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Why Writing Matters by Nicholas Delbanco. Book review

April 20, 2020

Book cover of why writing matters

In Why Writing Matters Nicholas DelBanco draws on his experience as a writer and professor of English language to create something that is part memoir, part a masterclass in writing technique.

At first, I felt the book was little more than a namedropping exercise until the point where DelBanco began an extended discussion of the difference between imitation and downright plagiarism.

He not only illustrated this by using some real-life examples as case studies, but then expanded the discussion into some fascinating writing exercises he had set his own students on rewriting a particular chapter of an author’s work in the style of another author. This was not so much a case of mimicry as drawing on writing that resonated with the practitioner to develop their craft further. That he uses actual examples from students who went on to be authors in their own right provides some intriguing insights into style and tone and how they can really change the way a piece of writing expresses itself to the reader.

The whole book really asks the writer to stand back from their writing and look at it from a whole new perspective. The examples that are used as writing exercises are extremely useful and highly relevant and really do make you think.

Why Writing Matters is not a book for someone without previous writing experience, because it requires some understanding of the craft to really appreciate what DelBanco is conveying in terms of developing a more thoughtful and nuanced writing process.

However, anyone who really enjoys reading and reads extensively will find this book very interesting because understanding the techniques underpinning the writing within them will increase their pleasure of a well written book.

What really impressed me was that DelBanco was prepared to share his struggles over a first draft of something which never saw the light of day with regards to publishing. We are even treated to his attempts at a rewrite, which again did not make the grade. But in doing so he demonstrates how much there is to be learned and gained as a practitioner by these unsuccessful attempts, which should not be seen as a failure, but the honing of a skill. That someone of his depth of experience should need to wrestle with words and continually strive to perfect his use of them, is also a very helpful and reassuring perspective for any writer.

There is plenty in Why Writing Matters for a writer and reader to think about, and it is a book that will continue to give in terms of enjoyment and wisdom even after many times of reading.

Why Writing Matters was courtesy of Yale University Press.


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