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Suzanne!

  2. Author Rebecca Heishman

    Reblogged this on Dancing With The MS MonSter.

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Becky!

  3. Loved ALL THE LITTLE LIVE THINGS. So many books to read…

    1. So glad that you’ve read his work already! You have a treat in store if you read more!

  4. I, too, like the quote. I believe that you can support a young writer’s efforts, but early success can ruin them for later success if they feel they don’t have anything more to learn about writing. Susan, thanks for the link to his bibliography. If you scroll to the links to his short stories, you can actually read them online.

    1. Thanks, Connie. To me, it also means that we are always young writers who can continue to learn, to improve, to write more polished stories. No one should ever rest on their laurels, so to speak. I know from reading his biography that Stegner was one of the hardest working “writers” of his time, who just continued to work and work and work at his craft. He set the best example for the rest of us.

  5. I’ve never heard of Wallace Stegner, so I’m excited to check out his work. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. One of the most underappreciated great writers of the 20th century, in my opinion, Dawne, so you’re not alone in never having heard of him. I hope you enjoy reading his books. He wrote many.

  6. Writing, like portrait painting requires a great deal of learning, practicing, failing, searching for answers, practicing, little by little creating the perfect rendition of a client’s nose here or ear, there – and that all important background to give context but not dominate the canvas. No longer are apprentices hovering watching learning a master. Fine tuning natural talent takes time and guided effort.
    I like Stegner’s quote – I’ve seen far too many young writers have early “success” and acclaim only to be limited by it. Praise can turn their heads and keep them from seeing how they could improve. Some area afraid to stretch and do more. Some get stuck in a form or style which is fine as a student, but not as an accomplished work or style for an adult audience.
    Perhaps more appropriate to say “You have written a remarkable piece for your age. You are skilled with words, putting ideas into writing. You are on the path to being a real author – if you have the persistence, patience and determination. Just like being an artist’s apprentice, you are a writer in progress”
    Will have to look up Stegner. Sounds like someone I need to read

    1. Thanks for your comment, philosophermouse. I always appreciate hearing your thoughts.

  7. Great, informative post — thank you. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. Great post! Personally, I don’t agree on the “discouraged from thinking they are writers” part, but that’s me : )

    1. Thanks, Madam_W! I believe what he was saying there was that young writers should just write and not get caught up in the idea of “being” writers – until they’ve actually written something!

      1. Oh yes, but I wrote my first book at age ten. Thought of myself as a writer back then, don’t regret it ^_^ But I know what you mean. Great post nevertheless : )

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