“Write what you know” is a common advice given to budding authors. Lansing-area author Thomas C. Foster, who has taught college writing for more than four decades, has taken this wisdom to heart in his new book, “How to Write Like a Writer: A Sharp and Subversive Guide to Ignoring Inhibitions, Inviting Inspiration, and Finding Your True Voice.
Foster, who has written several books on reading, including “How to Read Literature Like a Teacher” and “How to Read Poetry Like a Teacher,” was looking for a topic for his next book when he decided to write about what knows “how to write” best.
“I pretty much ran out of genres to write about,” Foster said.
“It’s a writing book for anyone interested in writing,” Foster said.
In her new book, Foster also decided to take a different approach to how writing is taught in high school and especially at the college level. Instead of focusing on “process writing,” also known as workshopping, Foster decided to write on his favorite model, which uses a less rigid formula than that imposed on students for over 50 years. In the writing process, writers revise and edit drafts with guidance from students and teachers. This process can take an entire semester and has been used almost exclusively in composition classes for decades.
Foster finds two problems with process writing: “First, such sustained attention and group monitoring can exhaust the life of an essay, short story, or poem…and second, in many case, these classes produce three finished plays (only) in a 15-week semester.
Instead of the formulaic process he taught as a professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, which was more about teaching students through a “do this-do that” process, his new book “is more about learn on your own,” he said. . During his tenure, Foster taught many non-traditional and older students who were negatively impacted by the auto plant closings in Flint.
He Marries a Tenant in “How to Write”: “You are the most important being in your writing world.” With a chapter titled “The ‘I’ at the center of ‘Write’ is representative of his approach to teaching writing.
In his book, he writes, “How much anxiety have we burdened future writers with before anything is written?
Foster said new writers have “their fingers are all dumb and the words stutter and wobble disconnectedly.”
He blames this on the modern world which has seen reduced reading, too much time spent on a digital screen, poor education and what he calls “the root of all evil” – social media.
In 21 chapters ranging from ‘What and How to Write’ to ‘Even the Nile Has a Source’, Foster guides writers young and old through the writing process.
Admittedly, this book is accessible to the solitary reader, but it is likely to be used to advance high school writing lessons through to the beginning of writing at the college level. It was also his formula for his previous books, which caught on with high school writing teachers.
As with all of his books, Foster writes with a lighthearted, often funny style that brings the subject to life somewhat dryly.
Foster said the workshop method is often too strident for most writers.
He also said that newbie writers “usually don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”.
“There’s no right or wrong way to write, and beginning writers need to find a way to write that works for them,” Foster said.
The author also believes that it’s essential to teach all types of writing styles, not just those that help you write fiction. He said most people often write memos for work or emails to family.
Chapter writers will want to pay special attention to “Interlude: The Writer’s Seven (or However Many) Deadly Sins”.
“He writes: ‘Notice that nowhere on this list is there any mention of semicolons.
The deadly sins that are not ranked in order of importance are: worry; self-doubt; overconfidence, confusion; inaccuracy; poor structure and dishonesty. Foster said the only unforgivable sin is dishonesty.
“If we intend to deceive our readers, the writing has no legitimacy,” writes Foster.
“Sins are things that interfere with writing,” he said.
Foster said he recently started reading “younger” writers such as Emily St. John Mendel (“Station 11”), Colson Whitehead (“The Underground Railroad”) and Kelly Ronan “Chevy in the Hole” ).
He is especially excited about Ronan, a former student of one of his classes while still in high school at nearby Southwestern High School in Flint. She obviously “wrote what she knows,” Foster said.
Foster calls her book “for the rest of us”, and her advice to budding writers is “to write”.